Sunday, June 22, 2003

California HSP Gathering, Afterthought

I have always thought I had a pretty good "grip" on the differences between Introversion and Extraversion. Central to this understanding was the idea that Extraverts have an "external frame of reference," while introverts have an "internal frame of reference."

As a result of going to the Gathering, things have become less clear. For all intents and purposes, I know myself to be an Introvert. Have been, as long as I can remember.


At the Gathering, I found that my frame of reference became almost exclusively "external." I got virtually all my "energy" from the people around me. I actively sought out people, rather than solitude.Of course, I can easily associate this with the fact that I had a feeling of being "included," rather than "excluded," as I am used to. However, that experience raises so questions-- for me, anyway-- about how we define introversion vs. extraversion. To what degree does our environment push us to "falsify" our type? Am I really an HSP-extravert whose history of "negative feedback" from interactions ("The environment") has caused me to seek energy internally? Or does the "safe environment" that made me feel momentarily extraverted actually represent a "false echo," since it is-- really-- not a "real life environment?"

Thursday, June 19, 2003

California HSP Gathering recap, Part II

In the morning, I awake early-- and decide to hike to Wildcat Ridge, so as to get an overview of the site. I love California; I love the West Coast-- it's cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon. It's been a long time since I've been there, other than just "passing through," on a road trip. Wildcat Ridge is about a mile, with an 800 foot elevation gain-- on the way, I meet deer, jackrabbits, quail, and any number of birds on the way up. As well as the herd of cows that go with the ranch. It is incredibly peaceful at the top-- although it is only 6:30, I see someone else has also made the trek up. The view is great; I take pictures.

And so it begins, in earnest, on Friday morning. People start to feel that it really IS safe to be "authentically themselves" and they open up. And Jacquelyn is right-- we slowly become "extraverts" of a sort. I really thought I had a "thick shell" against the world. And I thought others would, too. Instead I find that we are incredibly "in touch" with ourselves-- in a matter of less than a day, all the "shields" we put up to protect us against the world are down.

A bunch of different words come to mind, but they seem hopelessly inadequate. In shamanic practice, altered states are often referred to as "non-ordinary reality"-- and that's close to how I would characterize what I experienced, except the physical body I inhabit in "ordinary reality" actually went along. I visited a "place" I had really only thought about in "conceptual" terms.

I am in a bit of a "thought daze," still running the internal "films" from those four days. I really have nothing but good to say about it-- except that it was over too soon. As for descriptors, I like the sound of "resonance." And "reciprocity." And kinship and fellowship. Acceptance. Safety. Openness. Non-judgmental. As one participant tearfully said, during the closing moments: "I have spent a lifetime giving, giving, giving-- and for the first time ever, it was reciprocated back to me." I feel a mixture of awe, joy and sadness... sadness, at the fact that I got to live 42 years before having the opportunity to experience true "connectedness" in a completely supportive and safe group setting; awe and joy at the fact that it actually did happen. Not just I, but so many of the other participants shared that same feeling, by their words and their reactions.

It was like we found "our tribe," in a world where we might have otherwise felt destined to walk all alone, and misunderstood. It was amazing to be in a group where nearly everyone "got" nearly everyone else. I expect we each took something different away from there-- having already known about being an HSP for some years, I mostly went for the purpose of finding fellowship-- and I came away with 20+ new friends. Contrast this with the fact that I am someone who might make one new friend, in a year. I have been to many seminars and retreats, but never... never... have I experienced 30+ people spending four days together without a raised voice, without power struggles, without regularly hurt feelings, without arguments and otherwise nothing but kindness and compassion. Instead of feeling "odd" and "alienated," we felt ourselves reflected back in the faces of everyone around us-- and so, the "shields" we all have grown so accustomed to wearing, as protection against our surroundings, just melted away... and underneath, a group of profoundly powerful and compassionate human beings emerged; the very best of our human species.

And for the first time in my life, I have sat with a group of men in a room where there was no "ranking," no "one-up and one-down" (I feel like I have gained a year's allotment of buzzwords!) and no male posturing-- just the honest cores of the men who were there, talking about the truths and essences of their lives. That one brings tears to my eyes. As does the overall fellowship I found-- as I said, I went to "find" the people, not to "be at a seminar," and that is precisely what I found. During the closing remarks, it was as if we all realized the enormous impact and implication of what we had just been a part of-- and emotions freely came to the surface and were released... and to all those who have been told they were "too sensitive" on account of choking up during "goodbyes," here they found only acceptance. It was all OK. And even the most timid and introverted of HSPs found the "safety" to become an active participant. "WE" are all "OK."

Elaine came and spoke on Saturday, to an extended crowd that included a number of "weekend-only commuters." I spoke to her only very briefly, although I contributed a bit to a discussion on "attachment styles." She struck me as intensely private, intensely introverted, and intensely intellectual. She was almost like a shadow that suddenly showed up, was their, and then vanished again.

All I can say is that I highly recommend going to a Gathering, if you ever get the chance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

California HSP Gathering recap, Part I

I suppose sometimes I get into the "Little Pessimist" mode-- but I sat here last Wednesday, reminding myself that I have gone to any number of workshops and seminars, and I have-- at best-- come away with a "decent" feeling about the event. Let's face it, I have no anxiety issues with "groups," it's just that I never really seem to "connect," and I grow disappointed that I am truly "alone" in the world. A part of me certainly was open to the idea that I would connect with a few of the HSPs, but I also had the fear that I might just end up among this group of "hysterical whiners," proving once again that I am truly "too weird" to relate to any particular group.

