“Feliz Natal!”, the lady from the local Saturday market said to us with a smile, as she gave us a free pack of her Christmas cookies after we bought nearly half her stall of fruits and veggies. It was one of those moments where the Portuguese generosity was especially appreciated. We had been wanting to make Christmas cookies ourselves, but after the long days of work before the weekend, preparing for our annual New Year’s retreat starting right after it, all that we desired for our Christmas this year was to take it easy and to rest. On Christmas day, we thus started with meditation, followed by a restorative yoga class led by Jutta and afterwards a brunch, including the cookies from the market lady. It felt like a typical Sunday, which we aimed to optimally use to recharge ourselves for the week ahead. “Quite a different way of spending the holiday season compared to what I’m used to”, I was thinking to myself. Whereas usually it is the time of having your days off, relaxing and enjoying life with your loved ones, this year it was a time of extra-long days of ‘selfless service’ to prepare for and host a retreat for a (largely) unknown group of people. Looking back, though, I can definitely say that I could not have wished for any greater gift.
After welcoming and meeting the participants on the first night of the retreat, they began their journey with three days of silence and meditation. It quickly revealed the magic of the place here at Avidanja, as soon the only noticeable sounds were those of birds, sheep, raindrops, wind, the fireplace and here and there a church bell or a train passing by. A great invitation for participants to slow down and go inwards — to let go of their day-to-day responsibilities and to surrender to Being. At the same time, it was an invitation for us as a service team to step up: to cook, to clean, and to care for the place and the people in order to make this process as comfortable as possible. And here it also became clear that the retreat was not calling for a process of transformation of just the participants. For it was in these responsibilities where we were confronted with our own challenges. Fear, doubt, resistance, conflicts, tiredness and exhaustion; all of it was on our plates. Yet what seemed undiminished by any challenge was the power of our intention. Because no matter what happened, together we had just one mission: to be in service. And this means facing everything that’s possibly in the way of hosting the best retreat possible.
What personally struck me was that this intention to fully give ourselves also dissipated any patterns of separation which were at the root of such challenges. Despite the minimal interaction between us, the retreat participants soon started to feel not as visiting strangers, but as friends with whom I was sharing my home and whom my heart was somehow longing to take care for. Similarly, the heartfelt shared commitment within the service team fully undermined any personal sense of victimization and revealed an ever-growing sense of unity and mutual care and support between us. And hence the workload, the resistance and the tiredness didn’t seem to matter anymore. All that mattered was to see Happiness — to see the participants as well as my Avidanja family grow and flourish, just as if I was seeing the flowers in my own front garden in the springtime.
This year I thus did not only receive free Christmas cookies, but joy, togetherness, gratitude, silence, laughter, creativity, warmth, intensity, ecstasy and expansion. Not because my holidays revolved around any personal wish list, but rather around forgetting about all of that and giving wholeheartedly instead. In a way, it’s well-phrased in Cliff Richard’s song ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, where he sings: “It’s a time for giving, a time for getting. A time for forgiving, and for forgetting”. – Marcio Joseph