SSHR 2023

Main Lodge - Photo by James Curtis

Main Lodge – Photo by James Island (infra red filter)

Summer Solstice Healing Retreat, Breitenbush, 2023

For the past 29 years, I’ve attended the lovely gathering at Breitenbush called the Summer Solstice Healing Retreat (SSHR). It’s a gathering of hundreds of people from babies to elders and everyone in between. We usually arrive on Thursday and leave for home on Sunday afternoon. Over the years I’ve generally taken the back way (via OR Rt. 46) to get there which shaves some time off the trip – but for the past few years that road has been closed due to the wildfires from a couple of years ago. This year that back route was finally reopened over the weekend and some people were the first to drive it home back to Portland or other northern destinations. I’ve been having a little love affair with the town of Silverton and so stopped there on the way to and fro this year. On the way there I got to have a short visit with my friend Greg who relocated there after selling his terrarium store (Roosevelt’s Terrariums) a few years back.

A thought that keeps coming to mind post-event is “Did you get healing” through this retreat? If you’re reading this and attended, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. Feel free to elaborate. There are so many different healing modalities practiced during this event – here are a few:

  • There’s an area devoted to physical healing arts such as massage: I took a workshop on working on one’s psoas, and working on someone else’s, too. I received some intense work on this muscle and learned more about how big it is and what it does.
  • Sound healing: there were multiple offerings of sound healing – I think my favorites were one that took place in the North Wing of the lodge (building pictured above). This was put on by Tom Garden and Aiyana Lynnet McKenzie – they had us all lying on the floor and used all sorts of magical music to relax us and send us on our own journeys. The didgeridoo featured prominently! They also offered this to everyone on Saturday evening during our solstice ritual – having everyone lie down on the grass and enjoy the sounds together.
  • Ecstatic dance: there were many offerings of dance and Zumba during the weekend. Also a lovely DJ’d set by George Beekman on Saturday night. Generally, I’d prefer less recorded music, but I appreciate anything that helps get people moving their bodies.
  • Workshops devoted to personal growth: there were workshops on the Enneagram (Thanks, David Burdick!); the Love and Destiny card system (by Michael Townsend) and so many more. Part of the joy of this weekend is how many workshops we all offer for one another. Regarding cards, I took a workshop put on by Sandeep (of Austin, TX) which used the Cards for Connection deck. It was the only time all weekend when I was in a group that included some of the younger members of the community.
  • Music: there were a lot of fun music-related workshops. I led one with Kieran McManus which featured the music of the Grateful Dead. We held it in the River Yurt and sang through about 10 Dead/Jerry Garcia tunes in an hour and talked about why we love the music so much. DyAnne Greentree-Wood led a really lovely Song Circle style group that used songs from Rise Up Singing and had everyone choose their favorite songs for everyone to sing. Karly Loveling was also filling us all with songs so many times in so many ways it’s hard to remember them all. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was her song-weaving at our Saturday night fire in the flood plain down by the Breitenbush River. This was also a chance for many of us to offer songs and the giant choir that rose to sing the songs filled the night sky with song. Karly is a regular song leader at the wonderful local Singing Alive festival which I’ve gotten to attend a number of times.
  • Food – the food was incredibly nourishing and tasty. I started being a vegan a couple of weeks ago and it was easy to continue on that path at each meal. Breitenbush food is often something very special and this year did not disappoint one bit. Everyone looks forward to the strawberry shortcake on Saturday night – I got to try my first coconut whipped cream – yummy!
  • Nature. Well, in this regard Breitenbush is pretty magical: views; hot springs; the wet sauna; starry skies – really tops.

Breitenbush River – photo by Umi Kitada

After all of the above, you’d think I’d have a great time! What could go wrong? What’s the matter, Albert?  Well, like any 4-day long event, there are ups and downs and so I’ll try to share some of the things that I experienced – cause all of it is part of the healing experience, I expect. I’ve been attending this event for many years – my first time was 1995. That was a long time ago. I’ve watched people come and go. And literally go – like no longer alive – go. Breitenbush has also changed some over the years – that’s what a couple of seasons of intense wildfires and a Covid epidemic which shuttered the place to the public for a while will do to you, I guess.

I think this year I had a little early onset grumpiness going on. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I was stumbling a bit emotionally. Usually, I find my outlet through playing music with others, but this year there didn’t seem to be as many openings to do that.  There was an aspect of this year’s gathering for me that had to do with missing people who I’d gotten used to seeing at the event. As the years roll along some of the regulars have decided not to come back; some have moved; some have died. Some of my favorite people on the planet are people who I’ve grown to know and love at Breitenbush – and a lot of them were not there this year. I think part of what I’m challenged by is just simply aging. Of course, given time we’re all going to watch our friends face challenges which will keep them from attending things we’ve all enjoyed together in the past. This felt like a big year of that for me. My mental response to it seemed to be to try to conjure up images and memories from past events and I relayed some of these to fellow attendees, but I’m not sure that that made a ton of sense, but it became like a game for me. Remember that after-party? Remember that one cuddle pile?

