Posts Tagged ‘Local Retreats’

The Antonym of Retreat

November 18th, 2011

By E. Stahl

The Antonym of Retreat

Retreat: an act or process of withdrawing

especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable

I attended my first Shalom Retreat in May 2011 and, like many people who have attended a retreat, it positively affected my life. As a writer, it was only natural for me to reflect deeply on and write about my experience there. The following are excerpts from a much longer work which I have chopped up and ordered in an attempt to provide a cliff’s notes version of my journey:

I began to think that trust-falls were not the right way to get me out of this. I had been assured that I would not have to fall backwards into the arms of a stranger, but as I drove closer to the small campground in Southwest Michigan, I began to wish I had made more serious stipulations. I imagined the steady diet of wheatgrass and granola that was ahead of me. I stopped at Wendy’s. I imagined the handholding and swaying to “Kumbaya.” I played my rap music louder. But by the time I realized I would have to talk to other people for three straight days, I was already pulling into the driveway of the retreat center, a patch of land occupied by horse stables and little shack-like buildings.

I stepped out of my car and almost choked on the smell of nature—manure, grass, fresh, crisp air. I walked nervously into the main cabin. It felt like a Girl Scout cabin I had wanted to flee fifteen years earlier. Though I was now an adult and supposed to be free of homesickness, it was starting to creep back in. Mosquitoes hovered around the entrance to the kitchen where odd smells (salmon being sautéed in soy milk?) leaked out. Everything was brown and depressing as I’m sure the beginning of the world was, before interior design existed. Wood paneling, wood rafters, a wooden canoe hanging from those rafters as if it had no idea what water was. As if finding its place in the water was so foreign an idea it committed suicide by hanging itself from the rafters. There may have been tie-dyed batiks and other colorful adornments, but these were not adornments I was apt to recognize at that moment, as I was looking for any excuse to leave and call the whole thing off.

Up in my room, a small cell on the second floor of another large, damp cabin, I felt I could breathe a little bit. My roommate not arrived yet so I was left in peace to spread my double sheets across my flimsy single cot. I had flashbacks to the last time I shared a room with someone—college—and my breath tightened again. Maybe if I didn’t unpack my bags, I wouldn’t really be here. I texted my younger cousin who I had seen the night before: “I don’t like this place I wanna go home!” Thank god I got cell service out here in the wilderness. He texted me back: “I’m sure you’ll do fine. It’s like an adult camp, by the time it’s over you won’t want to leave.” I highly doubted this. I doubted that “like” an adult camp meant days filled with archery, ghost stories, and water-balloon fights but with the addition of booze. I had never even been to regular-person camp. And I was beginning to see why. I turned off my phone and walked outside before my roommate arrived and I was trapped in a conversation with her.

The first time we gathered as a group, we were introduced to the “Principles and Skills of Loving.” We sat on the floor in a circle atop bulky, dirty looking pillows. Some people took their shoes off to get more comfortable. Others spread out their legs and arms and seemed to achieve a level of comfort I would not allow myself. I sat on the edge of the cushion not wanting its musty smell to rub off on me. I brought my arms and legs as close to my body as I could, pretending to warm or shield myself from the dank environment. I gripped the piece of paper that was passed around describing the Principles and Skills, releasing it only to swat away the gnats that hovered around our circle.

The leader began reading through the list of loving. I was overwhelmed, oblivious that others wanted the same thing I did: “more than anything else, we want to love and be loved.” I was so overcome with emotion that I could barely follow along as the leader read through the rest of the list. Maybe letting people love you wasn’t a sign of weakness. The leader continued: “love is a response to need . . . if you let me know what your needs are, within the limits of my value system, I will not run away. I will be there for you.” I looked past the lovey-dovey language. Maybe asking for help and not doing everything alone isn’t a sign of weakness either. Another one struck me: “love is a gift.” Apparently love is not a feeling—you cannot feel love. Sustaining love requires action or acceptance of action—I can only feel the presence of someone giving me the gift of love, in any given moment. Maybe I had a role in being loved—people loved me, but I had to accept that. Love was more responsibility than I thought. A challenge, a two way street, something so simple that I had struggled to understand. Though I relished being there for others, I had to let them be there for me.

