Two of my friends went on Soul Sanctuary retreats at stone circles at The Stone House earlier this year and came back glowing, so I applied for the one in late August – the first ever Soul Sanctuary for Artists.
The application felt just right: not too taxing, but an opportunity for reflection and intention-setting. I remember writing things about photography and writing and organizing. I also remember mentioning that the retreat fell just before my birthday. Wouldn’t it be special, I mused, to spend part of that week in Mebane, North Carolina, looking back on 27 and cooking up some good plans for 28? Yes: I played the birthday card.
The retreats are free and travel scholarships are available. Members of the Stone House community will even help you get from the airport to the land. I felt so good just waiting in the airport for Emily, the hospitality manager. We chit-chatted our way through the 45 minute drive and before we even reached the fig tree-flanked driveway, I found myself asking casually, “So, I can tell that it’s a huge privilege to be able to experience this. Do you try to always make sure that you’re bringing in newcomers, rather than having people come more than once?” (Read: “This is so dream-like that I can only come here once in my life, right?” I got greedy.)
“Oh, no,” she said. “My understanding is that once you’re in the family, you’re in the family. We encourage people to come back.”
The rest of the team—land steward Tahz, chef Noah, and associate director Jennifer—were equally welcoming all week. They kept our bellies filled with hearty curries, just-dug sweet potatoes, and the best granola I’ve ever had. They helped us pick vegetables from the garden, encouraged us to spend our mornings in silence and then egged us on as we laughed loudly over dinner, and made themselves available for all sorts of formal and informal check-ins. They invited us to hang out at their event for The Highlander Center (celebrating 75 years of working for justice!) and they helped me and another New Yorker extend our trip when Hurricane Irene swept up the coast on what was supposed to be our last day in town.
And I met eight of the coolest artists, activists, and artist-activists I’ve ever met. (Realizing how little time I spend around practicing artists, and cultivating relationships with mentors, was in itself an important birthday gift.)
Ellen O’Grady was our facilitator. If you care about Palestine or Israel or family or stories, take a look at her beautiful book.
I cried as Kim sang to us. Gail read my first-ever tarot spread. I watched Marjorie dance and laughed as Teresa clucked at the chickens and saw the filmmaking fire in Lenore‘s eyes. Joy Marie made me a birthday cake of marshmallows, Saltines, and peanut butter (and everyone clucked over the fact that I was turning 28 – I’ve never heard the words “Saturn returns” so many times in my life).
And as summer turned to fall, we’ve all followed followed Kayhan to Kabul.
Tonight when I sat down to keep up my little November writing streak, I did not intend to take such a long walk through the memory pasture. But since yesterday’s time change, I’ve felt my energy “falling back.” And staring at the sunshine and hammocks, thinking about all the projects into which these people are pouring themselves, I remember all the things I promised myself I’d remember.
In case it’s not obvious, I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity and I would encourage anyone reading this to check out the stone circles website and apply. Whenever you go will be exactly the right time.
All photos taken at The Stone House, Mebane, NC (August 2011).
November blog post count: 4 of 30.