Then there were simple things that I could have done better at preparing for cold night weather. My first night it was probably in the 40s or 50s at night and I woke up with a sore throat which was pretty intense. I forgot to bring throat lozenges and so asked friends (asking for help = key to healing, of course!) for assistance. My accommodation this year was a step up from tenting in the field (for 28 previous events!). But these missing key people – I just couldn’t shake it.  All weekend long. There were some other feelings coming up which are pretty typical – feeling jealousy toward those who are partnered. Wondering “When will I find love again”. It’s too hot. It’s too cold.  It just led me to feel like a grumpy old man. But as the weekend continued on I was able to connect with a lot of people – many through music and sometimes just through simple conversations over meals or going to and fro. Plus, there were plenty of my good friends there, too.

I realized on my ride home that my mind had gotten into this neat place which I hardly ever feel. Quiet mind. Almost all of the way home I was having this lovely meditative peace that I’m not used to at all. Also, I realized that I’d spent 4+ days not riveted or paying any attention to the news. No Trump. No trying to fix everything all the time. No helping others by answering technical questions. It was quite a nice liberating feeling.

So, did I get healed? I tend to think everything you do in a healing direction is a good thing. That’s why I spend a lot of time doing Co-counseling (RC). It’s useful to me to take little bits of time to scrape off the various places where I’m not thinking clearly. Add in ecstatic dance; making music; being in nature; eating healthy food and being surrounded by others who have the same intention = a healing environment. I noticed others getting a lot out of this weekend’s event. We tend to often say at SSHR “May this be the best Solstice ever!” – They’re all good. Was this the best solstice ever? I don’t know – it was the best one this year 🙂

Special thanks to the Counsel that puts so much time and effort into making this event happen each year. To the Breitenbush staff who host us and cook for us! And to everyone who lifted a finger to get out of their comfort zone and make good things happen. Thank you!

I may add to this, but it’s time to put down the pen and head out to visit with a friend. Onward!

Photo by Kaya Singer

Photo by Kaya Singer

Love, and happy Summer Solstice, Albert

SSHR 2022 Write-up.

Summer Solstice Healing Retreat 2022 – SSHR

SSHR 2022

Sauna at Breitenbush

The incredible wet sauna which is a world treasure.

I’m just back from this year’s Summer Solstice Healing Retreat (SSHR) at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon. This was my 27th year. I started going in 1995 (thank you, Shelley Glendenning) after I had recently relocated to Seattle, WA. I wanted to talk about this year’s event and also what makes retreats so valuable.

First off, one of the main things that are valuable about a healing retreat is sharing with one another things we know about healing. This post was inspired by a short talk I had with a friend about getting a good night’s sleep. I recommended to him my trick of using construction headphones whenever needed. I go into more detail about the headphones and offer my personal life tips in an 11-part series I created a couple of years ago. And that’s how the whole weekend went. I’d bring up some ailment or issue and someone would likely be the right person to answer a question, provide a book reference or know someone at the workshop to talk to.

home in the meadow

Home in the meadow

SSHR is structured so there is plenty of time to soak in the hot tubs, hot spring pools, and wet sauna. That is a great combination with the delicious vegetarian fare and the sound of the rushing Breitenbush river flowing by. Then there are the workshops put on by participants for one another. This year I participated in a few workshops and offered one of my own. Mine was an introduction to co-counseling which I’ve been doing for over 30 years. I gave a short explanation of what co-counseling is and how it got started, we practiced co-counseling a little bit and then I answered participants’ questions. Here are a couple of the workshops I participated in and I’ll fill in the references further as I figure out contact information for the different teachers.

  1. Leah Tarleton – The Nourished Sensitive led a lovely workshop on nutrition in the River Yurt – there were some great book recommendations and the woman teaching is an RD and had a great mixture of life experience and ideas for weight loss (an issue for me) and how to make eating more fun and interesting. She finished the workshop with a taste experience featuring Honey Mama’s chocolate – having us talk about the differences between different tastes and textures
  2. Evelin Dacker did a great talk called “Let’s Talk about Sex” which was an introduction to her STARS talk. I’ll let that link serve as an explanation of what the workshop was about. If you’ve never heard about the talk it’s a great guide for conversations to have with new partners.
  3. I chanted kirtan with Natavar Knudson in the North Wing of the lodge. We tried to keep things safe all weekend by having masks on when indoors. I played the drum and Natavar ably led us on various chants using his harmonium. He has been doing this for years and his talent is really high level and rich.
  4. Odyssey offered an interesting workshop on erotic hypnosis. Often I find hypnosis workshops kind of hypnotizing 🙂 And I often find myself in a state between sleeping and awake and this one was no different. I think I get the idea, though, and it is a mighty interesting one.

