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How I Survived the Spiritual Retreat from Hell

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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40 Responses to How I Survived the Spiritual Retreat from Hell

  1. fran April 17, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Hi Z,
    Thanks for sharing this journey. I have experienced that making of my own personal hell. I tend to forget that not everyone I encounter is as loving as the people in our Spiritual Community and am always taken aback when I experience something other than acceptance and love. Thanks to the teachings and my increased awareness I no longer spend as much time in “hell”.

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Hi Fran,

      Yeah, “hell” isn’t much fun, is it? Unless you’re REALLY into heat! As for me, I don’t even really like hot tubs, so there you go. I agree with you that there’s nothing better than education, awareness – and spiritual community – to keep it all in perspective. And to keep the temperature down. . . .


  2. Jill Shinn April 17, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Good job working through that, Z. What a test, huh? And you passed with flying colors…

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      Hi Jill,

      I didn’t put this in the post (thought it’s implied), but somewhere along the line I asked for Help. And got it. I love it when that happens!


  3. squirrel April 17, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    good morning, Z! happy tuesday!

    i love this story. it’s always an amazing reminder for me and today is no exception. i have something similar going on right now, except we’re not strangers cohabiting on a spiritual retreat. :)

    i am paying attention to what the universe is saying and i’ve seen a number of roadsigns pointing the way to go. (this happens to be one of them).

    and such is life; i throw myself into the bowels of hell (up until now) and utilize my tool box (prayer-meditation-practitioner[s]) to build a ladder to climb out.

    and there you have it. nothing exciting.

    have an amazing day, my dear, delicate flower! 😉 (melissa is not the only person protective of you, btw. you have a full group of friends who will always man up for you.)

    love ya,

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      A squirrel protecting a delicate flower!! I love it. 😉

      And good for you for paying attention to those roadsigns. Happy to be one of them – albeit in goofball form. . .

      (Oh and did I tell you? I wrote a rap!!!!!) 😀

      Have a totally Groovy Tuesday!!!!


      • squirrel April 17, 2012 at 11:53 am #

        Lol I hadn’t heard. Haha 😉


  4. Francesca April 17, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Well, well, well nothing like getting hit by a cosmic 2×4. And that is exactly what happened to me just this past Thursday evening before choir practice. Leah Martino and me communte together to choir and we popped in to Olivers for a little nosh. She paid for her nosh and was already seated. I was in the “quick check” line which did not live up to its title and there was a woman at the front of the line holding an extended conversation with the clerk. I kept looking at her, staring at her as if it will coerce her to move along. As she is tearing into that piece of bread and taking at the same time and I am getting annoyed more and more then FINALLY she is done. Then she decides to sit our tables. Oy! I was not in the mood. She opens all of her food, wants to share. I decire to sort of move my share to half way trun my back on her. She is sharing her food with Leah. I want nothing to do with it. Her 12×12 book is on the table and I say to myself. Well that answers everything. Come Saturday on my way to the 2nd day of my Buddhist Retreat Level III, The Warriror which is sitting with the discomfort, and I stop at Safeway to get a cup of Starbuckos, get in the family truck and as I pull out, she is standing outside the store with bags of aluminum cans. I had not one but two opportunities to not be such and ass. One to take 5 minutes out of my life to just chat with her at Olivers which would have made a difference AND walked up to her at Safeway and introduced myself as the person at Olivers her failed to introduce herself at Olivers but I was too ashamed. Lesson learned and I need to to stop beating myself up about my own judgment and I am a paycheck away from where she is.

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Hi Francesca, Thank you for sharing this! I appreciate the many levels of lessons in your experience. Life can be such a banquet – so to speak – of opportunities to practice forgiveness. Especially for ourselves! I often find that my mind can be a virtual mine field of judgments, and nothing’s harder than when I turn that on myself. Blessings to you for your honesty and willingness to share yourself. And for not beating yourself up! 😉 XOZ

  5. Francesca April 17, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Can you say check your spelling and word check? That’s what happens when you are in a hurry. :(

  6. michele C April 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Thanks Z as always for great lessons and reminders … I notice where I feel bee stung and realize that it is always in the place where I already have a wound … sometimes it takes me a little while to realize that .. ah yes, I DO love myself afterall ….(once I get over not loving myself)….xo to you little flower and love to your bull dog.

