As a regular reader, you might know that I hosted my first compassionate communication course last weekend. A bunch of friends and I went out into the Heathcote National Park and spent a couple of days doing activities to reconnect with our compassionate roots and relaxing in the local rock pools.
The experience taught me so much: about the logistics of running a course like this; the content and activities to maximise benefit for the participants; the natural environment in Heathcote; and – perhaps most importantly – more about these wonderful individuals that accompanied me.
Here are some pictures from the weekend, courtesy of my close friend David E. He’s also uploaded the complete set via Dropbox.
Experiences like these seem to shape you in a different way to everyday life. You’re in an environment where there’s no escape – if you feel awkward or slightly uncomfortable in a social scenario, you can’t just up and leave. You’re also in an environment where honest expression is encouraged, and the other people have made their intention clear that they will attempt to support you and not pass judgement on whatever you say. Let’s call these experiences “honest immersion experiences”.
I was talking about honest immersion experiences the other day with a friend of mine who has been in similar situations. Going away with others (even strangers at first) can be a profoundly intimate and life-changing experience. How come it seems so difficult to have these experiences in everyday life?
Some of my closest friends have been found through honest immersion experiences. Julian, Andrew and Kern I met and connected deeply with on a month-long trip to India. We experienced many facets of Indian culture and discussed “development” and what role we were to play as westerners. I remember staying up late talking with Kern about meditation and how we treat our bodies. (Kern is now running his own business, where he helps people lose weight through mindfulness training.) I remember walking to the beach in Pondicherry with Julian and Andrew talking about how we treat women in Australia, as well as our rating systems – for example: “Dude, that chick was a 9/10!” Julian was so confident, strong and passionate in his views; Andrew so open-minded and caring.
My friend Callum is another gained through these experiences. Participating in an Outward Bound expedition, we found ourselves without adequate equipment as a storm hit in the Kosciuszko mountain range. The result was the two of us getting hypothermia and huddling together for warmth. Nescafé Butterscotch Lattes will always hold a special place in my heart because of that day.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the countless retreats I’ve been involved with through Engineers Without Borders. Perhaps most notably was the National Council in July of 2015. Held amongst the wild in Springwood, QLD, I formed deep bonds with many compassionate individuals as we discussed politics, the role of engineering in the future, and just how to tackle some pretty serious global and societal problems. Memorable were the conversations I had with Tom around the campfire, Talia, Sam and Carla. These are all such ambitious and loving people. I was lucky enough to see this because of the context of the retreat.
Those are some of my stories. While I may not see many of the people mentioned regularly, they will always hold a special place in my heart due to the experiences I’ve had with them. Back to that question though.
How do you have experiences like this in everyday life?
The first thought that jumps to mind is that you need to get out and do something. Have experiences with other people. You can do this with existing people in your life that are important, or you can just have the experiences and meet new people as a result.
Yes. That feels right. Get out there and do stuff. I’m sure you’re all nodding your heads in agreement, perhaps even chastising me for pointing out something so obvious.
Spontaneously go away for a weekend with friends. Plan a hike to Tasmania and walk the Overland Track. Try out geocaching instead of hanging out at a coffee shop and sipping lattes. Sign up for an ultra-marathon. Start learning acro-yoga. Join a book club. Do something.
Don’t just watch TV and go out to dinner and for coffee. If you do watch TV, maybe watch with an analytical mind. You know, like you used to do back in high school as part of that English subject? Go out to dinner with the intention of tasting and experiencing every bite, the whole ambiance of the venue and the interactions with wait staff.
Essentially what I’m saying is that in addition to having experiences, to do so deliberately and with an intention.
The final ingredient I see to having honest immersion experiences in everyday life is the hard part. It requires you to have an intention to be honest and vulnerable when engaging in these experiences. No, more than that. It requires all people involved to have that honesty and vulnerability. This can be pretty scary in a society where we’re generally encouraged from an early age to suppress our emotions and not upset the apple cart. I think it’s only by having this honesty and openness that we can form those deep connections, though. Sure, you can form some great bonds just through having experiences with people. But if you want (or maybe need) that deeper, more intimate connection, then vulnerability is key.
I’m also not suggesting that we do this all the time, or with every single person we meet. That’s totally up to your discretion. But for the important people in my life? Heck yeah! I want to have deep and intimate connections with them.
Photo is of Eagle Rock in the Royal National Park.