Personally, I took the weekend to take a break from coffee and a downshift from sugar. Actually, I didn’t have any meat except a little bit of beef jerky that someone offered me. It was also a lovely chance for a tech fast – there is no wi-fi available to guests at Breitenbush – so no phone or laptop for 4 days – yeah. This year I could actually feel the distance from the internet hour by hour as my fingers played the guitar or I soaked – and all the work I do in the world had to take a break!

Part of the weekend is also Karma Yoga we all do. Here is a crew headed to remove scotch broom – an invasive that grows well in disturbed areas of forest.

Very important to these gatherings is also the reunion aspect. There’s a chance to reconnect with people you have known for years and also to meet new people. I’ve been feeling for a while that I don’t have enough baby energy in my life – and boy were my prayers answered on that score. There was a 2-year-old girl who I spent the weekend playing peekaboo with and having all sorts of interactions with. There’s nothing like a 2-year-old to bring your attention to the present moment. And she was full of so much joy – bringing a smile to my head and heart all weekend long.

Then there’s all the catching up with one another. Giving each other health updates and sharing stories of those who we know in common and what’s up in their lives. It can have the feeling of a big family reunion. This year there were only 160 people in attendance, but many years there are 4-500 people – so there were many people missing from our celebration and lots of connections and information to share. Being an extrovert I know a lot of people and that means a lot of stories and updates 🙂 And we also talk about those who are no longer with us like Amira and Ben Bochner. We sang Altar of Love a couple of times – a song that Ben introduced to many of us. Amira used to love this song – Light you Up!

Over the years there have been varying amounts of musicians participating. We had a pretty small group this year and so the number of musicians was also smaller than usual. Luckily, I had the company of Kieran McManus to keep me company. Kieran’s a great person to jam with – not only does he know some wonderful songs, but he’s also an incredible lead player. I think we both upped our game during the pandemic – so, it’s a joy to play together whenever we get the chance as he’s also relocated to Bend, Oregon which is a ways from Portland. We both had many opportunities to play for everyone which added to the healing for everyone. Singing together is one of my favorite things to do – so I suppose it was healing for me and others at the same time.

A lot of people are probably wondering how Breitenbush is doing. Speaking of healing. The place has been under the duress of closing during Covid and then a wildfire rushed through and took out over 70 structures. There are huge patches of forest that are gone and all of the guest cabins and some very precious places are no longer there – like the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary was a lovely building that many of us have come to love over the years. Many workshops were held there, yoga, chanting, and just people doing their own personal retreats. Personally, I sang inside the Sanctuary dozens of times. I never thought this building would ever be gone.

The Breitenbush Sanctuary

The Breitenbush Sanctuary

If you’re curious to see what the result of the forest fires and tree removal look like now – John Holley’s blog is a treasure trove. It also goes back through the years better than any collection of photos around.

There were lots of elements to this year’s SSHR that I could go into – this could be a much longer post. There’s a lovely group ritual to welcome the solstice and a no-talent talent show. During this year’s show and also at the campfire along the flood plain I made up some one-of-a-kind songs that I’ve been doing for years. The first song highlighted the carrots and beets which are usually on the menu at every meal (including salad), but which had been missing for our first couple of meals. What was funny is that the meal which followed my song suddenly there appeared beets and carrots and people came up to me sharing that they loved the song and thanking me for bringing the beets and carrots 🙂  The second song I made up had some fun elements that came to me at the moment – I talked about the VIP treatment we were all receiving (having our cars parked and a bottle of champagne for each tent – all of which was not true, but was funny at the moment). Actually, I spent the weekend in a cold and damp tent – and part of the song focused on how – next year I’m going to upgrade to fancier digs. This also is probably not true, but we’ll see – there are now some nicer tents that are canvas and already set up and have a bed inside them. That’s part of the change at Breitenbush – new housing is in the works and already well underway!  Ah, the chance to sing together around a fire in the woods – priceless. We even saw stars for one brief moment.

The giveaway circle at the end of the weekend is also a fun element that is repeated each year. Everyone puts something into the circle and we take turns finding a new treasure. After that, we hold hands in a circle, sing songs, and then say our farewells until we meet again.

I am so grateful for this year’s celebration. It’s usually the start of my Summer and is such a great way to be reminded of the beauty of the world. Good food, dance, soaking, singing, and being together. What more does one need?  My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone at Breitenbush who worked hard to put this event on and also our Breitenbush Counsel which has been collaborating to make SSHR the best ever for many years! I wish you some time at Breitenbush or a similar place with good friends to celebrate our time on this planet together.

Love, Albert

Albert and Kieran McManus Closing Circle 2022 – photo by Kaya Singer