The Winter Retreat. For our martial art school it is a yearly ritual which is not only packed with learning about martial arts, it is also an experience which always makes me feel different, like a whole different person with a new approach to life. I love the experience and I leave feeling motivated about martial arts and living life in a more meaningful way.
I have been attending Winter Retreats for a long time now- a little over 10 years. The first retreat I went to was the last retreat held at Camp Gorham (until last year). It was a very different experience then; the bathrooms and shower houses were separate from the sleeping rooms, so we had to go outside to get to them, and it was cold and snowy. My memories of this time are fuzzy which may have to do with the early hours we were woken up to meditate.
The Bell- the bell woke us up (as it does now). Whenever I hear a similar bell I have flashbacks to being woken up at retreats. I am much less miserable in recent years being woken up so early. Years of having babies wake me up at night has made me learn to live with being tired. Also, when I am at retreats now I look forward to all we will learn and I want to make the most of the short time we are there, so even though it is early, I am excited to get started.
The Mountain- The Mountain was (and is again) our traditional romp through deep snow. Though some may claim it is more of a hill we like to call it The Mountain, and with the snow it makes a good challenge- the climb seems to keep going and going. The first year I remember it was a breath of fresh air for me- I had wanted to go outside and explore the surrounding area, but with all our planned activities, I hadn’t found the time. I still look forward to the climb, as well as getting outside at every possible opportunity. It is such a beautiful place. (Climbing at night is fun too).
The content of each retreat vary but are all related to the mental aspects of martial arts. One of my first retreats focused on NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. This was fascinating and relates to reading other people’s body language, as well as re-programming your own brain- Master Pearson has generously posted some information about NLP previously on this blog. There is always some meditation education- some years we cover Do Meditation, a non-religious form of meditation that we learn as martial artists. This practice contains different moving meditations for the eight Trigram Elements of Heaven, Lake, Fire, Thunder, Water, Mountain and Earth, as well as the Five Elements of Fire, Metal, Wood, Earth and Water. See the top of the blog for more info on Do Meditation. Incense is another topic we covered at one of my early retreats- the meaning and making of it, especially its importance to Japanese culture.
One year we were each given an apple to carry with us throughout the retreat. This related to muscle testing- we then would hold an apple (ours, or someone else’s) and have them muscle test us whether or not it was our apple. That year I was not satisfied with my (in-)ability to pick out my apple from a group of apples (blindfolded). Fortunately that is an activity we have repeated, the second time I was able to sense my apple’s energy while holding my hand above it, as I had seen another more achieving student do the first time we had apples.
The String- The string is one of the first things that one is introduced to at any retreat. We each tie a piece of string on our own wrist- no helping allowed- and by the end of the retreat, it comes to mean something. Depending on what it means we can either keep it on or cut it off, and share the meaning of which we choose (unless we don’t want to because it is personal). I like to keep mine on and consequently have had a string (or few) on my left wrist continuously for years, possibly more than ten years (can that be right?). I used to worry about what I would say at the end of the retreat about the string. Now I know it will mean something helpful. In general I feel much more comfortable at retreat than I did in the beginning. I used to feel like an outsider. Now I feel like I have my own place- like I have become a part of the retreat myself. We are all different people who come together with a common interest and goal, to further our understanding of the martial art we practice. Some times, like when we were learning pressure points last year (have you seen the video of Master Pearson doing a pressure point knock out on Master Shaffer?) and everyone in the room is super excited, I realize that not everyone in the world thinks the same things are awesome that we do- and I am glad to be with a group of people who share this common interest in martial arts.