This fall break, I had the opportunity to participate in the BLI’s Mindful Leader Retreat, which took place at Camp Geneva in Holland, Michigan. I’ve already taken BLI director Ram Mahalingam’s class on mindfulness and engaged living (Psych 390, I highly recommend it), so I wasn’t expecting to learn anything completely new, but to my surprise, the retreat was the perfect chance to learn more about mindfulness socially and experientially. I got to apply what I’d already learned in the form of engaging group dialogues, art projects, games, activities, interactions with nature, and other creative learning methods that aren’t feasible to implement into a classroom syllabus. 

The retreat kicked off with an activity called the “Sacred Table.” Prior to the retreat, we were each told to bring an item of significance with us to present to the group. This exercise only lasted about twenty minutes, but those twenty minutes were extremely enjoyable and significant to me nonetheless—when I saw others open up to the group without hesitation, embrace vulnerability, and share their hearts, I immediately felt safer and more connected to those around me. Because of this simple, yet powerful activity, I felt much more comfortable getting to know a group of people I’d never met because they no longer felt like strangers. Because everyone had shared an important part of themselves with the group, it was easy to immediately establish common ground with everyone and establish trust based on mutual vulnerability. 

As the retreat progressed, I learned that each activity we did somehow connected to the mindfulness principles I’d learned in class. I later understood that when we got vulnerable with each other during the Sacred Table activity, and later on while playing “We’re Not Strangers” with each other after hours, we were practicing jinpa, which is the Japanese word that acknowledges vulnerability as a form of generosity. When we stained our clothes and the floor during the Paint-and-Pour art activity, we slowly stopped internally chastising ourselves and started treating ourselves with compassion instead. When we roamed the beautiful campgrounds and lakeshore to collect leaves, berries, seashells, and whatever other objects we pilfered from squirrels, we practiced wonder, regarding “mundane” objects with curiosity, awe, and appreciation. With each subsequent activity, I not only got a helpful crash course on a tenet of mindfulness, but also internalized that tenet through an actual experience. As someone who learns well through experiences (and less well during lectures), this opportunity was an invaluable chance for me to actually apply practices and ideologies that have been proven to make people happier, less stressed, and kinder to themselves, others, and the natural world.

Educational value aside, the retreat was also just fun. I was initially nervous about spending a long weekend with a cohort of strangers, but the design of the retreat made it very easy to get to know others, both during retreat activities and during free time. Everyone there was interesting, nice, and laid-back (unsurprisingly, a mindfulness retreat attracts laid-back people), and I enjoyed playing ping pong, air hockey, foosball, and volleyball in the rec center during downtime just as much as I enjoyed the retreat’s official activities.

Overall, the retreat was an extremely rejuvenating experience. It was the perfect getaway from school life, and I came back from it feeling a lot more refreshed and intentional about making sure I live life in a way that’s aligned with my values. I would recommend the experience to anyone who’s interested in mindfulness, connecting with new people, escaping their comfort zone a bit, and getting some picturesque shots of Lake Michigan during a sunset. 

–Renuka Murthi is a senior, majoring in business and minoring in statistics. She was involved in the BLI as a Peer Facilitator for four semesters and is now a BLI Applied Leadership Fellow on the grants and funding team. Outside the BLI, she enjoys getting involved in her consulting club, painting, playing piano, and writing. She plans to pursue careers in management consulting and writing fiction.