The Gift of Ritual

five-oaks-ceremony-candleOn Sunday, November 13, I attended a memorable event at Five Oaks, an education and retreat centre near Paris, Ontario. Regular operations were to cease there on Tuesday, November 15, and the future of the place is unknown. I timed my visit to Ontario to take in what will likely be my final workshop in that location on Monday and Tuesday. The focus of the Sunday event was gratitude.

More than 100 came – elderly folks who had worked with the founder, people who had met their future spouses at Five Oaks, and parents and children who were the third and fourth generation of families for whom Five Oaks has been an exceptional place to learn and grow. I have come, off and on, since I was a ten-year-old camper – to personal growth experiences, art camps, and most recently, writing workshops.

The organisers had commissioned a potter to make a bowl for each person. I chose one with a glazed decoration in blue and green, reminding me of the flowing water, sky and trees that make this place so beautiful. We took a walk-about to gather mementoes such as stones, leaves and twigs. The group gathered in a large room where we received and lit a tea light to add to our bowl. In the glow of the flame, each of us reflected on a word or phrase to capture something we had received at Five Oaks for which we feel gratitude. The phrase that came to me was “finding my truth.”

Here are a few examples. By the end of a series of five “Courage and Renewal” retreats, I had recognised that I was feeling restless in Guelph where I lived. In the evening of April 30, 2014, after the end of the final session, I had dinner with my son. During the conversation, he said, “It would be okay with us if you want to move near us and the grandkids in Vancouver.” Within six months, I had sold my condo in Guelph and bought one near my family. I continue to feel happy about that decision that was aided by the retreat reflections.

Another example involves writing. I took the first of several memoir courses at Five Oaks in the fall of 2008. Through documenting and reflecting on childhood experiences at these courses, I have uncovered a degree of warmth towards my mother that eluded me in my earlier years–a most comforting discovery.

I wrote this blog post during my workshop at Five Oaks. I again found my truth – my sadness that the place is closing and also my gratitude for many experiences there, including the Gratitude Ceremony.

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