My trainer at the gym always uses the word “amped” to describe how he’s feeling.  What does that mean exactly…amped?   By the way, it gets underlined in red every time I write it so I’m pretty sure it’s a made up word.  Amped…it sounds so weird to me.  Is this a music reference?  From context, I am able to discern that Rob asks me “are you amped? Because I am so amped today!” what he’s implying, as he pulls his hoodie up over his head (Rocky…eat your heart out!), is that I should be super psyched that he’s about to kick my butt for the next 60 minutes.  So far I have yet reply that I am indeed “amped.”

I am amped however, as I look forward to the 2012 Winter Retreat.  It’s literally just around the corner. There is so much to be done that, in some ways, it resembles a session with Rob.  One of the things on my to-do list as we prepare to head out to Gorham is to find my DaVinci notebook which accompanies me to every retreat.  I can’t remember if someone gave it to me or if I bought it on my own (it doesn’t seem like the type of thing I would purchase so my guess is someone gave it to me), but somewhere on my shelves lies an old, worn, notebook, it’s yellowing paper, fading ink, and bent over corners evidence of how many times it’s been lovingly thumbed through.  On the cover, etched in gold, is DaVinci’s Anatomical Man.  Inside, the notebook contains pages full of notes from I think only two or three years worth of retreats – after all it’s only like 300 pages or something.  It also contains a series of notes from I.D. – a precursor of sorts to Hagsaeng Naebu (although there was a significant gap of time in between these two groups).  Why, you might be thinking, if there are no blank pages left, do I bring this notebook with me to each retreat.  The answer is quite simple…there are things I need inside.  Namely, the notebook contains my lines said each year during the Winter Retreat opening ceremony (yes…like the Olympics!).

Many years ago, when the winter retreat had just started to grow in size, Master Pearson began a separate tradition of a few people heading down to camp Gorham a day or so early.  It must have been a year or so after that, that the opening ceremony happened for the first time.  A bunch of us were just chillin in the cabin when Master Pearson suited up in his snow gear and headed outside.  Not ones to miss out on something cool (and whenever Master Pearson just stood up randomly and headed off somewhere it usually ended in something cool – except for the year before which just ended in a horrible walk in the woods to cut down some nearly impossible super thick tree trunks, or the year before that which ended in a death march up horse trails through snow higher than my waist and then ultimately resulted in unknown trespassing and subsequently being chased by a rather intimidating fellow with a chain saw) a few of us likewise bundled up and followed him outdoors.

We walked around for a while, climbed some trees (that was fun!) and then we came to a rather large clearing.  We sat down in the snow while Master Pearson tooled around for a while (he’ll have to give his version of this at some point because I really have no idea what was happening in his head).  And then we noticed that he wasn’t just tooling around but he was purposefully walking in circles through the snow.  UNquestioningly (as usual) we joined him and added our footsteps to his, patting down the snow to carve out a wide circle.  Finally, and I don’t know who spotted it first, someone looked up and the strangest thing happened…above the circle we had made, literally, directly above it, in the sky, was a rainbow that also was formed into almost a perfect circle – both ends nearly touching one another.  Seriously…how could I make this up!  It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and to be honest I have not seen again since that day.

Anyway, it seemed like things began to develop from there.  Eight trigrams coming off the circle, four people personifying (through poetry) two trigrams a piece, bonfire in the middle of the circle, incense placed into the fire (although I’ve always wondered if people know it’s incense…I mean you can’t really smell it even once it goes in there and it’s so cold outside that your face is likely buried beneath a scarf and the collar of your jacket anyway.  When we moved away from Gorham the ceremony had to be adapted somewhat due to lack of space.  This was unfortunate because in that really big clearing the ceremony participants are ideally so far away from the group huddled around the fire that their footsteps can’t be heard and their voices just barely, like a whisper.  I’ve always imagined it to be really cool, and spiritual, and meditative, but I’ve never actually seen the ceremony take place because I’ve always been in it – which gives me a completely different perspective.

The opening ceremony is one of those “things” that I referred to in my post last week.  It’s a rallying point, a touchstone.  It sets the tone for the entire weekend and for me, can really make or break that first day.  It is certainly a point of reference by which people remember each year’s retreat.  Often you’ll hear people say, “you  know, the year during which so-and-so was in the opening ceremony.”  I am lucky to get to participate in this ritual, in creating this experience by which others build memories.  And I have certainly built my own along with them as a result.  At Cassowasco, our retreat location in Auburn New York (or Waterloo or some little Podunk town) where we moved after we outgrew Gorham the first time, we only had a small space to work with.  I have memories of Master Pearson making us carry, push, and drag, frozen picnic tables 400 times our body weight in order to make more room in which to do the ceremony.  I remember poor Mr. Phatak being forced to stand just inches from the frozen lake (which was ironic because his element was, in fact, lake!) trying desperately not to fall in, in the dark, while inching his way around the circle. The year when we did the ceremony at 3 in the morning instead of at night and Master Begley was responsible for “guarding the incense” at the hour.  Rather than miss the ceremony, she carried the incense outside with her…awesome! I remember that terrible year, when I forgot the second line of my three line “poem” about Earth and I how I swore that I’d never make that mistake again (hence the DaVinci notebook!).  I remember Mr. Etlinger, serving as my portable thesaurus when I wanted to make my three lines just a bit more creative.  I remember the lame year, when the Winter Retreat was held domestically and a dog with a light on it’s collar ran over to me in the middle of the opening ceremony (although it was cool to have Ms. Quandt participate in that one!).  And then lastly I remember the even lamer year, when we finally returned to our home sweet home Camp Gorham, but for some reason or another, the opening ceremony didn’t actually happen.

Well this year it is definitely going to happen…and I am amped!

See you there!

Shaffer

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