Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts from the First Colorado HSP Gathering

I am gradually "returning to the surface" again after my trip to the HSP Gathering in Estes Park, Colorado. I had a somewhat different perspective this time, as organizer Jacquelyn Strickland had invited me to co-host the event, and I also facilitated a workshop (along with a couple of other "activities")... things that stretched my introverted self well outside my normal comfort zones.

This was my 5th Gathering... and each has its own unique "atmosphere." It was also one of the largest Gatherings, with a "peak" attendance of 37 HSPs... and I came away this time with perhaps more authentic and deep connections than I have before. Sometimes the mix of personalities seems "just right," and this was one of those times.

The setting for this Gathering was Estes Park, CO... adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, it was really a wonderful venue. We were at the YMCA of the Rockies-- which is not like most people would picture a typical "Y," rather it is a sprawling campus of buildings across a very large parcel of land-- capable of hosting conventions and retreats of up to 1500 people.

Gatherings are not easy to explain. On the surface, they unfold a bit like a spiritual/self-growth workshop... but on a deeper level, they also tend to be truly life-changing events for attendees. There's a level of comfort and connection and validation many people have never experienced before in their lives-- and that just changes you, as a person. For five days, you get to experience how it feels to be "100% OK" in the company of a group of peers. Being in a group of HSPs is nothing like the atmosphere we normally associate with "group" events.

When I first started going to Gatherings, it was to learn; these days I go almost purely for the fellowship, and to help other HSPs make connections. In talking to a couple of other attendees, I shared that Gatherings have become a fixture on my "social calendar," every year. HSP Gatherings (officially known as "Gathering Retreats") are constantly evolving. In the broadest sense, they now (loosely) follow a format fairly common in spiritual and self-growth workshops... there's a morning session that's more or less a "classroom" workshop; there's an afternoon session that's less formal, and might include discussions of "what we have learned," or may be some kind of "extracurricular" activity. Evenings are designed mostly for socializing.

The opening day, Thursday, is mainly for "getting-to-know-you" activities and introductions, along with a bit of orientation. The remaining days offer a mixture of workshops on HSP-related topics, typically culminating with Elaine Aron's workshop on Sunday morning. Because we were in splendid natural surroundings, this Gathering included a lot of outdoor activities-- hiking, picnic, watching the Elk at the Park (although they were all over the YMCA campus, as well), horseback riding. This time we also had "Art Night" and "Creativity Night," which are long standing favorites with attendees. In the late evenings, there was usually a group of people sitting around, talking, till the wee hours.

The learning is nice, but as one of my fellow attendees commented, "the real star of the show is the camaraderie between likeminded souls." And I must second that. It seems that even for those who come "to learn," it still ends up being "the people" that leaves the strongest impression.

I love watching people share what they hope to get from the Gathering on opening night, and then hearing what they are taking with them, as we go through closing remarks, five days later. The differences are often striking. "Something" happens to people who go to Gatherings. No matter HOW introverted, anxious and hesitant they might feel when they arrive, by the end of about the third day you'd be hard pressed to say that anyone present is an introvert. People who (three days earlier) would swear on a stack of Bibles that they would NEVER speak in front of a group voluntarily tell their life stories in front of a roomful of people. I don't know HOW it happens, it just DOES.

I find myself somewhat at a loss for words, trying to describe how it feels to be there. In fact, you really have to go to one to fully "get" what it's about. For those of you intrigued, the next fixed date for a Gathering is California (San Francisco Bay Area) on June 19-23, 2008. There MAY be a US East Coast event before that (spring 2008), but that remains contingent on someone "local" stepping forward to co-host. For those of you with a slightly longer time horizon, there's a Gathering planned for the UK in the spring of 2009... I met the co-host-- Sam New-Fielding-- here at the Colorado Gathering, and think she's going to help put on a wonderful event.

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