It feels miraculous that a simple idea, some discussions and phone calls and word-processing, lots of worrying and planning, and what seems to me like pure disembodied desire produced a conference as close to perfection as I could have imagined. The IPA Retreat in April was exceptional for me in many ways, starting with the venue in New York State's Catskill Mountains. On the way home, Jean Rashkind and I agreed how fortuitous it was that we had selected G.R.O.W. II Lodge over another place we had liked which was not quite available. G.R.O.W. II is operated by Ganas, an intentional community based in Staten Island, NY, which was very interested in our work as an adjunct to their own. Several members of the commune participated in our workshops and became an integral part of our experience. Not only that, but their graciousness and alacrity in accommodating our requests, as well as the comfort of the rooms and the quality and abundance of the food at mealtimes, created an atmosphere of love and prosperity that fed us throughout the retreat.
There were sixteen participants, including Mary Dell and Jana Smith who were new to the IPA, but not to primal, and fit right in. The three days were organized like a compressed Summer Convention: men's and women's circles and mat track (primal group) every morning, workshops and small group sharing (peer groups) in the afternoon, and community meeting followed by some of our favorite evening activities at night. We even had Marie Regis as our resident body worker.
We had decided to experiment with transposing the peer groups to the hour before dinner (rather than after community meeting) to leave more time for the evening program. I felt it was a successful variation and hope that it will be adopted for the Summer Convention. Another modification that I was thankful for was the softening of the ordeal of peer group formation by using a lottery. I don't necessarily recommend that innovation for the summer, but I would urge us to strictly limit the size of each group to six members.
Although the retreat structure was in place, it was only a bare skeleton to be fleshed out at the community meetings. On Thursday evening there was such a plethora of workshops offered that the one-hour free time we had planned was immediately converted to a second workshop slot. The process of deciding which activities to include and where was prolonged (and may have been painful to some), but resulted in a rich and diverse schedule that needed only minor adjustments on subsequent evenings. We capped the day with a sing-along accompanied by Sam Turton and Jean on the guitar.
Our first primal group on Friday was run Ark-style by Judy Lucrezia. Everyone put out the kinds of support they needed in the opening go 'round, and Judy juggled the requests to accommodate us all. In the afternoon, Linda Marks facilitated a Gestalt workshop while I offered my ideal-parent workshop, "Child Support." During the "free time," Sam led us in sitting and walking meditation.
After Friday's community meeting, it was already time for Cabaret - talk about compression! Sharon Kane did a great job of emceeing, soliciting acts and creating the line-up on the spot. One of the highlights was Leonard Rosenbaum's startlingly real portrayal of Charles Manson delivering his courtroom defense; he transformed himself from the mild-mannered IPA vice-president we all know into a monster made even more terrifying by the rationality of his arguments. Because the show had begun at a reasonable hour, we had time to complete our experience with a feedback and sharing session after the performances.
On Saturday, the morning primal group was facilitated by Linda and Marie (giving them each time for themselves) and featured an opening sound-and-movement structure from Shelly Beach. For the two-hour afternoon slot, Linda was again called into service, this time for her N.I.P. workshop, and Jean and I organized a non-verbal tribal walk in the woods (adapted from Alec Rubin's primal theater weekends) that made the most of the balmy spring weather. Jana filled the second slot delightfully with an introduction to Drama Therapy. A few exhausted people chose an unscheduled activity dubbed N.A.P. by Sam.
Saturday night's traditional dance party was the least successful event of the conference despite balloons and a rockin' sound system. Whether this was caused by generalized weariness after two intensive days, or lack of the right kind of music, or being short of critical party mass, somehow the gala never took off. Next time I would prefer making our own music together for our last night's celebration. Of course, I'm getting old . . .
On our final day, Sunday, there was time only for the men's and women's groups and the mat track facilitated by Marshall Zidel, our last opportunity to get down. After lunch Jean, our organizer and the soul of the retreat, led us in a closing circle followed by a march en masse into the dining ball to show our gratitude to our hosts with enthusiastic applause.
It's hard to say what the best aspect of the retreat was for me. Was it the modest size of our community - making it possible for us to cohere into an intimate family with no one left out (at meals we all fit around two tables pushed together)? Or the opportunity to lead workshops that gave people something real without hours of agonized planning? How about being allowed to perform twice in Cabaret, once reading my poetry and once in an improvisation with Jana and Jean? Or connecting with new people like Mary, or Katie and Chuck from Ganas, or becoming closer to Bill Whitesell and Sam? None of these experiences would have been as meaningful as they were if not for the transformations that happened inside of me. For that I needed support from my buddies to go deeper and deeper in repeated primal sessions and acceptance of heartfelt and painful sharing from the ever-nurturing women's circle and from an awesome peer group.
What stands out as my peak experience of the retreat is the tribal walk, which included three of the commune workers and a halfdozen IPAers (Sam, Jean, Shelly, Sharon, Marie). In retrospect, we spent less time in physical contact than is normal for us primal types, but the depth of communion among ourselves and with the natural elements was extraordinary. Refraining from words, gave us permission to also give up trivial communication. We reserved our interaction only for the most important circumstances: crossing a stream, decorating our hair, sharing a unique discovery (a tree extensively carved out by woodpeckers produced an array of feelings from fear for the safety of the tree to awe at the beauty of the sculpture to an appreciation of the cycle of life), keeping in touch when separated, expressing our feelings, and, finally, chanting and drumming in our individual voices and rhythms to create a tribal song.
Leadership on the walk flowed easily among us (as it did during the whole conference), but one person was a remarkable inspiration. Twenty-year-old Chuck, who had been with the commune for only three weeks, metamorphosed into a creature halfway between ape and human. With complete delight and commitment, he threw himself into the role as well as into an icy stream to give us his back for a safe passage to the other side or his hand as we tottered across on a log. Chuck taught me how caring for one another naturally becomes the highest priority when modern civilization is stripped away. Our primitive ancestors are the analogs of the loving primal selves we long for.
Jerry Lucrezia, Barbara Kaye Cope, and Mickey Judkovics were also very welcome and appreciated contributors to an extra-special IPA event. See you at the double-retreat (otherwise known as the Summer Convention) in August!