A Gathering Report - East Coast HSP Gathering Retreat
Oct 2-6, 2008, Catskills Mountains
by Phil Fimiani
(Note: This article was written in early November, 2008.)
Greetings fellow HSPs,
It's now been almost a month since I attended my first HSP Gathering Retreat. Wow.... It took me long enough to get to one, and since this one was so close to me on the East Coast, I couldn't pass up the chance.
It was only 2 hours north of New York City, at the end of a road, nestled deep in a valley of the Catskill Mountains. It was good for me to get back to this area - one I've known well and one I often refer to as "heaven." As we approached the end of the valley a gate and a row of colorful Tibetan flags greeted us. I began to look forward to spending the next 4 days discovering and growing, and everything felt new once again. This would be our home for the next few days. I already knew I didn't want to leave!
This place was special. A mountain retreat, Menla Mountain Retreat Center, is managed by the Tibet House organization, and I enjoyed the Buddhist feel. It was lovely to discover the meditation sanctuary up on the hill, and to meander down softly trodden pathways into the woods emblazoned with fall colors. I knew, even if the HSP Gathering didn't live up to my expectations, the grounds and surrounding area would provide me with a natural healing and camaraderie - within myself - which I needed.
Jacquelyn was at the lobby desk to greet us upon arriving, we were quickly meeting our newfound HSP friends. Upon leaving to check into room, I realized I didn't get a room key. Going back to the desk I was told they didn't use them! How unique....trusting all visitors, my first lesson encounter in the Buddhist traditions. I immediately sensed an aura of peace, calm serenity about the area.
My room was simple, clean and comfortable. Uncluttered, it offered a refuge to go inward for reflection when I spent time there. After all it was a retreat center - a place for reflection and healing. I was to soon discover, the rest of my experience offered the same.
We were not only locals from the northeast; participants came from all over, including 7 Canadians. The first evening was spent getting to know our new HSP friends. We all had a chance to introduce and share how we first found out about the HSP trait. If we wanted, we could verbalize our desires for the weekend. Wow, goals!!! Our own, and they would be achievable!!
Meals here were Vegan. I'm not but I didn't starve. Some of the group, despite good (vegan) food, visited a nearby town for rescue foods! It seemed a motto at the Gatherings: "focus on needs, not approval" was being role modeled. I admit I did partake in a candy bar or two!!!
The next day after a short group meditation we started the first Conversation Cafe (a discussion model). "Hey! I'm not comfy here yet," and you're asking me to open up to strangers!!! Yikes!!! I personally am not comfortable with group encounters, but it was a good experience with lots of topics to choose and learn from.
Another educational breakout session was on a favorite subject of mine - Energy Medicine. We learned and practiced various techniques and methods to calm the nervous system. It was amazing to learn most all of our "Well Being" scores increased at least two or three points along a scale of ten.
After this presentation, came a full half-day to spend any way we wanted. "Retreat time!" Yahoo!" I'm off to hike!!! I find myself leading a small group up the backside of the mountain we were near. I recalled it was a flat, easy trail for quite a ways..... :Uh uh uh ...well, I thought it was easy (30 years ago) but suddenly, it changed to a 45-degree path the whole rest of the way! Despite the challenges it was loads of fun. Others spent their retreat time visiting Woodstock; alone along the streams on the property; horseback riding; bird watching; enjoying photography; or just sitting peacefully with themselves and nature.
There was an art night... and I'm sorry I missed it. It gave everyone a chance to uncover some hidden creativity and loosen our inhibitions. It was successful. Thoughtful and meaningful creations began to appear around the room, and came from everyone who participated. The collages filled the room with colorful self expressions.
Instead of art night, I spent time looking through a telescope a local astronomer had brought to the grounds. What sights to behold -- to see the Milky Way across the sky, and dark matter obliterating some of the view -- it was just like in the books!
After dinner a few informal evenings with some of us enjoying a glass of wine, dancing, participating in Creativity Night, and of course a late night of discussions of every HSP sort of issue. Ya gotta luv those 2AM late stay ups!!! Trying to walk back to our rooms in the dark without a flashlight, brought out the heightened HSP sensory systems needed to get through the black night. No, I don't want to repeat that!! lol...
The next day was the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory interpretation session where we received our scores from the assessment taken earlier. For some of us, our type was validated. Others found new information and some, of course, met new challenges, including myself when I learned that my dominate function was not being utilized in service to my authenticity! So it was definitely an interesting session.
We spent Sunday afternoon by a speaker phone, listening to Elaine Aron, Ph.D. talk about "The Undervalued Self" and explain "The Six Protectors: Minimizing, Blaming, Non-competing, Over-achieving, Inflation, and Projection." It was interesting to learn how these can subconsciously render a person into a devalued situation.
Finally, a group picture was taken for posterity. Friendships were formed; none of us wanted our time together to end. I reluctantly had to leave on Sunday evening, but I also knew the next morning would be goodbyes.. I hate goodbyes....
Did I cover everything? It's really not possible. Every moment was an experience to remember and assimilate, for one reason or another, and most of us went home with more than we expected. This report is only a tiny portion of what I took home. My energy levels were on "high" for the next two weeks!!! My mind was reeling with thoughts, emotions, energy, creativity, pondering the future and past... and integrating it all.
No value can be placed on an experience such as this. Each experience seemed to be different -- unique, and fruitful. Some experiences were upsetting for some, in a meaningful sort of way. But that's growth.... regeneration renewal...
Mostly it seemed many of us were energized and pleased at the discoveries we were uncovering, and enjoying, about our HSP selves!
As we left the gates we entered 5 days ago, we may have discovered a little more about ourselves, left something of ourselves behind, picked up something new. Our baggage was lightened, our energy renewed, our emotions validated and regenerated. We discovered we were leaving being genuinely comfortable in our own skins.
Will I go again? I hope so. Each Gathering is unique. I'm told, each time it is a new one, and no two people come away with the same experience. And I suspect, yours, mine, or anyone's will be different each time. This is good ....
Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Are you???? I hope you can one day give yourself this gift to yourself. Experience a Gathering at least once. It will be a gift you'll cherish for the rest of your life. Oh, did I mention it can be habit forming???
I am looking forward to another HSP Gathering Retreat -- maybe in Phoenicia, New York at Menla Mountain Retreat Center next year? I hope so.
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