Six minutes can be not enough time, or way too much. I found it to be both when we were asked to share our stories with the group. Everyone had the opportunity (or rather, responsibility) to sit in front of the group and introduce themselves. At five minutes the bell rang—a minute left, wrap it up. At six minutes you were left to wonder what you just said and if it could possibly give the group the slightest sense of who you are. Or were. Or want to be.

No questions, no directions, just six empty minutes that thirty expectant faces were waiting for me to fill. I had delayed this as long as possible, let everyone else go before me. I had identified parts of myself in many people, had cried with their stories, nodded along to mentions of narcissistic mothers and being born to the wrong family. I really had nothing new to bring to the group, no specific trauma-laden story. I was pretty boring, a little sad, a little lonely, but who wasn’t? Who cares?

I cannot relay to you what a mat trip is. Maybe for the same reason the woman who suggested the retreat made no mention of “the mat.” There is no way I can put it into words that would be understandable to one who has not experienced it. I could tell you there are blindfolds. Tell you there’s screaming, crying. Tell you there’s some sort of breathing method that is forced upon you that leaves you sounding like you are having the scariest orgasm of your life. Tell you there’s role playing. Tennis rackets. But none of that—the props, the setting—means anything. None of that matters or compares to the actual work being done.

I walked into the main cabin and into the kitchen. Seeing the cook I said I’m reporting for kitchen duty! As I rolled up my sleeves the cook looked at me: in THAT getup?! Stunned I looked down at myself like a shamed child. Ummm yeah. It’s just leggings and a shirt. Uhhh, and a scarf. My hair was done in the Bridget Bardot-esque style that I had been wearing for six years because that’s one of the few ways I feel comfortable. I wasn’t wearing makeup. Wasn’t bedazzled in crown jewels. I’m sure my eyes were bloodshot from a day of crying along with the mat trips of others. Well you just always look so nice and pulled together. Why were we having this conversation? Twenty-eight years has taught me that this was not a compliment. I’d had this conversation too many times. Felt this judgment like air against my skin—something I obviously couldn’t live without. I thought I was in a judgment-free zone, in an environment exactly the opposite of the rest of the world. No one else was called out for what they were wearing or what they looked like. Wasn’t there a Skill of Loving that had hit my heart the strongest: “seeing—I do not look over or through you, I see you in your uniqueness.” I had seen everyone else at the retreat and in one moment this woman confirmed my deepest, most persistent fear: that no one can see me.

I got through the dancing without the aid of drunkenness. Handled the hand-holding. The gazing into one another’s eyes (souls) silently. I talked to people about things I hadn’t prepared scripts for. I shared the meals, ate, surprised at foods I recognized (tacos, salad, chicken and rice, the most delicious cranberry scones). Saturday night came and quickly, in one more sleep, I would be home. The days had been long and laborious—I was ready to decompress from this weekend, sit in air conditioning, watch shitty TV. The procrastinator that I now recognized I was in every aspect of my life had allowed me to put off my mat trip and, in effect, convince me it wouldn’t happen. Everyone else was tired. They didn’t want to sit through another. I’d happily forfeit—let’s just have dinner and call it a night. But, no such luck. Because for the first time in awhile, I found myself surrounded by selfless, caring people. They aren’t going to make me do this, they want me to do this.

At the beginning of my trip, the leader asked me to take off my rings, perhaps for safety? No one else had been instructed to do so, but no one else wore their armor like I did. The hair style, the nail polish, the necklaces, the bracelets, the rings—the only ways in which I knew how to present myself to the world. The only way I would let people get to know me. Or knew how. Quite possibly, it was my own fault for the judgment I had felt the night before. The cook was someone who took my bait, who probably thought people who wear glasses are smart. I realized I had a role in how people see me; I had a responsibility in the tug-of-war between the wall I erected and myself, myself and others. I no longer felt angry at the woman—she has limitations just as I do. And now I was on the mat, prepared to free myself of those limitations, ready to allow love.

I woke up on Sunday morning, May 22nd—for many, the day after the supposed Judgment Day. The world still existed, but it was a new world. I felt at ease for the first time in my life. My cousin was right. I didn’t want to leave. But as I drove away, down the dusty road, past the caged cats, I wasn’t leaving. I was beginning.

