On the Rich Edges

10-19-2015 | Lindsay

The gift of autumn has arrived at Rolling Ridge in all its green and auburn and gold and blue-sky splendor. Into the midst of this, just as the forest was beginning to paint itself in new hues and the air to sharpen, came the retreat, "Between the Body and the Breathing Earth."

A lot happened on that retreat: there were gatherings with mesmerizing storytelling and soulful sharing, delicious, bountiful meals served up for more than 30, participants welcomed and shepherded, a bonfire, a council of all gathered, some wanders and silence, and a host of transformative moments. More compelling for me, though, was the stuff that went on behind, and under, and around the retreat, on the rich edges. That's where all of us "event staff" of Rolling Ridge spent our time: greeting, cooking, chauffeuring, cooking some more, and more again, child caring, schlepping, cleaning--working to weave that sacred container in which the magic happened--with the more than human ones of this breathing land who are the essential warp and woof of that weave.

We welcomed, hauled, listened, swept, explained trail maps, sliced, diced, chopped; all the while contending with cantankerous stoves, far-flung refrigerators and freezers, bumpy, steep roads and sloshing chili, fatigue, and frayed nerves. It is perhaps inevitable that working this intensely together would lead both to outbursts of frustration as well as vulnerable moments of honesty. It was a wild and disorienting mix. There was the rough incident of the bit of reserved wine drunk before its time and the ensuing reactions and bruised feelings, followed by the balm of voices singing in sweet harmony as hands prepared fruit salad and the gift of snatched, tender conversations about everything from parenting to vocation and what we love most.

The thing is, we are not just "event staff"...we are community and family. And hopefully we are friends, friends of the enduring kind, friends for life. Because of that, every moment risks both pain and possibility, and the only boat for sailing that wild sea is called forgiveness. I was musing on this yesterday when someone sent me these words from one of my favorite writers, David Whyte:

Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another's eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs... All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness....The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self. The ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

The gift of the weekend for me lay not in the program, nor in the triumph of having pulled off a retreat of this size and scope. The gift lay in journeying around the edges doing a work that would be impossible alone, glimpsing and holding one another's difficulties and shadows and our inward victories too. We have not mastered the boat of forgiveness, far from it. There is much stormy sailing still to be done. Yet somehow we manage, over and over again, to remain in sight of one another, as we did on the edges this weekend. That was the gift, made all the more beautiful by the brilliant, changing forest, the geese soaring overhead and gliding to land in the dark surface of the pond, the sliver of moon in the dark sky, the box turtle's boldly patterned back, the crickets, the wind.