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      Hi Michele!

      Ain’t it the truth – we get stung in that already-tender spot. Which is why it hurts so frickin much!! Until it doesn’t. And only love remains.

      The bulldog and the flower send Love back to you!!


  7. Rafe A. Ellis, RScP April 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Ah my beloved “sisbrobah – head cheerleader of the absolutely normal appearing as different”…

    I had a similar encounter this past Sunday working the Practitioner Table at CSLSR when a female congregant engaged me in a conversation about understanding the difference between changing our experience through affirmations versus side stepping our real work through spiritual bypass affirmations. In a seemingly unrelated moment she commented: “I mean, really, we have all these transgender people around here and they seem to think nobody notices. It’s so obvious to us all – there’s no way to actually hide that – you know?”

    I heard an internal chuckle and felt a huge knowing smile plastered on my face – my conscious thought: “Oh REeeeeeelllllllllllYYY!”

    I took a slow deep breath allowing me a moment to checked my motives and my external environment; I am aware that there can be real physical dangers in the physical environments of others thought processes and action choices.

    The coast was clear so I very gently and lovingly asked her: “Are you open to challenge that belief?”

    She paused with what appeared to be thoughtful consideration, then responded that she was open to a challenge.

    I looked her in the eye and asked: “Are you aware that I was born in a physically female body?”

    Silence – absolute blissful stillness in fact – then she smiled and melted into a laugh stating: “Well no – REALLY – You’re serious, aren’t you? Oh my God – how interesting that I would make that statement to you out of all the people here – I said this to you.”

    I was able to respond in love and thank her for the opportunity to be vulnerable and authentic. The conversation continued and was wonderful and grew each of us.

    You, my friend, have been such a significant force in my healing that self doubt and giving myself permission to live my life in ever increasing authenticity.

    Thank you!!!

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm #


      WOW!! What an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it. And thank you for being yourself in every moment, including the exquisite moment of connection with that female congregant.

      I applaud your courage and authenticity. What a gift for everyone concerned. Including me.

      Ahhhhh, life. What a trip, eh? :)


  8. Lili April 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Oh Z. I love you. And the loving comments of friends. SO Grateful… XOXO

    • Z Egloff April 17, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      I love you too, Ms. Lili! :)

  9. LaLaLaLaLa April 18, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    This is about so much morethan gender appearance, and the level where it gets me is that I,too, for different reasons (not so easily identified) become focused on the judgements I know are put on me that I have no graceful way of addressing. I so want to be understood, and there is often no opening, thus I am just left to deal with my own reaction to what I ‘think’ is their thought. It does bring light to what I think are my rough edges. But if I polish those the way they would please others, would I be me? I have a hard time discerning what is my real ‘normal’ and authentic and what is my unconscious desire to be loved for who I am despite the oddities. I do know that the happier I am with me, the less I am concerned about others’ ideas of me. And I love the loving them no matter what. It is a lovely goal,especially if they happen to hit one of MY judgement buttons.

    Living to my own drumbeat and still being sensitive to how I impact others, revisiting and revising as feels right, then knowing I can only please myself, and even that is my ongoing challenge.

    • Z Egloff April 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      It is a dance, isn’t it? I heard once that if we do what’s best for ourselves – on a deeper level – than it’s best for everyone. Yet what is “best”? Is what we’re calling “best” in any given moment really in alignment with our highest Self? There’s not always an easy answer. I think that this process is, as you say, one of constant revisiting and revising. Unlearning and relearning. Ultimately, for me, learning to see myself and everyone else with the eyes of love is the goal. No matter what.

  10. Katherine April 19, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    Z, you are wonderful. Simple fabulous. I am sooooo happy that we are Santa Monica Holmies! See you tomorrow.

    • Z Egloff April 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm #


      Wonderful to see you here!

