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Fostering Wisdom in the New Global Culture

Seven Pillars' Guiding Voices Retreat

Shams Kairys

Over the Memorial Day weekend, 38 visionaries, teachers, artists and change agents of many faiths and professions came together for a special gathering at the Abode of the Message in upstate New York. This eclectic group of adventurous, talented and dedicated souls—Seven Pillars “Guiding Voices,” funders, guests, and staff—unplugged from their regular lives to provide an occasion for exploring new realms together. Over three days we got to know each other better, deepen our understanding of Seven Pillars’ work, and help inform the organization’s future direction. The retreat was graced with lovely hospitality, accommodations, and weather, and with the camaraderie and good spirits of all present.

The flow of events was shaped by the organizing committee—David Spangler, Robin Becker, Lee Irwin, Rabia Povich, Deepa Patel and Jennifer Alia Wittman—to draw us into deepening communion, enjoyment and reflection. The meeting convened in the meditation hall after dinner on Friday with founding stories from Rabia, Alia, Pir Zia and Christopher Bamford (read Chris’ talk here) to set the context for our work together.

The next morning we met cafe style in the refurbished barn to share personal stories in intimate groups of three to five. All were asked to tell about three life-changing moments along our journey; tell why we are doing the work we do and what inspires and challenges us in our work; and consider what themes emerge from this conversation that are relevant as we build Seven Pillars.

After lunch an extended circular conversation about embodied spirituality, kicked off by Robin Becker and Lee Irwin, drew us into the depths of listening, appreciating the diversity of perceptions and expressions present in the group, and sharing a broad array of interweaving topics and concerns.

On Sunday morning we met for an interactive session on the four core themes of Seven Pillars: Cosmology, Revelation, Mysticism and Chivalry. Each of the themes was introduced in different ways by pairs of facilitators to elicit new experiences and insights. (listen here for Pir Zia’s comments on the four themes) We then streamed outside to join in a ritual celebrating Memorial Day conducted by Janet Piedilato around a mandala formed with essences and candles she had made, and an altar of sacred objects.

That afternoon, we met again at the barn cafe to address critical questions for Seven Pillars going forward: How can Seven Pillars most positively impact the world at this time in history? What should Seven Pillars be doing in the world?

On Monday morning we had a stirring ceremony, where each participant shared a few words about what s/he would “stand for” in the world. We then closed the retreat with a meditative musical interlude, during which each person stood, paid homage to the “space” we created together, and left the hall. Outside, a lively swarm of bees transfixed us as we prepared for lunch, and thankful leave-taking.

In addition to the discussions, there were a number of public special events, including a Shabbat story sharing with Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, a “heartful dialogue” led by David Spangler, Robin Becker and Lee Irwin, zikr dance with Pir Shabda and book reading by Tamam Kahn, and a rousing concert featuring Yuval Ron, Sukhawat Ali Khan, Nur Habib Tiven, and Bisan Toron.

Immediately following the retreat, Seven Pillars’ board of directors met for two days to assimilate the feedback and recommendations that came out of the Guiding Voices process. The board will propose a clear framework and a plan of action that incorporates what was shared, with the aim to further activate the Guiding Voices as well as to engage the larger public in an imaginative, heartful and sacred way.

Director’s Note: Seven Pillars’ plans for fall 2010 and through 2011 will be announced later this year.

Also, here is a full list of Seven Pillars’ Guiding Voices.


Shams Kairys is Seven Pillars’ Wisdom Council Facilitator and Editor of online and print media, with a special emphasis on crafting language for a general audience. Shams is a group facilitator, independent editor, and writer who has worked with innovative organizations and projects dedicated to helping heal the world, including Berkeley Area Interfaith Council, Meeting of the Ways, Creating Our Future, Seva Foundation, Reaching Out Project, EarthSave International and Youth for Environmental Sanity. Shams lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read more about Shams Kairys

8 July 2010

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