I promised earlier in the week to write a more-detailed look at the LIAV/37days retreat I am so happy to have been part of last weekend. While I'm certainly still processing--it is amazing how much can take place in 44 hours which may require a very long time to bring into your own story in a way which makes sense to you--I think I'm at a point where I can talk about the retreat with enough distance to have a bit more balance to my tale than I would have initially. This is David and Patti in the 'teacher's lounge' (that wonderfully comfortable couch was often where they would confer between sessions) with an acolyte at their feet
As my wonderful wife put it, when I got back from Asheville Sunday night, I could probably have flown without needing an aircraft. My feet were't touching the ground.
The right place to start is to set the scene. Bend of Ivy Lodge is a marvelous place to hold a retreat, as it has plenty of accommodations to comfortably support a group our size--there were 15 participants plus Patti Digh and David Robertson in charge and facilitating.
There are almost 70 acres of woods, trails, hills, ponds, and, as I heard one young man say in a video describing another retreat center in that part of the country, "tons of nature!" The owners of Bend of Ivy are very much involved with making the center not only well-suited for groups to come and enjoy, but also for being friendly for the planet to host. They are proud to be a carbon-neutral facility.
The people who facilitated our retreat, Patti Digh and David Robinson, have been working together for some years, and it is easy to see how well they have come to know the other's talents and to trust each other's instincts. In fact, in conversation with Patti a couple of days after I arrived home, she confirmed that there was much about the retreat that was decided on the fly. Patti and David were gauging what we, as a group, were ready to do next, and that's what Patti and David would take us through, next. Patti's writing prompts (we did lots of writing in our own journals, spiral notebooks prepared specifically so we could use the amazingly well-stocked art table to decorate in whatever fashion we wished) were easy to write to, and yet much could be revealed to oneself. For the most part, what we wrote was not shared other than in a few instances, and only when we were okay to share with each other what we had written.
David was our leader in gettng us up and out of our chairs and adding movement to the experience. I won't detail the exercises we did, but much of it was designed to allow our bodies to experience what we had just had the chance to write about. And, a central focus was on the building of community. In one two-hour session Friday night, we could already sense the beginnings of the amazing entity which we became: we came to know and love each other, to honor the journey we each were on, to hold the concept of us all joining together to form the new creation of the weekend. We were the LIAV retreat of 2008.
Saturday was a very long day for me, as I discovered that the intensity of both our time together and the exercises was, cumulatively, every bit of all I could handle. We began at 9 and did not wrap up until after 9:30 that night. There were plenty of breaks, so it was not a case of being in session all the time. It was simply the amount of energy exchanged over that many sessions which caught up to me.
I recall being in my little bedroom Saturday night, breathing and staring at the wall in the dark. After a few minutes, I was ready to sleep and put my head on the pillow even as I could hear some of the other participants beginning a hula-hoop contest upstairs. Not everyone was as worn out as I was!
Sunday was a good bit more laid back, as we had less ground to cover and we also had preparations to make for our departure. Another group was coming in an hour after our scheduled departure, so we had to do hugs and goodbyes pretty quickly.
I did get to meet John Ptak, Patti's husband, and their two daughters. It was big fun to meet her family since I had been reading about them on Patti's blog for over a year.
I gave a couple of the others in the group a lift to the airport, so we had good conversation on the 30-minute ride, and one of the two was departing about the same time as I did, so we had an extra hour in the terminal to chat before she was off for Charlotte for her connecting flight home, and I was bound for Atlanta to catch my Denver flight.
Of course, since I have not done anything similar to this before, it is hard to know how the amazing time at Bend of Ivy would compare to other retreats. From my conversations with other participants who are much more knowledgeable on the topic, it was magic for both the rookie--me--and for the veteran alike.
Patti and David are masterful at this. They know how a group is doing and can adjust their methods and choice of activity to help the group grow to be closer. We sure got to be a close group by the end of our last formal session Sunday. If you get the chance to attend a retreat they are running, go. If you get a chance to see Patti read from her new book, go! Or, buy the book if you are not lucky enough to be able to see her in person.
It is only appropriate to save my last words on my time at the retreat to honor the astonishingly delicious food which Dava created for us. She is, for me, Earth Mother made real and working happily within sight. We had a kitchen area where we could congregate and get tea or coffee, and that's where Dava would take advantage of the big counter to place each meal, all served buffet-style.
Dava was in a connecting room with a windowed door which was where the magic was performed. The needed tools for cooking were all in this room: a nice big stove, lots of really large pots and pans, and all the utensils needed.
What was also present, and in a very easily perceived way, was the love Dava put into her vegetarian meals. During our times not in session, the deck which was accessible through a door from our public kitchen area or from Dava's Master of the Magic area held the tables where we sat as we ate. It was also where the art table was located.
The windows in the doors and additional windows made it easy to see what Deva was up to. It felt like a moving meditation was taking place when I would pause to watch. Her movements were graceful, calm, and purposeful. Her face was full of peace. My shared moment with Dava, one she did not know I was sharing at first, was early one morning when I was the only one out on the deck and she was in the kitchen working on breakfast. The door from her space leading to the deck was not closed all the way, open only a couple of inches or so.
As I stood out on the deck enjoying the beauty and the quiet and my cup of tea, I heard a beautiful soft voice. At first, it was hard to find the source, then as I turned to locate it, I realized it was Dava. She was singing quietly as she went about her work. Her back was to me, so she didn't even know I was on the deck. I came back into the lodge itself and opened the door which adjoined the public and working kitchens and told Dava how much I loved to know that our food was enveloped with her sweet energy as she sang it into its right form (the actual words I used were less eloquent, but these are better words to convey to you a sense for what I was feeling in that moment).
Of course, she was a little startled to hear someone talking to her, and then a little embarrassed. In fact, she was shocked that I could hear her through the closed door. I pointed to the door to the deck so she could see it was open a few inches. She was relieved. It was almost as if she did not want to impose on anyone.
When we were wrapping up on Sunday, we brought Dava into our circle to offer her praise and some small gifts. She spoke to us of the great joy she felt to cook for people so obviously intent on loving openly and honestly, on the gentleness of the interactions she saw. I was busy wiping tears off my cheeks. Her few sentences were as touching and meaningful to me as any spoken during the weekend. Clearly, Bend of Ivy was only made more wonderful a place to come by the added efforts of Dava as our Goddess of the Kitchen. David Robinson has so-nicknamed Dava, and it is exactly right. She is a chef who brings her heart with her every meal.