At the end of February I did a 3.5 day personal development “retreat” (*) called the Inner Journey Seminar which is designed to stretch/grow participants in all directions. I found it highly worthwhile and will explain a bit about my experience here.
On my Inner Journey (IJ) retreat there were 14 people: 6 men, and 8 women. There was also a staff of I think about 30 supporting us who were almost all volunteers.
We lived (slept overnight) at the retreat location for the 3.5 days. It’s an intense and experiential retreat; there’s not much sitting back listening to talks. Most of the time, we were actively participating in a diverse range of activities.
For more detail on what it’s all about I suggest reading this page which explains it better than I can.
What I Can & Can’t Explain
Before I tell you about my experience, let me explain why I can’t actually tell you much about what happens on the weekend. Everyone who participates is essentially sworn to secrecy, and for good reasons. In my opinion, there are three reasons not to share information about the activities that happen on the weekend, or anything about anyone’s experience aside from my own:
- For people who are planning to do the retreat, knowing in advance what happens would in some ways ruin the experience. I think participants wouldn’t be able to help coming in with preconceived ideas about the activities and plans for how to handle them, rather than letting the experience unfold naturally; I think they’d be mentally “braced” which would prevent them from participating fully.
- I think that participants feel more free to be open and fully engage in the activities if they know that their experiences won’t be shared outside of the weekend.
- I think that if most people knew in advance what was going to happen, they wouldn’t register. I think I wouldn’t have signed up if I knew what I was in for… BUT after having done the IJ, I think most people would be very happy that they’d done it, as I am.
So although I can’t explain anything about the various activities that happen at IJ, I can explain a bit about my own inner experience on the retreat, and what I took away from it.
Why I Decided To Do the IJ Seminar
I’ve always been interested in personal growth, probably because I’m never quite satisfied my current state of development. On top of that, a recent relationship had made me painfully aware of some areas where I have a lot of growing to do. I’d also been having some almost-mid-life crisis type thoughts, such as “If all I get to do is repeat the same 35 years one or two more times, my life will have been a terrible waste.”
So I was highly eager for change, and although I had a lot of reservations about the IJ, I decided that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity that might have some potential to be transformational.
Preparation for IJ
The 3 therapy sessions that I’d done earlier in the month had been part of my preparation. They certainly weren’t required prior to IJ, but they helped me start to open up.
Luckily, someone I knew had recently done IJ. Because I trusted that person and her opinion of IJ, I was able to go into it with my defenses down. This was important, because I’m generally pretty guarded & don’t think I could have been fully open to an unknown experience if I didn’t know & trust someone who gave it the thumbs up.
Since I’m a naturally skeptical person, I also made a decision ahead of time to turn off my analytical/critical mind until the retreat was over. It was a good thing I did. Critically analyzing the retreat as it happened would also have prevented me from being able to be fully present and open.
In the weeks before the retreat I really rammed into my own head my plan to go in with an open mind and participate fully. Most people may not need to work to get into that mindset, but I did.
My Experience During The Retreat
The retreat was hard work, and all of us who attended were constantly pushed far outside our comfort zones. As I mentioned, I can’t explain the activities, but can tell you about my internal experience. Before I do, I want to emphasize that many aspects of my own experience were not typical. Everyone on the retreat came in from different backgrounds and had different goals. Some of the activities had very different effects on different people. What follows are a few of my own internal experiences, and not necessarily similar to what anyone else should expect:
- During the retreat I became aware of some of my internal processes. For example, I became viscerally aware of the effect of the critical voice in my head that tells me that I’m “not good enough”. I didn’t eliminate the voice, but I think awareness is the first step to dealing with it.
- At one point I went into a mildly altered mental state that I hadn’t experienced before. I sensed something very solid and still in my mind, and I think for about 15 minutes I was locked into that solid stillness with a peaceful but intense focus. I’m not sure if there was any value to that experience, but it was certainly interesting.
- The most significant experience is one that I can best describe as my heart opening up. This opening actually was happening throughout the whole retreat, but seemed faster at some times than others. The result of this opening was that I was able to feel a lot more than I usually do (not all positive feelings), and it allowed me to connect to people in a deeper way than I’d been able to before.
And I should only be speaking for myself, but I think I can safely say that although the retreat was a roller coaster, everyone was feeling pretty great by the end.
It has been 4 months since I did the retreat, and the lasting effects have been:
- I remain more in touch with what I’m feeling.
- I’m more open with others.
- I have better relationships with certain people who are important to me. This is an ongoing and significant change.
- I’m motivated to continue growing in some of the same directions that I was stretched on the retreat.
- Although the “intense” state of openness and connection that I was feeling by the end of the retreat faded, simply knowing that it exists has had lasting effects. I know that it is a good place to be, and a better way to relate to others. So although the state hasn’t lasted, my orientation towards it as a target, for myself & my relationships, is new.
Also, thanks to IJ, I decided to take singing lessons for my next month’s project – something I’ve always been terrified of.
I’ve attended a few personal development retreats / workshops in the past, including a 10 day meditation retreat, an NLP practitioner course, and others. None of them have had results that were as positive or as lasting as IJ has.
Lest it’s sounding like IJ cured all of my problems, I think I should mention that in many ways I’m still as “broken” as I was before IJ (heck, I’ve just started seeing a counselor again), but due to IJ I’m more open & more aware, which I think are prerequisites to further change, and gained some knowledge and motivation to continue growing.
Do I Recommend It?
Yep. I think that anyone who wants to grow in some way and is willing to put up with some discomfort could get a lot of value from it.
Tip: If you’re going to do the IJ retreat, bring a lot of snacking food. Although the food they serve is great, there wasn’t always enough of it at the times when I was craving it.
*Footnote: Although I’m referring to the Inner Journey Seminar as a “retreat”, that’s not quite the right word (I think “retreat” has connotations of quiet peaceful solitude). But “seminar” doesn’t quite fit either. And neither does “course”, “program” or anything other words I’ve come up with. So “retreat” it is.