Updated: Oct 9, 2020
For me, The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center has played a major role in transforming turbulence into opportunity. Back in May of this year, I lost my job due to COVID; I was primarily responsible for the operations of an 8-week summer orientation program for 2,200+ high school exchange students, and with the risk associated with this kind of turnover and exposure, my program was cancelled, and my job was cut. At the same time, not only had this major pillar of my life crumbled, but it felt like most of the stable structures of purpose, community, relationship, health, and home were also being systematically dismantled.
It was at this point that a long-time friend of mine, full-time staff member Tanner Csonka, reached out to me about volunteering at The Mountain. I had always been meaning to get out to visit, as I’d heard what a beautiful and peaceful place it is, but I’d never had the time or opportunity. Now, feeling the most real depth of the cliché that I had nothing to lose, I thought I would give it a try.
Going into this experience, I didn’t have many expectations; I knew that operations at The Mountain would look different in light of COVID, but having nothing to compare it to, I arrived with an open mind. Prior to my arrival, I was in touch with staff at The Mountain, and in the course of these conversations, they helped to set expectations about the volunteer experience. We established that I’d be working 30 hours per week in exchange for room and board and talked through my own areas of interest and expertise, and how I might contribute to The Mountain through them. I was impressed by their desire for me to feel fulfilled as a volunteer, and over the course of these conversations we decided on a schedule of activity that would allow me to use my skillset and to develop new abilities.
At this point in time, I’ve volunteered for seven weeks total at The Mountain, and I plan to continue volunteering. With my background in group facilitation and staff training, I was able to give an original training to the staff here that I had first developed in my previous job; in line with my interests and experience in logistics and management, I’ve had the pleasure of learning some of the back-end operations of the Guest Services piece of The Mountain while assisting in the office. I’ve been able to participate in the execution of two group events and multiple farm dinners during my time here, contributing my event planning knowledge, and as someone with limited agricultural experience, I’ve been excited to be exposed to new concepts during my volunteer time spent at the Many Hands Peace Farm of The Mountain, harvesting and working farmers’ markets.
Because the volunteer experience at The Mountain is residential, there is much more to this than the way a volunteer spends the working part of the day; I was immediately welcomed in by the other volunteers and staff of The Mountain, spending our time off exploring the natural beauty of the surrounding area, playing music together, cooking meals, and creating genuine connection. The people here are some of the most emotionally intelligent, committed, inclusive, kind individuals I've ever met, and their desire to build intentional community resonates with a group mentality oriented toward self-growth. It is through this balance of working for something larger than myself, and forging community in the crucible of change, that I have felt transcendent benefits that surpass anything I thought I would encounter.
Each day is different, and this liberation allows me to be present in a way that the formal structure of my life back home couldn’t have. That’s not to say that you can qualify a way of life as “better” or “worse,” but part of the appreciation I feel is to have found a place where my pillars have been restored – as a volunteer at The Mountain, I have been lucky to find again purpose, community, relationship, health, and home.
I think that a real human tendency is to try to hold on to what is good in our lives as long as we possibly can. We struggle to appreciate the finite and the temporary. My personal goal in my time here is to practice gratitude for being in a space that I can learn from and contribute to, that has been around the past 41 years to foster growth in those who seek it, and to be thankful for the time I have here, no matter how long or short that may be.
So, what would you do if you suddenly had the time? Where would you go? What would you carry with you? What would you hope to find? Perhaps now is also your time to transform turbulence into opportunity.
- Hannah L.