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Crossing The Bridge…

October 1, 2017

Cathy Rentzenbrink is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love, which was shortlisted for The Welcome Trust Prize and The Portico Prize. Here she writes about her experience of ‘Crossing The Bridge’.

I hadn’t told many people that I was off to spend a week discussing my deepest, saddest feelings with a bunch of strangers because in my experience confessing to any sort of personal development work leads either to outright mockery or curious sidelong glances as people try to assess how crazy I am. Despite the fact that my book The Last Act of Love details my years of grief and depression, I can’t shed the feeling that in real life I must be careful not to frighten people away, must always offer a happy face to the world and be visibly grateful for my good fortune and must never run the risk of boring or distressing others with my misery.

When I arrived at the beautiful farmhouse I felt a frisson of unease as I handed over my phone. We’d been warned to expect a complete detox: no phones, no kindles, no books or magazines. Nothing to distract us from ourselves. As I lay on my bed, staring up at the ceiling and wondering how I’d survive five days with no reading, I thought this would be a good plot for a murder mystery. Later, as I sat down for the first of many communal meals, I kept darting furtive glances at my tablemates as we chatted with a rather nervous, manic energy. They seemed a pleasant bunch, from all walks of life. What had brought us all here? What could we possibly all have in common?

The answer that emerged as we embarked on the course was that we were all in thrall to some type of loss or grief and we were all putting our energies into covering up our pain, rather than facing it.

Over the next few days we encountered a wide variety of exercises and experiences, involving expression, education, movement, and ritual. I don’t want to give the game away by going into too much detail and although at first I felt a bit foolish, I gradually learnt it was best to just go for it. Afterwards I realised that the exercises I was least drawn to, that I wouldn’t have picked out of a list of options, were probably those that did me the most good. As the week went on and I could feel the nourishing effects of the work, and of eating delicious, organic food, and spending time silently in nature rather than staring at a screen, I kept thinking of all the people I knew who would really benefit from The Bridge and wishing I could send for them.

I asked Donna to explain why it worked: ‘It’s all about supporting people to make sense of what happened to them, to share their story, and be witnessed and then to feel the impact of that story through emotional release in the body. It is then that they can actually choose to let it go. Research backs this up. It is not enough to merely cognitively understand our story. As the saying goes, ‘you have to feel it, to heal it.’ There is also great healing power in groups and we are indeed tribal beings. Sharing such an experience together in a safe space with others is incredibly healing and effective.’

It is true that perhaps the greatest pleasure and privilege of a richly rewarding few days was watching the others shed their masks and then blossom and thrive. The people I had initially seen as strangers became my tribe, as we supported each through the often painful but ultimately cathartic experiences. It made me think what beauty there can be in human connection when we dial down the pretence and posturing we all do in the attempt to keep ourselves safe and fit in.

I left feeling unburdened and calmer, and with a sense of myself as part of a wider world. I felt committed to living authentically and to trying to worry less about whether or not other people are judging me. I also felt full of compassion, with a renewed energy for finding meaning and purpose in my life and work, and for figuring out how to best be of service to others while looking after myself.

We are not alone in finding that inner work leads to outer expression. Donna explained: ‘The Bridge is a gift, and what we choose to do with that gift is up to us. I believe whilst we are being violent and at war with our selves in our internal world, it is virtually impossible for us to create any meaningful change in the external world. This is why I describe this work as inner activism. We are changing our world from the inside out.

Cathy Rentzenbrink’s latest book A Manual for Heartache is out now.

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