2021 Vision Mastermind: Circles as Portals, People as Medicine

What is a threshold?

A doorway. A place to pass through. A passage from one distinct space to another. A portal.

Not every threshold is transformational, but every transformation requires its threshold.

There are moments in life, when after the threshold is crossed there exists a dividing line; where everything that happened before and after would constitute two entirely different worlds. The line making up the proverbial point of no return / the moment of metamorphosis – a threshold of transformation.

Sometimes a door is just a door. Words are just words. People are just… people. But with knowledge, intention, passion, these things can change before our eyes. Thresholds of transformation crack. Doors opened become the first steps of heroic journeys. Words spoken become magic spells. People presenced around a circle, in conscientious contact with one another, sharing intention, their knowledge and passions — become a portal, a community.

For me, right now in my life, after everything I have learned, experienced, felt (or felt the absence of), there is nothing more important.

From July 1st through July 6th, 2021, I attended a retreat in Costa Rica, at the Imiloa Institute, called “2021 Vision Mastermind”, hosted by life coach Kevin Orosz. These are my reflections.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

2020 was a very difficult year for many people in the world, myself included; at this point, it goes without saying. In the midst of a novel health crisis via pandemic, others emerged. Or just perpetuated and compounded, built up from years of neglect, dereliction. Socioeconomic crises emerged for millions of workers at the edge of poverty, working tirelessly through a pandemic, named as “essential” but underpaid. On the heels of a justified {in my honest opinion} mass movement of people protesting grievous abuses of power for long unreconciled within the institution of policing in the United States, crises of violent retributions broke out in communities all over the country in backlash. An ongoing crisis of faith in political institutions in America — from what is supposed to be the “shining city on the hill,” a beacon of democracy to the rest of the world — carried over into 2021.

The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”
~ Antonio Gramsci

These things affected me mentally, less so physically (fortunately so, for me). They will continue to develop. Another crisis fast amplifying, especially in America, is that of isolation, overpressure, alienation, sleep deprivation, loneliness, depression. You can read about it practically anywhere news is sold. Millions of people are out there, overworked and apathetic, displaced from the people around them, craving connection and community and doing without. I can honestly count myself among them. 2020 exacerbated the issue for me, as I spent more time alone and out of touch with the people in my life and in the world around me than ever before.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

I named this site — “Thresholds of Transformation” — after a song by one of my favorite bands, ISIS. A heavy metal band named after the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and compassion. Their last song as a band. And for long now, I have been searching for my own ‘thresholds of transformation.’ To alter my life for the better, to step myself closer to self-actualization, to try to cultivate a communal space for myself. Make for somewhere I can belong, and have a purpose outside of myself.

Self-expression via writing and storytelling has been one of them, engaged in journals, half-finished novels, and through this blog. But ever I am seeking more — more people in my life, more meaning in my art, more vitality in my relations, more passion in my work, from out of a career path that won’t feel like death…

The Godfather Part II (1974)

When I decided to go to “2021 Vision Mastermind”, in Costa Rica, {full disclosure} hosted by my own brother, Kevin, I was mainly — anxiously — thinking about all of the things I was probably gonna have to say and do. A ‘retreat’ (later renamed in mind as ‘advance’), meant walking into a relative unknown, among people and actions that you cannot anticipate but will soon be participating among. A retreat meant a HUGE shift in the nature of how I had been living my life recently. Going meant confronting my social anxiety head on, among other things.

I knew what I signed up for {and mostly knew it would be good for me, in the end}, but I also didn’t. Though I held no concrete, moment-to-moment visualization of what the event would be like, I had my guesses. I was definitely going to have to talk to new people, strangers that I may have little in common with. I was probably gonna be urged into dancing at some point. I especially looked forward to meditating and yoga, what I am most familiar with in my own minor practices, in the jungle, among others similarly trying to channel and calm and cultivate their minds. I understood I was going to have to get out of my comfort zone. I was going to have to talk about myself {not something that I enjoy doing all that much}.

I was going to have to talk about my alienation, my loneliness and my isolation, my tedious time over the past year watching movies and writing into void to try to best cultivate my time, wielding no well-defined vision of my future, feeling my light fade and the darkness close in.

~ art by Kentaro Miura (1966-2021), RIP.

