An Experience of Being
Ellen McCormick, High School Faculty

By Ellen McCormick, Religious Studies Faculty

My cousin shared a powerful anecdote with me recently: “We are human beings, not human doings.” This statement offered to him by his spiritual director is often credited to the Dalai Lama—or possibly John Bradshaw. Regardless of who said it first, I witness the core of this profound statement in my work with students. They express openly the pressure they are under, the amount of work they must complete while also honoring extracurricular commitments, and the seemingly endless cycle of production they encounter when they show up to school each day.

Amid their self-articulated chaos, I feel immense gratitude for the fact that they navigate this stress at Forest Ridge. Our school actively supports the whole being of each student in our commitment to promote a countercultural institution of learning, and one of my favorite ways we support our students as holistic beings is through our retreat programs.

The purpose of a retreat is to leave behind all distractions, worries, and “to do” lists—to hit pause on the various “doings” in our lives—to be more present to the community, our relationships and self-awareness. Over the last ten years of my life, I have spent teaching teenagers, I find more and more how crucial it is for them to have the adults in their lives carve out time to be present: time to be human beings.

I have the utmost appreciation for the adults in my life who did the same for me when I was a teenager; they interrupted my regular schedule, creating space to contemplate, question, rest and re-center. Retreats are an extended espacio (space) with not only moments of stillness and quiet, but also time designated to get reacquainted with fellow retreatants and nurture the various relationships within reach. Granted, a student may not articulate the experience the same way I would, but their takeaways express their thankfulness and relief for the gift of a retreat.  

The sophomore retreat at Forest Ridge invites students to reflect on where their journey as a student of the Sacred Heart has taken them so far—whether that journey began in 5th grade, 10th grade, or someplace in between. As a class, they are given the time and space to bond with one another and their advisors and make memories as a community without attending to the regular daily responsibilities that make up their lives as students. A sophomore reflected that the most rewarding part of the retreat was “being able to relax and have fun without thinking about homework” while another expressed that “building closer connections with [her] classmates” was rewarding for her. Many expressed a desire for the retreat to have lasted more than one night and a genuine craving for more retreats throughout the school year. These comments not only affirm what we are doing here at Forest Ridge but also is a reminder to me never to lose sight of even the smallest opportunities I can provide to my students in my classroom to be more present to themselves and one another.

It is easy for adults and teenagers alike to forget that we are human beings, but when we take the time and space to be more present, introspective, still and connected to our various relationships, we are better able to find a balance between being and doing. One of the best parts about teaching at Forest Ridge is sharing retreat experiences with my students and supporting them as they find sustainable ways to nurture their minds, bodies, and hearts. Hopefully, these annual retreats plant a lifelong rhythm to their lives which will always include time for extended espacio as they continue to navigate the world as human beings.

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