Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to another chapter of Grateful Heart Monday, where gratitude is always the sole subject of my writing, which for today is for the 2nd annual men’s retreat I was just on over a week ago now.

I belong to an organization called The Mankind Project (MKP), which has been essential to my life with breaking through various issues that therapy and 12 Step recovery work hasn’t been able to. Within MKP are various groups called “I-Groups” that meet on a varying basis depending on the group itself. Mine meets every other week and once a year we take an annual retreat to further solidify our bond and connection to each other as friends and brothers. Last year, we held our first annual retreat to a great success. This led to continuing in the tradition by planning a second one, but none of us could have predicted that COVID-19 was going to hit in 2020, which almost derailed our retreat. Thankfully it didn’t.

Over the course of three days, we gathered in the same lodge we gathered in last year. A few of us went up early for an initial night of relaxation, which proved to be a lot of fun, as I got to play a really cool miniature golf course called Kensington Mill Falls near our retreat center and then dined afterwards on some incredibly tasty burgers and fries at a place called The Burger Joint. I also enjoyed an amazing Aztec Mocha from a local coffee shop called The Proving Grounds nearby. The evening ended watching a few scary movies with a toasty crackling fire in the fireplace.

The first full day of the retreat itself began with a wonderful brunch at a restaurant called Lena’s Kitchen where I had the most delectable vegetable and cheese hash alongside a chocolate Nutella crepe! I spent the afternoon hiking all those calories off during which I was able to clear my mind and draw a little closer to nature and God. Even in the stressed state of health I was, I hiked several miles where I saw 11 swans swimming in a graceful “S” pattern, a beaver hard at work preparing for the coming winter, a dragonfly landing on my shirt for several minutes where it felt like it was looking deep into my eyes, and a breathtaking view of the lake and forest below. Later that evening, I enjoyed a beef stew, some salad, and cornbread, and then made s’mores over a roaring fire outside while several played music on their guitars and other makeshift instruments. I also shared my “Would You Rather” cards from the board game I had brought, which led to some hilarious conversations about the choices we’d make! The second evening ended with another scary movie and warm fire inside.

For me the highlight of the retreat came on the morning of the second full day after I had feasted on a scrumptious traditional breakfast that included eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, fresh fruit, toast, orange juice, and coffee. I shared with the group a blog article I had written about being picked on and the bullying I experienced for much of my life, where afterwards, I asked each man to share about their own experiences with bullying. I got pretty emotional hearing all the stories shared and it helped me to connect deeper to each man. Shortly after that exercise, I lead another one where each man had previously given me a song that represented their life. As each song played, the men had to guess which man around them had selected it. Ironically, no one was successful in connecting my song to me, which was “Mad World” from the Donnie Darko soundtrack! Lunch was yet another feast with the consumption of some homemade minestrone soup and a grilled turkey and cheese. Just after that, five of us took a silent hike into the woods with the only focus of observing the world around us. At one point during that hike, we came upon a soybean field just off the marked trail we were on. As the five of us stared out onto that field together, I truly felt connected to each of them and to God as well. I also hugged an enormously huge tree during the hike which opened my heart chakra a little better and found the clearing on the water’s edge I had seen the day before from high up on the ridge. After a freeform coloring exercise later that evening, I dined on chicken parmesan, angel hair pasta, salad, and coconut crème pie. Needless to say, I surely didn’t go hungry on this retreat! After dinner, I started a game around the fire outside by beginning to tell a story that continued in a completely unknowing way with each subsequent man, which totally led to quite the comical result! And I completed the trifecta of scary movie nights that night with another cozy fire.

While I struggled incredibly on the last day of the retreat due to my ongoing health issues, I appreciated the homemade chocolate, coconut, walnut, and blueberry filled pancakes that were made specifically for me. Wow is all I can say to them! After feasting on them along with fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns, we held a closing exercise where many shared their appreciation for all the planning I had put into the retreat. I truly felt very appreciative to hear all their blessings. As we got ready to part ways, the men honored my request to circle up outside in the sunlight, arm in arm, something we haven’t been doing in a good while due to COVID-19, as I was really needing to feel love and connection.

So, yes, there was plenty to be grateful for, even in the heavy storm of pain I experienced throughout the entire retreat and there are plenty of positive memories that will always be remembered as well. As a final thank you, I offer my thanks to God, for the completely sunny and fall-like cool days that helped to solidify another successful annual I-Group retreat.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson