Over fall break, I had the opportunity to participate in the BLI’s Mindful Leader retreat in Holland, Michigan in Camp Geneva. Given my previous experience as an Applied Leadership Fellow, I expected the retreat to be a fun getaway from campus where I could relax and learn more about mindfulness, both of which happened. What I didn’t expect to find was a community of individuals who were so open, compassionate, and welcoming to exploring leadership and bonding as a cohort.

The retreat started with us hauling everything off the bus in the rain: not ideal, but a good bonding experience we could all laugh about later. After we got settled in and defined our expectations for the weekend, we came together to make a sacred table. Each person had brought a sacred item, something that they valued, or an item that had a meaningful story behind it. As each person opened up and shared something personal to them, we built a sense of community and belonging very fast. This activity allowed us to get to know each other, to see what we value and love the most, and it started our journey of becoming mindful leaders.

The next day we had the pleasure of learning about the 10 BLI Habits from BLI director Ram Mahalingham. He taught us the importance of building upon these habits a little every day until they become a cohesive part of our lives. In each activity we did, I learned more about myself and how I could practically implement mindfulness in ways that were personal to me. I could engage in personalized lessons from all of the BLI staff, while also learning mindfulness practically and in hands-on ways. Since we had a small cohort, everyone was able to share their experiences and ideas. I learned how others implemented BLI habits into their lives, and learned how each person viewed mindfulness differently. We were able to journal and reflect on each activity and create artwork that was both personal and fun. We made flags with goals from the retreat, colored, and did a paint-and-pour activity. All these activities allowed us to learn while bonding as a cohort.

We also just had fun. We walked on the beach of Lake Michigan to watch the sunset, explored the campgrounds, played volleyball, had group bonfires, did karaoke, played card games and so much more. It’s hard to believe that I came into the retreat barely knowing anyone. I was finally able to relax completely for the first time this semester. Doing activities like yoga, meditation, walking, and journaling allowed me to be in a pretty laid-back mood the whole weekend.

I’ve always known that mindfulness is important; treating everyone with grace, dignity, and respect is important to lead a fulfilling life. But mindfulness to me has always been a kind of abstract idea as well. What does it mean to be mindful? How can I become more mindful? The Mindful Leadership retreat taught me that mindfulness is a practice that you can incorporate into every action. It’s both organizational and individual. Practicing mindfulness is also different for everyone: my version of mindfulness will look different than yours.

I would recommend the Mindful Leader Retreat to anyone who wants to go. It was the best possible way I could have spent my fall break. This experience was truly the perfect vacation away from school: viewing the sunset on Lake Michigan, spending time journaling, and meeting new, amazing people made for a relaxing and fun fall break.