Originally posted on Fit Associates
Photos: Marc Rettig
As our world changes, we feel the turning of times tugging at the certainty and comfort of the known. Sometimes it is necessary to look up from your to-do list and step onto the ledge of uncertainty. For this, we find no place better than the open and peaceful palm of Montana.
In July of 2015, eight of us gathered in and around Fort Benton, Montana for a three day mix of reflection, prairie-gazing, conversation and friendship (you can see a photo gallery here). The theme was Frontiers: the uncomfortable edge between what is safe and familiar, and the beckoning unknown. Our hope was to create an experience and conversation that would help people touch the fragile and unfolding frontiers of their lives in the company of like-minded individuals.
To get this right we did a few things:
Gather really great people
We invited a small group of smart, sassy people who care about the larger transition of our world and their own personal, professional and relational edges. (We acknowledge that a more diverse group would be wonderful. We are still learning how to make this happen.)
Pick the perfect place
This wasn’t hard. Montana is Marc’s birthplace. The spacious sky and golden wheat fields, interrupted by jagged blue mountains and deeply carved ravines, held a stillness and presence we all felt.
Knowing the place made planning easy. Our group was warmly welcomed into the life of Montana’s farm barns, ranch porches and cottage style kitchens. We were carried by proud Clydesdale horses. We picnicked lazily next to a creek. We cooled down in a little swimming hole. Our canoes slipped down the still Missouri. We capsized, then performed a heroic rescue act. We disappeared into golden seas of barley. We watched the sun dissolve into native prairie grass. We listened to the wind while gathered around a fire. We cracked up in laughter many times a day. And so on.
Each morning we read poems that have been dear companions to Marc and I on our journey into the uncharted. Poets such as David Whyte and Mary Oliver articulate key frontier moments so eloquently that through their writing we are able to experience those moments ourselves. These poems helped our group find words about feeling lost, uncertain, or exiled, and they reminded us what it means to come home to ourselves. They provide images to remind us that we navigate through uncertainty simply by paying real attention. They tell stories that invite us to inhabit the darker, more difficult experiences we would prefer to ignore.
One afternoon we set poetry aside to make room for a “situation modeling” activity in Fort Benton’s lush park. People made fabulous installations representing the frontiers they face in their current and transformed state. We had wonderful moments of “a-ha” and “yes, yes, I know.”
Give a little love
Our group was in the fabulous hands of Ross and Laurie Rettig who own the Lark and Laurel B&B in Fort Benton, and who are starting a group hosting service called Northstar Tours. Home cooked meals, fancy riverfront dining, and handcrafted cocktails added powder to our guns.
Yup. We had good plans, but danced with what each day and each conversation presented, and left space for idleness and reflection. You can hardly go wrong with a group of such great people in such a great place.
As a result an invisible tent of trust opened among us. Inside this structure, we relaxed, slipped off our guarded busyness and opened. We opened to the reality of one another: candid conversations helped us see how we affect other people for better and for worse. We opened to ourselves: our discomfort, past difficulty, confusion, clarity, wisdom, solace, and more. We opened to the stillness and song of the steadfast, yet ever-moving landscape around us.
Such openings are transformative. Old beliefs about ourselves and the world can rise to the surface and fall away. Ironed-in relational patterns get to be worn differently and soften. Old hurts get some air and a chance to heal. Fears find themselves suddenly in the midst of good company, making uncertainty less daunting. Doubts get to dance with the experience of others and feel encouraged to move on ahead.
Moving with the changes of life and forging a new path is difficult work and can feel isolating. This retreat was soul tonic. We found encouragement to fearlessly trust the paths we are on, and to remember that we stand in the company of brave friends and the big, wide and welcoming world.
Would you like to join us?
If you would like to be notified about our plans for the next Frontier Retreat, or hear about other kinds of studios, workshops, and educational events we organize in the future, use this form to give us your email address, and you will be among the first to hear when we are ready to do it again.
A very special thank you for the partnership of Northstar Tours (stay tuned: web site will be under construction for a couple of weeks) and the Lark and Laurel Bed and Breakfast in Fort Benton, Montana. They made this project easy, and they made us all feel wholly cared for.