Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Winter Eliot: a review

I had been looking forward to the respite offered by four days at Seabeck for Winter Eliot Institute. I've been attending Winter Eliot since 2003 and have always appreciated this break in the year, a time to refresh, regroup, get reinspired. The fall season is over, the holidays are mostly behind us, and a few days of relaxing with UU friends sounds just great.

In the past, I've had the normal stresses of a church year to recover from. It was a lot of fun to go to Seabeck, laugh and play with friends, make new ones, gossip about district events, renew acquaintances, hear a good speaker. Last year I inherited the chaplain staff position, meaning that I got to go free in return for offering chaplaincy skills to the camp. Even so, it was no problem to participate fully in camp.

This year was an entirely different story. I'm not sure if I'm turning into an introvert (I can hardly imagine such a thing) or if my need to withdraw from socializing was a direct result of all the stress of December. But I hardly took part in any activities at camp, hardly spent time with friends other than at meals or in conversations in the Inn Lobby. What I did was to stay in my room, read my book, write in my journal, check my email and write a couple of blog posts.

It was as if, after having been available constantly for a full month with little respite and several crises, I had to have a time out. Many Elioteers know me as a minister, as the Eliot chaplain a couple of times, and are not shy about wanting to talk church. I was torn between wanting to offer that conversation and point of view and wanting to beg off. Fortunately, only a couple of folks really needed ME to talk to. We had an official chaplain and she did a good job of giving the ministers some space. And I enjoyed the few conversations about church that inevitably sprang up.

The first morning Patrick O'Neill spoke, I was wedged into a row with people on either side, feeling a bit claustrophobic and unable to tune into his presentation. I left about halfway through, went back to my room, and took a nap. That helped restore me a bit and I did attend all his subsequent presentations, but I skipped the small group sessions, most of the evening entertainments, and didn't volunteer a lick of work.

It was just what I needed. I came home feeling much better rested, able to take on the remainder of the church year, and, curiously, inspired by the experience, even though I participated in so little of it.

What inspired me was Patrick. He is approachable, funny, knowledgeable, challenging. He is also a good friend of the minister who called me into ministry---the Rev Robert Latham. As Patrick talked, I heard echoes of the times I spent listening to Robert. "Get your whole congregation involved in social action work! It will build community better than any other activity. See what needs to be done in your community and get started! Put your money where your mouth is! Social Action isn't just for the little blue-haired ladies with checkbooks; it's for everyone in the congregation, including the kids!"

I was a little bit disappointed in the mechanics of this Eliot camp. It seemed amateurish, with less attention to detail than I'm accustomed to. Our deans worked hard, but other staff seemed less than competent, so things like the daily newspaper and worship were a little sloppy, showing the inexperience of the staff member responsible. Someone remarked that the whole camp seemed tired and low key, so maybe everyone was having an off year.

But it's always worthwhile to go to Seabeck. With the Olympic Mountains to the west, Hood Canal right at our doorstep, Seabeck is always a treat. And, of course, I registered for next Winter, when our speaker will be my pal Amanda Aikman, speaking on humor. I'm already registered for August Eliot, when the speaker will be my other pal, Tom Goldsmith.

You're all welcome to join us out here in beautiful Puget Sound for Eliot Institute! We have events in July, August, and over the New Year!


Chalicechick said...

I get what you're saying about thr stress-induced introversion thing. I get like that, too.


Sarah said...

I am an old Eliot attendee who hasn't been for many years, but spent much of my son's youth going to the various camps. I love Eliot and intend to get back one of these days...

Your experience of spending time to yourself and resting put me in mind of the weeklong silent Vipassana meditation retreats I've done. In these retreats one of the things we are taught is to watch the five hindrances at play in the mind. One of these is called "sloth and torpor" which is dozing off and being in a mental haze. However,if we are physically exhausted it isn't "sloth and torpor" it's a legitimate need. We are a sleep deprived society, research shows that even with a slight reduction in sleep hours our attention level is impaired. So we were also taught that often the first two or even three days of a meditation retreat are fruitfully spent catching up on the sleep that has been forgone in daily life. Looks like your experience might not have been imminent introversion but rather a much needed recovery of what was lost. Welcome home!

LinguistFriend said...

I am glad that you got to have a time in which you were relatively
disconnected from your strains of the late fall. That is part of the "third place" concept, I think, some place that is not home or work, each with their obligations. Sometimes I have had travel on a train or airplane play that role. Sometimes it is just exploring some theme in my library for a few hours, since for me the focus on intellectual exploration can provide much the same sort of separation. An insightful Israeli friend used to accuse me of using scholarship as an escape from an unsatisfactory married life, probably with some accuracy. Now, near where I live, there is a largish coffee-shop plus second hand bookstore which provides that sort of disconnection for short periods. It is a blessing which makes a small provincial town much more tolerable. In your case, it sounded as if you needed a longer break, so that is fortuitous good timing. But once the need is recognized, of course, you can make your own timing.
The PNW maritime landscape sounds impressive.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughts. I have benefited from your experiences. I didn't feel guilty about taking the time to withdraw, but I was wondering about my need to do so, in such an uncharacteristic way. I have gotten insight from all of you.

And I understand better why, in the past, I used to go to the nearby mall and just walk through the stores, when I didn't need anything or buy anything, when, in fact, I felt faintly contemptuous of everything I saw! It may have been my need to dissociate from the stress (or boredom) of my daily routine.

I don't have that option on the island. I can go for a walk on the beach and often do, but there's no nearby mall-------and I'm glad about that. Interesting to think about it all.