Facilitating a Retreat for Inner and Outer Change

By Flo Scialom

I have a joke with some of those closest to me that I am often on a ‘natural high’. I don’t need any drugs, I can just tune into the beauty of the Universe, maaaan 😉 Truly, though, practices such as mindfulness help me to connect with a deeper sense of bliss, which help me to understand the world in a new way. 

We are all multifaceted, complex, interconnected beings – and we are all living through an intense transitional period in history. I believe discussions about this and related topics shouldn’t be confined to stoned rambles, but should be had in different ways every single day. 

Tools for inner change

What I love about mindfulness is that it enables me to stop getting lost in my inner chatter and to connect to something deeper, to a kind of quiet knowing. This doesn’t mean I stop thinking, it means I can see my thoughts more clearly and have a little more choice about where my mind goes. 

This practice isn’t always blissful – it can often bring up ugly emotions, pain and trauma. However, mindful breathing and self-compassion offer some tools for dealing with suffering as it emerges, rather than repressing it to the depths of my being, where it will still inevitably be released in unexpected ways. 

Some of the Spiritual Ecology retreat community sitting together

Practicing in community 

The deepest beauty of mindfulness for me, though, is practicing in community. That is why I have a regular practice group (a sangha) and why I frequently go on retreats. Through community practice I gain more insight into group dynamics, emotional processing, and my own defence mechanisms. 

For almost a decade now I have been regularly practicing mindfulness in community groups. And in recent years I have gently been stepping into the role of facilitator – organising and hosting events, workshops and retreats, as well as participating in them. I’ve just returned from co-facilitating a 5-day Spiritual Ecology retreat, as part of a fairly new Spiritual Ecology Netherlands project I’m working on with Annick Nevejan and Maaike Boumans. This retreat stretched me in new and unexpected ways, and so I’d like to share some of my experiences and learnings.  

Retreat location, the beautiful Samye Ling Buddhist Centre in Beaumont, Belgium

It’s not easy… but it is needed 

This retreat felt a bit like an initiation for me as a facilitator. All of my fears came up – “I am not good enough”, “I don’t deserve to do this”, “nobody’s listening to me, and why would they?” Etc. Wow, we can be so cruel to ourselves, huh! 

And this is the beauty of it – through being in an open, honest and supportive retreat community I was able to be with rather than repress these fears. I listened to and made space for my insecurities, and was able to see that they are not the (whole) truth of who I am. 

I realised that although I am still learning as a facilitator – and this will be an ongoing process – it is also true that I am good enough just as I am. I was also reminded that I am not alone in having an inner critical voice, which is always a relief to remember!

By sticking with the process through the painful moments I was able to come out the other side stronger. I observed and celebrated this happening for others in the retreat community too. This was really wonderful and rewarding to be a part of. 

This fire helped us to celebrate the final night of our retreat

Tools for outer change

One strong motivation for me to host retreats and practice mindfulness generally is to support positive change in the world – and those who are working towards that goal. This Spiritual Ecology retreat was based on the Work that Reconnects and other practices which can help those who care deeply about the world and want to help to protect it. 

It is becoming hard to deny that we are living through times of transition: accepted political norms are crumbling, extreme weather events increasing and the cost of living is soaring. We need to equip ourselves for the changes to come, and I see mindfulness and inner work as one part of that. 

I’ve written more on this topic in other places, so I’ll share some links for those interested in the connection between inner and outer work: 

This is an area I’m still stepping into; there is so much more I could do for the world, so many more actions I would like to take. But I also know I am a work in progress (aren’t we all!), and I’d like to share that progress and continue to build community and connections with those who care about the same things. 

So, to close this post I’d like to share a poem I wrote at the end of the retreat to summarise some of my learnings (you can listen to the poem here and read below):

Co-facilitating Spiritual Ecology retreat with Annick Nevejan

To Speak

My voice shakes

I have tears in my eyes

But I still deserve

To be heard.

Not everyone will like 

What I have to say; 

That’s ok, that’s ok. 

A thousand empty smiles 

Can’t take away the pain 

Pretending to please others 

Only deepens my shame. 

A word of imperfect truth 

Is better than sweetly told lies. 

I realise now – old guard

Time to drop the disguise. 

I have a new kind of power now, 

Gentle but not weak. 

And with this power I hereby vow

To use my voice to speak. 

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