Shalom Heartland Experience: Control

October 12th, 2011



“The illusion of control refers to people’s belief that they have influence over the outcome of uncontrollable events.” –James Montier

Having worked in financial services for many years, I had never heard of James Montier until tripping over him on a Google search. Let me just say that I admire this man.  In 2005 he was named London’s “best global strategist.” And, if you’ve never read his rules for sustainable happiness, I suggest you do.

In the spring of this year, I went on a Shalom Heartland retreat in Michigan led by Carrie Jameson and Lawrence Stibbards. It was my first experience with Shalom Mountain.  I am headed to the mountain for the first time in December for the experience of yet another retreat there.  I cannot wait to see what unfolds.

Largely, I decided to go on the retreat because I know Carrie personally as both a good friend and colleague.  Every time Carrie talked about Shalom she lit up and the stories she shared about her personal experience there inspired me to believe a retreat could be a nice add-on to my individual therapy.  Also, I had met some of the members prior to the retreat at a local Shalom Heartland gathering and they were such open and generous souls that I felt compelled to try this thing out.

Going into the retreat I had no expectations for what I might explore or what the experience would be like.  I will admit that as I first got there I had my typical panic moment of, “Oh my God, have I joined a cult?!”  I had visions of calling my best friends in Chicago to come fetch me in the middle of the night. But, I stayed on, in large part, because of the agreement we all made to one another not to leave.  This hit me hard because all of my life I have feared people leaving when things get hard (myself included), and here was this group vowing to one another to stay with it, for better or for worse.

I did end up doing some in-depth personal work and I really just went with the flow in terms of what came to me as important in the moment.  My work was done with Lawrence and a group of about ten other retreat participants.  People whom I could now say are soul friends, even if I never see them again, for life after this experience.

What came out of my work was a crying snotty screaming bossy mess saying, “I want to be in charge. I get to say what happens. I want to be in control!!!”  Yep. That’s the core of it.  And, as I delve further into my relationship and new life in a new city, I say again, “Yep, that’s the core of it.”  This is a scary and vulnerable thing to admit, but what I know first and foremost is that you cannot change a thing until you admit it. Out loud. Then, a decision to change must follow that along with the action to create the necessary change.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m all that unique in this desire for control. I’m human.  We humans have this way about us that we would like to control how things go when we get involved in them. We want to control most often when we’re scared.  The number one rule though is that we don’t get a say in the outcome of life or many of the things we encounter in life.  Moving to New York City has brought this awareness to a whole new level for me.  That’s what big life changes do…they transform us.  It’s a lot easier if we allow for it and if we are open — in heart and mind — to that gift.  Even when at times it does not feel like a gift.  A lot of times it doesn’t.

I’m incredibly grateful to have found a partner that makes me laugh and who lightens me up. Someone who, as my therapist said so many times, “would love me the way I need to be loved.” My life is even more joyful with him in it and to me that’s the real test of finding a good friend or partner.  What I also continue to discover is that as long as I’m growing as a result of, and in the midst of, being in this relationship, that’s what matters. Of course, I want that for him as well.

An old friend used to tell me that when she and her husband were dating she said to him, “I want to know how the story ends?”  He said, “We have to read the book together and find out.” I hope she doesn’t mind I borrowed that, but as I go on in my life I have a deeper appreciation for those words and I’m able to live them more today than I was even a few years ago.

The more I can look at my life, my relationships, and my new city as a mystery and one that cannot be solved, but only revealed to me slowly over time, then I am much more apt to enjoy the adventure of all of it.  And, I’ll keep following those ten rules that Montier talks about. They’ve worked for me so far.

I’m eternally grateful to Lawrence, Carrie, Shalom Mountain and all those that make it work for what they brought to my life that may have taken much longer to come out in “regular old therapy.” Also, I could take what I learned back to therapy to continue work on it.  This was a body-and soul–centered experience where I was cradled in the love of over twenty beautiful people who, just like me, are navigating their way through the challenges of being a human in partnership with other humans on this planet.

It’s quite a ride.


