I was once invited to a six-day retreat with twenty-two spiritual leaders from many different religious backgrounds. I felt a little fear when I thought about going to this retreat because I suspected that there might be some people in the group who felt negatively toward my religious tradition. If I went to this retreat, I might be judged and criticized. I was fearful of getting intense negative feedback.
My administrative assistant noticed what was going on. With an impish grin she asked me if I was afraid. She knew she had me. I groaned and told her to order the plane ticket. I may have been afraid, but at least I recognized it and began making the effort to become externally open.
In the first hour of the retreat I was on edge. I was tempted to judge and label other people–the very think I was afraid they would do to me. I knew I had to get out of that state but I was still fearful. I made a choice to change.
The retreat was full of intimate conversation. We listened to each other’s stories of personal trial, failure, and triumph. One man spoke of developmental rituals in the wilderness and accounts of his personal transformation. Another man told of enduring brutality while participating in demonstrations n the sixties. He saw his efforts change the racism of people he thought would never change. A woman spoke of her service in the midst of violent gangs and occasional sacred moments when anger was turned to love. As we listened to each other, our need to label each other and to differentiate ourselves began to fade. We began to see at least as much of what we had in common between us as we saw of what was different.