      Although I didn’t know that the retreat was in Santa Monica?! I didn’t get my plane tix. . . . 😉


  11. Azul April 20, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Hello there from Madrid. I´ve read your post trough Facebook. I just wanted to say to you what a deep knowledge of yourself you have. You are brave, clear, friendly and totally a magician. Because that´s the real magic, turn arround our thoughts into deep love to yourself, to the universe and to others. You had a great challenging oportunity there and you played fully and sincerely. Congratulations! Big hugs

    (I hope you understand me, my english is not so good)

    • Z Egloff April 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

      Hello Azul!

      Welcome to the land of the Goofballs. Your English is great! I really appreciate hearing from you, and glad to know that the post spoke to you – all the way to Madrid. I’m very grateful for teachers like Abe and others like them who point the way for us. And grateful for all the people that I share this journey with – including you. Thanks again for writing!


  12. Whitefire April 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    First response at the beginning of the post: Oh, Z get over it. It’s no big deal. I keep reading cuz I love your blog.
    Next response. Yay! I needed to hear your Abe inspired idea – she wants to love me.
    I had been having not loving mindsets about someone I do not trust – tried to love her but elf won until I thought “She wants to be loved and cared for and KNOW she is.”
    Before your article I wanted her to get in trouble…get caught doing wrong.
    Then I got why she did it. The intentions were good – the choices of achieving it were faulty.
    I also recall past actions where I did similar things. Now I get to forgive both of us!
    So Z thanhs again for being your cool and amazing self.


    • Z Egloff April 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      Hi Whitefire,

      I like your reminder that we can usually find that we’ve done similar “wrong” or “bad” things ourselves. And that our forgiveness needs to extend to ourselves as well. I find that I use this in traffic a lot – if I’m getting annoyed at another driver, all I need to do is remind myself that I’ve done the exact same thing myself. And I always had a good reason, too!

      Thanks for your comments!


  13. debbianne April 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    I love it!! Thank you. Love your site, the name of it, the concept, everything. I’m pretty sure we’re some kinda kindred spirits. This post may provide some evidence as to that assertion… : )


    • Z Egloff April 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Hi Debbianne,

      Welcome to the world of the Goofballs!

      I read your Kirtan post – I’ve had similar experiences the few times I’ve been to Kirtans. I saw Krisha Dass once, a buddy of Ram Dass, and my favorite tune all night was when he did “Jesus is on the Mainline.” I just find it more powerful – not to mention comprehensible – to chant in English. Go figure! Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

      Feel free to come back anytime!


  14. Angelica April 27, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Well,, this reading came at the exact right time — I’ve been having an ‘issue’ with someone – and it finally came to a head … I walked away feeling AWFUL!!!

    Then I read this:
    “It doesn’t feel good to judge someone else because, in doing so, you’re going against your Divine nature.”

    NO WONDER!! I’ve decided to let her have safe passage through my mind – for my own sake.

    Thank YOU!! Blessings, Angeica

    • Z Egloff April 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Hi Angelica!

      Glad that the post was helpful. Gosh, I’m glad that other people are getting something out of it now, given how “fun” it was to go through! Actually, it was pretty great once it was over! :)

      Hope all is well with you!


      • michael frank May 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

        Z……………………..the door knob has all of the information..that was the picture in your share which was so spiritual too me.


        • Z Egloff May 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

          Hi Michael,

          It took me a long time to find just the right picture for the post. Luckily, I found it! I’m glad that the doorknob opened its secret meaning to you!



  15. Dianne Lloyd June 10, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Thanks for the insight….I am Pretty sure I now know what it meant in the Westerns of Yore when the said: “Giddy Up” !

    Half a giddy is not a full ride….and when judgment finally come to shove after bing pushed….it is way to easy to take the punch insted of dodging and jiving.

    • Z Egloff June 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      Hi Dianne,

      I like the Western spin on this tale. “Giddy Up” now has a new meaning for me. Dealing with judgment is like a dance, and it is indeed good to know how best to react.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  16. dONNA September 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Oh this was so sweet I love this – She wants to love me… wow, I hope I remember this when I’m spinning out about Judgements – real or perceived cuz either way they feel the same…. And darling one, just know I can be so codependent I was pissed for you when “we” were all lying in bed together listening to those folks… Love you so very much

    • Z Egloff September 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi Donna,

      Thank you for your support! I love the image of you lying in bed with us, getting pissed off on my behalf. Yeah!!! :)

      I will miss you and the team this year at WomanSpirit. I know that you’ll have a fabulous time and I look forward to (hopefully) next year!