Jennifer Hains is a student of yoga, meditation, and life. She aims to live consciously and share the joy and abundance of a life well lived with everyone she encounters. Holding a Master’s in Clinical Psychology, she is working toward becoming a Psychotherapist and currently lives in New York City where she is self employed as a Personal Coach and Human Resources Consultant.

Soaring High

December 4th, 2010

Todd Hoskins

“What does it look like for a man to be with other men?”

by Todd Hoskins

This is the question I posed at the beginning of the Shalom Heartland Men’s Retreat, led by Lawrence Stibbards outside of Chicago two weeks ago.

Essentially, I was asking, “How do we as men love one another?”  “How can we overcome the cultural assumptions, the internal resistance, and the fear of intimacy with other men?”  Also, I was wondering, “Do I fit in?”  “Do I measure up?”  “Do I belong?”

I have enjoyed close male friendships, led a men’s group, and participated in all the typical dude-like activities: sports, beer-drinking, the woods, and adventures of all types.  But I wanted more.

I was also afraid.  I have few examples of what a man-to-man or man-to-men bond could feel like, look like.  I have beat my drums and my chest, released anger and tears, challenged and comforted other men.  What is missing?

Over the course of three days, a few things became apparent: All of us have fear.  We all feel like phonies trying to pretend we are powerful.  And we all are hungry for a new type of relationship.

Relief came and laughter followed once we knew this was the case.  I didn’t want to admit to anyone I felt like I didn’t belong, that I had not earned my full membership in manhood yet.  And when the fears were shared alongside the desire for more, the diversity of our masculine power emerged naturally and beautifully.

The path for me is vulnerability – a willingness to let others see the beautiful, strong mess that I am:  my confusion, my paradoxes, my fears, my perceived inadequacies, with my convictions, passions, and gifts that I know I offer to the world.

I, too, was given a gift in my process – an image that surfaced from the unconscious.  I was a hawk, grounded, but then I took flight.  I shouted, “Freedom, freedom, freedom,” as I darted through the sky.  The men around me not only witnessed my flight, they took off as well.

In a circle, men outstretched their arms, each of us penetrating air and space, mindful of each other.  We were not a flock flying in unison, but a band of independent birds, seeing and hearing each other, giving each the space he needed to soar.  I was surrounded by open, vulnerable, powerful men-hawks.

These words came to me the next day:

To be a man with other men
To be myself with brothers
Is to soar
On a path that is my own
But not alone
For others soar
With and near me

One Model for Local Shalom Gatherings

September 1st, 2009

By:  Roger Telschow

People have often asked me why we call our local gatherings in Washington, DC “The Community for Spiritual Living” or CSL.  The reason is that, while it includes lots of Shalom alumni, probably 50% of members have never been to Shalom Mountain.  We wanted to have an all-inclusive name and CSL was it.

When we first started having monthly get togethers in 1998, we decided to use the following format:  Process work from 4pm to 6pm, then a potluck.  We chose the first Saturday of the month as a regular meeting date.

Our first mailing list was about 40 folks or so.  Many of them were Shalomers, but others had explored rebirthing, radical honesty, yoga, or other spiritual or body-centered healing modalities.  People were drawn to the gatherings because more than anything else, they were seekers.  They were on a journey, exploring greater depth and understanding in their lives.

For over 18 months, the group stayed pretty small and in-grown.  It began to attract more interest when our processes got more interesting.  We tried topics like “Getting Real-Radical Honesty,” “Feeling Your Fear,” “Letting Go of Attachment,” “Phoenix Rising Yoga,” “Holotropic Breathwork,” “Big Mind,” “Love and Listening,” and “Exploring Tantra.”

Suddenly, our email began to be forwarded to new friends.  People who had no knowledge of Shalom began to check out our Saturday gatherings.  New leadership emerged.  Instead of 12 to 15, we were getting 25 to 30 folks each Saturday, sometimes more.

Over 100 gatherings later, the mailing list is now over 400 and the community is diverse.  Many have followed others to the Mountain or participated in a local retreat.  And the name “Community for Spiritual Living” still seems to capture the essence of who we are and who we are becoming.

