Shakti Gawain is a noted author, public speaker, educator and retreat leader. She has written many books, such as Creative Visualization, Living in the Light, Path of Transformation and Creating True Prosperity. She currently resides in Marin County, California and Kauai, Hawaii.
Share Guide: Can you discuss the differences and similarities between retreats and vacations?
Shakti Gawain: Vacations generally involve taking a break from one's work and life, going to a different place and just being able to relax and have some fun. This is a great thing and they are needed. A retreat implies taking a break from one's life and work and going to a different place and relaxing and having some fun, but it also has an extra implication of going inside oneself, perhaps looking for the deeper meaning or purpose of life or how we can improve our life--or just ways that we can grow and develop.
Share Guide: Why do you think some people choose to go on retreat rather than just on a vacation?
Shakti Gawain: I think these are people who are longing for more self-knowledge--looking towards making some change in their life, and perhaps how to get clarity on what direction or how to do that. Some may be people who are having to mull over specific isssues and problems.
Share Guide: I'm sure all of us feel the increased pace of our modern life, and I'm curious if more than half of the people who come to your retreats actually plan ahead for preventive health maintenance to go on retreats, or what percentage actually wait until they are "breaking down"?
Shakti Gawain: I would say that there's definitely a sizable minority of people who make a regular practice of going to retreats and workshops and that kind of thing. And then there are others who do it more spontaneously, with no feeling of needing to do it at a particular time.
Share Guide: Do you think that minority has been growing over the years?
Shakti Gawain: I definitely do. I think that this is something that people are finding out really helps them in their life. A lot of times you don't even know exactly what but there's a feeling that "I need to do this and I need to be there." I would say that that's how a majority of people make the decision.
Share Guide: An inner calling?
Shakti Gawain: Yes.
Share Guide: Well it's good to think that after 25 years of New Age Journal and Yoga Journal that more of us are starting to stay tuned up.
Shakti Gawain: I work a lot with polarity, opposite energies, and how important it is in life to balance the opposites that we have within ourselves. One of those polarities I work with a lot is what I call "Doing Energy and Being Energy". Our culture is absolutely devoted to and worshipful of the Doing Energy--we're all encouraged to do as much as possible and accomplish things and to work toward our goals and to produce. Many of us actually feel like we have to be accomplishing and producing something almost all the time. We don't have in our culture a healthy understanding and respect for the value of Being, which is simply being present in the moment, not trying to go somewhere, not trying to accomplish anything, but just present. We have so little of that in our busy lives. In some ways life is so wonderful, we have so many opportunities now to do so many things, and study and learn things and go places, but we're trying to do it all. Most people I know are pretty stressed out by just having too much to do. So we really really need to cultivate the ancient art of Being.
We need to take some time to relax, get quiet and get present with ourselves in the moment and get present with Nature, and with other people. It's a way of replenishing ourselves. The goal of replenishing the energy is that we can go out and accomplish things and it's also a way of connecting to the deeper emotional and spiritual realms in us.
Share Guide: I think that's a very good point, the Being and the Doing.
Shakti Gawain: It's going to become more and more important and necessary for people to give retreats to cultivate some of that "Being" time that's so difficult to find in our busy lives.
Share Guide: Because it's only going to get busier, you're saying it's going to be more important to pay attention.
Shakti Gawain: I think there's going to continue to be a lot of opportunities and attractions and temptations to be doing things all the time.
Share Guide: That makes sense.This is why many people in the West have a little trouble with meditation at first.
Shakti Gawain: Oh yes. Meditation is the art of learning how to be present with your Self. If you're not used to doing that, if you're used to focusing outwardly and accomplishing tasks, then it's difficult to just sit there and learn how to Be. I find that the best way in our fast paced world for most people to learn Being is to just go out in Nature, because Nature vibrates on that level. Getting out and walking or sitting in a natural environment can really help us shift into a more Being energy.
