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Spirituality & Retreat Centers

Spirituality and Capacitar
Marjorie Wilbur—Director Center to BE,
Spiritual Companion, Retreat Leader

The Center to BE has collaborated with CAPACITAR to bring Training in Healing and Transformation to Milwaukee for the last ten years. CAPACITAR practices are intended primarily to help individuals relieve the symptoms of traumatic stress. However, the practices are also deeply spiritual, offering a doorway to connecting with God through the body and helping people to pray in new ways. A number of past participants in the training have integrated the practices into church ministry, retreat work, chaplaincy and spiritual companioning.

The body scan and relaxation can smooth the transition into a prayerful state. With a shift in language, tai chi meditation movements can become prayers of gratitude, petition and praise. The fingerhold meditation can help people to let go and surrender to God. Hand massage can become a means for people to anoint one another for the holy work they do in the world. Balancing the energy of the body can invite the Spirit to flow freely within it. The Emotional Freedom Technique can quiet and calm individuals who have trouble concentrating during prayer or whose anxieties keep them from hearing the voice of God in their lives.

Tai chi meditation movement is probably the most frequently used practice as prayer. When the weather cooperates, doing these gentle movements outdoors adds to the reverence. At a weekend retreat focused on the mystic Meister Eckhart, one recent CAPACITAR graduate described how she invited a group of 20 women outside in the early evening. "The weather was very mild. Eckhart preached about finding God in nature, so this fit perfectly with the retreat theme. We were surrounded by towering trees and birds overhead. Some women had physical challenges, but everyone did the movements to the best of her ability. Some of us took our shoes off so we could feel the grass and the earth. Afterwards there was just a great feeling of unity with nature. We didn't want to go back inside the building for our evening session."

At All People's Church in Milwaukee, Catherine Alexander introduced tai chi meditation movements into the church's healing worship service. Although it was a stretch for some, it was received with enthusiasm. One member commented: "This was a very participatory, much-needed aspect of worship. I usually just sit in the pew. My participation moved me to a higher level of spirituality."

Many spiritual companions have learned the CAPACITAR practices from programs and presentations at The Center to BE where they are used frequently as opening prayers. Because the practices are so easy to learn and teach, it has been simple to introduce them into one-on-one spiritual companioning sessions. The practices are particularly helpful in the times when words alone cannot touch the deepest part of the spirit and the language of the body speaks with more clarity.

The effectiveness of CAPACITAR practices in trauma healing has been demonstrated during the past 20 years in over 25 countries. For The Center to BE, the spiritual dimension of the program has added even more value to the training. We have learned to foster spiritual health by empowering individuals to care for their bodies through these multicultural wellness practices.

Capacitar Practices in Nature
Susan Bliffert OTR, MT, Co-founder/Executive director
of Blue Lotus, Wisconsin www.bluelotusfarm.org

Blue Lotus Farm & Retreat Center is a private day camp in Southeastern Wisconsin that offers recreational and healing workshops for at-risk individuals, those who are physically and mentally challenged, and anyone with special needs. The 64-acre property has hiking trails, a pond, swimming pool, medicine wheel, and a 107-foot diameter labyrinth etched out of the natural setting. This environment lends itself perfectly to introduce CAPACITAR self-healing techniques to all who come to visit for healing or just for leisure.

Driving down the long, one-lane driveway begins the process of getting in touch with oneself. As individuals or groups exit their cars or buses a pause seems to happen as they soak up this quiet, wooded environment. Those who live with minimal means and feel unsafe on the streets of their neighborhoods or in their minds and bodies experience many mixed feelings. Initially it can be unsettling to be in such peaceful surroundings. This day will be a day to forget about the "normal" challenges of living and to begin to get in touch with their spirits.

A great way to start to help people feel comfortable is to sound the singing bowl to gather the group into a circle. Most individuals and groups readily join the circle to participate in tai chi, sun salutations, visualizations, breathing exercises, and simple healing practices such as finger holds, polarity holds, and maybe even a hand massage given to each other. By this time everyone is more relaxed and breathing easier. For those who can make the walk, the labyrinth is intro- duced as simply a way to enjoy nature or to contemplate further about themselves, their lives, and their relationships. Ample time is spent leisurely canoeing, swimming, and lying in the hammock, or just finding the perfect spot to sit under a tree. The only big distraction here seems to be ourselves. The CAPACITAR techniques immediately help to begin to relax each person and to help each person feel safer within themselves so they can be less self-conscious and more free to express themselves.

I am very grateful to have had CAPACITAR training as it has extended the possibilities we offer to help people find a gentle way to heal their bodies, minds, and spirits. This in combination with the healing space of Blue Lotus brings great comments from our participants:

"It is difficult trying new experiences in a public place but this space has allowed me to take some risks and has given me the opportunity to try something different."

'This is a great setting for healing!"

"This has been so centering for me. Thank-you!"

Capacitar for Ministry
Liz Peplo, CSJ Nia Kuumba, St. Louis, MO

Never did I realize that so many things in my life and ministry would change as a result of being trained at the Center to Be in collaboration with CAPACITAR. Since I work at Nia Kuumba, a Spirituality Center for African and African-American women in St. Louis, Missouri, I began incorporating different CAPACITAR practices into many of our gatherings. Soon, I was being asked to come to different agencies to give workshops and sessions for both staff and clients. I found that the practices were eagerly accepted and more was wanted. Some of the modalities I incorporate in these sessions are Breathing Techniques, Tai Chi Prayer, Guided Meditations and Visualization, Pal Dan Gum, Finger Holds, Emotional Freedom Technique, Upper Body and Hand Massage.

Just this year a dream of mine came to pass: A Trip to Africa! I was able to hook up with a friend who was already planning her fourth trip to Africa. So she, another woman and myself embarked on a three and a half week trip to Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. My personal reasons for wanting to go were: to be educated and broadened personally; to be able to better serve African woman in the St. Louis area through programming and outreach from Nia Kuumba; to be better prepared to support systemic change affecting African countries; and to make connections with people and projects for possible future programming. Much of this happened and continues to unfold!

With contacts from Pat Cane, Founder of CAPACITAR, I was able to connect with different groups to offer workshops. I gave an afternoon to Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya for 55 youth, communications, and social ministry ministers. What a privilege! They entered in with their whole beings and loved the experience. So did I. I was also able to go to Cape Town, South Africa, where we participated d in a Training of Trainers. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity of being trained in CAPACITAR and love passing on the techniques to others as we work on healing ourselves, others, and our world.