Roger Telschow,Community for Spiritual Living

Love is a Verb

July 27th, 2009
Joanna Wiebe Baer

Joanna Wiebe Baer

Ruth Baer Lambach

Ruth Baer Lambach

By Ruth Baer Lambach and Joanna Wiebe Baer

JOANNA: The first-ever Chicagoland Shalom Retreat began when eight people – mostly teachers — gathered at noon on Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, at Emmanuel Lodge, at Camp Lake, Wisconsin. Emmanuel Lodge is a handicapped accessible, new retreat house of Reba Place Fellowship, a 51-year-old common-purse urban Mennonite community in Evanston, Illinois. There are private bedrooms and dormitory-style sleeping. There is a big wooden sun deck the length of the west side facing the frozen lake. Some of the bedrooms, the kitchen, the den and the dining room also have views of the lake.

RUTH: As I sat on the sofa looking out the windows, I saw the grey bark of large old rooted trees still bare at the end of February; beyond the trees, the neighbors’ houses. Curiously, the retreat was not out of the world, at the top of a mountain or nestled in the interior of a deep forest at the end of a long winding lane. We were in fact on a residential street in a small town where other people’s property jutted up against the house we occupied. But we might as well have been in a remote place since Shalom retreats are designed to create intimate settings in which values different from the worldly values are practiced. In the large living room with mullioned windows, I experienced fully the Mennonite commitment to be “in the world but not of the world”.

JOANNA: Right after lunch on Friday, several of us got together around the ping pong table in the basement, and had fun painting the Skills and Principles of Loving on a big cloth banner, which we hung in the great room where we did all our process work. I also had reproduced the Skills and Principles on two postcards which I gave to each retreatant.

RUTH: The food had been planned meticulously. Each of us were asked to bring along something to eat for one meal, and the retreat organizers had brought along plenty of fruits, vegetables, staples, breakfast foods, spices and utensils to create dishes that did not require a long time in preparation. Throughout the weekend, we snacked on nuts, dried fruits, homemade squash pie, chocolate brownies or fresh fruit. On Sunday we even made challah bread to share at the final celebration. It was like being in a private home with a generous host and hostess who’d provided not only interestingly varied but nutritious and delicious gourmet meals.

The large dining room table accommodated us well and we left the place mats with cloth napkins and individually painted wooden napkin rings on the placemats. As part of setting the table before each meal, we moved the napkins in their rings to another place at the table. In this way we sat across from or next to different people at each meal. My favorite place was sitting at the end of the table where I could look directly out over the backyard to the lake where underbrush had been cleared away giving an unobstructed view of the frozen lake.

One morning I saw a lone figure out there skating. When I walked out there the day before with a friend, we heard a deep rumbling crack way under the ice and it scared me enough to stay closer in to shore. After leaving the ice, I rationalized that the deep rumbling crack was a metaphor for the life changing shifts that could take place at the retreat the next day when each of us were given our time on the mat.

JOANNA: John Bottone came from Long Island to facilitate. John is a NYS licensed psychotherapist in private practice on Long Island and NYC. He has been leading intensive retreats and men’s workshops for over 10 years. He is a certified Gestalt therapist and is on the training staff of the Gestalt Center of Long Island and Shalom Mountain Retreat Center in Livingston Manor, NY. John’s work with us as retreat leader was deft: gentle, subtle, grounded. We felt like the retreat was part of real life and had an organic flow. Our consensus was that we really liked his style and enjoyed getting to know him.

RUTH: Since I’m familiar with community building, so even though it was my first retreat, I was not shy about making contributions and being honest. It is my natural way of being. I am also by nature present in any given situation so for me there was nothing to resist. Through cooking, eating together and other game-like activities designed to warm us up and put us at ease, we gradually got to know each of the people in the group.

The next day though, the activity known as the `mat trip’ was slightly intimidating because no one knew just what would show up during this one on one adventure in going deep inside the psyche. John Bottone was experienced in questioning and bringing forth that which was safely guarded and kept away from public view. The supportive group was sworn to confidentiality and to remaining present in mind, body and spirit as these depths were plumbed. It was a powerfully engaging expenditure of time and energy to stay focused on what was going on with the person on the mat. John was gifted at ferreting out what was inauthentic. We were guided by the principles of loving:

  • More than anything else, we want to love and be loved.
  • Love is a gift.
  • Love is not time bound.
  • Love is goodwill in action.
  • Love is a response to need.

