Seeking connection, collaboration, safety and joy
To hold an in-person retreat in the present times is to be continuously challenged with our preconceived notions around physical togetherness. The pandemic has permanently altered so many aspects of our lives, and this is just one of the many. Being cooped up in our homes for the longest time, navigating what that physical distance means to us and our loved ones, and really being forced to take notice of our mental health has pushed each one of us as individual human beings. Thousand Currents previously held a staff retreat up to twice a year, and this was the norm until COVID-19 hit us all. In the time that has passed since, the organization has grown rapidly with 15 staff members having joined since March 2020 alone. We are a staff of 25+ people now, the largest team configuration since 2019, working remotely from different corners of the world united by Thousand Currents’ mission and vision. Needless to say, we had been wanting to gather for more than a while now.
Scheduled in the last week of September in California (USA), our first in-person gathering had only one goal: to occupy a healthy environment of connection, collaboration, safety and joy. We hadn’t been together in a long time and we hadn’t socialized with each other with intentionality. The retreat offered us the privilege to do exactly that. We leaned in on each other as we conversed over breakfast about the tiresome travel we undertook to be with each other. We listened to each other’s tales of how life was before Thousand Currents happened and what led to the present moment. We exchanged stories of our struggles and learnings: as parents, partners, activists, donors, movement observers, peoples. It was an exchange rooted in honesty and trust and it was surreal how it happened amongst individuals who, in all likelihood, had never met before.
The retreat was also a space to open up, shed all inhibitions and weight that we carried and embrace the preciousness of the moment. This was important to cultivate to ensure that the togetherness we weave together is authentic and long lasting. But what does it mean to create a space for team building and bonding in the pandemic era? How does one break the proverbial ice in a manner that maintains social distancing, and offers the cushion of choice to participate in a level that folks feel most comfortable with? This can be a tough nut to crack for any facilitator and we had just the right person for this–Kayhan Irani–who encouraged us to embrace our vulnerabilities and let creativity take its own shape and direction. Trained in Theater of The Oppressed, they guided us through sessions around interacting with our own bodies, our voices, our musings and allowing them to coexist in complete rawness and in presence of others.
Among the few activities that we did together was one on the manifestation of a machine. Each team was asked to do a dramatic interpretation of what they believe and understand to be a working and functional machine. The exercise was a thoroughly creative and immersive one, with each group presenting an act so intrinsically different from the one that followed. Some of us re-imagined the corporate and capitalist definition of a machine and what it is expected to do, some of us questioned notions of efficiency, some enacted elements in the background that make a machine smooth and running, while some of us went even deeper and connected the exercise to the organizational values that we embodied as staff. The exercise challenged our own notions, capabilities and approach towards the space that we occupy within the Thousand Currents’ universe.
As we adhered to all safety protocols, we found ourselves in an ironic situation everyday as we maintained physical distancing while attempting to get closer on a deeper level. We grew accustomed to spaciousness in our temporary home for the retreat week while we sought ways to ‘hang’ together. It was bizarre and necessary at the same time and we realized how the pandemic and its ramifications have led to contradicting emotions and situations to coexist. At one point, we just had to bow down to the needs of the hour as we reshaped our agenda in the wake of present realities, but we did it with abundant grace and love. Our brief time together will be memorable not for the tasks that we complete or the strategies that we finalized or the projects that we penned down. It will be remembered for bearing witness to the confusing times that we find ourselves in, and yet finding a way to emerge feeling safe, secure, connected and joyous.