Share Guide: Shakti, tell me a little bit about your own retreat work. How did you get started, what are some of the highlights in your path, and what are you currently doing?
Shakti Gawain: I've been leading workshops and retreats of various kinds for about 25 years now. I love working with people, and many of the events I do are evening talks, along with workshops in a more urban environment where there are often several hundred people. This is fine, and I enjoy that, but what I love most is working with a smaller number of people, like just a dozen or 15-20 people in a more long-term way--from several days to a week or more--and in a beautiful, natural rural type of setting. In other words, a Retreat. It's an opportunity for me to work in depth with people in an intimate way.
Over the years I've done many kinds of retreats in many different places. Most recently I've done a lot of them on the island of Kauai, where I actually have a home, which I find to be one of the most powerful, healing, nurturing and just generally supportive environments that I've ever been. It's very beautiful as well. I also do retreats in California and in other places.
Share Guide: Isn't your home base in Marin?
Shakti Gawain: Yes. I do 3 to 4 day retreats and sometimes weekend retreats in California and other places. But my absolute favorite place to work is on Kauai. What I've been doing in recent years is weekend retreats. I call them Intensives, but they're basically retreats. We do a variety of different things. We do meditation and visualization and developing intuition practices, and we do movement, dance, yoga, various physical things, massage... we do excursions on the island, rituals and wonderful things like that. We do a lot of work with the Psychology of Self and Voice Dialogue work, which has come to be a real centerpiece of my work. It's work that was created by Dr. Hal Stone and his wife Dr. Sidra Stone.
We do one-on-one individual sessions with people as part of the retreat in which we use this Voice Dialogue Work. It's very powerful. Each person gets two or three individual sessions, and they also watch each other's individual sessions, so it's very powerful and very life changing.
Share Guide: Can you explain more about this Voice Dialogue work?
Shakti Gawain: The Psychology of Self is the exploration of the fact that we have within us many different energies, or many different Selves, or you can call them Voices. It's as if we have a lot of different people living inside us. They each have their own path and their own function and their own purpose, but they sometimes are in conflict with each other. That's why we feel conflict in our lives. For example, I have a super responsible Self in me--that's one of my most developed aspects, and that part of me is always taking on responsibility and then shouldering the burden of it. I'm very conscientious about making sure that I do everything that I'm committed to and so forth, which is a very positive quality, but I tend to be too much in that direction. I'm overly responsible.
Share Guide: Does that mean you take on too many things?
Shakti Gawain: Sometimes too many things, and sometimes I take them too seriously. If I let it go a little, somebody else will handle it or it can get handled tomorrow. I drive myself pretty hard to make sure everything gets done perfectly, and exactly when it's supposed to. Sometimes I'm just too driven in that respect. It's too much of a burden. So what I have been working on (and am working on still) is cultivating the opposite energy, the opposite Self in me, the one who is a little more light-hearted and carefree and can play and enjoy and have fun. My job is to balance those so that I am responsible, but can also let go and enjoy myself. That's just one example of the many different kinds of polarities we have within us. Voice Dialogue work helps us become conscious of and get in touch with the different Selves within us. Some of the Selves within us are very highly developed. Those are called Primary Selves. The ones we deny and try to hide or haven't developed are called Disowned Selves.
Share Guide: Disowned... the ones that take the back seat?
Shakti Gawain: Yes, the ones that don't have much say in our lives. Oftentimes they are parts of us that we are afraid of or uncomfortable with, or that we think are bad. For example, if we're very identified with the strength and self-assertion that would be a Primary Self. That's what we show the world. Deep down inside of us, there's a part of us that might feel vulnerable, that has emotional needs, but we're embarassed about that. If we really identify with being strong, then we may have disowned all vulnerability. So vulnerability becomes a Disowned Self, when in fact we really need that vulnerability to be able to balance our strength, our power. We're all human and we all have needs, and we all have vulnerable feelings and energies. We have to acknowledge them or they just go underground and become a problem. So the work is really bringing out all parts of our Self…learning to appreciate and acknowledge all aspects of who we are, and bring a greater harmony and balance into our lives.
