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 got out, 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 be. 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. The air felt 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 did a beautiful job stitching together the different aspects of this concept, even explaining the significance of the stitches in the art on the walls. As Carla explained, this is the 15th year of the conference and they recently decided to start calling it a retreat instead. This is what The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies was designed for. It’s a retreat center. And as Carla described, the schedule for the weekend was put together 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 talk to strangers, connect with each other, learn from each other, learn new things about themselves, or reconnect with their innate wisdom. It’s such a refreshing change from the rest of the time when people seem to be buttoned up tight and avoid interacting with other people. At Omega, I feel like I’m part of a gigantic family.

This sense of community got off to a strong start when, during Carla Goldstein’s welcoming talk, a microphone was passed down a randomly-selected row in the audience. Each woman in that row told us where she was from and why she came to the retreat. A few were from the local region. One woman had traveled from Canada. Another had traveled all the way from Spain. But all these women were friends who had decided to meet up at the retreat to celebrate their friend’s 50th birthday. What a nice feeling when the birthday girl herself stood up and the entire audience showered her with their 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 subtly 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 this was. This was my first time hearing her speak in person and she delivered the kind of experience I had been expecting. 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 as the rest of the people on this planet. She shared her approach to women’s leadership and how we can become part of the solution to the world’s problems be healing ourselves and helping to heal others. It has to do with emotional intelligence and finding your voice, connecting to your truth, connecting with the people around you.

She guided us through a brief meditation to connect to our emotions, and as soon as she had us put our hands on our hearts, I started to cry. Then she had us hold hands with the person next to us. That was really nice. You might think it would have been awkward, but not in this space. The woman I held hands with was practically a stranger to me. We had only exchanged a few pleasantries when we sat down, but by the end of this meditation when it was time to un-clasp our hands, I leaned into her shoulder a bit and put my other hand on top, while she gave my had a good squeeze and we laughed together. It’s not surprising that things like this happen at Omega. The programs there have a way of bringing out the parts of you that are usually hidden, and connecting with people in ways you don’t typically experience in your day-to-day life.

I wrote two pages of notes during Elizabeth Lesser’s keynote, but as I write this, it seems silly to try to outline it. I do recommend, though, that you look her up on YouTube to hear what she has to say. Based on the standing ovation she received on this opening night of the Women & Power Retreat, I’d say she inspired the entire audience.

The evening closed out with a discussion between Elizabeth Lesser and Loung Ung. Loung is recently best known for a movie she co-wrote with Angeline Jolie that is available on Netflix. First They Killed My Father is an adaptation of her biography, and we watched some clips of it during the discussion. I’d been taking notes all night but had to put my pen and paper down for this discussion because it was so intense. They talked a lot about Loung’s life, genocide in Cambodia, 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 how 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. I can’t begin to imagine what it might feel like to live a life like hers, but I sure did feel a lot of hope for the future by the end of her discussion with Elizabeth. The current political and cultural climate has had me feeling a bit overwhelmed and numb lately, but after this first night of the Do Power Differently retreat, I already feel energized and optimistic about creating a better future.

Damn, 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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