The Week I Burned My Ego
As I pulled into the retreat center circled with towering cedars, blossoming wildflowers, and the deep green richness emblematic of the Pacific Northwest, I saw smoke. Surely this couldn’t be an actual fire on the premises, I thought. But it was. Local firefighters were just beginning a controlled burn of an old barn. After checking in and getting settled, I watched in curiosity and awe the bright flames pouring from the windows as the fire keepers positioned themselves and their hoses to carefully control the deconstruction.
A few hours later, the men, the hoses, and their vehicles were gone. Broken stones and bricks lay among the charred wood. I trembled slightly. Was this going to happen to me on what’s called Path of Love?
What I knew from the website was that the seven-day group process was supposed to give us “a unique and direct experience of our true selves,” and “tools to come out of old patterns of compromise, fear, complacency and isolation.” That was good. But the secretive nature of the program, the multiple calls for confidentiality, and the in-depth waiver had fueled my anxiety and doubt. Could I handle whatever was to come? Would I have the guts to stick it out?
I wanted to be open—fully—so that if real healing was available, I could accept it. The personal mantra guiding me was “Surrender to the process,” and surrender was what I decided to do.
Thank God I did.
For brief moments, I experienced a full dissolution of the ego-mind, transcending into deep knowing and bliss. Other times, I was so entrenched in internal despair and disgust, of myself and others, that I grimaced at the thought of living another day. But then I also played, wildly, with a fierce abandon and intensity that I hadn’t felt in years while joy and pure ecstasy enveloped me. And most beautifully, this process helped me connect with the sublime space that can be created in the heart through the expression of my own authentic self.
Osho once said, “Whatsoever you hide goes on growing, and whatsoever you expose, if it is wrong it disappears, evaporates in the sun. . .” A major part of Path of Love is exposure through deep sharing and fearless communication—letting others, and ourselves, see the darkest parts that have been stowed away from fear of rejection or shame.
I told stories of my own traumatic experiences as a teen and young adult, and the regrettable actions around which I’d been harboring deep guilt. Being “seen” in my shadows through small-group sharing made me realize that it’s possible to disclose all this and still be received with compassionate understanding and love.
We are constantly feeling and, truth be told, we should be responding to our feelings through responsible expression. But more often than not, we suppress our feelings. Our physical bodies become warehouses of trapped emotion.
We used physical release and emotional catharsis to somatically free these stored energies. One particularly strong style of music-accompanied meditation, termed “Burn Meditations,” created an environment in which we could fully let go of whatever remained locked inside (stuff that can manifest as disease and physical pain if not discharged from the body).
At one point during a burn, I felt a strong wave of heat and tingling energy move from my neck to my chest and arms, creating ripples of sensation as it left my body. Afterward, I felt freedom and space in my chest, allowing for deep, naturally expansive breath, and relief from the deep, lingering pain in my neck and shoulders. I felt lighter, stronger, more well, as this energy moved through the rest of my being.
There were trained and gifted leaders and staff providing much-needed words to help make sense of what was happening—keys to follow for success in the process (and in life) such as: “The intensity of my longing will show me where I need to go.” Staff also provided soothing touch and encouragement when my experiences were painful or difficult.
I felt safe in their presence, and this safety created the trust necessary to go to the depths that allow healing to happen.
Except in moments of sharing, all participants were in silence, which initially felt strange and intimidating, but the silence became a comfort and something I looked forward to after the energetic highs of group work.
Silence let each of us to stay with our own experience and recognize where and how things might be opening or shifting, giving us insight into what to work with next. It wasn’t “noble silence” (there was laughter at lunch, and one time some of us managed to play soccer) but the tone was gentle and respectful of the depth created.
Through the process of opening, walking into, and expressing my darkness, and being passionately curious about exploring whatever I found, I was able to see pure godliness. When exploring this realm, I connected with deep places of trust and confidence not only in myself but in life. A trust that recognizes it’s always going to be OK, at some grand level, no matter what obstacle I feel overwhelmed with or defeated by.
I also recognized the roles I play and perhaps what established them, the sabotaging nature of my mind and how it has tried and will continue to try to keep me safe from the painful yet intensely beautiful trip that is authentic living—and the sweetness of connecting with others despite believing no one could ever understand nor hold space for all that I am. I also saw that who I thought I was is merely a construct created to situate me in this world—something my ego, and other egos, pieced together from my experiences and mostly superficial wants into a somewhat socially accepted personality that might get by OK.
It wasn’t easy to burn through an established identity and break down the walls surrounding my fragile, powerful heart. However, with a new soul tribe, divine help, and a truly genius approach to deconditioning, here I am as a child now, again holding the raw elements, rebuilding. By: Robin Stremlow