Part of this whole thing of having all these selves is that they get reflected back to us by the people we are in a relationship with. If we really identify with one polarity, often we'll attract into our life somebody whose character is an opposite energy. We're either very attracted to that person or we're very uncomfortable and judgmental towards that person. Sometimes first attracted, then uncomfortable and judgmental.
Share Guide: Yes, opposites attract.
Shakti Gawain: If you're a very active kind of person, you may attract someone into your life who is more laid back and relaxed. And you may even initially be very attracted to that person because they carry that opposite quality that you need more of yourself. But then if you're in an ongoing relationship with them, very often you get really annoyed and frustrated with them for the exact thing that you were initially attracted to.
Share Guide: So what do you do about that?
Shakti Gawain: You have to remember to recognize that this person is there as your mirror or your teacher. You've brought them into your life to show you a part of yourself that you need to develop, so that you can be more balanced. The people that are the most annoying and difficult to deal with can actually be mirrors to show us the exact piece of our Disowned side that we need to bring into our lives. It's a whole art form, and it's one of the things I teach in my retreat. It's how to use your relationships as mirrors so you can see what they're showing you about the work that you need to do.
Share Guide: Haven't you just finished a new book?
Shakti Gawain: Yes. I just finished a revision of my book The Path of Transformation which was published a few years ago. Now I've revised it for the new Millennium, and that's coming out any minute now. Also, I just completed another book, Developing Intuition, which is coming out in the Fall of 2000. It's a very simple, practical guide to how to develop your ability to trust and follow your intuition in a real practical way in your daily life.
Share Guide: Do you have any upcoming events in Northern California or in Hawaii that you'd like to mention?
Shakti Gawain: We have a four-day retreat intensive in July at Westerbecke's Ranch in Sonoma, California and it's particulary focused on the topic of Awakening your Creativity. Also, I'm doing a week long intensive on Kauai in August, 2000.
Share Guide: I talked to the folks at New Age Journal this morning, and they said they were doing something in Hawaii with you.
Shakti Gawain: Oh yes. They did a special event on Kauai for the Millennium and I was a featured speaker for that, and this year they're going to do a New Year's retreat. It should be wonderful, and I again will be a real active part of that.
Share Guide: The last question I have for you is maybe a little off the topic, maybe not. It comes from my currently reading The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill, the environmentalist. I'm wondering if you talk with people about volunteering time in the community and on environmental projects as a step in individual healing?
Shakti Gawain: Absolutely. I think that is very important. What I say to people about that is follow your heart and your passion. If there's a particular issue that really has a lot of emotion or feeling for you, by all means do that. And also know that by simply discovering your purpose in life, and your creativity, and expressing it in your life, you are making a contribution towards changing and healing the world.
The most important thing of all is working on living more consciously, moment to moment and day to day. A big part of living more consciously is being more aware of how we consume and what we consume and trying to simplify our lives and consume less, not from a place of deprivation but from a place of really caring for the origins of things and bringing our lives into balance.
One of the things I'm especially concerned about is the proliferation of plastic. Even in health food stores, half the food is being sold in plastic containers now instead of cardboard or glass. Try to choose things that are packed within other more biodegradable forms like glass and paper and cardboard and so on.
Share Guide: I certainly believe in this balancing mind, body and spirit, but as we fill up the planet I feel like the awakened individuals need to go further and work in their communities and on a global awareness. It's not good enough to just take your vitamins and eat your tofu.
Shakti Gawain: Right.
Share Guide: I feel like we're moving in a direction where that kind of awareness is going to come in the New Age and Holistic Marketplace and consciousness is going to merge more with the environmentalism.
Shakti Gawain: I agree. That's what my book The Path of Transformation is all about actually.
For more information on Shakti Gawain and her books, workshops and retreats, visit www.shaktigawain.com
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