“Why, At Your Age, Are You Facilitating an Immersion Retreat?”

By Bill Manahan, MDimage001

I was recently talking to my friend, Jim, about the International Integrators Immersion Retreat taking place next March (2015) at the Quaker Retreat Center in Ben Lomond, California.  He asked me why we were doing it, and why at my age I was taking the time and energy to help make it happen.

I reminded Jim about a program for 4th year medical students that I had discussed with him over the past ten years.  It is called HEART and takes place for a month each April.  We began the program with the goal of training leaders in integrative and holistic medicine.  HEART is sponsored by the American Medical Student Association, and the letters stand for Humanistic Elective in Activism, Reflective Transformation and Integrative Medicine.

Early morning at the retreat center lodge

Early morning at the retreat center lodge

By the fifth year, we realized from the student evaluations that, although the students loved learning about integrative medicine, what they really appreciated most about HEART was learning about themselves.  Here are a few examples of the statements that we receive every year on the students’ evaluations of their HEART experience.

I learned that medicine is a healing profession and not just a cognitive exercise.

I learned a lot about myself.

I learned compassion.

I learned how to connect with people.

I learned how fun it is to really connect with people, have lots of laughter in my life, and just be happy.

I learned that I want to dance a lot more.

I learned kindness.

I reaffirmed the value of myself.

I learned to trust my inner experience.

I learned to love myself more.

I have learned self-love and self-care.

I feel more empowered.

I have learned to be more of who I truly am.

Reaching a summit in the redwood forest

Reaching a summit in the redwood forest

These evaluations eventually helped the faculty to understand that so much more was occurring at HEART than the students learning about integrative medicine.  Learning the “RT” (reflective transformation) part of HEART was clearly more important to the students than was the integrative medicine part of the elective.

And what about the HEART faculty? Every year when faculty would debrief the HEART experience, we would all agree that it was one of the best teaching experiences of the year.  Since we loved it so much, we began to ask ourselves why we did not do it more often.  Why not do this same type of retreat and immersion experience for all practitioners, not just medical students? We decided it would make sense to expand the program and make it available for all healthcare practitioners.  Studies show that over half of healthcare practitioners are presently struggling in their jobs and are experiencing symptoms of burn-out.  Therefore, it seemed like the perfect group with whom to work.

Of course, the other reason we wanted to do it more than once a year is because it is SO rewarding and SO much fun.  You can see from the student comments above that lots of good things happen during the retreat.  And, we learned from doing a similar one-week program at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health that many of the same results could be achieved in just one week (rather than an entire month).

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Redwoods at the retreat center

So members of our HEART faculty got together and began International Integrators. We have broadened our reach beyond North America and beyond just medical students and practitioners, inviting people from around the globe and all walks of life to participate.

Our first immersion retreat, Living Whole, occurs in March 2015, and I am so excited about it.  Hopefully, we will be able to figure out a way to do this retreat four to six times each year.  I know that there are many people who would love to feel more empowered and be “more of who I truly am.”

Bill Manahan is regarded as a pioneer in Integrative Medicine in the US, having founded several integrative medicine centers and programs. He is currently Assistant Professor Emeritus with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, is passionate about a whole health approach, and has a special interest in energy healing and spirituality.