It’s the first hour on the first day of retreat. As teens are being dropped off and are starting to check in, I can’t help but feel excited by the possibility of what is to come. Many have never been here before and yet something drew them to the retreat. Some form of courage assisted them in getting here. Others have experienced the magic of this precious week and their faces seem to glow with a sense of relief to be here.
Here. In community. This beautiful community that each person’s unique presence contributes to. A community of care. Of kindness. A community that accepts all of the various identities you hold and all of the emotions you may or may not express.
We are here to practice accepting one another as we are, and we are here to practice accepting ourselves as we are. Not always an easy practice but an honorable one that this community deeply values.
For many, this idea is foreign and may even illicit a feeling of suspicion. Of course! How many times have we thought we would be accepted only to find out that we were deeply wrong. The protective armor and survival strategies have been there for a reason and have likely served a powerful purpose in keeping us alive. This community can hold that suspicion, however, and eventually even the most skeptical will begin to recognize that they too are accepted as they are. When this happens, the collective heart of the community grows even bigger.
For me, our retreats give me hope. What’s possible when we are part of a community that loves us and accepts us as we are? What happens when we are willing to look ourselves in the mirror and practice loving and accepting our reflection regardless of what we’ve said or done? What might the world look like if we cultivated care for ourselves, for each other, and for the earth we inhabit? What then?
Maggie Steele is a licensed school social worker, board certified life coach, and serves as the Adult Program Coordinator for Peace in Schools. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters in Social Work for children, youth and families. Maggie has served as the mental health coordinator for Inward Bound Mindfulness Education adolescent retreats since 2014, and currently teaches mindful studies at Alliance at Meek High School in Portland, Oregon.