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Our Common Journey - retreat summary

The retreat that Christian and I hosted on the island of Tenerife ended on Saturday and everyone has gone home. And yet, we are still filled with the beautiful intensity that was shared during the three days of the retreat. The experience left us with much to contemplate about. We are still processing all that was said and done, and from the emails that we get from the participants en route to their respective homes, there seems to be a lot of mutual processing going on.

We called our retreat a family-styled “Parables & Meditation” retreat. We felt that throughout history, sages from different corners of the world taught their message through either stories or some sort of a spiritual practice. So we asked the participants to bring their own stories and practice. This was a multi-faith retreat. We had among us a Zen monk, a Catholic priest, a Muslim, those who practiced in the Hindu tradition, people raised in an atheist household, etc. The program was program-less. Our aim was to provide a creative encounter of the different spiritual traditions and to let the commonalities or the differences emerge. We called it a three-day journey and didn’t quite know what we would get at the end of it. The only thing we knew was that all the participants were either religious leaders or transformation leaders -- teachers in short -- and that teachers sometimes also need a safe space for time to reflect and to be each other’s mirrors.

The experience, in the end, turned out to be much more than anything that we could have anticipated. We allotted one hour for everyone to share his/her story or practice and planned to have a lot of time for breaks to relax. Everything else was left unplanned. However, as the sessions unfolded, even one hour and half was not enough for each person, and as the journey progressed, spontaneous sessions were added on, designed by the participants themselves (even Mahler was an unseen participant in one of them). The conversations carried over into our meals which we shared three times a day sitting around the same table; we all sat in Zen meditation sessions; we created a mandala together by the ocean; and on the evening of the Autumn full moon, we experienced the Hindu fire pooja together. We opened ourselves up to each other’s spiritual tradition. Without going into detail about the individual stories, in keeping with the confidentiality of the retreat, we can say that each and every one of the stories/practices was a deeply authentic, real and human account of the individual journeys that we are all on. At times we cried and at times we laughed uncontrollably(which seems to be becoming a tradition at the Tenerife retreat), but at every moment, we were deeply touched and moved by the depth, the raw vulnerability as well as the strength of the souls that were revealed. We felt immeasurably grateful to be privy to the spiritual experiences that were different and yet so similar.

On the last day of the retreat, I woke up crying - not because I was sad but because the very humanness of our existence -- so vulnerable and fragile and yet so noble and beautiful -- moved me beyond bounds. The particular details of our joys, trials and tribulations may be different, but in each one of the stories, I saw the comedy and the tragedy of the human condition, our common fate, as well as the deepest yearning for transcendence and connection with the divine in us. And I felt that in the deepest valleys of our vulnerabilities as human beings also lies the gateway to being connected to the divine within.

We ended the retreat in silence with a two-hour meditation. Life-long friendship has developed between the Buddhist monk and the Catholic priest, talks were being exchanged about visiting the Zen center in Germany by some of the participants, one member has already made plans to fly to Sicily to visit the priest, and conversations took place about organizing another multi-faith event and collaborating on projects together.

Christian and I were exhausted but happy and felt that we all shared a bit of magic together. When he was back in Italy, the priest, who had never before participated in a multi-faith gathering, told me that our time together showed him that no matter what tradition we belong to, every human being is essentially a spiritual being -- seeking to be connected with the sacred within us, regardless of the name we give it, whether it is god, transcendence, beauty or nature.

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