Day 1 of 3, Do Power Differently, 2017 Women & Power Retreat

FullSizeRenderThe opening night of this year’s Women & Power Retreat by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center just finished and I’m feeling inspired, loved and powerful. From the moment I stepped out of my car and onto the campus of the retreat center, I knew this weekend would be one to remember.  An Omega staff member was greeting guests in the parking lot with a couple of Hawaiian leis around his neck and a ukulele. Yes, this feels like it will be another life-changing weekend in Rhinebeck.

After settling into my cabin, I walked down the hill to the main hall where all the main events of the weekend will happen. I needn’t have known where the main hall was; I could have found it by following the sounds of laughter and jubilation. The energy in that space was fantastic! Hundreds of women of different colors (and some men too) filled the floor. Music filled the air. A curated art installation filled the walls, representing 14 women and their thought-provoking work in the fabric arts. Everyone I mingled with was approachable and friendly, and the air was pregnant with a collective anticipation of the experiences we would soon share.

Carla Goldstein (co-founder of the Omega Women’s Leadership Center) opened the retreat with an exploration of this year’s theme: Do Power Differently. She beautifully stitched together the different aspects of this concept, even explaining the significance of the stitches in the art on the walls. As she explained, this is the 15th year of the conference and they recently decided to start calling it a retreat instead. This is why The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies was created. It’s a retreat center. And, as Carla described, the schedule for the weekend was designed to allow people to truly retreat. To step back, get a different view, practice new things, practice self-care, self-healing and personal growth. The atmosphere on campus really is unlike any other place I’ve been. People here are encouraged to meet new people, learn from each other, learn new things about themselves, and reconnect with their innate wisdom. It’s a refreshing change and when I’m at Omega, I feel like I’m part of a gigantic family.

This sense of community started at the very beginning of the program when a microphone was passed down a randomly-selected row of the audience. Each woman in that row told us where she was from and why she chose to attend the retreat. A few were from the local area, but one woman had traveled from Canada and another had come all the way from Spain. But all of them were friends and they each explained that they had met up at the retreat to celebrate their friend’s 50th birthday. Finally, the birthday girl herself stood up to introduce herself, and the entire audience showered her with loving cheers and applause.

Next on the schedule was a song – an opening blessing – by the award-winning a-capella group, Women of the World. They’ll give an entire concert tomorrow night, but this one song gave me chills because their voices were so pure and powerful. A quote from their website: “By making music together, we have made beautiful friendship. In this spirit, we celebrate the beauty of diversity. We sing for not just tolerance, but wisdom, respect, and joy.”

The keynote for this evening was given by Elizabeth Lesser, who co-founded The Omega Institute 40 years ago. You may also know her from her best-selling books or her appearances on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey. My goodness, what a wonderful and clever speech she gave! This was my first time hearing her speak in person and it was the kind of experience I’d expected from her. Elizabeth has a way of getting right down to the center of me with her words, and speaking to a part of myself that feels like it shares the same mind and soul with everyone else in the world. She shared her approach to women’s leadership and how we can become part of the solution to the world’s problems by healing ourselves and helping to heal others. It has to do with emotional intelligence and finding your voice, connecting to your truth, and connecting with the people around you.

She guided us through a brief meditation to connect with our emotions, and as soon as she had us put our hands on our hearts, I cried a little bit. Then she had us hold hands with the person next to us. That was really nice. You might think it would have been awkward to hold the hand of a stranger, but not in this space. The woman whose hand I held was indeed unknown to me. We’d only exchanged a few pleasantries earlier in the night, but by the end of this meditation when it was time to un-clasp our hands, I leaned into her a bit while she gave my had a good squeeze, and we shared a hearty laugh. It’s not surprising that things like this happen at Omega. Their programs have a way of bringing out parts of ourselves that are usually hidden, and inspiring interactions with people in ways we don’t typically experience in day-to-day life.

Based on the standing ovation Elizabeth received on this opening night of the retreat, I’d say she inspired the entire audience. I do recommend you look her up on YouTube to hear what she has to say.

The evening closed with a discussion between Elizabeth Lesser and Loung Ung, who is is most recently known for a movie she co-wrote with Angeline Jolie. First They Killed My Father (available on Netflix) is an adaptation of her biography, and we watched some excerpts during the discussion. Long and Elizabeth talked a lot about Loung’s life, genocide in Cambodia and domestic violence in the USA, but the theme of it all was resilience, love, family and community. I can’t imagine what it was like for her to lose both of her parents and 20 family members to war, or the ways in which she changed when she was forced to be a child soldier, or what it was like to be transplanted to Vermont at the age of 10. Though the discussion was very serious and explored some disturbing topics, I sure did feel a lot of hope for the future by the end of it. The current political and cultural climate has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed lately, but after this first night of the Do Power Differently retreat, I already feel energized and optimistic about creating a better future.

Oh my goodness, what a night! Tomorrow’s schedule is packed and I have a feeling I’ll be floating around on Cloud 9 all day. I’ll post a summary of the day’s experiences. Stay tuned…

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