I recently facilitated a women’s self-compassion retreat on a Sunday morning: Four hours tucked in the very welcoming and comfortable rooms of the Cancer Support Community of Greater St Louis with 14 beautiful feminine souls.
We all turned up as we could, after navigating the various events of our morning – traffic, children, housemates and family. We all helped to set up the room – move furniture, bringing cushions in from the car, putting out food and laying out reading materials. And after time to gently greet each other and chat for a while, we settled down to our self-compassion retreat.
Right at the start, as is the tradition with Mindful Self-Compassion offerings, I emphasized that we had complete permission to do whatever we needed to take care of ourselves during the retreat.
Most of the women had meditated before and other than a few women who had done retreats most were on retreat for the first time. A desire for self-compassion practice in community motivated them to take the step into the retreat experience.
Right at the start, as is the tradition with Mindful Self-Compassion offerings, I emphasized that we had complete permission to do whatever we needed to take care of ourselves during the retreat. If we needed to get up and use the restroom at any time, we would do that. If we needed to stop meditating and leave the room to walk or get something to drink, we would do that. If we needed chocolate or fruit, we would navigate to the kitchen and nurture ourselves in that way. If we needed to nap, we would find a couch in one of the other rooms in the building and nap. I told the group, “The fundamental question for us is “What do I need?” and then, “How can I give that to myself.””
I walked past rooms during movement meditation and saw little feminine bundles of sleep on couches.
It seemed that none of those beautiful women needed repeated reminders to take care of themselves. Everyone there was a mother (existing or expectant), daughter, caregiver, healer, wife or teacher – everyone knew how to care for themselves; some just needed a space to do it.
Right at the start we invested time in making sure the lighting was comfortable – turning some lights off and some on to provide softness, in a democratic process of experimenting and offering feedback. Women got up and went out during meditations to take care of themselves. Women chose to sit on comfortable couches rather than on cushions on the floor. I walked past rooms during movement meditation and saw little feminine bundles of sleep on couches. Some women napped in place in the meditation room, curling up on the chair they’d nested in. The bags of wrapped chocolate and fruit were opened in the kitchen. The door to the healing garden outside was propped open for most of the morning, even though it was raining outside, as women visited the herbs and flowers.
Our venue, a place of much sorrow but also much joy, resonated beautifully with the group. It was clear that the Cancer Support Community knew all about nurturing: we all felt nurtured within its walls. The perfect environment for a self-compassion retreat.
The time flew. I suddenly realized that we were at the 3-hour mark and it was time to start thinking about transitioning out of retreat. In the final minutes of the retreat, a musician in our midst played us a piece of music she composed and played on piano, with her daughter’s angelic voice as accompaniment. It was a piece on lovingkindness she wrote while doing Mindful Self-Compassion training with me a few months earlier and it was the perfect way to end the retreat. We were so open to receiving its beautiful melody and message at that point in the morning.
… as we ate and talked about how we want to be in community with each other: what nurtures us, what challenges us …
We moved out of the retreat and there was the invitation to help pack up, which was done as a community effort. We returned the space to its original configuration, hugged each other and exchanged contact details and information about other offerings. Some of us stayed to share lunch where we talked about mindful group visits to nature, intentional communities, men and self-compassion and food. Our gathering continued for over an hour after the retreat, as we ate and talked about how we want to be in community with each other: what nurtures us, what challenges us, our learnings about our internal landscape and processes, navigating relationships, setting boundaries, being authentic and taking care of ourselves.
Thanks to the beautiful group of women who dared to show up on a Sunday morning to share in self-compassion in companionable silence. Thanks to them for truly asking, “What do I need?” and “How do I give that to myself.” Thanks for permission to sleep. Just, thanks.
I plan to run more women’s retreats in St Louis. Sign up for my email newsletter list if you’d like to be notified.