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.