Two days before the retreat, I noted that it was the anniversary of my baby sister Myrtle’s death on the 25th of February in 1946. That was over six decades ago but that memory is etched in me forever. While I thought perhaps I’d work on my sense that my life was about doing my duty and feeling guilty when I neglected that duty, it hardly surprised me when I was `on the mat’, (`in the hot seat’) that the facilitator focused on grief.

JOANNA: John had suggested a retreat theme of Leadership, Power and Conflict. Before the retreat, Tim and I felt the fire of this theme in our lives, and noticed how we’re struggling to Imagine new loving ways to respond to the call to leadership. Tim had written to all of us in advance of the retreat, “The issues of Commitment: Leadership, Authority & Power are deeply embedded in my psyche, sometimes in troubling ways. In preparation for the retreat, I invite you to notice where these themes touch something deep within your being. Maybe something completely different is going on in your life; bring that. In any case, we’ll affirm your whole glorious self in our gathering.”

Sure enough, my mat trip brought out my potential for leadership in a sphere that I have left dormant for many decades — I don’t even know what to call it — spiritual healing? When I was younger, I used to be able to channel energy to help people heal spiritually, psychically and emotionally, but it got scary and I quit doing it. So that’s what my mat trip was about. I experienced energy coming to my body and then I focused this energy with healing intention on another (volunteer) retreatant. I experienced being with my father Walter, my sister Christine, and my dear friend Brett, all of whom died many years ago.

Interestingly, I also experienced being with me Teresa of Avila, the mystic guider of journeys, reminding me:

“Let nothing disturb you; nothing frighten you.

All things are passing.

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.

God alone suffices.”

RUTH: It is in the implementation of the principles of loving where the struggle begins.

Seeing: I do not look over or through you. I see you in your uniqueness.

Hearing: I listen to what you are saying.

Honoring of feelings and ideas: I recognize and affirm your right to feel and think as you do.

Having good will: I will you good and not evil. I care about you.

Responding to need: If you let me know what your needs are, within the limits of my value system, I will not run away. I will be there for you.

Now I have many questions:

  • Do I think it is possible to live like this everywhere and all the time?
  • Would a life lived by the rule of love be as economically viable as one lived by the rule of law? Would inventions exist? Would explorations be done? Would research be promoted? Would buses, trains and planes be dependable?
  • If one person’s belief in self love includes things that I find abhorrent, how do I deal with that person?
  • Do I have the obligation to not come to work on time until I’ve straightened out my dispute with the other person?
  • How could anyone depend on anything in a society like that? I trust a government under the rule of law more readily than I trust a system ruled by love. Love still feels ephemeral as a means of governing a village, a city, a state, a country and much less a globe.
  • If love is an intention, is love a technology that must be mastered?
  • Is it a viable enough force that can create a revolution and thereby change the way the world operates?

JOANNA: After lunch on Sunday, we spent a couple of hours cleaning up the place and everyone left except Tim and I. We stayed for awhile longer, enjoying the view of the lake and making love in the empty house, and just sitting. Then we drove back to the city and home — reluctantly on my part, maybe Tim, too. We stopped at the frozen Volo Bog on the way — a nature preserve.

Reflecting on my experience with John and the six other retreatants, I summarized what it had been like for me:

  1. I felt very much at peace about having the retreat in the Mennonite retreat house — seemed very fitting for Ruth, Tim and I to be in a place close to our Mennonite “roots’, as Tim has an Old Order Mennonite lineage and I was brought up in a Mennonite Brethren family, and Ruth grew up in a family with Old Order roots, that then joined Hutterite and Bruderhof communities. The location seemed to work well for the others, too.
  2. I felt like I bonded with the people on the retreat in a way that I’ve never done on any other retreat — of course, I knew most of these people much better to start with, than any other previous retreat I’ve been on.
  3. The whole thing felt so much “lighter” to me than any other retreat I’ve participated in. Hard to describe — just a feeling of airiness, freshness, lightness, clean clear power and energy.