Last fall I attended the the 20th annual Gay Spirit Visions conference near Highlands, North Carolina. I had helped organize the first GSV conference and had attended (and helped plan) a half-dozen annual conferences after that first one before deciding (for several reasons) not to return for awhile.
“Awhile” turned out to be quite a long time. Last year I decided to attend the annual fall conference to see how it had morphed over the years and to reconnect with some of the veteran conference-goers I expected would be there.
One of the activities undertaken by each member of the small groups that the conference participants were assigned to was writing a letter expressing the writer’s impressions of the conference and in what ways he hoped the conference experience might manifest itself six months down the road. After writing our letters, we handed them over to our small group leaders, who arranged to have them mailed to us. The letter I wrote myself at last fall’s conference arrived in my mailbox this week, and here are some excerpts from that letter:
October 4, 2009
From Cal to Cal:
[Writing this letter to myself as a part of a] small group workshop on The Mountain. It’s windy again today but the sun is in sight. Am writing this sitting at the piano in The Treehouse, overlooking the Fire Pit.
[I’m] realizing that, with all its imperfections and awkward moments for me personally, GSV is a wonderful, marvelous, miraculous creation – a swimming pool of good feeling and good intentions, whatever else is going on with some of us.
[I’m also] realizing that my earlier discenchantment with GSV was perhaps too hasty. So what if the personas of certain individual conference-goers annoy me? There are [always] plenty of sweet men to offset whatever dominating/intimidating individuals there might be [at any particular conference].
[This conference has] reminded [me] of how open people can get (especially in the small group sessions), and how profoundly healing that [willingness to be vulnerable to each other] obviously is, and how [unexpectedly] unimportant it is who [the leaders of the groups] happen to be (or not): the vulnerability and the stories [people tell] inevitably make me fond of these guys, and [concerned about] their struggles, and [aware of] how different some of [those struggles] seem to mine – and how similar, too.
Perfect [small group] leaders, perfect [conference] programs, perfect anything are not required [for a successful, meaningful conference]. And yet how magical the weekends are despite the imperfections.
I hope these realizations are part of a process of my loosening up around my auto-pilot criticalness. How can I learn to be more compassionate, and a better listener to the pain, hopes, and fears underlying all the surfaces and the words (another surface)?
Loved the opening ritual (staring for several minutes into the randomly-chosen faces of strangers and acquaintances). Loved the fact that I took a few interpersonal risks – not many, but some. Disappointed with the residual (apparently permanent?) on-the-periphery-of-things quality in the way I relate to other people in groups. Hoping to become less linear, more loving, more accepting of differences, and to take more delight in all the different ways people have of being themselves.
Hoping GSV will morph into something requiring less energy for the planners. Feeling a lot of gratitude for the glimpse of another way of being in the world that GSV and its percursors have [always] given me. Wanting to know how to become more useful to other seekers.
Interesting to see [the veteran conference-goers] ageing, and [noticing] that feeling [is] so good in some ways – and [that also being] a reminder that I need to Occupy the Space I Occupy, and wondering who I want to be in the [relatively] short time left [for me] to be[come] that person.
Love not feeling [even partly] “responsible” for the [success of the] weekend, but being here [this time] as a full participant [rather than as a planner/participant]. Amazed at the obviously thoughtful planning [for this conference], and loving the planners for that thoughtfulness and for their faithfulness to the original vision for GSV. Proud to be a part of it all, and grateful, grateful, grateful…