The Threshold Retreat: An Interview with Dan McKee

Warrior Monk Retreat | Dec. 31, 2014Jan. 4, 2015

Warrior Monk II: The Art of Staying Awake | Dec. 29, 2015—Jan. 3, 2016


This article was originally published in Autumn 2014.

The Whidbey Institute at Chinook has been home to many Warrior Monk retreats over the last 10 years, and a few of these have been held over the new year’s break. Our Communication Manager, Marnie Jackson, recently discussed the program with Dan McKee, leader of the Warrior Monk retreat.

DanMarnie: The week encompassing New Year’s Eve and Day seems like an unusual time to hold a retreat. How did this come about?

Dan: Interestingly, for most of my life, New Year’s Eve held little meaning or interest for me personally. Then, several years ago, a couple of Warrior Monk staff people were considering a private retreat with a few friends, and asked if we could make it a Warrior Monk. We all had a very deep and rich time together, and I heard throughout the year from participants about how that time, and the work within it, impacted their entire year.

What’s your view on New Year’s resolutions?

Well, I think it’s wonderful that we want to commit to becoming a better human being; which is what most of our resolutions seem to be about. I have concern where we may be carrying messages about how we “should” change and our motivations. And, who are we really changing for?

Feeling that pressure that many of us do, to “be better, be more,” and then finding oneself in the rush of the holiday season resolving to “change something about me”—I don’t think that’s necessarily the place to evoke the best wisdom and likelihood of success.

Without ensuring that we’re bringing self-compassion, and without giving ourselves the resources and support to effectively make the change, I worry that we may be just reinforcing the societal norms: “we’re not good enough until ___.” Fll in the blank.

Is there something about Warrior Monk which helps in our aspiration to become a “better human being”?

To a large extent, it’s just what happens with this body of work we call Warrior Monk. There’s a precept that says, “start with where you are.” In this work we start with grounding ourselves in accepting who we are now, and where our life is at this time. Whoever we are now and whatever it took to get here needs to be fully accepted with compassion, in order to grow into the next level of authentic self we long for. All the great wisdom about how we actually grow and change supports this.

From there, we move into the necessary willingness to challenge ourselves. To face the old, limiting beliefs about ourselves that we’ve taken on along the way, and that hold us back from living more powerfully, more in the present, and more open-hearted. Then, we do some intense process work to unwire these self-beliefs. We’ve also found that many of us must take an honest look at whether we’ve set up our lives in ways which serve to distract and disempower us; and make new commitments there.

From there, we step into these new commitments—resolutions perhaps?—for how to live differently.  Because we’ve by then taken our time and put ourselves through the daily rhythms of intensity balanced by restoration, ecstasy and sobriety, solitude and community, when we step into new choices they’re realistically grounded, congruent with who we really are, and empowered by the additional courage and confidence we’ve mined. Added to that, we use other participants to create ongoing practice and support groups for after the retreat.

We don’t rush through this, and we don’t do it alone. Those who’ve not experienced an intensive retreat over four days and nights with this level of safety, trust, and learning from each other’s passion and heart-opening work just don’t have a way of knowing how significant that can be.

Is there anything you’ve noticed about this time of year or this place—the Whidbey Institute—that further enhances this body of work?

About the timing: I’m intrigued metaphorically by the “threshold” between this year and the one to come, as it relates to liminal space. Liminal space is considered that place where we humans can truly grow and evolve, and is often described as a threshold. It says that there is a place we must enter into—where we’re no longer the person we were, and not quite yet the person we’re becoming. That requires a suspension of our current life, and a letting go of the attachment to what we think our life is going toward. It also requires that we risk something; emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually. This is a very dynamic moment in our life’s time, and very much what our work focuses on taking advantage of.

To this end, I’ve noticed that people come into Warrior Monk at this new year’s cusp with a little more intention to create change, a little less resistance to old ways, and a little more tenderness toward themselves and others.

About the place:  It’s imperative that “threshold” or “liminal” work take place in a natural and secluded  environment. Chinook is among the best retreat places in the world for creating this kind of cauldron. In my experience, the place and its people, its history and future, and even the weather in the Northwest forest at this time of year all seem to conspire to create the deepest nest for us to safely drop into.

The fact that the food is the tastiest healthy food in North America doesn’t hurt, either.

So, will there be anything different with this being a New Year’s Warrior Monk Retreat?

We’re always responsive to each group’s dynamics, so I’m sure we’ll create some additional focus around where people are headed as it shows up about going into the new year. I have a check-in call with each participant before the retreat, as a way of learning how to best support them and help each become more clear of what they’re after in attending. These conversations will also help influence this retreat’s content and facilitation.

How about you—is there something you’re after for yourself, at this particular threshold?

Hmm . . . I’ll use this time to deeply explore what it will take for me to create even more space in my life to provide this work, and how to bring even more of my whole self to it. Knowing how these particular “threshold” Warrior Monk Retreats go, I’m sure that placing myself in this group of kindred spirits, where we can have this much fun being this serious about our personal evolution—will be about as good as it gets.
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Mount Hood photo by Tony Schanuel

November 12, 2014

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