As it has since 1999, the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, CA provided the perfect setting for Shinnyo-en Foundation’s 2017 Annual Retreat. This year, the size of the retreat was slightly smaller than that of previous years, consisting of 36 participants, but it provided a more intimate feeling while still incorporating a variety of 14 different organizations.
The retreat started on the sunny afternoon of August 11 where participants arrived at the conference center and mingled with one another over refreshments. Some were veterans of the retreat who enjoy coming back each year, while many were first-timers and were looking forward to what the weekend had in store for them.
The Annual Retreat is intended to provide a place for participants to connect and reflect on their own personal, cultural and spiritual roots of service. Although the retreat has always had the same focus, there is a new twist each year when different participants come together with interesting stories to share, and new and old relationships grow.
Kingsley, a Shinnyo-en staff member from the Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple was very inspired by the stories that he heard from others. He commented, “It was these kinds of stories that showed me people outside of Shinnyo-en had ways of changing their lives in different ways but had the same goals of helping themselves and society. It showed me the importance of using adversity to find a connection with each other to know that sometimes it isn’t just the individual experiencing the same hardships.”
In between all of the wonderful meals prepared by the Marconi kitchen staff, the weekend was filled with a wide variety of activities. Some were reflective and personal, and others were more active and full of energy and laughter. Many of the activities took place in Home Groups, which are small diverse groups of 5-6 co-facilitated by two youth leaders. Other activities were facilitated in the larger group so that everyone had a chance to interact with one other. This year, we were fortunate to have Nalya Rodriguez, the 2016-2017 Shinnyo Fellow from UC Berkeley, return to the Retreat. She shared her digital story-telling project that she worked on with the Castlemont High School students in Oakland during her fellowship and led an activity to encourage us all to create a storyboard as a way to reflect on ourselves and our lives.
On the last day of the retreat, August 13, we made keychains in our Home Groups to reflect on the whole retreat. Autry, a Shinnyo-en Junior Youth Association member from LA, shared her thoughts during this activity saying, “During the Home Group bead making activity, each one of us in my home Group shared amazing things that inspired me to better myself. My bead stood for vulnerability because that’s what this whole trip stood for me. I was able to open myself up to new things to receive the love that everyone there had to give. The key chain we made with each bead is something I keep close to me when I need to be reminded of the experience I had at the annual retreat.”
Each year, participants share with us that the special relationships that they are able to form in such a short period is one of their most meaningful and memorable aspects of the retreat. Kaoru, a Shinnyo-en staff member from the Head Temple shared, “I was truly grateful for the opportunity to get to know the other participants, and also deeply touched and felt grateful for their commitment and contributions. Their aspirations and persistent effort for a cause was so touching. Each person was a true inspiration to me, and throughout the retreat, this deep sense of appreciation and respect for each of them and for what they do grew deeper and deeper as I learned more about their stories and more about their pure heart and sincere actions to better the world around them.”
Clayton, a Shinnyo-en staff from Hawaii also commented that “Over all I liked the diverse age range of the participants and believe that we can learn a lot from each other. I especially enjoyed the open mindedness and positive energy of the youth in attendance. During the retreat it was great to see the youth overcoming uncomfortable situations, which helped them to gain confidence and grow as future leaders. The Retreat reconfirms the importance of nurturing the youth for they are the future.”
Pam, a Shinnyo-en member from the New York Temple noted, “The retreat took place during a particularly difficult week in terms of world and national events. I could see how important the work of the Foundation was in helping to sow the seeds for individuals to be empowered to act to make positive changes and to pass along the baton as it were to the next generation and inspire others.”
We hope that all of the participants were able to walk away from the retreat feeling refreshed and inspired to continue spreading peace and harmony through their own path to peace. We are grateful to all those who shared their wisdom and life stories with us. Thank you also for making the weekend so special by sharing your time with us.
Please take a look at the photos in our photo gallery to get a glimpse of our short but sweet time together at the retreat! The photos are posted here for you to view.