The best, best, best thing I’ve ever done in my professional career was attend the week-long Creative Connections Mindfulness Retreat in Yosemite last month. This beautifully conceived retreat was organized by colleagues/super-women Tanya Golash-Boza and Zulema Valdez at UC-Merced and France Winddance Twine at UC-Santa Barbara. Words cannot express how life-changing and life-affirming this experience was.. but I’ll try anyway 🙂
Our schedule included everything from workshops, yoga, hiking, swimming, professional massage and meditation. Every morning, we got up around 6 AM for breakfast. We were writing, in silence, by 7:30. We prepared and ate healthy meals together, supported each other’s work and laughed incessantly — all in an incredibly gorgeous environment surrounded by natural, rustic beauty.
One thing I know for sure is that I would not have been invited to participate in such an auspicious gathering if I had not “come out” about my spiritual practice and commitment to holistic well-being via this blog two years ago. Writing about my experience integrating mindfulness, self-care and meditation into my everyday life allowed me to build community with other scholars with similar perspectives. Those friendships, in turn, have fostered connections and opportunities I could have never imagined when I first sat down to pen this post.
One of the things that made this retreat such an incredible and unique academic environment is that it was a completely bullshit-free zone. Amazingly, I was the only junior scholar in attendance (someone actually got tenure during the retreat!) While everyone else there (with the exception of yours truly :)) was a senior scholar/rockstar, we all left our professional identities at the door. There was no sense of “you should know who I am”, no “Dr. this” or “professor that”. There was simply an assumed knowledge that everyone in attendance was valued and valuable on multiple levels.
This attention to creating a holistic space for creativity and productivity was evident in details big and small. The conveners of the retreat selected participants with overlapping interests and areas of expertise. Our small-groups were organized around specific themes pertaining to our research. Every morning, we discussed issues of wellness, self-care and handling professional dilemmas. We worked together to cook delicious meals and keep our cabin clean. The space we created was fun, productive, friendly and nurturing. I wrote everyday, had breakthroughs with my book project and left feeling refreshed, invigorated, cared for, inspired and encouraged. Most importantly? I left with new and renewed friendships as well as a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever seen in academia before.
Here are some of the highlights…