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Before COVID cases exploded again and you couldn’t go anywhere without quarantining, we escaped to an idyllic retreat center in Michigan the Friday before Halloween. To say it was beautiful there was an understatement, in my opinion. Take what I say with a grain of salt because I love all things outdoors, but we came right at the end of the fall before the weather turned snowy and bitter. There was so much open space! A volleyball net, swings, basketball and tennis courts. There was also a lake and hiking paths towards the back of the property. It was a haven of the outdoors, and we had it all to ourselves.

I don’t think I speak for myself when I say that COVID has changed people’s priorities. Being in a major city during this time, in cold weather, with limited outdoor space, made me realize how special exploring nature is. We’ve been careful over these past months like many have, so to be in a space where we would run into no one and play to our hearts’ content was a dream. Kate and Unity (our housing coordinators) ensured we had plenty of time to rest and spend time in nature if we choose to. We needed that rest too. With how busy our lives are, it was important we had the space to do what we needed to do to recharge and enter back into our day-to-day. Many retreats I’ve been on don’t build-in the rest we received that weekend. I love that Amate prioritized that because driving back on Sunday, all I felt was revitalization.

However, we didn’t play games, hang out, or hike all weekend. We also had very intentional sessions meant as spaces to reflect and grow. Jumping right in, Katie and Unity announced that all of Friday night would be designated as silent contemplation. So NO talking. Personally, I enjoyed the session. Being present with other people silently going about their tasks is one of my favorite things to do in the community. It allowed me to write and read on the big porch off the back of our cabin. We often distract away silence, but with no phone usage, I sat with it. I peered into the abyss as Katie said in our reading before we started. While daunting, I would encourage all of you to stare into your mind and see if you like what’s within that often-overlooked space.

My favorite session of the retreat was reflections & affirmations as a house. On Saturday night, each house separated into groups and shared a personal poem. These poems were made up that night, and it challenged me to bare vulnerabilities I usually keep close. We also went through a series of check-in questions about our community as a whole and what we would want to change. It truly brought me closer to my housemates. However, my favorite thing we did that session was giving our affirmations. We rarely make space for people to give out their positive opinions of others. After being so vulnerable with my housemates, it was a joy to give and receive affirmations.

We all needed this retreat back at the end of October. Not only did it mark a quarter celebration of sorts, but it also gave us space to rest, recharge, and get to know our community members more. Being in nature was a joy, and after these hectic first few months, I needed this pause. I hope people are in the position to pause for a moment in their busy lives, especially during this holiday season. As Ferris Bueler said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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