From Friday 17th to Sunday 19th August, ORIGIN took to the woods for Forest Retreat as part of their rites of passage to young adulthood. On this occasion the group consisted of 20 participants: 8 ORIGIN’ites, 5 Graduates and 7 Facilitators.
The Forest Retreat programme is a real challenge for everyone involved. It’s a full-on programme from start to finish and involves a diet of fasting on fruit and water for the weekend.
Forest Retreat begins with trying to find the campsite in the dark of night. Then the important task of setting-up shelter. Creating shelter takes a few hours to complete as we don’t have any conventional tents, instead we build our shelter using balls of string and sheets of tarpaulin.
The first task in the morning is to gather firewood. Here are two young men using their techniques to break fallen branches. These will be used later to keep us warm. The first photo below is of a Graduate in a back stance and the two photos that follow are of an ORIGIN’ite executing an excellent sidekick that breaks the wood.
Once all the wood is gathered, the group combine their efforts to build the campfire. This is an opportunity to learn about the quality of fire.
Fire is a key element of the ORIGIN programme. It symbolises everything from what’s needed to keep us warm, through to a raging uncontrollable force of nature. It’s important as individuals and as members of groups that we appreciate the power of our Fire.
Building a fire using flint to create a spark is no easy task. This year’s group would take a number of hours to establish a delicate little flame.
The image above is the outcome of their efforts. You see the young men trying desperately to nurture their creation. The group established a flame on three occasions. This was a real achievement but the group found it hard to sustain the flame. There was much to discuss around the campfire later that evening. The task of maintaining the fire was used as a metaphor to discuss how our personal plans or community projects can be difficult to keep going too.
To establish the flame, the group had to appreciate the little things in life – those things underfoot that we often take for granted. Here we’re talking about the almost invisible dry and disregarded earth matter that is needed to complete the task. Earth is one of ORIGIN’s core elements.
All of these experiences are very challenging for the young men as they are also fasting on fruit and water for the full duration of the weekend. Oranges, apples, pears, melon and kiwi was on the menu for breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Fasting gives our digestive system a break and provides a practical basis for discussions on diet, nutrition, our habits and our general wellbeing.
Below we have young men going into the rough terrain to get to a clearing on the other side. They have to find a route where there is no obvious way forward or where their path appears blocked. They all find a way through but determination and teamwork is essential for overall success! These life skills are excellent character-building experiences. There will always be difficulties or blockages to overcome in life but we can find a way.
Given that we were all fasting for the weekend, we took the challenge aspect of the programme into stillness and quiet contemplation. Some activities were completed in total silence.
Most of the group found the 2-hour tree meditation quite difficult to complete but here’s one young man that took to the exercise without hesitation. Over an hour into the exercise you can see him totally in the zone. He’s so tuned-in and aware of his surroundings that he turns around to the sound of the shutter on the camera. There was no flash on the camera!
One Graduate found a fallen branch and used it as a staff to help him get through the weekend.
If you look really close you can find Neil in the centre of the photo below.
After a period of solitude for some or irritation for others, we regrouped and made our way back to the campsite.
There’s always a lot to say in the debrief when we reform the Circle, especially about spiders, insects and noises and how these distracted us from the task!
At Forest Retreat it’s important that we all come away knowing how to meditate. The image below is one of our Facilitators teaching the group. It was followed-up with a discussion on the importance of creating personal space and quiet time in our lives.
The weekend is sealed with libation in acknowledgement of the Creator, the Ancestors, the Energies and those that Guide. We give thanks to the forest for providing for our needs and make our way back to the vehicles.
It was a wonderful weekend. The young men excelled on their group challenge and have some amazing memories to draw-on for the future.
Stay tuned-in for the next stage of their ORIGIN journey…