Musings Monday: Why I Want to Start an Affordable Retreat Centre

Content Warning: death, mental illness, ideation

As folks have probably guessed by now, I’m the type of healer that is obsessed with healing because I’ve spent a lot of time (and still do!) working on my own healing journey. When my partner Steve died and I was imploding my other close relationships around me in the messiest way possible, struggling with suicidal ideation, alcoholism, codependence, and a host of other mental illness and trauma-related issues, I finally dragged myself to what I called “emo rehab”, and, as the cliché goes, it changed my life. At the time, a volunteer-run organization offered a weekend day retreat setting in the city of Ottawa/Odaawaa that was pay-what-you-can, where you worked on addiction, compulsive behaviours, trauma, etc.

I had never been in a situation where I just focused on my healing before, and everyone else was focused on their healing, and we all kind of supported each other together. And we all kind of goteach other somehow. It was magical. Ever since then, I was hooked. I love going to retreats!

I also have a critical mind, honed from Western education on critical theory, my father’s revolutionary spirit, and my mother’s sharp brain. So I noticed some patterns in the retreats I went to. I noticed that I was usually the only racialized person there, or the only queer person, or the only trans person, or one of the few folks in their twenties (this was 10 years ago when I started going). And that, aside from that first “emo rehab” experience, a lot of these retreats were really expensive! Like, $600-$1000 expensive! I had to save up a lot.

The biggest critical factor for me, though, was that they often worked only from a medical and disease model of recovery. This came off as implying that Western science was a central authority, and that we were sick because of our own fault, and ignored contributing systemic factors like the intergenerational trauma of war and colonialism, or the ongoing onslaught of nableism, racism, sexism, cisgenderism/transphobia, and other daily indignities or brutal violence. Sometimes they would have a “spiritual factor” that supplemented the main model, either a version of Christianity that was only about prayer and surrender to God, or a mish-mash of culturally appropriated techniques from various other religions and faiths without any context or credit. These patterns created a cycle that would perpetuate a lack of diverse and marginalized folks from accessing these kinds of programs, the very folks that, in my opinion, would benefit from it a lot.

I think I would have just continued to feel kind of sad that so many of my friends and loved ones couldn’t access these spaces even if they wanted to, if I hadn’t gone to camp. Now, this wasn’t just any camp– this was a leadership retreat for trans and queer youth and youth from trans and queer families. I went as an adult mentor/camp counselor type person. It was overnight, in the woods, reasonably affordable– and they had the systemic analysis! I had only ever experienced systemic analysis in activist and academic circles where it was treated with a kind of clinical reverence or desperate bludgeoning technique of “accountability”, but I had never witnessed a program trying to live these values with care, and love, and (so many!) emotional check-ins.

This experience taught me so much– the power of intentional community, that I could help facilitate other folks’ healing, and, most importantly, that running a diverse, anti-oppressive retreat was possible.

As the years went by and I got jobs in the non-profit and social work field, I started to accumulate different kinds of knowledge– how to fundraise, how to run conferences on a zero budget, attending spiritual ceremonies and retreats run by Elders, anti-oppression facilitation skills, accessibility and disability justice, a graduate program in critical social work, and building relationships across different nations, identities, and peoples.

Through meditation, dreams, and visions, I feel that the knowledge I’ve gained and continue to gain, as well as my own love of communal healing, has given me the confidence to begin planning on running my own pay-what-you-can retreats in various cities, with the eventual hope that further down the line I can co-create a pay-what-you-can retreat centre with Elders that are Two Spirit, queer, and trans, who are also Black, Indigenous, and/or people of colour (QTBIPOC).

In the meantime, my first goal is to focus on my own people in the diaspora, the ones called “Filipinos”, or, as the younger generation have re-named themselves “Pilipinx”, as part of a Latinx-inspired liberation movement. In these first retreats, I want to introduce folks to language, culture, history, activism, and pre-colonial indigenous spirituality and ceremony. As an artist, there will also be a lot of arts-based activities in music, theatre, dance, visual arts, chanting, and sculpture. Similar to the work of Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart regarding the historical trauma of the Lakota people, the goal of these retreats would be to address the historical trauma of primarily youth, millennial, and Gen X diasporic Pilipinx, especially trans and queer Pilipinx– though as we continue I hope we can include a variety of other generations in the healing process too.

If you’re interested in supporting this work, please become a patron. If you have any further questions about what I shared, you can comment here or email me feedback. If you’re interested in any of the other retreats, services, and organizations I mentioned in this post for you or your loved ones, please email or message me and I’ll give you all the info. I just don’t write it here because I don’t want to seem like I’m advertising for other organizations, especially without checking in with them.

For QTBIPOC that are often ostracized by their families and different sections of society, as well as economically disenfranchised, being on a healing journey can change or save one’s life. Though there are many ways to heal, I firmly believe that the ways we can grieve and heal together should be accessible and available to all.