The photo above shows the bead bracelets that this year’s Annual Retreat participants made in their Home Groups. This activity was designed for participants to share something personal about their retreat experience as they passed out their beads, and also symbolized the act of giving and receiving in service. Jeff, a Shinnyo-en youth from the LA Temple, was initially apprehensive about the bracelet making activity. However, as he engaged in selecting a bead to give to his Home Group mates and received beads from others, he had a change of heart. “As this was going around, I began to realize that it’s not just a bracelet, it’s more like a string of souls, hearts and ideas. Everything that was shared was heartfelt and unique, and we all have a part in it. My thoughts and feelings toward the idea of bracelet making had changed. Matter of fact, I have worn the bracelet every day since the end of the trip, and will continue to do so.” Others have also said that they have continued wearing their bracelets, and that when they look down at them, they bring smiles to their faces.
From August 12th -14th, forty-two people from sixteen different organizations, including Shinnyo-en Foundation grantees and Shinnyo-en youth and temple staff, gathered to reflect, connect and be inspired by one another for the Foundation’s 2016 Annual Retreat. The Foundation sponsored Annual Retreat has always been intended to provide a place for the participants to connect and reflect on their own personal, cultural and spiritual roots of service. As it has been since 1999, the retreat took place at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, CA, providing the perfect location. The early mornings in Marshall this year were cold and foggy, but as the sun rose up each day, so did everyone’s energy! Its serene environment surrounded by nature and wildlife let the participants take a break from their busy everyday lives, and the meals that the Marconi chef and staff prepared were a highlight for all.
This year, an overwhelming majority of participants were first time attendees, but even for those who had come to so many retreats that they’d lost count, everyone was equally excited to be a part of something so special. Michelle, our new Program Assistant who was also attending for the first time, was so impressed with how quickly everyone opened up and connected with each other when put in such a welcoming, accepting environment. She was complimented by many throughout the retreat on how things were going so wonderfully, but she knew it was the people that were making it such a special event.
The weekend was packed with many activities, ranging from reflective and meditative exercises, to personal sharing, to fun and invigorating dancing during open mic night. Each of these activities varied in group size, with some done as a whole group and others done more intimately in Home Groups which consisted of six very diverse participants, each co-facilitated by a pair of youth.
Those co-facilitators attended the training and orientation in the morning and afternoon prior to all other retreat participants arriving at Marconi. One of the first activities done in the orientation was a team building game, having the participants “juggle” items within a circle to get to know each other’s names. Ivan, a Shinnyo-en youth from the Chicago Temple, said he connected this activity with what was going on in his life at the time. “In our lives we are constantly juggling many, many demands and responsibilities. I was questioning many, many things and from this very activity, I was no longer questioning whether or not I should have attended the retreat with all the responsibilities and people I was leaving back home. I realized this was exactly where I needed to be at that very moment.”
As it was intended in the design of the retreat, Ivan, as well as all the other participants we heard from, were able to really connect with other participants as well as with themselves in just three days. “From the get-go, we came together as one big family.” Wesley, a Shinnyo-en youth and staff member from the Head Temple in Redwood City, CA elaborated on the personal intimacy that he felt at the Retreat by saying, “Everyone opened up to each other and listened to each other. I was surprisingly able to open up a lot more than I was anticipating, which was an experience I never had outside of temple.” Maki, also a Shinnyo-en youth and staff member from the LA Temple, talked about the self-exploratory nature of the retreat. “The SEF retreat was a truly eye opening experience for me. It provided a safe space for everyone to openly share their experiences in a warm, supportive environment. The energy from everyone filled the room, creating a very special atmosphere. Listening to others share their personal experiences allowed me to open up and get to know myself better through the process.” Saki, also a Shinnyo-en youth and staff member from Japan, added “Each participant had their own unique talents and opinions. As stated in the purposes of the Annual Retreat, I was able to connect with various people on a personal level. I enjoyed conversation and sharing opinions in a safe, relaxing, and comfortable atmosphere during the group discussions and also at other times. The people there were amazing and inspired me a lot.”
Another meaningful “take-away” of the retreat was that participants felt hopeful when reminded that others share the same common goal to do good in the world. Many of the Shinnyo-en youth expressed the same feeling. Maki reflected, “The weekend was a breath of fresh air and spending quality time with individuals who are making positive impacts in their communities gave me a great deal of hope for the future.” Jeff seconded the hope for the future by saying, “Overall, the experience I had at the retreat gave my hope for the American society and for the next generation that there will be a social change for the better in the near future. The youths of today are so passionate about helping others and contributing back to society.” Ivan also added, “I left feeling very inspired by the genuine desire to serve and improve the world, shared by all present. It really reiterated the fact that I am not alone in my ideals to leave the world a better place than before.”
Saki commented, “I would like to keep in mind what I learned through the retreat and take action little by little from immediate surroundings by creating harmony and peace.” Maki concluded her thoughts by saying, “This positivity will have a ripple effect and spread outwards into the world. I believe the Infinite Paths to Peace initiative helped us all to realize this. The retreat allowed me to reflect on and strengthen my resolve to make concrete efforts in my everyday life to create peace in the world and encourage others to do the same by helping them to discover their unique path to peace. I am truly grateful to have been a part of such a remarkable experience.”
Our hope is that the lessons people took away from the retreat will last and help spread peace and harmony throughout the world. Many of the young people seemed to have grown so much just over the course of the weekend, becoming stronger, more confident leaders and realizing their importance in the service-learning field. A couple of the youth, who seemed shy when they first arrived, ended up leading the whole group in a fun activity that everyone really enjoyed! The adults also learned a lot from the youth and were inspired by their creativity and passion to want to help others. We look forward to seeing what great things the retreat may have helped sprout and hopefully some participants can return next year to share their successes.
Thank you to all who took time out of their busy schedules to spend the weekend in August with us at the retreat. We appreciate your wisdom and life stories that you shared so openly and honestly and hope you left feeling inspired and rejuvenated to keep on with your meaningful service work. What you brought to the retreat made it truly what it was intended for.
We hope that the photos in our Photo Gallery will show you how we shared our time together at the retreat, getting to know each other personally, dialoguing, and having a lot of fun! The photos are posted here for you to view.