MfL reflection: Julie Webb

My Experience of Meeting for Learning

My Experience of Meeting for Learning came at the end of a ten-year psychological journey. It was a time to recognize and celebrate that journey and embark on a different one. It was a change from looking inward (a period of intense introspection) to looking outward from a new place.

Meeting for Learning helped secure the foundations for this new journey, through the intense period of the two retreats, my support group and the projects which developed in the “gap” year.

The first retreat focused on the inner spiritual journey. I thought that was a good start because looking inward was what I had been doing in therapy for so many years! But Meeting for Learning is not therapy and it helped me to develop a sense my place in the world and to build mutual relationships without over-dependence.

The week-long retreats consisted of a mix of structured time (in large or small groups, or alone), free time (alone or with others) and a 36-hour silent retreat. I spent much of my free time in a small meeting room, where the sun streamed in during the afternoons and I could look out on beautiful mature trees in the garden. I was interested in scrap-booking at the time and had brought supplies with me in case I was at a loose end. The room became a sacred space where I read, wrote, reflected and played with colours, shapes and textures in an abstract way. Others joined me, to knit, write, talk or sit in companionable silence. I learnt much about myself in that time. The listening groups, held every afternoon with three or four people, were often profound experiences. I have used the structure of this process many times since. As Quakers, we know the richness of silence in community in our Meetings for Worship. I had never experienced a silent retreat before and, along with a few other retreatants, approached it with some trepidation, although our reasons may have varied. The skilled and compassionate facilitators were available during the 36 hours if we needed to talk. For me, that was a safety mechanism which I used once. I have participated in a few shorter silent retreats since then, and have looked forward to them with quiet joy. After both Meeting for Learning retreats I returned home with a sense of stillness and calm, some of which I hoped to maintain as I went about my daily life. I have learnt to reduce unnecessary background noise and make time for activities which nourish my soul, whether it be walking in the bush or simply making a space in time away from all the “busyness”.

During the year between retreats I had regular contact with one of the facilitators and met monthly with a support group, as well as undertaking three projects. The projects are not as scary as they sound – they are not compulsory items with work to be handed in or examined! For me, ideas started developing during the first retreat and evolved during the year. My first project was deceptively simple, but a big step in my self-confidence. It started with wearing a scarf to Meeting for Worship. It has evolved into enabling me to enjoy beauty and express it in artistic ways. I love the term ‘practising artist” as it frees me to be an artist at my own level. The second project was to study Quaker Basics with the six retreatants from Adelaide. We met (and still meet) fortnightly for a shared meal followed by the study. The group developed very close bonds which helped us considerably in difficult times. My third project was what I called my “Quilt Project”. Apart from the practical aspects of this project, through talking about the symbolic aspects with others I was gradually able to refer to the painful parts of my past in a healthy and liberating way. After much thought, I asked three people from my local meeting to be part of my support group. One of these people later expressed the feeling that this process had enriched the whole Meeting and it is my hope that in supporting people to attend Meeting for Learning retreats, Meetings around Australia recognize this ripple effect.

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