An Inside Look at iBme’s Historic Return to In-Person Retreats
Charlton, MA | July 25-30, 2021
(pre-Delta variant surge)
Teens were mentally preparing to turn off their cell phones for six days and take a break from the constant dinging, buzzing, and instant access to social media. iBme’s veteran retreat staff and teachers were huddling for what would be a retreat experience like no other— due to the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first in-person retreat in 16 months.
As expected, upon their arrival, the teens remarked on the deep sense of isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty they had experienced over the last year and a half, while also expressing their great joy at this opportunity to be in-person, in community. For many of the teens and staff who attended, this was the first opportunity to gather in-person since the start of the pandemic.
We haven’t been entirely separate from each other, and our teens and staff have found new ways to connect online throughout the pandemic (did you know you can do a Zoom hot seat?).
We’ve meditated, connected, shared stories of our lives, met the pets and family members and saw into the living rooms of friends we otherwise wouldn’t have. And, yet, there is still something special about the community created together, in person. The little moments of shared reality can be taken to a whole new level when you are in person: hugging other people in your small group…sharing a dessert cookie with a new friend… brushing your neighbor’s arm during a yoga class when you do an exxxxtra wide sun salutation.
Each day, along with periods of meditation, small group meetings, down time, and mindful movement, retreat attendees participated in an array of workshops led by retreat mentors and teens. Mentor-led workshops included a nature walk and mindful ultimate frisbee, four square and GaGa. And for the first time ever on retreat, there was a full day of teen-led workshops! These workshops included a discussion on the intersection between mindfulness and science and an interactive performance of a teen-written play, Interdimensional Radio. There was a workshop on how mindfulness can influence activism and another on being in the present moment on the dance floor, providing participants with the opportunity to shed the usual inhibitions or feelings of peer pressure that may be present for teens as they dance, and encouraging movement in ways that feel natural and engage breath and body awareness.
The retreat dates coincided with the Summer Olympics, and lead teacher Jess Morey (Jmo) didn’t miss the opportunity to offer a wisdom talk on the first full day of retreat, discussing what she saw as parallels between training the body for gymnastics and training the mind with mindfulness. “What things might be similar between these trainings?” Jmo asked the quiet room full of young people. Their responses resonated through the room: “Persistence!” “Strength!” “it’s all in your head!” “No one else can do it for you!” And when Simone Biles dropped out of the competition, choosing to prioritize her mental health, this became another opportunity to discuss real-world application of mindfulness practice.
Thanks in part to the generous support of our community of donors, we were able to meet the scholarship needs of the 37 participants (80%) who requested support, for a total of $59,901 in scholarship support. This meant that we could continue to stand by our commitment: No teen is ever turned away for lack of funds.
Images captured by Rose Wine Photography
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There was clear consensus among the teens that attending this retreat was extremely valuable in helping with their ongoing navigation and processing of the pandemic. Many of the attendees expressed how difficult the past year had been for them and how healing it felt to be part of a community again, finally having the support and time they needed to focus on their mental and emotional health.
“Human kindness is innate…The multiple instances of unconditional and unprompted kindness [on retreat] was so meaningful to me.”
18 Year-Old Non-Binary/Trans-Identified Participant
“I learned that many of my anxieties and insecurities aren’t fixed, immovable parts of me, and that with practice and patience, I can work through them and tap into joy.”
17 Year-Old Male-Identified Participant
“I learned how important it is to love myself. I learned that coming back and showing up is part of the process, not a screw up.”
19 Year-Old Female-Identified Participant
“I realized that I have self worth and that I too deserve love.”
15 Year-Old Non-Binary/Trans-Identified Participant
- 100% of teens agreed or strongly agreed that they would recommend iBme retreats to a friend;
- 98% of teens agreed or strongly agreed that they had an overall positive experience on the retreat (2% responded neutral); and
- 89% of teens agreed or strongly agreed that they would continue to practice meditation at home (11% responded neutral).
The retreat community also stayed true to our commitment to building culture and deep belonging in a diverse community. Of those in attendance, more than half (53%) identified as LGBTQIA+; 26% identified as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC); and 29% identified as neuro-diverse.