Have you ever been at a spiritual retreat that didn’t feel very spiritual?

Perhaps the facilitator seemed more egoic than enlightened. Perhaps the other participants seemed incapable of deep, honest inquiry. Or maybe the whole event had an overly-materialistic vibe.

Whatever it was, it left you feeling unsatisfied, incomplete.

Of course, everything is spiritual. I’ve said it in this blog a million times.

Or at least five.

But what do you do when something that’s supposedly spiritual turns around and bites you in the ass? What do you do when the holy turns hellish?

photo: santian on flickr

A while back, Melissa and I went on a spiritual retreat. Often, one or both of us is involved in facilitating such retreats, so this was a treat. This was just for us.

We arrived on the grounds, giddy. Okay, maybe that was Melissa. She’s the giddier of the two of us. I’m more low key. I’m not giddy – I’m just gid. That’s as giddy as I get.

So there we were – giddy and gid – ready for some serious spiritual renewal. The event was held in a swanky resort, so the participants were housed in fancy rooms in the lush hotel/spa. Melissa and I checked into our room and were more than pleased: an awesome king-sized bed, a fireplace, a compact kitchen. Score!

photo: UggBoy♥UggGirl on flickr

The first event for the retreat was held that evening. There were about a hundred folks attending – men and women, old and young, hippies and corporate-types. We broke into small groups and shared our intentions for the retreat. We put an item on the communal alter and introduced ourselves to the larger group.

Everything was going fine. Swell. Swimmingly.

And then Melissa and I went back to the room.

It sounds so innocuous, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing. Not at first.

We brushed our teeth and did our nightly gratitude practice. We hopped into our gigantic bed and turned out the lights. Melissa, as usual, was asleep in five minutes. I, as usual, was not.

As I lay there, I heard crickets chirping outside our window. I heard a hum of highway in the distance. I heard Melissa’s sweet and gentle breathing next to me.

And then there was a new sound. A door shutting, followed by people talking. It was our next-door neighbors. Even though we were in a swanky place, we were separated from their room by a door, through which I could – apparently – hear everything they were saying.

photo: arianraven on flickr

And here’s the weird part: They were talking about me.

At first I wasn’t sure, as they didn’t mention me by name. But then they did.

There was a man’s voice and a woman’s voice, and the woman was saying things like “I don’t understand why she has to look like a man.” “If she hates men, why does she have to look like one?”

You know the expression my blood froze? That’s what happened. I felt myself shrink and freeze under the covers, listening to our neighbors talk about me.

The man sounded more supportive than the woman. He reminded her of women they’d known who’d fallen in love with other women. He reminded her that none of these women hated men. They just happened to fall in love with a woman. No biggie.

After a little while, they moved on to other topics. I thought of waking up Melissa, but decided against it. She’d hear all about it in the morning.

And, boy howdy, did she.

I told her what I’d heard and she was pissed. She wanted to find the woman and knock her lights out. Or at least adjust them a little.

In spite of appearances, Melissa is the “guy” in our relationship. She’s the tough, kick-ass, ballsy one. I’m the delicate flower.

photo: kabils on flickr

At least most of the time. In this case, I was a pissed and anxious flower.

My mind was racing: Who was the woman in the next room? Why the heck was she at a spiritual retreat if she was so judgmental? And how was I supposed to enjoy the rest of the event, knowing she harbored such negative feelings about me?

In our morning session, I scanned the room, trying to locate the perpetrator. There were several heterosexual couples there, so it was difficult to narrow it down. I knew the voice, though, so that helped. Eventually, it was down to two candidates, both older woman.

The problem was, I didn’t know which one of them to hate.

What a perfect activity for a spiritual retreat, figuring out which of my fellow participants to grace with my loathing and disgust!!

photo: Steven Depolo on flickr

I couldn’t stay there for long, though.

I’m a good little spiritual seeker, so I knew that nothing happens by accident. In this case, there were several aspects to consider.

For one thing, I’m sensitive about my gender expression. Especially at events where the participants don’t know me, I’m aware that some people may have judgments or negative reactions. And here I was, attracting precisely what I feared.

I was careful not to beat myself up about this fact – no need to provoke a New Age Virus – but I was aware that I had manifested what I most feared.

And then there was the issue of the woman herself. Eventually we figured out who she was – they were in the next room, after all. During the rest of the retreat, I managed to learn several things about her. She was an older woman, raised in a conservative household. She’d had very little exposure to “outsiders,” including people of different gender and sexual expressions.

photo: Guillaume Paumier on flickr

I also thought about what she’d said: “I don’t understand why she has to look like a man.” She didn’t understand. That was precisely the issue. No more, no less.

She didn’t understand.

But still, I felt uneasy. How was I supposed to make peace with her judgments about me? And my judgments about me? And my judgments about her and my judgments? And my judgments about the judgments about the judgments?

And then, during one of the afternoon activities, I had a revelation. I was at a spiritual retreat, for God’s sake. What better place to get bonked in the head by the Divine?

I thought about this woman and her judgments, and I realized – it can’t feel good. Judging me can’t feel good to her.

One of my main teachers these days is Abraham-Hicks. In my moment of revelation, I thought about what Abe would say about this woman. And this is what came:

It doesn’t feel good to judge someone else because, in doing so, you’re going against your Divine nature.

Our Self loves everything and everyone. And when we go against that, it feels crappy. Not only that, the judgments aren’t even true. They’re a lie, perpetuated by our smaller, elf self.

And that’s when it came, my revelation:

She wants to love me.

This woman wanted to love me. She would, if she could. And I wanted to love her. It was as simple as that.

It became my mantra for the rest of the event: She wants to love me. She wants to love me.

photo: abhi on flickr

It became easy to forgive her. And it wasn’t a forced, fake forgiveness. It was a real, heartfelt understanding. In realizing that she would love me if she could – because that’s what would feel best to her – it allowed me to see the love that was already there. She wanted to love me, and I wanted to love her.

Not only that, I wanted to love me.

One of the reasons I attracted such an event was my own unhealed judgments about myself. Yes, I’ve come a long way, but I still have internal gunk about my left-of-center gender expression.

If I were absolutely 100% clear that I’m fine just the way I am, hearing someone else’s judgments wouldn’t have bothered me. But they did bother me, because they hit a nerve.

Remembering that I want to love me allowed me to tap into a vast, internal well of compassion and understanding. It was there all the time, waiting for me to find it.

It was yet another reminder that the love of the Divine is endless, and recognizing this love in myself and others sets me free.

photo: psmithy on flickr

So there you have it. That’s how I survived the spiritual retreat from hell.

Like always, the hell was in my own mind. And, like always, by healing my mind, I healed myself.

photo: Leland Francisco on flickr

When have you been trapped in a hell of your own making? And how did you set yourself free?

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