After you have been away on an adventure, a yoga retreat, a course or even a holiday, how do you reconnect with your ‘village’ upon your return? Have you experienced in yourself or noticed in someone else the pain or confusion of not being witnessed when there has been a deep, even transformative experience? This is a topic we raise with students and karma yogis who come to the Salt Spring Centre for awhile and then are preparing to go back to their families, their workplace, and their communities. You look much the same; you sound the same, yet inside you feel moved and changed and are often unsure how to communicate in a meaningful way about the stirring shift in your consciousness.
While at Mount Madonna Center for the New Year’s Retreat this year I was reminded of what Angeles Arrien calls ‘Tracking the four rivers’, a powerful framework for reflecting on transformative experience, both privately and publicly. Angeles was an internationally renowned cultural anthropologist and extraordinary teacher. Sadanand, a founding member of MMC, hosts an annual Chautauqua conference, along with Mount Madonna School. Angeles has been a key facilitator for Chautauqua, and that is where I met her. Angeles died last year and I have been thinking about her often.
On New Year’s Day Sadanand was reflecting on the huge contributions that Angeles has made to learning in community. He invited us all to try this approach of tracking the four rivers when we returned to our ‘villages” after the rich experience of the New Year’s Retreat:
Invite a few friends over, prepare some food and ask them to bring their curiosity. Suggest to them that they ask you these particular questions about your time away: “How were you delighted? How were you surprised? How were you challenged? How were you deeply moved and transformed?” To answer these questions we have to go deep, revealing to ourselves and our companions the change in our awareness, and the new gifts we have discovered and bring back to share.
In study sessions at the Salt Spring Centre we have found this to be a potent way to reflect and track the rivers of energy in our bodies and minds and to witness more of one another’s process. Upon returning to the SSCY village from the retreat, I invited our study group over to my place for an afternoon tea, letting them know ahead of time about the questions. The first question I was asked was “What challenged you?” And we went on from there. We gave time and focus to each question and response, allowing space for real reflection. The beauty of this process is that it required of me to ask myself these questions in preparation for the more public asking. It was a means to deepen my relationship with myself and then to deepen the connection with my friends. It provided blessed encouragement to honour the significance and joy and motivation that arose from the journey. That is important.
Two others from the group have gone away on special journeys and have returned to us, the village, and we have asked them the questions, and we deepened our understanding and unity as we witnessed their experience and growth, their pain and happiness, and their renewal.
As a parent I can’t help but wonder if there were opportunities I missed when my children returned from international adventures or wilderness immersions. Perhaps I asked questions like, “Did you have a good time?” “What did you learn?” “Are you happy you went” “What were the people like?” After describing the sites, there may have been no easy way to bridge to the profound feelings and emotions that were such a big part of the experience. I know that better questions can increase the chance to reveal essential truth and to acknowledge the sacredness of growth and change.
As an educator I have found that one useful tool is Kolb’s cycle of learning. It describes these aspects of learning:
- Concrete experience
- Reflective observation on that experience
- Abstract conceptualization
- Active experimentation
In our time and culture we have a tendency to move rather quickly and often ignore or shortchange the step of reflection. It takes a bit of time and requires us to listen deeply within. I see though that with this framework for curious inquiry and reflection upon return from a journey, we can track the rivers of energy, creating meaning with one another and within ourselves. We are all enriched in the process.
I’m curious to know if you will try it.
Chandra Pamela Rose is a long-time devotee of Babaji’s and student of yoga. She is a member of the Panchayat and a board member. She serves as the education administrator of the YTT program at SSCY and is on the teaching faculty. Chandra has taught classes at MMC and has a strong connection with Sri Ram Ashram.
“Standing on the edge of a cliff” image by Abhishek Maji (creative commons attribution license)