Earlier this month, 245 men and one woman gathered in person along with 137 online attendees of all genders for Illuman’s annual gathering, Awaken, held at Shrine Mont conference and retreat center in the rolling hills and lush forests of the Shenandoah Valley in northwestern Virginia. Before Europeans explored the rest of the continent, they considered the Shenandoah Valley the American frontier, and, for many of us, this gathering helped us explore the frontiers of the spirit. Our time together was filled with ritual, contemplation, reverence, love, and a deep sense of belonging.
In our main sessions, new voices were featured centrally in the context of our theme, Reclaiming Our Hidden Wholeness. We were especially blessed by our guest presenters Chelan Harkin, who honored us with her stunning poetic voice and feminine presence, and Doug Good Feather, an indigenous Lakota elder who helped deepen our container of the four sacred elements—Fire, Wind, Water, and Earth—and expressed his own cultural legacy of wisdom and right relationship with the more-than-human world. At another special session, Illuman’s revered Weaver Joel Blunk courageously shared his poignant and heart-opening reflections on reckoning with his own mortality as he faces a seemingly terminal medical diagnosis. As numerous men shared in the final harvesting session, this powerful and transformative experience helped us reclaim wholeness, dispel shame, and nurture the sense of belonging we all long for.
The reflections from Awaken participants below give just a snapshot of the impact of this experience on those who attended. Or click here for more images from Awaken 2023.
“Being in the company of so many men who were seeking to be vulnerable, open, and receptive to the experience of love and grace and forgiveness was deeply moving. I don’t recall ever seeing so many men embracing each other and expressing their feelings so poignantly. And for sure, I’ve never witnessed ritual teams of men who engaged in liturgical dance and movement. Never! Dancing around a bonfire, beating drums, howling at the moon and stars with abandon and joy is not your everyday image of men being together. I feel a desire to deepen my awareness and call to be an elder in this moment in my life, and I thank Awaken and Illuman for that sense of call.”
“Awaken evoked a sense of true belonging, a belief that I’m enough, that I’m worthy.”
“I feel invited to lift the veil on my shame, to begin to love the hidden parts of myself I deem unloveable, and perhaps most importantly, to allow others to see all of me so that I may more fully experience the grace and love of God.”
“The concept of letting go of hope, so reflectively presented by Joel Blunk, was very difficult for me. My credo has been living Faith, Hope, and Love, especially for the healing of my family after my coming out and divorce three and a half years ago. I pray and hope to be with my family at holiday gatherings this year. Then, a brother in my Council asked me if I might consider Grace instead of hope. That gave me the answer: to let go of hope and pause, maybe forever, in grace.”
“I saw a representation of the Divine Feminine, and that connection is allowing me to visit some past wounds.”
“This retreat allowed me to discover an inner spirituality that I didn’t realize I had. It allowed me to develop a closeness to men on a level that I have never experienced before.”
“The Inner Work we engage in is definitely the Long Game. At the contemplative sit on Friday, I experienced a release of an old wound. While this has been significant for me for about 25 years, it has not been in my orbit for awhile, and I did not come to Awaken to heal it. I have engaged this deeply since the initial wounding. During the sit, with a clear, uncluttered mind, it came upon me, and I knew that compassion, forgiveness, and mercy were the only true appropriate responses. And that which was binding me was released. The difference? How did I know? This was a ‘felt sense’ experience…a bodily release. The healing was already complete, beneath my level of awareness until that moment. Why then? I do not know. I have gratitude for the ensuing freedom.”
“I offered and received these gifts of affirmation in our last Council Circle time: ‘You are loved; your life matters; you are worthy; you belong.’”
“We all want to be seen and heard. Some of the first-time men I talked to initially felt like outsiders, but I believe they left Shrine Mont feeling that they were part of something bigger.”