Reflections from a Volcanic Island

I flew home from Iceland this past Monday.  The place itself is otherworldly in a zillion ways, and the men’s retreat I’d flown there for was an intense, fun, very sweet experience.

This still being the early Post-Covidian Era, two of the men arrived home with symptoms and those unwelcome, tell-tale double stripes on their rapid-tests.  I’m happily back home, quarantined in our guest room until all the requisite lights are green.

This is how we roll in the still-early days of the third decade of the Twenty-First Century…

We were 11 men, myself included, in an old school house transformed into a welcoming Airbnb 14 kilometers from the center of Selfoss, a stone’s throw from the breaking waves of the North Atlantic.  

Last Wednesday, with participants still traveling in from Canada and the US, we received notice that a couple of our gents were dealing with cancelled flights due to dangerously (for airplanes) high winds at Keflavik Airport, which sits high upon a treeless, volcanic peninsula, about 40 minutes west of Reykjavik.

Most of us arrived on-site late Thursday afternoon, greeted by (and driving through) the same kind of hellacious, gusty winds and pelting rain that had grounded incoming flights at their origins.

‘Twas a bit too touch-and-go for my tastes, and I worried that we wouldn’t all get there.

In fact, it wasn’t until we were about to wrap our Friday morning session that our last man arrived – safe, sound, thoroughly travel-whipped and jet-lagged – when I finally felt my shoulders drop and relax.

Took some doing, but we were all present and ready to immerse ourselves in the good work of our retreat.

If I’ve learned anything about doing deep, conscious work in the pressurized, intense containers that are multi-day retreats, it’s that we humans are helped along by empty space (open time) and being out in the natural world.  Yes, having solid content and setting a strong contextual foundation is useful, but the mind, body, emotions, and spirit move at different paces, and making space for all of it creates a richer, more integrative experience.

I contrast the above with the experience of a five-day men’s event I attended many years ago.  A relentless onslaught of disconnected exercises, it left very little space for integration, quiet solitude, or slowing down.  While well-intended in concept, it proved brutal in execution.  I didn’t receive the well-hyped outcomes, yet I walked away with priceless lessons about designing programs.

I also learned that meeting people where they are in each moment, staying curious, present, and unattached is the good stuff.  It’s a discipline that prioritizes human being over plans and content, and opens the floodgates for cool alchemical magic to flow.

And flow it did.

What showed up in Iceland was wind, rain, and an intrepid group of men committed to making peace with their history, to doing powerful, generational healing for the sake of themselves, their closest relationships, their descendants, and by extension, this spinning, watery space-rock we call home.

If that sounds like a big deal, it is.

It’s also quietly personal to each man, as creating the kinds of healing and change we want to see begins as an inside, self-reflective job.  For some, it’s drawing the curtain on old, parental chapters.  For others it’s letting go of notions or assumptions of distorted gendered energies, allowing for a bigger picture of both the masculine and feminine to emerge.  For others, it’s opening to their own inherent power, goodness, strengths, and beauty.  And for most of us, of course, it’s a cocktail of these things and more.

I’m not going to bore you with the timeline or share the details of everything we did, though I will say we made excellent use of the outdoors.  We left plenty of time for the earth, air, water, and fire of the place to work with us – and on us – in very cool, unhurried ways.  Those ways included turning over old shame to a glorious waterfall, letting ancient, found bones serve as metaphors for lost loved ones, calling on lava flows frozen by the sea and black sand beaches to become points of stillness, geological meditation cushions.

The lessons, transformations, discoveries, and healings from our time in Iceland are, like the land itself, going to continue to settle and morph for weeks, months, and years.  That’s the way this stuff works – at its own pace.

Meanwhile, I’m reflecting and celebrating a sweet time spent with ten extraordinarily courageous human beings, beloved companions on the journey.

There’s more to come, of course.

But for the moment, what I most want to say is…

Thank you, Gentlemen.