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Episode # 67 – A very weird retreat

Last week I was invited to speak at a 7-day retreat in Ericeira. I love retreats, and being one of the speakers only adds more to the excitement. Stepping out of my comfort zone, meeting new people in a beautiful and inspiring setting, discovering, learning, and growing—what’s not to like, right?

It also reminded me of a retreat I visited a few years ago that left me with a completely different experience. My wife and I decided to go to Amsterdam and take part in an event with the promising ingredients of spirituality, love, tantra, and temptation, guaranteed to fill us with an unforgettable experience.

When we arrived at the venue, we changed into airy, comfortable clothes and met the other guests in a common hall that eventually led us to a little room on the first floor where the opening dance was taking place.

A musty and soggy air greeted us when we entered the room, and it left me wondering why nobody would open a window. Given the smelly climate, we decided to leave the ritual paring dance to others and take a seat on the lounge sofa, where we gazed in awe at the spectacle in front of us. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, but something prevented me from jumping into the rabbit hole and joining the adventure.

Unfortunately, we weren’t given much time to process the fairytale spectacle because the lack of fresh air was reinforced by someone who found it necessary to leave the dance and ‘cut the cheese’ in front of the sofa, filling the room with an unmistakable and overwhelming odor. It’s as if a curious combination of rotten eggs, onions, and a hint of spoiled milk decided to announce its presence in the most obnoxious way possible.

As we left the room, coughing and gasping for fresh air, the thought entered my mind that the manufacturer of this lethal weapon could make a lot of money by bottling his toxic gas and selling it to terrorists.

Once we recovered from this unforgettable acquaintance, we decided to try our luck in another room. There, we were exposed to a ritual in which five people form a group and, in turn, each one is blindfolded and lies on his back.
The other four each take a limb from the blindfolded person and perform random rotating movements in the air.

I don’t know exactly what the benefits of this ‘exercise’ were, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t experience them. Others obviously did, because as I looked around, I saw a lot of people in a deep trance with their arms and legs swinging through the air. It kind of looked like a beetle that got flipped on his back and made spastic movements with his limbs. The euphoria of the lucky spastic beetles was clearly heard as they were all giggling and moaning, as was a voice inside of me that said, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

Fortunately, there was a break afterwards, and we got some time to process our new experiences. Apparently we did something wrong because the responses of people around us were filled with love, enthusiasm, and euphoria. Everywhere around us, people stood in an intimate embrace, showing each other their love. It seemed like lost lovers were reunited after an eternal quest. Every fiber in my body told me that this wasn’t where I should be. Again, I heard my voice proclaiming a loud and clear message: “Get me the hell out of here!” My wife looked at me with big, teary eyes, staring at the ceiling, sending clear signals of great doubt towards me.

I’m all about the love, peace, and happiness movement and expressing my true colors to the world, but maybe I wasn’t ready yet to receive the ingredients that were presented to me. My wife wanted to leave, but I convinced her to give it one more try. We didn’t get a lot of time to discuss it or recover and process all these confusing experiences and emotions because the next treatment was already waiting for us.

This time we were invited to participate in an exercise in which breathing was combined with physical movements in favor of mental, spiritual, and material health. It becomes difficult to describe what happened next, but slowly, an innocent-looking meditation developed into a wild dance with loud screaming and furious stamping on the floor. I’m sure it’s pretty awesome if you’re into these things, and judging by the enthusiasm of the people around us, a lot of them are, but we decided that a screaming, dancing, aboriginal tribal ritual is not for us. Slowly and quietly, we rolled up our yoga mats and sneaked out of the group, where excitement was reaching peak levels. I felt like I was surrounded by a pack of pissed-off T-Rexes getting ready to devour us.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and we decided it was time to leave the Charles Manson-like playground. It took us some time to find someone who could unlock the doors to the building, but once we were safely outside, our lungs filled with fresh Amsterdam air. With the experience gained, we walked back to our hotel, where we quickly came up with an alternative plan for the rest of our stay in Amsterdam, and once again peace was restored in our lives.

I’m always looking for new adventurous experiences, hoping they will dispense nuggets of wisdom or valuable new insights that can improve the way I look at things in my life, but not every new experience is designed to do that. Some just contain entertainment value and leave you with a funny story to share, so you can both laugh wholeheartedly at it.



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