Friday, November 27, 2020

Unity Center for Spiritual Growth hosts online retreat with internationally known author

By Lorraine Glowczak

“Done right, even a six-hour Zoom webinar can be energizing,” a friend who is now a professional at online meetings said to me. She was referring to the retreat I was about to attend with speaker and award-winning author, Mirabai Starr this past Saturday, Nov. 21. I wasn’t quite sure she would be correct in her assumption – after all, it was a rare fall sunny moment in Maine and sitting at the computer all day didn’t sound enticing.

It turns out my friend was correct. About 120 individuals across the state and beyond participated in an uplifting online retreat from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Originally, the all-day gathering was set for this past spring and was to be held in person on the campus of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine.

“This [retreat] took many months to plan with many changes required, including the date,” said Rev. Patricia Bessey of Unity Center for Spiritual Growth located at 54 River Road in Windham. But the pandemic, as it has with everything since its arrival, shifted the plans for the in-person gathering.

About 120 individuals from across the state and
beyond participated in an uplifting all-day virtual
conference with award-winning author Mirabai
Starr hosted by the Unity Center for Spiritual 
Growth of Windham last Saturday. 
However, the online alternative did not prevent men and women from joining in or detour from their positive experiences. Participants learned about past and present feminine mystics and the healing and balance they offer in a predominantly masculine society. Starr shared poems and prayers across all sacred traditions and the spiritual spectrum and incorporated the use of Zoom breakout rooms. Everyone had opportunities to journal write on specific subjects.

“I found the retreat to be very energizing,” Ellie Rolnick of Biddeford said. “Compared to other seminars and retreats I have attended where you sit all day, Mirabai was very respectful of our time. She pulled off this online gathering really well and I loved how she started each segment with a poem and a prayer. At the end of the day, I was not exhausted at all. In fact, as a fledgling composer, I am inspired to apply what I’ve learned to my creative pursuits.”

With frequent breaks including a 1 hour 15-minute lunch break, participants had time to step away from the computer, go for walks, eat, spend time with family and have a moment of reflection if needed. But perhaps what may have been important to many of the retreat attendees, is the way they were able to participate in their own learning through personal journal writing.

 “Mirabai’s style was very matter of fact,” Carla McDonnell of Portland said. “I was taught things, but I learned by doing. Rather than teaching by talking at us, we learned by participating in our own growth.”

The activities suggested by Starr to be discussed in break out rooms pushed through some individual vulnerabilities.

“I would have never done sharing like this [in an in-person environment] but I discovered that by sharing our writings with each other, it became a shared strength,” McDonnell said. “Even Mirabai shared her own vulnerabilities. I felt hopeful.”

It was in this hopeful spirit that both McDonnell and Rolnick were able to take away what they learned in this six-hour retreat and incorporate it into their everyday life.

“I recently started making meditation a daily ritual and I experienced how important it is to combine journaling with it,” Rolnick said. “I think meditation and journaling are ways to connect to my inner self and inner knowing. My attendance at the retreat was an affirmation of the path I’m already taking.”

“I learned that it is important to start where you are,” McDonnell said. “I believe we are living in a time of great shift in humanity – and perhaps it is accelerating. I’m learning that it is not my business to be thinking about this shift. Mirabia made it simple – find what your purpose is to relieve suffering. You do this by finding what brings you joy. What we are all doing may seem ordinary on the surface – but it serves a purpose. During the retreat I felt a quiet inner conviction and assurance that whatever I am doing is enough – in a given day that is my purpose.”

McDonnell also summarized the intention of the retreat and how the feminine plays a role in balancing the masculine in western society.

“The feminine is found in poetry, in music, in nature,” she said, paraphrasing Starr. “There is courage, fierceness and determination in the feminine – and at the same time, there is compassion and inclusiveness.”

Mirabai Starr is the author of creative non-fiction and contemporary translations of sacred literature. She taught Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years and now teaches and speaks internationally on contemplative practice and inter-spiritual dialog.

Unity Center for Spiritual Growth was joined in sponsorship of this retreat by the following organizations: Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, The Bertha Crosley Ball Center for Compassion at the University of Southern Maine, Pax Christi Maine, CHIME: Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and Abbey of HOPE. <





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