  17. RobinSS August 28, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    Wow what timing! i also got a lesson in this form recently. The other day, I was at work and speaking to my current supervisor. I am menopausal and cannot remember names, so I referred to someone as the “butch y looking one”. As I adore many transgender, gay, bi and folks of all forms of dress, it did not even occur to me that it might be considered mean or offensive or hurtful to someone. WELL IT WAS OVERHEARD AND DID OFFEND SOMEONE and they had the courage to speak up. At first I made a joke about it to try and soothe but it did not help. They made a complaint and I was “talked to about it with a note in my file” A CIVIL RIGHT VIOLATION!!?? WHAT? and to soften my blow I was told ‘ well we really don’t think that you are that kind of person” what kind of person? Now I was offended, Didn’t they realize that I was just being cute? This started growing in me like yeast. I did apologize to the offended one, because I care about her and realized upon contemplation that it might be a hot button for her and I do not want to hurt her. But now my own freedom had been impinged. I am no longer safe to speak freely. The paranoia sets in because maybe they really are out to get me for just being me. I was ready to file my own grievance and go to war, I also started sniping by painting myself a victim to possible sympathizers to raise my own army of supporters!!!
    This direction began to feel real bad. I began to hate work and everyone there. I spent several days praying about it and remembered my intention was to be a instrument of peace not war. I want to make a place better and not worse for being there. I want to spread love not pain. I forgive myself and I am now more able to be mindful of the truth, to be more aware of my word and how it affects you and me.
    I love you and I bless you for this reminder. So glad we can share our insides out here. Thank you.

    • Z Egloff August 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      Hi Robin,

      Wow – what a great story!! I love that you share the whole progression of events, including all that went on for you internally. There’s so much to this story, but the best part is that you ended up in a place of peace within yourself. That’s all we can really control anyway, after all. Thank you for sharing this. It’s interesting to me how similar your process was to mine, just from the “other side,” as it were. But not really, as we’re all on the side of peace. Awesome. :)


  18. Isabella June 21, 2016 at 4:52 am #

    Hi Z,

    I had a parallel experience, although fortunately, I wasn’t the subject of the older woman’s concern. At the time it was popular to twenty-something women to wear their hair in a quiff with the sides shaved, lots of piercings, tattoos, big jeans held up with spiked belts and work boots on their feet.

    I was at a lunch at a long table, and there was an older lady on the other side of the table, a few seats away, so I wasn’t really part of her conversation, but at one point she got quite animated describing such a young women dressed this way that the she had seen at her local cafe. She shook her head and frowned as she said “well, I know they don’t like men, but I don’t understand why they have to look so terrible”.

    I was quite shocked by how strong her emotions on the subject were:
    (1) because it was a look I admired; and
    (2) because why should she care so strongly what some stranger in a cafe was wearing?

    I wondered at the time whether maybe, she actually didn’t find the look so terrible, she just hadn’t realised yet that the icky feeling inside herself was envy. Envy because she recognised herself in the young woman who didn’t fit in with what society calls normal, and envy because in spite of this, this young woman had the courage to not follow the crowd and try to pretend she was the same as everyone else but was instead true to herself and dressed in a way that says “this is who I am world, I’m fine just the way I am”, a way that clearly demonstrates that “being a good girl” and dressing pretty so you won’t be “left on the shelf” don’t even come into her thinking.

    Reading your post, I wonder whether, while you were going through your spiritual retreat from hell, your older lady was also going through her own spiritual retreat from hell and struggling with the realisation that she had been brought up to deny her own truth, had spent her life denying her truth and maybe in the end she had given up more than she had gained?

    Or maybe I just think too much? :)

    • Z Egloff June 21, 2016 at 11:15 am #

      Yes, I think you make a great point! So often the stuff we look at that garners a lot of emotion has all kinds of information for us, especially about things that we’re not allowing in ourselves. I also like your take on it because it is another way to soften my view of the older lady at my retreat. Everyone’s going through stuff, really. As far as your thinking “too much”: thinking of ways to view others with more kindness is never thinking too much, IMHO. :)


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