Arise! A Retreat by Mystic Studios

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Hi everyone! I hope you are all well. Before I start today's post, I'd like to mention a tiny bit of housekeeping.

Housekeeping

As you have probably seen in various emails and social media posts, I have been experimenting with a new posting schedule both here and on Facebook, which is why there hasn’t been a new post here for a couple of weeks. I plan on posting in both places regularly, as well as continuing to send emails to my mailing list, so you will always have plenty of opportunities to get regular content from me.

Also, we held our first-ever gratitude challenge on the Facebook page, and it went really well! If you didn't see it, we did a five-day gratitude challenge, where we named three things each day that we were grateful for. People's answers were so creative and touching! I got a lot of great feedback from readers, so be prepared for another challenge next month! 🐝

Let me tell you about the retreat I just went on!

I'd love to tell you about a retreat I went on recently. It was my way of taking care of myself after a period of extended stress, because I see retreats not as vacations but as one tool in the self-care toolkit.

I love the word “retreat,” because (for me) it means to take a step back and assess, learn something about myself, and grow as a person. This retreat checked all of those boxes, and I loved it!

The Arise! retreat was offered on Saturday–Sunday, August 3–4 by Kim Chestney, and it was a full-day retreat with an optional overnight component that was chock-full of intuition work, soul flow, meditation, creativity, and healing!

Group photo with all participants at Arise! 2019. Photo by Nicky Dunlap.
It was held at the Zen Center of Pittsburgh, which is situated on fourteen acres of gorgeous woodland about twenty-five miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. The Zen Center is a Soto Zen Buddhist temple and education center, and its caretakers are Kotoku and Colleen Crivello, who live and practice there. Kotoku is a priest in this Japanese tradition of Buddhism, and the Center offers Sunday services and Zazen training to visitors.

So after eating breakfast with my husband, I kissed him goodbye and jumped in my little bee car to head up there. I rolled down my windows as soon as I’d left the highway and started tootling over the rolling hills of the countryside. It's a very pleasant drive!

Arrival and Setting

Upon arriving at the Zen Center and parking my car, the first thing I noticed was the amazing smell: fresh, clean air sprinkled with the scent of sweet grass. I took in a deep breath and sighed in relief.
Beautiful View at Deep Spring Zen Center of Pittsburgh
Beautiful grounds at the Zen Center Pittsburgh.

When I entered the building, I was greeted and shown my room, as I was staying for the full overnight experience. I had a room with a single twin bed and a large window overlooking a beautiful view, and was initially confused: someone’s things were already in it! I was informed that the priest uses that room as his robing room and stores his books and ceremonial items there. It was kind of him to give me his space for the night, and Colleen kindly gave me a little tour, telling me the meaning of the items in the room.
My accommodations at the Zen Center during the Arise retreat
My accommodations at Zen Center Pittsburgh.

Activities

After everyone settled into their rooms, we all headed downstairs to the common area, and the event began! We were each given a small “goody bag,” which contained tools we would use throughout the day (such as a pencil, small notebook, and other items). After a quick tour of the house and grounds, we went into the Zendo and started with a thoughtful exercise: each of our bags had a card with a quote on it. As we introduced ourselves, we shared what the meaningful word in that quote was; for instance: joy, intention, gratitude, etc. Mine was “reverence.” It was a great ice breaker!

The Zendo at the Zen Center, Deep Spring Temple
The Zendo. Photo by Mystic Studios.
We were then led on an intuitive soul flow yoga meditation by Nicky Dunlap. I appreciated that it was doable by literally anyone: you could sit on the floor or in a chair and be of any ability whatsoever. The movements were gentle and the meditations for each movement were thoughtful and meaningful. Although I had started the day kind of tired, in pain, and stressed out, after Nicky’s soul flow session, I came away feeling refreshed, peaceful, and ready for the rest of the day.

Kotoku then gave a short talk on the basics of Buddhist meditation, discussing the Eightfold Path. Inside our goody bags was a handout entitled Metta Sutra: Buddha’s Teaching of Loving Kindness.

Kim then started us on some intuition exercises, and what I really like about Kim’s approach is that she considers intuition development work not to be some spooky, psychic ability, but rather a cognitive function that we were all born with and simply have to learn to access and trust it. I really enjoyed watching people who were introduced to this concept for the first time have their first “aha” moments when they realized they could trust not only themselves, but the others in the room, too. There was a great sense of camaraderie immediately among people who had never met before.

A group working together and having fun! Photo by Mystic Studios.
After a break, we had some unstructured time with optional creative activities, and I really appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into those activities. You weren't required to do them, and could opt instead to walk the grounds, go off by yourself, or do whatever you wanted to do, but if you wanted to participate in the activities, several stations were set up on the back porch of the house.

One station featured DIY Aromatherapy with Lindsey Bradley, where she gave us instructions for a couple of different aromatherapy blends. I made one with clary sage, lavender, frankincense, bergamot, and a teensy bit of patchouli.

Lindsey Bradley's DIY aromatherapy.
Meanwhile, Nicky passed around a basket full of writing prompts to get our creative journaling juices flowing. I saw several people grab their journals and go write for a while.

Basket of journaling prompts.
Two other activities were really neat: in one, we wrote wishes on tags to be tied to a Wishing Tree. Nature would eventually take those wishes onto the wind and out into the world. And in the other activity, we wrote things we wanted to let go of on slips paper and put them into a bucket. They would be later burned and released.

Wish tree activity at Arise! Photo by Nicky Dunlap.
After a delicious dinner of healthy fare, we did a walking meditation with Kotoku. He taught us how to modulate our breathing with each step, then led us around the grounds in a single file, ringing a bell at regular intervals.