In all, I was going to get out of my head. I wholeheartedly desired this, even as I understood its challenge, for me at present especially. That was my intention going in, faced with all of the uncertainty of how the retreat space would play out, desiring to fully experience the people and activity within it no matter what. {Kevin didn’t tell me nothing and nor did I ask! Uncertainty and mystery and first-hand discovery can be good for the soul… “Right?” I reiterated to myself more than few times beforehand…}

And I was going to have to do all of this in front of a bunch of strangers, and my older brother, for five straight days.

When I flew into Costa Rica from Texas and drove through San Jose and eventually made my way out to Imiloa, I was not thinking about thresholds, or transformation, or about “The Hero’s Journey.” Even though I knew that’s what this event was themed around, and that is what Kevin, as a coach and mentor, is experienced in trying to draw out of such spaces with others. Even though that is what retreats are all about. Even though that is the kind of thing I needed.

The truth was, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was in a state of pure embrace, quietly observing the world around me, open to all experiences, conversations, faces. I was in the world, living in the present moment.

As the opening ceremony lit into my reality, few of my thoughts lay in my past or future. I was there. And I went from there, with maximum effort, conscientious attention paid to the people around me and the experiences within me.

What proceeded were some singular revelations, reinforced again and again with every experience shared among the twenty other participants:

  • Faces are important. Social interaction is almost nothing without them.
  • Authenticity arises easier when you are challenged.
  • Anxiety can be vanquished with a breath.
  • Healing can actualize in the midst of sound, music, dance.
  • Passionate conversation and mindful silence can be equally powerful tools for the heart.
  • Relationships are forged through vulnerability.
  • A real community can form in less than five days.

The good stuff. Maybe these things seem obvious. Are they? For some of us. But not all. Regardless if we know or not, everyone as human beings wants and needs this stuff.

Five days of gathering together into a circle, five days of conversation and dance and being asked to stare into each other’s eyes for a bit. With intention and passion, and a desire to listen, understand, reflect, speak — wonders begin to happen.

In the circles, people open up. And then, thresholds of transformation do.

Lives change as we find the courage to step through, speaking truth and vivifying inner power, perhaps never before seen, in the special emergence of the circle’s presence.

Presence. To my eye, this is the initializing key to the portal.

Breathing. Meditating. Yoga. Dancing. Speaking. Listening. Creatively conversing. Circling up. Taking the time to settle into the natural world around you and tune in to its beauty.

^ This is all the retreat was. Simple stuff. Not to downplay the world-class accommodations at Imiloa or the incredible work the staff and the facilitators put in, but this “medicine” administered as part of the retreat space’s flow did not require much of *our* time, money, complex understandings or serious learning to be instantly effective.

It was all about being present, for a change, for at least a short spell of our busy lives.

Truly, the work being done was more un-learning and de-conditioning, more of a letting go than a taking on — taking time to breathe and stretch your body, speaking some of your truths to strangers eager to listen, sharing a sacred space with a small collective of people, though each distinct in their own personality and path, aligned toward meaningful interaction and self-growth.

With healthy intentions and a clear philosophy of “come as you are”, the medicine being administered started in the body and ended with the soul.

We were just meditating, talking, dancing after all; but side by side in such a container as the space and its facilitators cultivated, it became much more. The conception of “liminality” comes to mind, that of a zone constituting a transient span of time where *anything* can happen, in the midst of a rite of passage where hearts and minds can flux and change freely, unconfined by the ‘normal’ world’s conditions.

In the liminal zone of the retreat space, portals opened toward promised transformations – but they still had to build up to get there. And over five days of normalized sharing alongside variable activity, that is just what happened.

At Home in the Liminal World ~ art source: https://nautil.us/issue/8/home/at-home-in-the-liminal-world

The circle allowed for all of it.

‘The Circle’, meaning people cooperatively gathering in co-equal circles to speak and listen, around ancient fires and modern spaces like at this retreat — the oldest “technology” known to Mankind, as Kevin reiterated each day — allows not only for a decentralized, interdependent, judgment-free zone of release and receptiveness to emerge for each and everyone around the circle, but also — for common purpose to arise. Any healthy community cannot exist without such a circle. Truly, it is like magic.

