At the start of the school year one of my co-chairs of the Relay For Life Committee came up with the idea to have a retreat for our executive committee. We all thought that this year we needed to do something to create a stronger bond between all of our sub-committee chairs (who compose the executive committee), and a retreat seemed like a fantastic way to facilitate it. A few others and myself started a planning committee, and began communicating with Fr. Jack.
Fast-forward a few months and we are finalizing the schedule for the retreat. Fr. Jack presents the planning committee with a tentative schedule for the days, and I notice that he has large blocks of time set aside for “talks.” He then proceeded to divvy out the “talk” topics. I ended up with “What does my life say to the world?”
I received the entire holiday break to conjure up an answer to Fr. Jack’s question. This is not easy answer on one’s own, let alone to articulate in a, ten-minute minimum, speech that will be presented to a group of twenty colleagues. To make a long story short, I procrastinated writing the talk and ended up finishing a few days before the retreat. Although I put-off writing my speech, I could not avoid thinking about it.
The goal of a retreat talk is to answer a question by condensing a few personal life stories, and then use them to point out a message that everyone can relate too (not as easy as it sounds). Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, works in the same way. While reading, I found myself thinking back on the process of writing a reflection on my own series of revelations. Where others might have found her self-centered or unrealistic, I found myself nodding my head and saying, using Gilberts own words, “ I understand. I have been there.” Not only did I go through a very similar spiritual journey, but I also had to communicate that experience.
Gilbert focuses in on specific word choice, to really express what she means. In the Italy section, she is asked what word describes her, and she struggles to find a word that does justice to her place of mind. At the end of writing my talk I had come up with I word that summed up me, as well as my experiences. It was, and still is, HONESTY. This word holds a lot of meaning for me, and I think it could also serve as Gilberts word (if she accepted).
I believe that the start of all revelations, including Gilbert’s and mine, starts with some sort of self-reflection. This may be initiated by a breakdown, but it also can be initiated by a simple conversation with one’s self. Lying on the floor of her bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably, Gilbert realized that she needed help, and she needed change. I found myself in a similar situation only six months ago, except I was face down crying into a pillow, rather then making a “…great lake of tears and snot...” on the bathroom floor. I had to by honest with myself, I was unhappy: I hated my major, I cringed at the thought of my career path, I wasn’t speaking with my family, I was depressed and angry about a broken relationship, I lost my relationship with God and religion, and because I was so stressed I couldn’t enjoy the things I used to be so passionate about. I rolled out of bed, and started to systematically approach all of my problems. There was no more bullshitting; I had issues and I had to at least start to try to resolve them.
I answered my own question, and later Father Jacks question, by staying honest with myself. What do I mean to the world? Well, I wrote, “I want my life to portray who I actually am, at all times. This means I have to constantly intro-examine myself. Having beliefs, values, and opinions, and constantly updating them gives me significance in a very large world. I am ready and prepared to help others, given that I am honest with myself at all times. My ability to constantly be seeking an inner-truth, in order to serve the greater good, is my gift and meaning to the world.” What makes Gilbert’s book so effective is her ability to open her heart and brain, and dump it onto the pages. It is honest reflection, and my goal in my retreat talk, and in all my intro-examines is to do the same.
My entire retreat talk can be found on my personal blog: http://anendlessprocess.blogspot.com/2010/01/i-have-so-much-to-write-about-but.html