Saturday I attended an autumn-themed spiritual retreat hosted by the York Unitarian Universalist congregation. I had been looking at their website more or less on a whim last week, and I ran across the announcement. Words like “archetypes” and “ritual” and “sacred dance” were used, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a good experience.
Something of an estrogen-fest, which I had predicted; but not in a bad way. It was an ecuminical gathering, but the proceedings leaned towards the pagan/nature religion side of things.
The best of the three workshops was the first. It was on the topic of spiritual journaling, and it was taught, coincidentally, by a therapist Stacey and I used to see. She had some good tips about journaling in general and spiritual journaling in particular. For the latter she recommended writing prayers down, in whatever form your prayers take. Not necessarily so that you can confirm whether they were granted or not (although you certainly can); but because the process of writing focusses the mind and makes the prayer more concrete.
She led a couple of exercises, all of them short “journaling sprints” on different themes. Five minutes never seemed so short an interval.
One of the exercises was to compose an “alpha prayer” – basically an acrostic based on a word picked at random out of a jar. Here’s mine, constructed on the word “Faith”:
Fall upon the wind
I will lift up my face
To bask in
Inspired by the wind that was tossing the trees to and fro outside the meeting room windows.
The mandala class was cool but it felt rushed. Very little was said about mandalas, and no examples were shown. A fifteen-minute guided shamanic-style meditation was followed by drawing whatever came to mind on the provided templates (which would have looked familiar to anyone who has seen the movie The Hudsucker Proxy). Then there was a period of sharing. An hour isn’t a lot of time to present a topic like mandalas; I’ be interested to see what the leader could have done with a longer session.
The only real disappointment was the “Masque making and sacred dance” session. If the previous session felt rushed, this one was positively frantic. A brief meditation, followed by a spare few minutes in which to assemble a mask, and then on to the movement segment.
It was here that I made the mistakes of getting my hopes up. Dance, as anyone who reads this journal knows, is very important to me. I got excited when I saw the words “sacred dance”. “Right up my alley”, I had thought.
What actually transpired was a series of the silliest movement exercises I’ve done since vacation bible school. Apparently the leader is a professional dancer and choreographer; if this is what they do in modern dance schools I don’t ever want to go pro. “Lift your right arm”. “Now lower it”. (goes on in this vein for awhile) “Now lift your kinesthetic arm, while leaving your real arm at your side”. “Now lift your kinesthetic arm, while lowering your real arm”. “Now lunge to the right kinesthetically, while lunging your real body to the left”.
I mimed the motions as best I could, hoping that nobody could tell that my kinesthetic limbs weren’t actually swinging around on cue. For all I knew my kinesthetic body was off snagging coffee and a cookie.
This was followed by some hopping forward and back, and then we were supposed to mime the issues in our life that we desired “movement” on, repeatedly. The session was capped off by a “salad dance”, in which we were instructed to don our still-drying masks and dance in the style of some form of salad, to bouncy spanish music. Having (thankfully) never witnessed a salad dancing outside of a collander, I was somewhat at a loss. Perhaps I’m unimaginative, but I’m not sure anyone else had a much better idea, since the dance quickly devolved into a conga line.
Apart from the dance workshop, however, I found it to be a quality experience. I was particularly impressed with how much of an effort many of the women made to introduce themselves, welcome me, and include me in their conversations. I was sufficiently impressed, in fact, that I’m interested in spending more time at the York UU, despite my previous lackluster experiences with UU churches.
Today I’ve just been finishing up resuscitaing lummox, my laptop, from the Attack of Edgy, and working on my usual weekend paperwork and reviews.
And that’s all the news from here.