Last weekend Brian and I escaped to Breitenbush Hot Springs for a long weekend of relaxation, learning, conversation, and celebration at the winter gathering of the Cascadia Radical Faeries. It was our fourth visit, and our third in the winter. There’s something wonderful about spending time with a bunch of eccentric and loving men in an environment where we can all feel safe to share our authentic selves.
Breitenbush is a retreat center near Detroit, Oregon. It’s completely off the grid and self-contained, including generating their own hydropower and heating all the buildings with the hot water that bubbles up out of the earth. Your cellphone doesn’t work there and there’s no wi-fi. We rarely spend time these days in a highly social environment where we can’t connect to the outside world. I love it.
Being winter, we spent a lot of time in the beautiful and rustic old lodge, which includes the dining hall, a library, and a big gathering space. Meals are all vegetarian, delicious, and filling. You’re encouraged to linger and talk. Three smaller buildings provide an environment for intimate workshops, early morning yoga, discussions, and play space.
The radical faerie gatherings are unique among events I’ve attended in that the program is entirely up to the participants. You never know who might put together a workshop or other session until you get there. It’s pretty relaxed and free-form, something else that’s missing from most of our lives.
One of the key elements is something we call a “heart circle.” During this time, held every morning, we sit in a large circle and listen as individuals feel called to share something important in their lives. It’s explicitly NOT a discussion. Some share their joy, but more often it’s something troubling that’s on their mind. It’s the only environment I’ve been in where men freely share their deepest thoughts and feelings, knowing they’re being seen, heard, and really listened to. Most men never figure out how to do this, neither as a listener nor as one opening their vulnerable heart. I think we need more of that in our lives and in the broader world.
Since it’s a hot springs retreat, we spent lots of time soaking in one of the several pools. Three of those are called the “meadow pools” because they look out over a big meadow that drops down to the river. Each of these three pools is a different temperature so you can choose hot, hotter, or hottest depending on your mood at the time. There’s no need for clothing and soaking in the hot water is deeply relaxing whether it’s first thing in the morning or late at night just before bed.
At this gathering we performed a ritual at the opening circle in which we cast into the fire little pieces of paper on which we’d written something we wanted to let go of. I’m a bit skeptical of this sort of thing but I did it anyway. By the end of the weekend the angst I had been feeling was mostly gone.
We came home Monday night refreshed, relaxed, and reinvigorated from the experience. We’d made new friends young and old and had renewed friendships with folks we’d met at previous gatherings.
If you haven’t yet found a community of people with whom you can be your authentic and vulnerable self I encourage you to do so. I’m very happy I was connected with the radical faeries by another gay man I met soon after I came out.