Author: Leon, EvoLEAD Retreat Participant 2023
“Oh, precious consciousness, you are all I have. My window to the world. I have to protect you like my own child.”
These were the first things I realised during the trip. At the time, I had no idea that I would tragically lose control of my consciousness during the trip. But first things first.
How did I come to take part in the retreat in the first place?
Well, I am now 27 years old and have spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and my past in recent years. Through self-reflection, I have realised that I often have thoughts that worry me. At the heart of these thoughts is the feeling that I’m not good enough.
For example, after studying psychology, I started working as a leadership trainer in a medium-sized company. I love my job and am grateful that I was able to take on responsibility so early on. But at the same time, I realised how my fear was limiting me. When I spoke in front of groups, I listened to myself and checked whether what I was saying made sense. Even in my private life, I often felt insecure as to whether I was enough for my friends and loved ones. In all these situations, I wasn’t fully present in the situation, but instead focussed a major part of my attention on myself. On a rational level, I was able to convincingly reassure myself that everything was fine with me. I get excellent feedback at work, have many friends who appreciate me and am one of the clearly privileged people globally. I can consider myself pretty lucky. But beneath the rational surface, there was sometimes a feeling of disconnectedness, emptiness and inadequacy. I had the impression that I was no longer getting anywhere on “normal” rational paths.
I had already had experience with psychedelics. I knew that psychedelics could help me find new perspectives beyond my rational point of view. Perspectives that are difficult to verbalise and can therefore only be described to a limited extent with these words. I longed for a level that would allow me to taste, feel and grasp my fear with all my senses. During previous trips, however, the setting was too hectic, with lots of social interactions in stimulating surroundings. My attention was more focussed outwards. When I heard that there would be no interaction during the trip at EvoLead and that I would be lying snuggled up on a cosy mattress with a sleeping mask, I was intrigued by the idea of diving deep into my own consciousness.
Leading up to the psychedelic retreat
These weeks were exciting and intense. The Evolute team attached great importance to the fact that everyone focussed on themselves in advance and formulated a clear intention for the trip. There were various inputs and coaching sessions to find the final intention.
After I had dealt with a number of issues over the weeks, my final intention was: “I want to find my inner peace with my fear of not being good enough.“
The team made sure that all participants got to know each other in advance. In three intensive zoom sessions, we shared intimate things early on, laughed together and built up a touching closeness despite the great distance. For me, it felt as if the tension for the retreat grew with every session and every exchange with the others and at some point it was almost unbearable.
Fortunately, the weekend finally arrived. When I arrived, it felt like I had known the other participants and the leadership team for years. No long time to arrive. No tedious building up of psychological security. I immediately felt at home. The two hosts at the Athanor centre also contributed to this. They provided us with light, refined and simply delicious food throughout the retreat. Another feel-good factor was the sensually and cosily furnished seminar rooms – with comfortable cushions, blankets (several if required) and candles. Nothing was missing and I could simply fall into the retreat. I found the fact that there was no set agenda very pleasant. I felt I could trust the team right from the start. This allowed me to fully engage with each exercise in the moment without worrying about what was going to happen next.
The day of the ceremony
“Letting go” was a central motive for the retreat, especially for the trip. As I enjoyed not knowing exactly what was going to happen, I don’t want to go into too much detail about individual events. However, I would like to share a few general highlights.
Although the psychedelic experience was the main focus for many when registering for EvoLead, I was particularly impressed by the dedication and seriousness with which the other programme items were prepared and accompanied.
A lot happened in one day. The day usually began with a gentle yoga session, followed by meditation. This start helped me to consciously get into the day after getting up. After breakfast, there were lots of different exercises that were well balanced. In addition to input and reflection for the mind, there were exercises for the body and also for the soul. This was perfect for me, as I was able to discover new approaches to my consciousness alongside my usual rational approach. Although some of the exercises seemed unfamiliar at first, I was able to take something away from all of them and get to know myself in many new ways. The team managed to establish psychological safety in the group in a special way, so that everyone felt comfortable even with exercises that seemed strange at first. I was so moved by some of the exercises, such as the expression dancing or the breath work, that I was deeply touched and fascinated during and afterwards. I still integrate some of these exercises into my everyday life. In between, there was enough time to reflect on my intention through journaling and coaching.
The tension leading up to the trip was heightened by the exercises and conversations we did together and reached its peak shortly before the trip. Now I would like to share a few words about the trip itself and what I learnt from it in terms of my intention. I would like to add that a lot gets lost in describing the experience.
My trip went through many different phases. After initially standing gratefully and humbly before my own consciousness, I entered a phase that I experienced as dark. I actively chose topics that I wanted to think about and empathise with, such as the somewhat dormant relationship with my mother – or my girlfriend’s difficult past.
But at that moment, it all seemed meaningless to me. I felt empty. Emotionless. Without empathy. Little by little, I felt worse and worse. Negative thoughts flooded me: “You’ve spent money on this now? What are you supposed to say at home about what you’ve learnt? That everything is actually meaningless and makes no sense?” The negative spiral led me into a deep hole. I was lonely, separated and depressed – all feelings that I didn’t normally recognise. “This isn’t me,” I thought to myself. I’m usually optimistic and in a good mood. The glass is always half full for me. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was right in the middle of my intention to face my fear. I didn’t feel good enough and was accordingly hard on myself. I saw myself as an insensitive failure who had no heroic story to tell after the trip.
