A Transformative Space – Reflections on Warrior Monk

The night before the retreat, as I packed up my things and prepared to say goodbye to my family for the next week, it occurred to me: I actually had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had met Dan McKee a few years ago through my work in leadership development, and he had become an important mentor to me in my leadership professional life. When he suggested I might get value out of attending the retreat, my inclination was to trust him and to say yes. And yet, here I was, feeling somewhat unsure of what I had committed to and finding fear creeping in. Five days away, in a place I didn’t know, with people I didn’t know, with no real sense of what we would be doing. 

As a Mom to two young children, time away feels particularly precious, and I found myself starting to wonder what I had signed myself up for. Just the week before in a check in with Dan, I felt myself squirming a little bit: things are actually going quite well in my life right now! I’m not sure I need to shake them up? Do you think it still makes sense for me to come? And his response: you’ll take what you need from the work because you want to grow. And so, I chose to trust in the mystery that lay ahead and believe that there was a reason this had come up on the path. I’m so glad I did. 

The moment I drove onto the property of the Whidbey Institute, and was greeted by Rose, I felt a sense of coming home. There was an ease on this land; a sense of welcoming and of time at once standing still and yet always moving. The setting provided a powerful backdrop for the work and growth that would occur over the coming five days, work that I didn’t know I so deeply needed. Days were spent in a mix of intentional silence and soulful connection: meditation and laughter, dancing and stillness, solitude and community. For me, the possibility of making my life more sacred through practice was both particularly impactful and surprising. 

What I experienced was an unraveling, a chance to be still, to listen to the trees that rustled as we ate our breakfast in silence, to marvel as they swayed in the wind, to enjoy the connection to others and to myself. Over the course of the five days, I experienced a coming home to myself, to the land, and to what matters in my life. I experienced a breaking down of the walls around my heart, and intimacy with fears that had come to govern my life and being in ways I hadn’t even noticed. I experienced an extraordinary capacity to love the people I shared a circle with. Before attending the retreat, I couldn’t have named what was missing in my life; and yet a feeling of emptiness that had been lurking inside of me has transformed into a sense of greater ease and fulfillment in my life.

Alongside the sadness that accompanied the retreat coming to an end, one of the things that has been most nurturing in its wake is the way we have been supported in intentionally carrying forward the relationships that were forged during those five days. The depth of friendship and support that has evolved over these months has been profound, and more deeply meaningful than most of the relationships I’ve built in many years. Whether through the weekly small cohort calls that I have with 2 other retreat participants, the setting of intentions as the year turned and other facilitated follow sessions with our full cohort, or one off calls with other folks who were there, there is an immediate dropping into myself that happens. When I have the honor of sharing space with these folks, the impact on my life has been transformative.

Chrissie Arnold

Ten years ago, I heard about the retreat “The Warrior Monk” from an acquaintance. The name alone intrigued me and seemed to describe everything I hoped one day to embody. In November 2023 I was finally able to attend the retreat. I traveled to the Whidbey Institute hoping to uncover something more authentic that was hiding inside of me. I wanted a transformation to occur, a process of identifying where I was holding myself back and then learning tools to release it. The retreat testimonials described a community that was created within the retreat, one that often lasted for decades. I longed to have such an experience too and hoped to find people who wanted to become the best versions of themselves like I did.

Being a Washington State native attending the retreat on Whidbey Island made the most sense although the same retreat was also offered in West Virginia. I knew nothing about the setting of the Whidbey Institute other than the photos that showed a beautiful green location. As I turned down the road, onto the Institute property I gasped. It was like a fairy tale enchanted forest. The green of the trees and moss, even in November, a neon color I have rarely seen in nature. I actually stopped the car and just looked with wide eyes. Little did I know that this magical backdrop would hold me in the spirit of growth and transformation I arrived searching for. I was greeted by the welcoming Whidbey Institute staff who helped me settle in for my five-day experience.

Each day of the retreat held a different kind of magic. At first the challenges posed within the retreat container seemed like invitations to shed a skin that no longer felt comfortable to live within. Tears flowed. Laughter burst forth. Wisdom streamed in. I was caught by surprise so often I stopped trying to predict what challenge would arise next or what beauty would spring forth because of it. As layers of my old self fell away, I could finally hear my inner voice again.

The setting of the Whidbey Institute reinforced this transformation. Just as the leaders of the retreat were expertly holding the retreat container, the Institute and staff held the retreat as a whole. I spent hours walking the grounds being spellbound by the trees, the moss, the mushrooms, and the forest creatures. It was so wondrous I found it hard to want to sleep, instead wishing to listen to the forest from the comfort of my bed. Every meal was prepared with such care. After hours of inner work the healthy tasty food was an added comfort to my body and my soul. As one day rolled into the next the community of retreat participants began to take shape. People who once were strangers now friends, sharing with each other and supporting each other. By the last day of the retreat the transformation I saw in myself and in the members of the retreat circle was nothing short of miraculous. The people that surrounded me felt like a family and the Whidbey Institute felt like home. I couldn’t help but cry when it was time to say goodbye to both the people and the place. The Warrior Monk Retreat at the Whidbey Institute was the single most life changing experience I have ever been through. While I have attended many retreats, none resulted in such transformation or were located at a place that brought on such awe-inspiring wonder.

Months later how I show up in my life is different. Honestly, life itself is different. I am more present and more willing to support my authenticity daily. My relationships are richer, deeper, more authentic. The relationships I developed in the retreat continue to support my transformation. The Warrior Monk retreat cohort meets regularly online to maintain connection and facilitate continued growth. My small group, assigned at the end of the retreat, meets weekly. We have grown close, sharing the same level of integrity and authenticity that we did during the retreat. I have close friends from the retreat who honor me with regular connections that support me in my journey. I cherish these connections more than words can express. Now, with the power of the internet, I am able to maintain these close connections with people from all over the country. When I signed up for the retreat, I hoped I would be lucky enough to be part of a continued community of like-minded people post retreat. I am in awe of the way I got just what I hoped for.

The Warrior Monk Retreat at the Whidbey Institute was life changing. It was a transformative experience that was unique and one of a kind. Since the retreat I have returned to the Institute grounds often, always marveling at its wonder and the way the kind stewards of the property allow anyone to appreciate it at almost any time. The pairing of the Warrior Monk Retreat and the Whidbey Institute is like a treasure within a treasure providing a decadent wondrous experience that just keeps on revealing more gold. I will never forget my five-day retreat in November 2023 and I hope that anyone looking for transformation finds this treasure I was so lucky to discover.

– Alea Pappe

March 1, 2024


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