I just posted a retreat reflection for this year on the board, so check it out
For seven years I have been coming to this rock. Sometimes in the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and there are feet of snow outside and it is freezing cold, I think of myself here. Sitting on this rock as I am now with the green dappling leaves from the trees giving me shade. The sun sparkling on the water as far as the mountains. The mountains shades of pine, blues and grey. The clouds light and puffy, sometimes coming near, sometimes going far.
I am happy here. Why is it that only in this place, on this rock I am content with my life. Yet all through the year all I feel are anxieties and heartache. I am indeed a sinner, but thankful that this tiny slice, this tiny glimpse of peace is shown to me once a year.
There are seven years of memories here. I still remember the first time we came to this retreat site. It was un-chartered, unexplored. We walked down towards the Lakehouse and caught our breath as we saw water rising in front of it and thought it was the most magical place.
My memories are bittersweet. Some are happy memories of laughing on the canoes and making dhikr in tune to our rowing. Our “year of mujahadah”, which looking back on now is quite amusing. All the wonderful classes and revelations and the most beautiful group of Muslims gathered from such various far away places. Then there are the painful memories of understanding the import of our sins and feeling the anguish of our tawbah. I miss my old friends too, the fellow brothers and sisters who had started this journey with me seven years ago. Some have lagged behind the caravan and some have gone far ahead of us.
This yearly spiritual retreat in the Adirondack Mountains is organized by the Shaikh and his students and held at a Christian camp/retreat site. As the legend goes, the Shaikh decided to go to a “Save the Adirondacks” meeting in Albany one day and there he met Kent. Kent looks like a typical outdoorsy, surfer guy – blonde, blue eyes and long hair. They began to talk and the Shaikh found out that Kent runs a Christian camping center and since he had been looking for just such a thing they became fast friends!
The first year we came to this retreat site, we were about twenty people and we only stayed in the lodge with two or less! people per room. We had class for about two hours in the afternoon and all the rest of the time was ours to do whatever we wanted. The sisters would get together and go swimming in the evenings. Our kitchen lady ‘Margaret’ would make us special meals and desserts. We were the first to explore the campsite and everything was a new discovery. We canoed in our lake on whichever days had good weather and held our classes on couches in the Lakehouse with the windows open so we could hear the waves against the rocks. Kent invited us to a barbeque with his camp counselors where they sang some songs for us. We used to clean the tables and kitchen after every meal until the “Ottawan brother’s clean-up crew” volunteered to take over for us. A sister, just out of camp kindness, would take our clothes, wash them for us, fold them and put everyone’s clean clothes in their room. Ahhh- those were the good old days!
Nowadays we spend months beforehand in preparation for the retreat. Updating the website, setting up registration, vetting applications, collecting deposits and answering questions. As the retreat dates comes closer there’s more and more work. Every retreat staff’s complaint is that they spend the majority of their time organizing and very little being a participant. On top of that is the constant feeling that something is wrong with us because we don’t feel the same things or reach the same spiritual levels as the others.
After seven years of organizing, things are somewhat easier, but the retreat is still a huge undertaking.
Alhamdulillah, this year we had over seventy registrants from all over the US and Canada. Ma’shaAllah they were all very dedicated, good people. There are the usual college MSA kids, some aunties, some young couples, a doctor and his wife who come every year, Canadians who love to cross the border, locals who came up for the weekend and so on.
Every retreat year has its own flavor with different people, events, and tone. This year’s retreat was 10 days, which started with 7 straight days of classes: 3 hours in the afternoon, an hour and a half after Asr, two hours after Maghrib and the majority stayed awake after Fajr until Shuruq. The tiny pieces of free time we had were spent for the staff: taking care of registration, money or other things, or for the participants: writing summaries and revising notes. The last three days were spent in outdoor events such as canoeing and hiking.
This year we went to two new places. One was a very long hike to three successive waterfalls called Hope Falls. This was about a 4 mile hike one way. It was long, but seeing the waterfalls made it worth it. We also saw a baby bear climb a tree not far from us!
The second place was canoeing down Kunjamuk River, a beautiful curvy canal/creek like expedition which was absolutely stunning. We passed four beaver dams as our challenges where we had to stop and get out of our canoes in order to get them over or in some places even carry our canoes around to the other side. This definitely left a newfound respect for beavers in us!
After we made it past all of them we stopped at a little area offshore in a forest to pray and eat lunch. The skies darkened and thunder crackled above us. The sheikh came over from the woods to tell us not to be scared and related a hadith that says that during a storm, the thunder is in dhikr and the angels are in fear of Allah swt. We sat and watched the rain on the river while the tall, stately pines of the forest protected us. The rain drops hit the water in the river and created bubbles on the surface called habb al-maa. This habb we learned in class is related to the Mahabbah (love) of Allah. If one’s love is sincere it will always rise to the surface like the bubbles on water and become apparent. One simply cannot hide their true love.
After our lunch and khalwa time, we headed back through the river in the light rain. My canoeing partner and I went first and it felt like we were the first explorers to come to this place. We soon canoed right onto a beautiful little lake surrounded by mountains. It had stopped raining and there was mist and fog all around us. Long grass, bamboo and water lilies surrounded the edges. The sun was setting in the distance in a show of yellows, reds and pinks. It was like a virtual scene out of some fantasy reality. We set our paddles up and just sat floating, staring at the absolute beauty around us. We heard the birds calling each other, and the frogs singing. We watched the water begin to turn pink from the sunset. We must have stayed there for half an hour or more. No one wanted to leave. It was truly one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had at the retreat and a highlight for this year.
The last day of the retreat this year, we went hiking to Augur Falls, which is an old favorite for everyone. It’s a rather large creek that starts out gently tumbling over rocks until it turns into raging rapids and at one point makes a sharp 90-degree turn. Some huge rocks overlook this turn and this is where we sat eating our lunches, contemplating and doing dhikr. After a while I decided to take off my socks and shoes and put my feet in the water.
The water from the waterfall was warm and felt so nice as it rushed past my feet. I just sat there for a long time with the water going over my feet, wondering where all this water came from, gallons and gallons every second all the way down, turning and continuing somewhere else. The water was crystal clear. It felt so refreshing and clean. I had this incredible urge to just jump into the middle of the Falls and sit there in the water, letting it rush over me and cleanse me completely of all my sins, all my memories, all my faults, all my envy, all my hate, all my mistakes. I could just sit there for hours until I was so completely clean and pure. How clean would I be then compared to just making wudu with the water. It came to me that that water rushing over a person continuously is like someone in continuous tawbah and a person who just uses the water to make wudu is like one who has made istighfar once. The difference is clearer to me now and I realize the need for being in tawbah all the time.
I am sad to be back home again, but am hopeful that the retreat memories from this year can inshaAllah carry me to the next.