Fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in group retreats
“Please describe how you intend to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in your proposed group retreat.” In 2019, we added this invitation to our simple group retreat request form for GilChrist. We wanted to begin gathering information from our facilitators on how folks were thinking about the connection between contemplative retreats and DEI work. Responses have ranged from very thoughtful and detailed to (perhaps) a little put off or confused. All responses have been helpful for us to see where our community is and what the opportunities are.
Around the same time, GilChrist became part of the Retreat Center Collaboration (RCC), a new effort to connect retreat centers across the U.S. and Canada. Early on in the development of the RCC, it became clear that retreat centers have an incredible opportunity to contribute to greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, both at their individual centers and in the world at large. The RCC’s shift from DEI to JEDI—adding “justice” to the mix—has been thanks to Jenyng Wu’s emphasis on justice as the vision for flourishing that we’re all reaching toward, and JEDI as a way of being we can cultivate (as opposed to a checklist of do’s and don’ts that will eventually wear us out).
The work of JEDI will look different at each retreat center and each institution. At GilChrist, we’ve been working steadily over the years to diversify the offerings in our library. In 2017, we did major renovations to WindHill, our main gathering house, to add an accessible bathroom on the main floor and to make the lower level apartment fully accessible. During the height of the pandemic, when our guest pace had slowed, our staff began a process of personal and collective inner work in pursuit of our own ongoing racial healing. Over the next several months, we’ll be launching and fine-tuning a Retreat Equity Fund, to make retreat financially accessible and actively inviting to all, especially those who live with the daily impacts of marginalization. And the work goes on…
As we prepare to invite group retreat requests again, this time for 2023, we’ll offer the very same prompt to our facilitators that we did in 2019. In support of our common vision for shared flourishing, here are 10 ideas for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion through group retreats. Maybe you’re already doing some or all of these things! Please use the comments to let us know what’s worked for you and add more ideas. This work is most joyful and effective when it taps into our collective creativity.
Consider co-facilitation. Invite someone with a different background and perspective from your own to be a partner in designing a retreat experience. Check in with each other regularly to be sure that you’re acknowledging and addressing any power dynamics that are at play in your collaboration.
Incorporate inclusion for size and physical ability in embodied practice. Do you plan on incorporating yoga or another movement practice? Do you hope your group will meditate for a long period of time? Anticipate a range of capacities and be clear in your promotional materials that all body types and abilities are welcome.
Learn about spiritual bypassing and incorporate that learning into your retreat. Spiritual bypassing is a concept coming out of psychology to diagnose workarounds that allow us to bury pain under a flowery facade and evade true transformation and healing. Spend time researching what it is, how it shows up in retreats, how it impedes efforts for social transformation, and how to cultivate spirituality without bypassing.
Audit your resources for diversity. What artists and teachers do you commonly reference in your retreats? Is there an opportunity to incorporate wisdom from a broader range of voices?
Give credit to BIPOC individuals and cultures. Many contemplative practices have roots in the cultures of people who are black, brown, indigenous, and so on. Honor these origins explicitly and give thanks. If you draw heavily from a particular culture that is not your own, consider designating a portion of your program fees to a cause that’s led by people from that community.
Offer language interpretation services. Are you connected to folks who would participate if you offered ASL or a language other than English as part of your retreat? (Interpretation services are something you might consider using the upcoming Retreat Equity Fund to pay for.) Are you connected to a potential co-facilitator who could bring another language into the circle?
Offset costs for participants with economic burdens. GilChrist fees for overnight accommodations and group space are always pay-what-you-can, so that’s one easy way to defray costs for participants. Some facilitators have also raised sponsorships to help cover their own fees and professional time while offering free or reduced-cost participation.
Do your own racial healing work. Whatever racial group we identify with, we all bear the scars of centuries. Understanding where our patterns come from and uncovering what was hidden to us not only makes us better facilitators—it makes us more conscious humans, more equipped to face the complex challenges emerging in our times.
Ask for feedback from participants. “How well did I foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in my retreat? Do you have any ideas for me to consider in the future?” Your participants may well have some great wisdom and ideas for you afterwards while the experience is fresh.
Give GilChrist feedback. What can we do to support you as a facilitator in bringing more justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into your group retreat and the experiences of our guests? We’d love to know, and appreciate your partnership on this journey.
GilChrist is the public retreat center of the Fetzer Institute. We support the Institute’s mission of helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world by preserving a contemplative environment for healing self, society, and the natural world. We warmly welcome both groups and individuals and people of all faiths and affiliations.