Practice and Presence with Inside Passages
By Marnie Jones with Dan Mahle
Whidbey Institute Program Coordinator Dan Mahle recently went on a one week, kayak-based mindfulness retreat for young change-makers, offered by Inside Passages. The longstanding relationship between the Whidbey Institute and Inside Passages founder Kurt Hoelting would have been reason enough for Dan to participate, but he also went into the experience with a personal desire to develop a deeper sense of presence and practice, and to discover insights into his own way of being. It is safe to say that, in the wilds of Alaska, Dan accomplished both.
“This was an opportunity to build a mindfulness practice, to slow down, and to be impacted by the wild, beautiful place we were in,” Dan said. “One of the biggest highlights of my experience was what I didn’t have—no wifi, no cell service, no laptop, no cell phone. Eliminating those things from my life for a week was a major part of the experience, and a prerequisite for exploring the depth of presence that the retreat inspired in me.”
The August Change-Makers Retreat included trip leaders Kurt Hoelting and Maggie Chumbley plus eight participants, who began by island-hopping in Southeast Alaska to reach Kurt’s rustic Petersberg-area lodge. The typical daily schedule included several different meditation and mindfulness practices before a silent breakfast, followed by paddling, yoga, sauna time, and after-dinner conversation before an early bed.
“I’ve done some seated and walking meditation, and I’ve tried qigong before,” Dan said. “I’ve never done them for a week, with a clear daily rhythm. It was new, and it was challenging, but that’s the point! The practice is in becoming mindful of one’s own experience—whatever that is.”
Dan said that the week of paddling, meditation, and rising with the sun brought his mind and body into a new, quieter rhythm. “There’s a part of me that’s addicted to productivity,” he said. “During the retreat, I realized that much of the work I’ve done in my life has come from a place of trying to prove my worth in the world—mostly just to myself. This experience helped me trust much more deeply in my inherent worth—my value and contribution.”
Dan’s reentry into his daily life after the retreat involved a stark awareness of life out of balance, and during our conversation he said he’d be turning off his cell phone notifications and taking other steps out of what he calls our “culture of distraction”. He spoke to a quality of presence he was able to cultivate in Alaska which enabled him to enjoy some incredible encounters—with the world around him, with wild creatures like hawks and porpoises, and with his own inner world.
“I felt a deep calmness, like my entire system just relaxed. Take a big breath in and exhale very deeply—that’s how I felt for a week,” he said.
When I asked Dan about the shift from Alaska back to Seattle, the Whidbey Institute, and the daily routine, he said the difference in pace was the hardest part. “It’s hard to reconcile the deep peacefulness I felt with being back in my very full life,” he said. “It’s been challenging to prioritize my wellness, exercise, meditation, unscheduled time, and time away from devices. These things feel somewhat out of reach. That’s a sure sign that I need to tune in to myself, and commit the radical act of prioritizing things that make me well!”
Dan said he would recommend a Change-Makers Retreat to any person who risks burnout. “So many of us are working really hard, pushing ourselves to the limit, and we don’t really know how to find a deeper balance. I’d recommend this experience to those who are doing important work in the world, but sometimes feel right on the edge of being overwhelmed.”
Dan said that since the trip, he’s tuned into a sense of abundance, and a sense of place in a world which surrounds and supports him. “I’m trusting that who I am—not just WHAT I DO, but WHO I AM—is valuable, is enough, is worthy . . . and I’m appreciating that there is a deeper, fuller, richer reality surrounding us. We can become present to it, and engage with it, when we are willing to slow down our pace. I’ve realized that everything people say they miss or long for in their lives—joy, happiness, peace, connection, and intimacy with the world—all of that is possible in any moment.”
To learn more about Inside Passages, visit their website. Photos courtesy Inside Passages.