For many years my friend and colleague Rabbi Rachel Cowan has led a near-annual meditation and sea-kayaking trip to Alaska with her friend Kurt Hoelting of Inside Passages. As much as the trip has called to me, I kept telling her “next year” and would put off committing. However, after November’s presidential election, I knew this was the year. I feared that soon there would be no pristine wilderness left to meditate on or kayak in, and I wanted to honor Mother Earth in this particular way. So I signed on. An additional bonus was that this year’s trip was billed for Wise Aging facilitators, so I expected some deep learning with mature participants that would not only benefit me as I try to age with wisdom and compassion, but also the students in my Wise Aging groups. (And Rachel herself is the co-author of the book and curriculum we use in this program.) Sadly, however, Rachel could not ultimately join us for this trip due to a serious illness, and Rabbi Sheila Weinberg stepped in to co-lead with Kurt. (We spoke about and prayed for you every day, Rachel.)
The trip far exceeded my wildest expectations. The meditations and silent practice periods were profound, the group process and intimacy was powerful, the leaders (which also included Rey, our remarkable kayaking instructor, and Lena who was so much more than our cook) were soulful teachers extraordinaire, the disengagement from news and email immensely liberating, the kayaking challenging and fun, and the landscapes exquisitely beautiful.
As if that were not enough, we also had Qigung and yoga practice every day. (I fell in love with Qigung and want to find a teacher so I might deepen my practice of it.) I also found that out of the deep silence, my creativity flourished: I channeled an Esa Einai chant from Psalm 121 and wrote several poems. It was truly a week of “inner passages” for all of us (we were 10 participants and 4 staff members).
Despite the fact that I have been on many contemplative retreats over the last 18 years+, this is the one that has “changed my life.” I don’t mean that hyperbolically, either. Perhaps it was the intimacy and intensity or the maturity of the group; perhaps it was the particular setting and the addition of the kayaking component; perhaps it was how evocative the Qigung was for me; or perhaps it was how environmentalism, nature, social justice, meditation, silence, kayaking, eagle sightings, the full moon and exquisite weather, embodied practice, deep sharing, compassionate and wise leadership, being totally unplugged and off-the-grid (no electricity, cell or Internet) in such a remote location, prayer, and writing were all parts of a seamless larger whole…it may not really matter. I just feel like something significant has shifted for me.
I can’t wait to show you some Qigung, to share my new chant, and to show you my flying eagle photos!