Soularize 2015 Report

Soularize 2015

Left to right: Top Row: Tom Pawlak, Jamey Bontrager-Singer, Gary Burbridge, Front Row: Richard Gibson, David VanFarowe Not Pictured: Kenneth Steckler, Mike Roper

I was blessed to be able to travel to New Mexico in November with 180 other men, fellow travelers on the spiritual journey, to gather for Soularize 2015. As I reflect back on my experience, the remembering inspires joy in me, and fuels the flame of inner desire to stay on the journey. This gathering, like other gatherings of men affiliated with Illuman (or MALES), also inspired me to seek a local community of men so I can gather with brothers more often.

We gathered at the Hyatt Tamaya, a resort owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo, a Native American people native to that place, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This is high desert country but the Rio Grande River runs through it. The resort includes grassland and forest along the river. Beyond the river to the east and within view are grasslands that slope up to the immovable Sandia range. The mountain is right there and she returns your gaze. Behind the resort to the west are tabletop mesas and rounded shoulders and wide open spaces. I find that all parts of this landscape feed my soul.

On the new home page of IN-MI M.A.L.E.s there is an Illuman video featuring many of the leaders of Illuman. All of the men who speak on that video also addressed us at Soularize 2015. Starting at the one-minute mark of the video are many scenes from the place we gathered this year.

Tornados near the airport in Dallas grounded my connecting flight and delayed my arrival in Albuquerque—I missed most of the first morning of the two and a half day gathering. But when I arrived and Joel Blunk opened the first teaching time by admitting that he was feeling inadequate right then, I knew I was in the right place.

Joel blew me away with his quiet strength and his beautiful spirit. When he sang and played his song “Nothing to Prove” (check it out on YouTube), tears came to my eyes. That was not the only time my Unconscious was touched at Soularize.

There were so many moving experiences. One of the highlights was wandering by myself (wandering is included in the schedule) near the trees. I picked up a large cottonwood leaf and was amazed by it. It was stiff and strong and one side was smooth and undulating and glazed like a piece of the pottery that you might find in a gallery. That was enchanting to me. Yellow blended to shiny gold and every shade of brown, and there was the rusty color of dry pine needles too. I carried it for a time, unwilling to let it go, then threw it to the wind.

Several men were given time to tell us about work they are doing to serve others and invite others to the spiritual journey. One moment I won’t forget was when a new friend, Giovani, who immigrated years ago from Guatemala, was speaking to us. He described what it is when people assume that American jobs are only for those who are already here—it is an attitude of entitlement. He made us laugh with a story of walking into a Mexican restaurant with a friend and seeing whites working there. They looked at each other and said, “They are taking our jobs!”

Richard Rohr spoke to us on Saturday night, and power and love charged the room. It was what he said but also how he said it that moved us all. He spoke about his experience of God as always the doer and one who cannot be controlled. He spoke of the necessary conversion of the ego, the need to align ourselves with the powerless, and the need to develop the contemplative mind in order to stay on the journey.

Fr. Jim Clarke gave me an image of a redwood grove that I will always carry with me. He said that coastal redwoods have a shallow root system, but they grow in groves and their shallow roots connect, thus strengthening them all. They are the tallest trees and they can live 2,000 years. We too, need each other.

There were many opportunities to mingle with others or have quiet time to oneself. A private conversation helped me to articulate and name my determination to find a community of men where I am in West Michigan—a local men’s group.

Fellow Michigan men invited me to dine with them and generally spend time with them, so I was surrounded by welcoming men and never worried about being left out. One of the major benefits of going to Soularize was getting better acquainted with men from my own region!

I also had the chance to sit at Richard’s feet and interact with him and a small group of other men. It was such a blessing! Richard Rohr in person is so humble and friendly and wise, and so charming and enchanting—like someone magical from a Tolkien story. And he is like a father to everyone. He was recovering from surgery and the prognosis is good!

Later, Richard was standing on a bench to bless us after his talk. He and the bench fell backward into a fountain. It was a miracle to see him helped to his feet, unhurt, immediately afterward.

We spent a lot of time gathering in our small groups. I was connected and inspired and loved while participating in the way of council with fellow travelers.

We drummed together before most gatherings. That always enlivened me and got me out of my head and more connected to my body and more open to the world around me.

I remember Stephen Gamble reading from a poem by Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. He read with such power and authority, it was astonishing to me. There were marvelous gifts from God on display among us.

Jim Taylor rocked me with his presence and his exhortation to get bigger: “Don’t shrink and shirk to make others feel better. As we let our own light shine we unconsciously give everyone else permission to do the same. They thrive in our wake. We set them free.”

To touch us in ways that words alone cannot do, there were several nature-based rituals having to do with planting, pruning, and harvesting—all parts of our own necessary changing and growing. We got our hands dirty and we walked the trails. At the final ritual we stood at the river and sang together.

If you’ve gotten this far in my report, you may be interested in attending the next Soularize. I hope you can and I hope you do. After the event finished this year I ran into Damien Faughnan in the hallway. He is the current Board Chair of Illuman. He asked me if I’d come back next year. The response came immediately from my whole being. I wouldn’t miss it!