My first ever retreat was a month-long Tibetan Buddhist Lamrim (“stages of the path”) course.
I turned in my phone, digital connectivity, and my old self, and crossed the threshold into a monastery tucked away at the outskirts of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
I didn’t speak Tibetan, and had barely meditated before.
Equipped with only a little bit of Buddhist philosophy, which I read in a book called “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, I answered my call to adventure to enter this strange world, as refusing the journey was simply not an option.
She wrote in a way that was beautiful, but I could not quite fully understand her. (She remains one of my favourite Buddhist writers to this day, and the equanimity which shines through her pages was the same breath of fresh air when I entered through those secluded walls).
All I had to go off was a hunch that there was something about voluntary renunciation which could help me, straighten me out, perhaps even heal me.
Those Buddhist folks seemed to know what was up.
This was 7.5 years ago, when I just couldn’t continue living my life of hunting down weak players in the casinos of Las Vegas. (You can read more in my first blog article I ever wrote, please forgive my young unpolished prose!)
Looking back, saying my time in Kopan Monastery changed my life is an understatement.
I had just turned 22 at the time, and I was hopelessly existentially confused. The only thing I had left was a strong calling to leave behind the material world, so to speak, in order to dive deep into the path of enlightenment as taught by Buddha.
I wasn’t doing well. My troubled mind conjured up endless nihilistic conclusions, that tended to venture deep in the darkest regions of the human psyche. My life was filled with tons of “stuff,” but had trouble finding meaning.
With my limited understanding I couldn’t prevent my kingdom turning into a wasteland.
I had little to lose, and no matter what, it would make for an interesting story. (It did.)
So here I found myself, for a month, in a far away and exotic country, and all I had to do was meditate, learn Buddhist philosophy, and practice morality. Nothing else.
It was one of the most challenging while simultaneously rewarding times of my life.
I met some of my closest friends on that Himalayan hilltop, and made fundamental realizations about the nature of our mind, specifically how belief, perception, memory, and self-deception are all interconnected.
Blessed with Dharma insights which still guide me to this day, I was deeply privileged to spend a month with some of the wisest teachers I’ve ever met. And even more so to realize now that this was just the beginning of my endless path.
Soon after, I did an ayahuasca retreat. Then a week long meditation retreat in Denmark. And another one. Then a month long Vipassana retreat in Myanmar, where I gave my first Wim Hof Method class. Then a yoga retreat in the Philippines where I held my first mushroom ceremony. Then an iboga one. Then a five day intense sesshin, followed by a ten day spiritual entrepreneur retreat, both in Costa Rica. And quite recently I completed a five day tantra trauma de-armouring retreat.
I could sprinkle a few weekend Vajrayana retreats, vision quests (some psychedelic enhanced), and fasting experiments on top, just in order to conclude that it’s been one hell of a ride.
I definitely fell prey to Spiritual Materialism at times, believing on some level that more is better. The spiritual version of the famous line in American Psycho comes to mind, “You can always be wiser, have deeper understanding.”
“…But if less is more how you’re keeping score?”
All of these inner journeys changed me at the core, and for the better, I’d say.
Looking back, I can’t believe how much I have grown, matured, and wisened up. I’m aware of my bodily feelings unlike before, mindfulness now comes easy, and I am actively looking for feedback where I am wrong, narrow-minded, judgmental, or just blind, to shine light on my shadow tendencies.
I mean it when I say I can’t believe it. Because I wasn’t like this, at all.
I was covering up insecurities and wounds by being pompous, arrogant, and overbearing.
And while I do fall back on these defense mechanisms at times, sorry HE team, they just have become the rare exception instead of the rule.
One element that helped me tremendously was feedback from people I knew had the best intentions for me, telling me when and how I was overstepping boundaries, just plainly misguided, or ignorant. It was through such mirroring I could grow out of old patterns that I unconsciously developed to survive.
So it was through the love and acceptance of certain communities that I found the courage and guidance to look at the roots of my unwholesome behaviours, insecurities, and traumas that I didn’t want to experience ever again, and made my first steps to start loving and accepting myself.
Seeing ourselves mirrored in others amplifies and highlights. And this is what can happen when you bring a group together in an intentional framework.
There is something special, something unique about retreats. It is by far the most effective model I have come across to cure the illnesses of the modern body-mind. Distraction, overstimulation, nihilism. Disconnection, dissociation, repression.
Retreats allow for our inherent wonder, connection, and potential to arise and grow.
