Friday, December 20, 2013

nourish: your mind, your body, your soul

The Questions
What would it look like if women in our field had the opportunity to come together regardless of age, position, or affiliation to just be with their thoughts, their fears, their dreams, their hopes and their insecurities? What if we found a way to be more self-aware so we don't aspire to be someone we ARE NOT and were comfortable living as the person WE are? How would our relationships be impacted if we skipped all the surface-level B.S. and focused on the things that matter?

Our Story
These are all questions I asked myself as I attended The Gathering during the summer of 2012. I wanted to create an experience similar to The Gathering but for women only where we could learn and grow from and with one another. I dreamed about what impact women in our field could make if we were more aware of who we are and what makes us happy to be women and content in what we do professionally. I wanted peace. I wanted support. I wanted balance. I wanted yoga. I wanted conversation. I wanted quiet. I wanted no drama. I wanted meditation. I wanted the beach.

I have always longed for real, honest, non-competitive, unconditional friendships—especially with women. On one hand, I always felt there was something powerful in the female connection—an understanding, empathy, nurturing - that women shared in friendships. On the other hand, I had also experienced the competitiveness, cattiness and judgmental perspective in some of those same friendships—and in some of those cases I was an offender!

 I got the book The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, as a gift from an amazing woman (grateful to Lori Neff—you are still teaching me today) who I attended the Interfraternity Institute with in 1999. She warned me the book was a “little hippy-dippy” but to stick with it because it taught her more life lessons in 200 pages than anything over the last 20 years. So, I read it. Over and over and over—and continue to read my battered-up copy at least once every six months. For me, nourish had been in the back of my head as a thought, a hope, a concept since 1999. It just took some life and professional experience, some amazing and some disappointing experiences with women and a great conversation with Jenny to realize that there are women (including myself) who want and need a space to explore the questions from above; a place for women to deeply connect with other women; a place to nourish body, mind and soul. And so it began.

Our Motivation
So we were two women with a similar idea that needed each other to push to actually make it happen. We put our hearts and our minds together and built nourish. We submitted a grant proposal to The Gathering Class of 2012 and were lucky to be the recipients of the grant. This officially made our vision one that had the ability to become a reality.

The Context
We revisited the book to frame our work, The Invitation by Oriah. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back. It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.” – The Invitation

The Invitation is a declaration of intent, a map into the longing of the soul, the desire to live passionately, face-to-face with ourselves and skin-to-skin with the world around us. nourish is an intense sabbatical designed to help women in the field of higher education accept the Invitation.

nourish is not a retreat, it is not a conference, it is not a stand-alone experience. nourish begins by making a personal commitment during an annual sabbatical to finding your authentic self and living an authentic life by nourishing yourself, nourishing others, nourishing your body, nourishing your mind, nourishing your soul and nourishing the sisterhood (relationships) in your life.

Nourish … the Experience
On September 9 we arrived to the Islander, a beautiful beach-front property on Oak Island, North Carolina. We began with conversations around what nourishment looked like to us. We discussed how and where we find nourishment in our lives and what will it take to let go of what is and find nourishment within ourselves over the next few days. That night we were lucky to experience a sunset meditation on the deck overlooking the ocean. The sound of the waves and the fresh air across our faces was the perfect natural setting to begin our work.

We spent time nourishing mind. Through the nourishing of the mind we read books and articles and challenged our minds to open up in new ways. Through proposed discussion topics from the book we chose a partner and nourished one another. This was a critical time in the experience where we appreciated one another and accepted the other person and ourselves for all we bring to the field and the world. Through guided conversations, participants were encouraged to explore ideas and concepts many had not explored in depth before. Nourish soul was conversation around sharing perspectives, insights, experiences and spirits of the women in the group. This was the group time where we had no leader but great discussion as a large group. Last but certainly not least, at the end of each night we nourished sisterhood. Each of the women who joined us in this experience has a passion; love and dedication to the field of education and helping others achieve their potential. When we nourished our sisterhood, we focused on how we could experience and share our sisterhood in a more authentic way in our professional lives.  

We both feel after writing the grant and dreaming about the potential of this program that it far exceeded our expectations.

If you want to talk about our experience and what has changed for us since nourish, feel free to reach out. We all had different experiences but we all had balancing experiences that have changed and improved who we are as women and as professionals.

We are excited to announce we will be doing another nourish in fall of 2014. Applications will be available in spring of 2014. Please contact us at in the meantime if you are interested.

Thank you to AFLV and The Gathering Class of 2012 for having faith in us and for making our vision become a reality! We all are forever grateful and blessed to have had the experience.

Mingle often with good people to keep your soul nourished!

A guest blog from Megan Vadnais & Jenny Levering, 2012 grant recipients from The Gathering for their program, nourish.