Several weeks ago I attended the 1st of 4 one week leadership retreats hosted by the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI). Nestled in between rolling hills in California’s Napa Valley, the setting for this year long program is idyllic — Mexican inspired adobe houses, a beautiful pool for lap swimming, and majestic oaks as far as the eye can see. Save for the ironic no wine drinking policy during the retreat (it’s in Napa!), the program was perfect. And despite the very hefty price tag for the experience, some of the most inspiring people I know have enrolled and graduated from this course, which was more than enough reason to have CTI take my money.
R1, or Retreat One, is all about Creating from the Self — the natural place for any leadership journey to begin. Very much inline with CTI’s pedagogy, creating from self is experientially discovered, rather than just in books or lectures. So it should have come with little surprise how CTI would have us source for ourselves would be through inward journeys. And yet, I was very surprised.
Listening to Trees
Every morning during the retreat we would be led to connect ourselves to ourselves through Nature. On the first day, we were told to sit with a tree and listen to its words for 30 minutes. Then, journal without stopping for another 10.
What? Listen to a tree? What kind of hippy crap is this? I’m paying CTI how much to absorb the wisdom of wood? Reluctantly I played along, though not without a great deal of inner laughter, which at one point during the meditation came out through my nose, only to be met by the glare of half of the participants who were taking this very seriously. When it came to journaling time, all I could write was how tress don’t talk.
The next day we were instructed to hunt birds with our hearts. Get as close to a bird as you can without it noticing you, we were instructed, and then intentionally shoot it with love so it flies away. Fack! I thought to myself. How can anyone take this seriously? Yet still, reluctantly, I tried. We weren’t allowed to drink wine at the retreat so I might as well spend my mornings engaged in something ridiculous, I figured. After 15 minutes or so, I found the notion of deliberately, quietly, and purposefully stalking a sparrow mildly mindful. My journal that morning recorded my feelings of occasional calm.
On day 6, by the time I had witnessed the intricacy of a fallen leaf and been absorbed into the infinite beauty of a dew drop on a succulent plant, I was a convert. My journal had powerful insights into my newly crafted personal purpose statement and daily intentions. When I returned home a week later, I vowed to myself to continue this practice of morning meditation and introspection, a promise I have kept.
It’s Not Working
Despite the leaps in introspection I had during R1 (incidentally, my tribe is named The Grasshoppers), my progress since coming home has been more like a snail’s crawl. Every morning I mindfully sit on my balcony and carefully watch my breath. Sometimes I listen to guided meditations. Sometimes I simply watch the crows rumble with the seagulls. But every morning for 10 minutes I quietly reflect on the present and then close my meditation with an intention for the day. Like everyone else in my group, I then share my intention in Slack (who said technology can’t bring people together).
After nearly month of daily meditations, it’s not working. While everyone else in my group seems to be abounding with daily intentions, things like “stay in flow” or “relax and receive” or “don’t make assumptions”, I can’t wait to be done with my meditation. The 10 minutes of quiet reflection seem like an eternity, during which time I can’t do anything but think about whatever it is that I have to do next. Indeed, ever since R1, my brain can’t stop thinking. About stupid shit I’ve already thought about 18 times before. Going to sleep has become a chore, and I think I’ve developed a dependency on melatonin. My days are no better, generally filled with level 4 out of 10 jitters for no good reason (even in writing this blog I can’t wait to be done, rather than enjoy the process of self expression and self-discovery).
It is almost as though R1 has woken me to my anxious, doing self, someone I knew very well before a month ago but whom I had managed to, well, manage. None of my old tactics work anymore, and the new intention setting ones inspired by mindfulness seem to be making them worse.
I’m intentionally stuck and don’t know how to get out.