Mid-Life Retreats

By Barbara Dewar

I am a psychotherapist with a practice in St. Catharines and Toronto. I chose to become a psychotherapist through my experience of personal therapy and community work in the Therafields environment. The Therafields Grouping was created in the late 1960’s in Toronto and continued until 1981. Therapists and activists worked with individuals and groups to foster personal and community growth. My relationships with some wonderful people in this grouping offered me fruitful knowledge in the area of psychodynamic therapy and a sense of community. It was a lifesaver. I then charted an independent path with mentors who were therapists and trainers. I will forever treasure them. With so many aspects to the journey, the road has been and is colourful, varied and rich.

Although I have explored and worked with many techniques, reflecting on how I am as a therapist in the room with my client has sparked a passionate interest in the intersubjective movement both in my private practice and in the school (Espritedu) that Jo-Anne Corbeil and I are co-creating. I would like to express in my own words my interpretation of this work and hope that it will be meaningful to you. These personal discoveries of the intersubjective will be threaded into everything I write about. For now, I would say that the intersubjective is about how we develop a significant enough relationship with others so that it affects the continual growth of a connection with our inner self. With this connection we are more aware of our thoughts, feelings, intuition and ancient knowledge. It is this awareness that we need to live a more conscious life. I have also discovered that a richer relationship with our inner life often leads to a questioning and exploration of spiritual meaning.

Mid-life Retreats

I began practising psychotherapy in my early thirties and at that time had very good health and was blessed with a good memory. At forty-five I found myself in the middle of a hormonal flux and quite dramatically began to experience memory loss and a general intolerance of ordinary frustrations, which made it difficult for me in my personal life and work. I often experienced an overall feeling of malaise. I was struggling with mid-life realities. My own experience of this struggle was my motivation for creating a weekend retreat for women in the same phase of life. I wanted it to be in a country setting because with aging I am feeling more and more drawn to nature and less apart from its natural laws and lessons.

I approached four other colleagues, (Jo-Anne Corbeil, Judy Farquharson, Mary Walton-Ball and Isabel Caceres ) with my ideas around the retreat and to ask them if they would be interested in assisting with the facilitation. I wanted to create a safe environment for women to tell their personal stories. I suggested that the style of leadership be democratic and expressed a vision that both the participants and facilitators would go through personal transformative growth. They were all interested in participating.

I began preparing my notes in Dariya’s garden in my back yard. It was named after someone who, although no longer with us physically, has left a legacy of knowledge around process and personal growth. I knew that what would happen on the weekend would have a life of its own and that the facilitators were there to create a safe container for this to happen. Each woman had to be able to claim her own experience of reality. How was the atmosphere of safety to be fostered? What framework would make this happen? It was not going to be a psychodynamic group where underlying motivations are analyzed. The facilitators were not going to be experts on the psychological makeup of people as they were encouraged to be participants as well.

I realized that what we needed to do was to ask everyone to struggle to put judgements on themselves and others at bay. I have come to see that judgements are ways that we keep ourselves from our humanness. We feel fear or terror of judgements and with fear cannot find the words to express our own truths. The facilitators would be there to guide us away from judgements and to encourage expression of the honest feelings that are behind the criticisms. More often than not, judgements cover our fears. If we can claim our inner truths then we find it easier to claim our present ordinary, extraordinary lives. We would encourage mutuality of exchange, in a free and open participatory style and acceptance of all feelings as having equal value. We would encourage attunement with one another. There is no greater motivator than to be present with one another.

On the weekend of June 22, 2001, thirty-one women went on the country retreat. I spoke about the above framework on Friday night and found that it immediately encouraged us to open up our feelings and personal realities. As the weekend continued, I would describe the expression of our life stories as rich, varied, intense, humorous, loving and deeply moving. I could see that the threads that bonded us together were our deep inner truths. A large part of the weekend was group process, but we also applied the same framework in other activities: yoga, hiking, a guided meditation, campfire singing and sharing of meals. Although I knew some women more than others before the weekend and share a deeply caring relationship with them, I felt that I got to know the new women well and felt a loving connection develop between us.

Over the next few weeks, as the women absorbed the power of the weekend, I received warm feedback. Some common comments were: “I got a sense of how to connect with my authentic self”; “I feel less of a barrier with the participants and the facilitators”; and “I feel a need to reach out to my own communities.” Embracing change was expressed as a desire to achieve better health, a need to explore creativity, new ideas on how to connect with family and friends and new challenges on new and old careers. For me, being around everyone for the whole weekend continued to help in my learning to lower my professional protective shield and to offer, more fully, presence and attentiveness in order to be better attuned.

The weekend was a great teacher for me. It helped me to continue to explore the question of how to gain a deeper access to our inner individual and collective centre. I realize that we can claim our everyday living realities through the process of responding to the challenges to connect with our deeper self. Meeting these challenges catapults us forward into the joy of real relationships. The weekend reminded me that this process to connect to our deeper self can only be facilitated through relationships.

Overall, it seemed that we all received a huge affirmation for having arrived at mid-life both physically, emotionally and spiritually. No symptom or emotional reaction was too crazy to express but was embraced by all as common to the creative challenges on the mid-life road upon which we were all travelling.

I will be having another mid-life retreat on the April 26 & 27 weekend. If you are interested or have comments or questions please call 416-271-1102.