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.


  1. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your fantastic blog and for all that you've written and shared over the years.

    I'm Nigel, sometimes I show up on the HSP board, but not very often.

    Well, what I want to ask you about is this: do the HSP gatherings ever have ethnically diverse attendance?

    Are there Asian, Latino, Native American, African, Caribbean, and so on HSPs there?

    I guess probably not since there are only 15 to 30 people there or so. But I just wanted to ask.


  2. Nigel, thanks for your comment, and your kind words.

    Since the majority of the Gatherings have taken place in the US, the attendee profile has somewhat reflected the typical person in the US who's into self-study, psychology and metaphysics-- which would be "predominantly white, female, 40's and 50's." And, of course, being aware of being an HSP.

    That said, we've had someone from Japan attend, as well as Sweden, England, Switzerland, New Zealand, and various other nations. From within the US, we've had several people from Native American communities, as well as a very few from the African-American and Asian communities.


  3. haha. Fantastic answer.

    It quite follows, then, that I've made quite a few friends in the 'predominantly white, female, 40s and 50s' little demographic. I'd go to workshops or seminars that just naturally interested me, and 'ah!...this ethnic breakdown looks familiar.'

    Yet, I'm an early 30s, black, Jamaican-American man. I'm still not sure how much this kind of thing matters to me (or in exactly what way).

    Unfortunately or fortunately, at a fairly young age, my mind stumbled (with help) onto the concept of fundamental arbitrariness of (most) things, especially social and cultural categories. Life hasn't really been the same since.

    What I've learned gradually, however, that has been very exciting to me is that in addition to the so-called 'conscious self' construct that is so vaunted and prized, there are many other aspects of mind. That's nothing new, but what has been dawning on me is that those other non-conscious aspects of us are actually ACTIVELY INTELLIGENT. They form hypotheses about the world, make judgments and conclusions, and effect change.

    This is currently really boggling my mind and enthralling me. Utterly amazing.

    The long and short of it is that I realize that while my conscious mind may have any number of insights about the arbitrariness of various social and cultural notions, those other aspects of me may not necessarily be on the same page.

    Other parts of me might think things like 'worms are very dangerous creatures' or 'attractive women deserve more kindness from me' or so on and so on.

    Well, I'm going on and on here.

    Hopefully you get the point.

    Thanks so much for writing back so quickly. And I really do appreciate your writing and your presence.



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