When I realised this, I calmed myself down. “Just relax. You still have plenty of time. Stop trying to control your trip yourself.” I gently took myself by the hand and realised how I could dive deeper into my trip. I increasingly began to make contact with the people I encountered within myself and was able to feel empathy and connection with myself and others again. Very joyful episodes alternated with painful and distressing episodes. In between, there were also phases in which I was hard on myself again. I wanted to feel more, to connect more with people from my life. But from then on, I saw these phases as lessons in which I could try out my newly acquired gentleness with a pinch of humour. “It’s human to want everything at once. Lean back, Leon. We’re in an area where you’re taking your first steps. I’ll guide you carefully and we’ll look at everything in peace.
What is, is. What is not, is not.” The self-assured calm did me good. Over time, I got better and better at calming myself down and accepting myself. I had a friend with me who accompanied me lovingly. That good friend was me.
I began to perceive myself more and more like a strong tree – firmly rooted and with many strengths. It felt as if I could hold all the suffering around me through the tree. I felt a deep connection with my environment. Towards the end of the trip, a playful and humorous side of me awoke. I was happily conducting along to the songs and was full of funny thoughts. The trip was a rollercoaster of emotions, and at the end I felt very exhausted from all that I had experienced. At the same time, I was deeply inspired and touched – both by my own experience and by seeing the exhausted yet fulfilled faces of the other participants. I could empathise with their journey in their faces and felt a strong connection. And I was grateful for the leadership team who carried me through the whole trip. They were there for me in emotionally difficult phases.
After the trip, I enjoyed the evening with the others. The next day we shared our trips and I was overwhelmed by the diversity of the trips and the fundamental things that people had experienced. I realised that it wasn’t necessarily the content of the insights that touched me so much. If you were to write the individual insights on a piece of paper, another person reading them would categorise them as not ground-breaking, perhaps even banal. However, anyone who saw the luminous eyes and the emotion with which the individual people reported on their trips sensed that they not only understood something profound for themselves, but also experienced and felt it. The trip seemed like the visual proof that is missing when you are only rationally convinced of something, but not inwardly moved.
And how am I doing a few weeks after the retreat? Have I found my inner peace with my fear of not being good enough? First of all: this fear still exists. There are moments when I fall back into the old pattern and make almost unattainable demands of myself. But they have become much rarer. I look at myself and the fear with different eyes. When it does appear, I almost enjoy catching myself. I thank myself and life for this opportunity to practise. In those moments, I remind myself that I am the most important person in my life. Before the retreat, that sentence would have seemed arrogant and self-absorbed. Now it feels completely natural. The trip showed me that being hard on myself leads to a feeling of guilt and separates me from myself and my environment. I realised that my consciousness is the only access to myself and to everything that surrounds me. The key to my consciousness is self-compassion. I have realised that I am lovable and therefore want to treat myself with love. When the inner critic gets loud, I want to take it aside with all my love and give it a hug. This attitude is still new to me and requires further care and practice. I want to give myself time for it.
Even the emptiness, which I found unpleasant at the beginning of the trip, showed me a lot in hindsight. It showed me in an extreme form what can happen if I take my self-critical behaviour to the extreme. On the other hand, I was able to realise that despite my conviction during the trip that this emptiness does not belong to me, it does have a place in my life. The emptiness is actually a part of me. It had just never been given space in my life and was therefore split off early on.
Today I know that I want to give it space, because on the other side it gives completeness the opportunity to fill it. Without emptiness, there is no room for fullness. Suppressing this side suppresses my aliveness. This realisation made me curious about which other parts of myself I have split off in the course of my life. Since then, I have been working on my inner shadows to discover the qualities that make up my human existence. One thing that helps me a lot with this is expressive dance. It allows me to give space to the emotions that I otherwise often push aside in everyday life. In dance, for example, I regularly mourn for the ideal I would like to be. In this way, I gradually say goodbye to my ideal self. This feels more holistic to me than just rationalising why I’m a good guy.
This has also helped me with another issue. In recent years, I have noticed how some aspects of my personality have changed. For example, I have realised that my extroverted side, which used to be very pronounced, has been joined by more and more introverted parts. In my life before the EvoLEAD program, I often asked myself: “What are you really like now? Introvert or extrovert?” I wanted to place myself precisely and predictably on the continuum for different situations. Now I know that I am neither introverted nor extroverted. I am both. No, I’m actually everything. I don’t want to fixate. I want to be fluid and allow myself to be anything at any time. That’s also how I want to interact with other people. The idea that we as human beings are complete from the very beginning is inspiring to me. We gradually lose this insight in life and from then on we are on a quest for completeness. The thought that everything is already there gives me peace in moments of self-doubt.
After the trip, I was delighted with how the team supported us in integrating our findings into everyday life. It was palpable that they truly cared about the development of each of us. I was particularly grateful for the helpful book recommendations and suggestions on topics that I could explore further. I found it pleasant that, in addition to Western literature, many ideas from Eastern traditions were also included. The integration sessions with the others after the retreat were also helpful. It meant a lot to me to see the other participants again and to talk about our experiences together. I can’t thank the whole team and each participant enough for making the program such a special experience for me. It has a place deep in my heart and lives on in me. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in serious personal development. I have the feeling that I am on the trail of something very profound through the retreat.
Dr. Dmitrij Achelrod,
co-founder Evolute Institute
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