The trip from Austin to California seemed filled with "signs"-- and not good ones, at that. The SuperShuttle driver was late; it turned out she was a rookie in her first week, fumbling about with maps, circling around neighborhoods. I got to put the benefit of having lived in this town for over 20 years to use, guiding us to other pickups, and showing her ways around the worst morning traffic snarls, so we did get to the airport on schedule. The first leg, from Austin to Denver, was uneventful... until we got to the gate... and just sat. Then the pilot got on the PA and announced that they were having some trouble extending the jetway, but that it would be fixed "momentarily." About 10 minutes later, he got back on and announced that a "jetway mechanic" was now on-site-- but if the problem couldn't be fixed, we'd have to be towed to a new gate... meanwhile, the clock ticks. Another 10 minutes; another announcement-- a set of stairs has been ordered, and we'll leave the plane through the left exit, and enter the terminal via the fire escape. Which we do-- and following which I am making a mad dash to the SFO flight.

Of course, just as I walk (run) up, I hear the announcement that the flight is now part of a "ground hold" in San Francisco-- the cloud cover has settled on the ground there, and we're being "held" for an hour. Both a sense of relief, but my anxiety also ratchets up a notch since Sheri-- my carpool partner-- is now going to be sitting there, waiting for me to arrive.

I am reminded that I still live in a small town. We may have an airport with the only runway in the "middle states" that's long enough to land a 747 with the space shuttle strapped on top, but nobody flies "big" planes in there. Certainly not an A340 stuffed to the gills with 370 passengers-- I am really not at home anymore, it feels more like I'm going to Europe.

We got in about an hour late, but due to a series of good breaks (sitting in the front of the plane, running into open elevators, catching the airport train right as it rolled in) I got to the car rental only 45 minutes later than expected. Then I had an argument with the counter clerk as to whether or not I could rent a car and pay with a debit card. No sign of Sheri. Sheri was my carpooling partner. A little persuasive sales technique on the counter clerk, and I'm good to go. Fortunately, Sheri has her cell phone, and calls the counter, while I am standing there-- we meet, down by the cars.

Walker Creek Ranch is about 60 miles from SFO. I am reminded of California traffic-- it takes nearly 2 1/2 hours to get there, on a Thursday afternoon. I am also reminded that 101 runs right through downtown as surface streets. I am also amazed that you can have a place so remote, so close to San Francisco-- the Apple Market (the closest grocery) is 17 miles from WCR, along narrow winding 2-lane roads through the "Golden Hills" of Northern California. It's an amazingly beautiful setting, for an HSP retreat. Sheri is a bit distressed-- she had visions of something cushier, a bit more "Club-Med-ish." It's clean, but spartan-- bathrooms down the hall; someone (turns out to be Jacquelyn, our "intrepid leader") has scratched out a paper sign that said "Women's" and hand written "Co-ed." That will be the butt of many jokes and comments, during the coming days.

And then I start meeting some of the other HSPs. There's an anticipation in the air-- a cross between a feeling of caution and openness... as if nobody can quite believe this is "for real." At 4:30, a group of us strike off for a hike to Turtle Pond-- a small lake not far from the ranch... quiet conversations start. That was the first "aha" moment for me-- everybody speaks softly; no loud voices, no in-your-face-ness. Some, like Richard, have been to all the Gatherings-- most others are here for the first time.

By dinner, 20-some people have arrived-- dinner is served in the dining hall, which is the only building on the "campus" that actually resembles a rustic Colorado cabin on steroids. In the "new tradition" of retreats, the food is superb, and in no way "institutional"-- much of it grown locally, on the ranch. "Ranch mom" Susie bids us welcome. She's actually younger than the general late-30's to 50's range of the HSPs. A group of 100 3rd graders will be leaving in the morning, so we'll have much more peace, then. She warns us to keep the doors closed, as "the skunks are very curious."

After dinner, we meet in the room where all the workshops and breakout sessions will take place. Jacquelyn Strickland bids us welcome, and outlines a bit of what we can expect, house rules, and so forth. There are only three extraverts, and she is one of them. We're asked to introduce ourselves to the group-- as often has been the case in my life, I become one of the ones tasked with getting the ball rolling. Eventually, everybody relaxes... HSPs from Canada, Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Austin, TX. And a bunch from the Bay Area. We learn two things, that will set the tone for the rest of the Gathering: (1) HSPs are not timely and (2) there isn't time enough. The opening session runs so long that the next day's schedule is already being rearranged. Jacquelyn predicts that by Sunday, anyone observing us would think we were a group of extremely gregarious friends who've known each other all our lives.

(more to follow)

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Post-Gathering Processing

I am back, both from Europe, and from the West Coast HSP Gathering.

I am still trying to "process" the Gathering experience-- it was, in many ways "breathtaking." Very different from just a straight "workshop," far more like a spiritual or healing retreat. I am in a bit of a daze, really... but everything I can think of is positive; from what I learned, to the new friends made... to some profound feeling I can't quite name yet, but that goes with the sense that I have a "Tribe," out there.

I will post more, as I get my thoughts together.

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