Walking meditation in single file. Photo by Nicky Dunlap.
At first, I found it difficult not to want to look around at everything on the grounds, but then I got into a groove with it and realized, this really is the ideal meditation for me, as I’m not very good at sitting still! :) The meditation was punctuated by two dogs playing, weaving in and out and around us as we walked, which was, to me, a nudge to be in a state of unfettered joy more often.

The final creative endeavor in this part of the day was the nature mandala. We all gathered items from the grounds—leaves, flowers, sticks, stones, etc.–and created a design with them. Mother Nature will take that away when she’s ready, too. It’s a great lesson in impermanent beauty, and people seemed to have fun collecting items and adding to the pattern.

Making a nature mandala with found objects. Photo by Nicky Dunlap.
Kim then led us in some more group intuition development exercises, and then we each received an intuition attunement. At that time, Kim cleared every person’s energy field and gave them a gift. It was moving to see people release everything they were holding in during that time. We laughed; we cried! It was a beautiful ceremony.

Kim Chestney doing an intuition attunement. Photo by Nicky Dunlap.
Afterwards, we socialized in the Zendo while nibbling on Nicky’s amazing vegan cookies.

Just look at those cookies! Photo by Nicky Dunlap.
After dark, we headed out to the fire pit and burned the slips of paper on which we’d written the things we want to let go of. While watching them go up in smoke, we sang a group rendition of The Beatles’ Let It Be. So fitting! And I was so impressed by some of my new friends singing harmony!

Bucket of things people wanted to release in the fire ceremony.
Ceremony at the fire pit. Photo by Nicky Dunlap.

It was such a fun and healing day! After hanging out by the fire, people who were not staying overnight gave a round of hugs and headed on home.

Those who were staying over observed silent hours from 10:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. “Silent hours” means only functional, necessary speech, no chit chat. I had come prepared to do some reading, and chose to start the mystic, St. Teresa of Avila’s book The Interior Castle, written in 1577 and still considered to be a seminal work about spiritual development.

The next morning, silent hours ended with Kotoku ringing a bell throughout the house to wake us at 7:00 a.m. I awoke to the most amazing sunrise that cast the coolest pattern on the wall above me because of a lace valance in the window.

Lace pattern at sunrise.

This is what greeted me when I looked out the window. Photo by Nicky Dunlap.

We had a sunrise Qi Gong session led by Gurney Bolster, which was the perfect way to get that flow going first thing in the morning. The grass and air were cool and dewy; it the perfect summer morning!

Sunrise QiGong with Gurney Bolster. Photo by Mystic Studios.
After a light breakfast, we were given an orientation about Sunday services in the Zendo, with a talk led by Craig, one of the members of the Zen Center’s board. We were welcome to stay for the Zazen meditation should we wish, and I know several people did.

I did not participate in the Zazen meditation because I had decided to go to Mass and light a candle for the victims of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, so I gave our teachers hugs and our hosts a heartfelt thank you for their hospitality and got on the road to find a local church.

Side note: if you’re Catholic and in the Cranberry area, definitely check out St. Ferdinand. There is beautiful artwork inside the church, and the music was VERY well done, too! They had both an organist and a pianist as well as a beautiful singer performing her duties as the cantor! I ended up crying through much of the Mass; the music and message that day really touched me, and in combination with all the beauty of the Arise! retreat, I think I released and surrendered the pain I'd been carrying, both personally and from the news of the shootings. Our world is so complicated, and I’m so grateful I could spend a weekend surrounded by love, creativity, friendship, and beauty.

Beautiful St. Ferdinand Church in Cranberry, PA.

Thank Yous

I would like to thank everyone involved—especially Kim, Nicky, Lindsey, and Jon–for their hard work in putting such a beautiful retreat together. Everything was perfect, right down to the tiniest of details. For instance, Nicky did such a gorgeous job with the flower arrangements and her delicious, homemade vegan and gluten-free cookies, and Lindsey laid out our lovely evening meal and coordinated getting us settled into our rooms. Jon was the man behind the scenes making sure everything just flowed. And finally, I would like to thank Kim for her wisdom, teaching, and thoughtfulness. Her events are always full of love, inclusiveness, and light, and if you can ever get to one, I highly recommend it!

What I Learned

I came away from the retreat refreshed, renewed, and ready for whatever may be. Through the reflection I did over the weekend, I learned:

...to embody tranquility even when my fight-or-flight response wants to do otherwise.

...that any struggle I’m feeling is just a blip in the greater scheme of things.

...that there can be peace within and without.

...that resistance is futile (points to the Trekkies out there) and releasing it brings opportunities for growth.

...that creativity is possible in ways you've never imagined before, and if you open yourself up and tap into it, that well need never run dry!

If you're touched by anything I've written about here, then maybe a retreat would be good for you, too! If you want to find out about more of Kim’s events and retreats, be sure to find her and the other presenters/coordinators at the links below and sign up for their mailing lists.

Links

Kim Chestney / Mystic Studios (Author and Founder of IntuitionLab)
Nicky Dunlap / Tranquil Fern (Photographer and Teacher)
(Side note: seriously, you need to go to something that Nicky brings cookies to. She's an amazing vegan and gluten-free baker!)
Lindsey Bradley / Lizzie B. (Aromatherapy and Wellness Educator)
Gurney Bolster / Tai Chi for Health (Tai Chi and QiGong instructor)
The Zen Center of Pittsburgh (Soto Zen Temple and Education Center)






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