"I Got My Wings": Reflections on the Veterans' Retreat

Mike wings

by Mike Riley, Copper Beech Institute retreatant and veteran

It would be disappointing if I did not share with others my weekend experience at Copper Beech Institute’s recent Mindfulness and Yoga Retreat for Veterans.

From the moment I entered the building, there was someone to receive me. The need to please and accommodate me went beyond what was expected. A volunteer, Carol, received and registered me upon entering. I was given a name tag and shown to my room. The room was clean and had just what was needed for the weekend and more had I decided to stay longer. It included a private bathroom, telephone, television, and, to my surprise, plenty of extra towels.

My next stop was the Monastery Gallery of Art, which is one of my favorite places to sit and take in the sunlight as it bounces and dances off the art space. The pieces on display were a delight to the eyes but more to my heart and soul.

The gallery centerpiece, "WINGS", spoke directly to me because the boundless part of my being grew wing during the retreat and soared. All weekend-long the feeling of being free and boundless was palatable. Already feeling this intense sense of being welcome and that this will be a journey I settled into the experience, donned my wings, and took flight.

Coming to Copper Beech Institute is not a new experience for me. The main reason I come is for the retreat for veterans. Free of charge to veterans and family members, Copper Beech makes a valuable program like this accessible to many who are looking for help, including the families of veterans (a grandchild was present at this last retreat!). The program founder and director, Suzanne Manafort, led a group of forty-five of us through breathing, meditation, asanas, yoga nidra, and gratitude practices. Then it was time to walk the labyrinth, slowly and mindfully walking the practices into reality. Gusts of wind rushed by each tree’s naked branches, exposed like the raw pain that lives deep within each veteran. As the path unfolded one slow step at a time, it felt as if I was looking down at the participants below. There were many other self-care techniques offered over the weekend, all with different benefits, which ultimately help the veterans and their family members heal some of the scars veterans return home with.

The idea of getting my wings is a metaphor for the expansion of my awareness as I moved through the weekend’s program. In the middle of this intimate space where veteran families found support and understanding, we shared ideas of how we cope daily with simple challenges.

I got my wings at Copper Beech Institute this weekend not to fly, but to show how we can lift each other up through service. We can love each other by sharing stories of joy and pain, of appreciation and gratitude, of happiness and sadness, of how to be strong and resilient in challenging moments and beat the odds. Over 22 veterans commit suicide every day in this country; with the help of Mindful Yoga Center in Newington and Copper Beech Institute, those who partook in this retreat are now doing something to address that number and heal the wounds within us.

I came for the experience and to assist the program. However, before long I realized I was on its receiving end of far more than I could give to it. I got my wings at Copper Beech Institute.

Awaken Everyday Blog
Writing to inspire mindfulness, contemplation and wholesome living, by Copper Beech master teachers, students and contributors.

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