What it’s all really for, I come to find – both as speaker and listener – is to unlock your ability to be honest, grateful, acquiescent. To stop, reflect, and sight the earth and her beautiful people. To laugh and cry. To feel and be felt. To expand your consciousness, acquiescing love of self and other in a transient yet unforgettable harmony.

People said stuff they’d never said before; people discovered things about themselves they’d never before considered. People moved in their bodies, breathed out their souls – people altered their life courses, their career trajectories. Some people found their voice before our hearts more than amenable to hearing it, others sang theirs with vigor to us all in tears and smiles.

In this space, I personally visualized my life, my future, my heart unlike I ever had before. My past, present and future all culminated in mind, cultivating powerful moments of self-love, borne of inner revelation alongside outer support from the circle.

In breathing, I found ways to still my mind and feel my heart, my stomach. There, I felt not just calmness but inspiration.

In meditation, the more I practiced the more the world slowed to a state for me to more effectively act from. Each return to the breath brought subconscious truths to the surface, about how my insecurities are less imperative than my gifts, about how my fears are less important than my desires.

In yoga, my body released toward actions in flow, the pleasant pains and bouts of breathing forging me toward higher states of health, instantly and irrevocably.

In dancing, the music took me with it, with invigorating energy to spare and pour into the rest of my day. I realized the drums of the deep animate something within us all.

In speaking, I found my voice raising in confidence even as I spoke of its counterparts from my past. My words from my lips did not flow like in my writing – but they came nevertheless. My reflections and revelations to the circle were spoken from my heart, out of my consciousness and unconsciousness in a transient flow of integration. The prime intention with my words to the people of the circle, in its structured confines or away from it, was only ever one thing: heartfelt truth.

In listening, I received light. I received stories to contemplate. I received the other hero’s journeys going on around me in the world. I received pain and pleasure, desires and fears. I received hearts and minds, to connect with and converse with from there, as companions.

In nature, I embodied the rhythms and the beauty that I do not normally see but am undoubtedly a part of.

In the circle, I discovered a community.

How on earth did all this happen?

Vulnerability is the thing. It binds us together as people; shared vulnerability bonds a community. No inner walls can withstand an honest desire to become vulnerable. Vulnerability — both insofar that you say the words from within you that need be said, AND feel the emotions that yearned to be felt as a response from the stories inside you coming out and the stories outside you coming in and the spiral of stories coming together around the circle — is *everything.*

With it, vulnerability, comes freedom. To speak yourself to others freely, without fear, and with building passion that can no longer be stemmed by prior conditioning or past self-stories, is to feel alive. Awake. Actualized.

Everyone wants to be seen, known, loved. Vulnerability alone avows such things. Even among strangers.

That is the elixir. The thing I never really saw before as the cause for all the good stuff to emerge.

The circle, in periodic recurrence, with the flow of vulnerability as its lifeblood, becomes a kind of place to belong. The circle is sacred in that it makes people into medicine.

From out of such circles, wondrous stories and light emerge.

True emotions surface the further the group moves in conversation and self-understanding.

Inspiring words from your kindred retreat-mates will lift you up, out of the dark.

Leaders, all of us, arose to support one another, unconditionally. 

From out of the circle, heroes are not born, but awakened.

My primary inspiration, after being in this space in the beautiful jungle of Costa Rica for these five days, alongside all of these beautiful people, beyond my personal creative endeavors and work, life, and relational goals, ambitions and dreams now immediately inspired closer toward realization, is to carry such a space into the lives of everyone around me back home. And where I can, seek it out again in spaces like this, with my time and money.

Regardless of the specifics of our words, problems, or degree of sharing, each and every one of us was a beautiful slice of that circle’s power. I was a piece of that whole, with my own light to share. And now I see such giving and receiving of light unto others as not only a good — but indeed, necessary — component of this strange, powerful, uncertain, transcendent experience we call life.

Because I am a human being and a part of this world, I want this both for myself and others. I must believe that I can be a bridge, like these others were a bridge for me, to further circles with further souls.

Coming out of that circle, crossing through its threshold of transformation, this is my vision. ~

A classic 80s anthem that holds new meaning for me now:

~ Belinda Carlisle — Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Official Music Video)

In this world we’re just beginning
To understand the miracle of living