by Mark Nagel - April 30, 2009
GAY CHICAGO: I recently heard about the Brotherhood Retreats, how did this all get started?
BROTHERHOOD RETREATS: I noticed that attitudes, laws and services regarding HIV varied a lot between different countries and even states. There is so much that we can learn from each other and I wanted to find a way of bringing this community together in order to help empower it. I also discovered that there were very few programs geared toward helping those who are well-functioning while living with HIV. With Brotherhood Retreats, I wanted to create a setting where people can come and go further with their personal growth in an environment where they don’t even have to consider whether or not to disclose their HIV-status or be put in a place where they feel they need to educate people about the experience of living with HIV.
The content of our retreat is focused on emotional and spiritual well-being. We have sessions with yoga, meditation, psychological teachings, exercises, journaling, sharing in smaller support groups and nature hikes, etc. Some of the most common reactions from participants were statements like “life-changing,” “transformative,” and “deeply joyful.” Many participants shared that during the retreat they experienced true intimacy for the first time in their lives. Our goal is to support each person in being true to their authentic self and to share their gifts openly with the world and, in the extension of that, help foster powerful community leaders and role models.
Who should attend?
Any adult gay or bisexual HIV-positive man! Our minimum age is 18. People come from all over the world for this. We have guys traveling from Europe, Canada, Asia and possibly South America. All ethnic groups and ages are represented at the retreat. We also have a good mix of newly diagnosed with long-term survivors and everything in between. This is a true brotherhood and everyone is welcome and will feel that from the moment they arrive. This is a very safe and fun environment to be in.
Where is the retreat at?
Our location is a comfortable countryside retreat center near Stroudsburg, PA in the Poconos Mountains, just over an hour outside New York City. The scenery is magnificent with forests, mountain ridges, and hiking trails. We will be there during the summer when the water in the pond is warm enough for swimming and nature is in full bloom. The Appalachian Trail crosses the retreat center and there are hiking trails, rock meditation gardens and more.
When is the retreat?
July 16-20 with a kickoff meet-and-greet in New York on July 15.
How much does the retreat cost?
There is an early registration discounted rate of $595, including room and board until May 1. After that, the rate is $695.
A lot of HIV-poz people have limited funds. Do you have any assistance programs for them?
Yes, we have a certain number of spaces reserved at a lower rate for those with limited financial resources. We have a scholarship fund that is used to help reduce the fees below the actual self-cost for these spaces. Anyone can make a donation toward this via Paypal on our website.
What would your daily schedule be on the retreat?
We start already at 7 a.m. with a light yoga session before breakfast. Our morning session will go approximately from 9 a.m. until noon and will be a combination of teaching, sharing and exercises with some meditation as well. Lunch breaks will be two to three hours long in order to give plenty of time to hang out and socialize, go hiking, rest or do whatever else feels right. We will have an afternoon session with different programs each day. After dinner, we will have a shorter evening session before hanging out and enjoying each other’s company for as late as we can stay up. There is a complete schedule on our website, but there will be some flexibility to it in order to meet the needs of the group. The focus of our work is centered on presence, authenticity and communication.
The various sessions will be led by different facilitators as needed according to the program. Some sessions will feature work with the Enneagram system of personality types taught by Claes Lilja. Prior Enneagram experience is not required. Most sessions will involve experiential exercises and group work as well as individual tasks. There will also be a light yoga session each afternoon to help in anchoring the experience in a true body-mind-spirit way. Each day will also include small group meetings where each participant will have a chance to work more directly with the facilitator and other participants.
Topics that will be explored are intimacy and authenticity, cultivating a healthy body with a sound mind, presence and awareness, active community participation, bridging the gap between our inner reality and spiritual awareness with the outside world in order to live consciously and powerfully within our community.
Who is the faculty for the retreat?
We are three facilitators who bring very different perspectives, skills and backgrounds to the event. Rudra Scott Lehman is an expert yoga teacher who manages to create toga sessions that everyone can participate in fully and enjoy, regardless of how advanced or inexperienced the person is. Lehman is a certified hypnotherapist with extensive experience in exploring trance states. He is also a long-time HIV survivor going on 22 years of living with the virus.
Dr. Alfred Hurst is a therapist from London, who has been working in the GLBT community providing services since the 1980s. He is one of the founders of www.lovingmen.org, which is an organization producing gay men’s retreats in Europe. Hurst runs regular groups for HIV-positive gay men in London and he is also an experienced social worker.
Lilja brings his unique background as an Enneagram expert and meditation instructor to the experience. He has been interviewed by Chris Matthews on CNBC, featured in a segment on Starting Over on NBC, while giving a personality type consultation to Towanda Braxton. Lilja is also an artist and filmmaker and is mostly known for his exploration of human sexuality in the documentary, Beyond Vanilla, which is distributed by Strand Releasing.
What kind of food can you expect during the retreat?
Meals will be served three times a day and will be home-cooked and healthy. There will be vegetarian or vegan options for those who request it and some meat or fish dishes at most meals. No red meats will be served. Coffee, tea and snacks will be available throughout the day.
Most importantly, how does someone sign up?
Just go to our website at www.brotherhoodretreats.com and fill out the registration form. A nonrefundable deposit of $200 is required to secure the space and it can be paid via check, money order or Paypal.
All questions for Mark can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.