Storytelling, Strangers Turned Soulmates & an Experience for the Ages
How do strangers feel like people you have been known by all your life? How do days feel like years? How is a feeling felt this deeply?
One month ago, I travelled three thousand eight-hundred and fifty miles to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina to attend a writing retreat with my favourite author, Jedidiah Jenkins.
And it was nothing less than everything I hoped it would be and so much more:
Dinners over the Blue Ridge mountains. Journaling on boulders between streams in woods. Phones sealed away and forgotten in envelopes.
Conversations that freed us. Words that changed us. Brave, vulnerable, honest writing that came from a place in our hearts longing to be heard.
Snuggling round a bonfire crying, laughing, singing, sharing. Holding space for one another’s stories and processing what it is to be human, to feel human things.
Charades. Silliness. Summer camp vibes. Late night heart to hearts with people who felt less like strangers and more like kindred souls.
Videos that made us laugh and cry and reminded us what life and love and community is about.
A container of true belonging, storytelling, friendship, love and open-heartedness.
Few things in this world come close to the body, mind and soul joy of being in Jed’s presence.
It takes a special kind of person to take a room of one hundred strangers and create the conditions of intimacy, inspiration, depth, laughter, vulnerability and safety to make us all feel special, noticed and known.
Like this was one place in the world where there was no question in our minds that we belonged.
I think the reason we experienced this level of synergy; this inexplicably strong camaraderie with complete strangers; is because Jed asked the right questions.
He planted the seeds in our hearts to spark the conversations that matter-the kind we don’t always feel brave enough to have.
We fell in love with his spirit and each others’.
He cracked our hearts wide open in the most beautiful and necessary of ways.
And he sent us back out into the big wide world believing again in the magic of things, the beauty of people and the possibility of true, meaningful connection.
“Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in the world”
When I think of what we experienced together, I think of these words by Emery Allen.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint what this feeling is in my bones-this feeling so sacred, peaceful, igniting and soul-shifting that it has been scaring me to lose it.
I think this is what it is; why I feel so moved:
my wounds feel doused.
For the very first time, I feel I am of value. I say that not performatively to give myself an air of self-confidence. But truly and deeply.
I’ve never met people so tender and open-hearted.
Strangers I loved so surely and felt so surely loved back before learning their names.
They inspired me to be a more courageous storyteller & whole-hearted human, less interested in the performance of perfection and more in the depth, bravery and radiance of real connection.
They taught me to stop searching.
That the day our stories end, it matters not what we did but who we were.
That life isn’t about finding our purpose, potential, person, or really finding anything at all.
It’s to be alive to our lives while we have them; living for the experience of life itself and not for some secondary aim.
This week, I was reminded that our longings are universal, that our fear of rejection is equally felt, that our stories of shame leave us with the same need: to be known and loved for who we are beneath it all.
I was reminded that the world is full of unique, iconic souls who have stories worth knowing and are longing to know ours too; to see themselves in ours too.
I feel so much. But mainly one big feeling: that I’m not alone.
Even at our loneliest, our ugliest, our most shameful, unimpressive, insecure or unsure, none of us are alone.
I see now that life is not about impressing people-it’s about connecting with people.
And connection doesn’t require perfection.
In fact, it requires the opposite-to be seen in all of the messy ways we exist before we wake up and put on our masks of pretence and contort ourselves to be what the world wants.
Because there are no flaws-only marks of being human.
This week, I was reminded that there are incredible souls walking amongst us.
Every person we pass has an ocean inside them. Every individual in our street, workplace, voting poll.
Everyone is a universe of thoughts, feelings and insights.
The world is not lacking connection-only spaces we feel safe to share.
And there is comfort in that knowing, because it means we hold the power to create such spaces.
I think that’s why we share stories.
Our way of saying “I’ve felt these things too. I feel them still. But I made it. I’m still here. We’re here together”.
Building community is a craft and Jed does it perfectly-with grace, thoughtfulness and the most comforting & unifying sense of humour.
This is what living is. Friendship, play, self-expression: the things that make being human so incredibly special.
It’s hard to explain what magic combination of elements made this week the vortex of love, camaraderie and inspiration it was.
But when you spend enough time travelling, you realise that the best things in life can’t be captured in words or photographs.
Sometimes, you simply have to be satisfied that you were there, and you saw it, and you felt it, and you lived it, and it was great.
These are the moments that change something within us. The ones we felt in our hearts, not watched through our phones.