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In August, the MMI Grantmaking and Capacity Building (GMCB) team hosted its first-ever Leadership Respite Retreat for grantee partners in Gatlinburg, Tennessee at Big Elk Lodge. The GMCB team invited nine arts leaders at eight grantee organizations for a three-day wellness retreat to encourage true rest and relaxation. Arts organization leaders give so much of themselves to their communities, and MMI was delighted to facilitate some space for those leaders to pause and to breathe. 

This week we're sharing reflections written by different members of the MMI team. Today, MMI's former Community Music Program Grants Manager, Tawanna Brown, considers the difference between being and doing, and why retreating can be a life-giving, accessible daily practice.

The Practice of Being: A Core Capacity Builder

MMI’s GMCB team is accustomed to convening partners, including online convenings at the height of COVID. Since launching in October 2016, the team has engaged partners in more than 152 gatherings focused on a variety of capacity building topics—from managing boards and budgets to developing program protocols and parent partnerships.

There was something different, however, about the Black Rest Matters Leadership Retreat that the team hosted earlier this month. Jacqueline Oselen (affectionately known as Jackie O!, holistic health practitioner and coach who designed and facilitated the retreat’s wellness activities) pinned it best. Previous gatherings focused partners on “doing” (i.e, preparing, planning, performing, learning). This event was an invitation to focus on “being”—still, slow, silent, self-reflective in a sacred body. For four days, partners were invited to be free of all demands and receive radical communal and self-care (i.e., enjoy saunas, swimming, sound baths, and slow-cooked food). 

For creative servant leaders (who are used to being the deliverers of service as parents, executive directors, spouses, board members, etc.) practicing rest and receiving care proved to be an adjustment. Physical labor is to the Black and brown experience as grit-grind is to Memphis pride. MMI wanted partners to enjoy a shift so that in the midst of all that they DO, they remember to practice the choice to BE.

Among the many tools that Jackie O! shared in support of being:

  • Breathe from the Belly. Recent events are a reminder that each breath is a right not
  • everyone is afforded. Inhale belly-deep and exhale slowly. Exalt the blessing of breath!
  • Bathe in Sacred Sound. Healing happens physically and energetically at the cellular level. Saturate your being in sacred sounds and vibrations. Meditation is medicinal.
  • Bodyscan in Silence. External chaos is an opportunity for internal peace. Observe emotions and physical triggers without judgement. Know that each will pass.
  • Bend, Stretch, and Move. Irrespective of mobility level, pause and be present and aware in the physical body.

GMCB looks forward to incorporating the act of being—a thoughtful, intentional turn inward—into all of its convenings given that, with a focus on individual wellness and sustainability, it is capacity building at its core. The practice also mitigates the harm to self and others that tends to
flourish at the nexus of hurry, worry, and weariness. A retreat need not be restricted to an annual event. The tools that participants cultivated at the retreat suggess that retreating can be a life giving daily practice that is as accessible and essential as breath.

Click here to read the first post in this series, authored by Dr. Rychetta Watkins. To read Brianna Harrington's piece, click here. Black rest matters.