By entering a retreat, you create a container, or a vessel, for transformation to happen. Only during a retreat can you control for the conditions so that unique states of Being can not only form, but exist for longer periods of time, and hopefully solidify enough to bring with you post-retreat.
Lack of purpose melts away when you finally feel connection to the Self and Other you’ve been longing for all your life. Being free of triggers provides a momentary safe-space where you find the time and social feedback to be able to really embody and integrate new techniques, self-images, and perspectives.
It’s like a pressure cooker. You peel away the non-essentials, and you put in the ingredients which together, under unique pressure, produce a delicious meal.
While spiritual highs can be addicting, and thoughts like “Why can’t we always live like this?” come easy, becoming a spiritual insight junkie is not a pretty thing.
Icarus should have heeded the warnings of his father, Daedalus. The fool.
In more modern terms this would translate to the idea of integration, which is perhaps the most undervalued aspect of retreats. There is no way to avoid mundane reality, the Buddhist would argue. Trying to escape it through spirituals means just leads to an ugly form of bypassing.
What comes up must come down.
You need to return with the gifts you’ve been blessed with, and be generous in sharing them freely. Because the mythical stories of the past warn us, if you keep them bottled, or your insights are rejected when you return to the ordinary world, you won’t be able to truly step into what you learned, to truly embody your insights, to truly be seen and accepted as someone who has grown and found wisdom.
It is imperative you go back and clean up the world you left behind.
This is why I am creating the ultimate HighExistence retreat. It is my way of bringing together what I’ve learned so I can pass it on to others like you.
I’ve been privileged to be able to embark on such a back and forth journey to all the wisdom traditions I felt called to.
And now I feel I have something to give back.
In my experience, in the Buddhist communities it was often frowned upon to discuss plant medicines like Ayahuasca, often coming from what I perceive as an overly strict interpretation of the fifth Buddhist precept against intoxication, which in all likelihood referred to merely alcohol.
In shamanistic settings, little attention was given to the practice of modern morality, too often having a laissez faire attitude that “the medicine will give you everything you need”. No spiritual integration work needed.
Lack of understanding, and sometimes even the need to be on the right spiritual path at the denunciation of other ones, have at times prevented the proper synergistic integration of these modalities.
Looking at more modern retreats I see these trends reverse around me. This is the first time in history these traditions are able to converse, and I have found great personal pleasure in synthesizing microdosing and yoga, non-dual meditation and plant medicine, and the Buddhist view on hell realms to make meaningful sense of my darker trips.
For many years I’ve been asking myself the question, what if we would combine the most effective transformational tools and insights, stack them synergistically, select the most appropriate attendees in alignment with our vision, and fly over some of the best teachers we can find to hold space, to one of the most beautiful spots in the world?
Yeah, that sounds actually pretty cool. Let’s do it!
We decided to call it Apotheosis.
And we based the schedule on the mytho-psychological structure of the Hero’s Journey.
If you’re reading this, this could be your call, your sign, the fact that you know you are not yet everything you could be, and that there is still room to level up.
If imagining yourself going through this adventure makes you feel alive, you can apply here. We only have 6 spots left as this article reaches publication.
For those who answered the call, and are accepted, they will be invited to go full circle through the Hero’s Journey:
On Sunday the 20th of May — Meeting the Mentors Evening: Arrive — Tour of Finca — Welcome Dinner + Ceremony Monday — Crossing the Threshold Morning: Yoga + Meditation Midday: Plant Medicine Microdose Hike to the Sacred Waterfall Evening: Trauma Recognition and Healing Workshop Tuesday — Road of Trials Morning — Yoga + Breathing Workshop Midday — Philosophy Workshop + Beach & Chill Evening — Yage Workshop + Intention Sharing Circle Wednesday — Journey into the Underworld Morning — Yoga + Death Meditation Midday — Fasting + Silence Evening — Plant Medicine Ceremony Thursday — Apotheosis Morning — Yoga + Meditation Midday — Workshop “The Return” Evening — Surprise Friday the 25th of May — The Return Morning — Yoga + Farewell
“Apotheosis” is what the ancient Greeks called, “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”
Those heroes—who voluntarily journey beyond the threshold of their current world, and through tests and ordeals face and overcome that which frightens—they leave behind that which no longer serves them, and are then reborn in wholeness.
I know the immeasurable value such transformation can bring and retreats have inspired me to never stop learning, growing, and waking up. I’ve seen similar outcomes in countless of others.