Sweet serenity of silence: Tranquility of Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center is subtle

  • The Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center on Wednesday evening in Deerfield, Dec. 20, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center on Wednesday evening in Deerfield on Dec. 20. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Published: 12/26/2018 12:56:51 AM

DEERFIELD – A setting sun in the distance from a ridge top at the end of Keets Road drains the last of any remaining twilight, as if to give the day gone by a goodnight kiss on the cheek. The heightened serenity that follows provides a glimpse at the type of peacefulness offered by roughly 100 acres of uncorrupted nature and at the preciousness of the opportunity to obtain it.

The tranquility of Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center is a subtle, unassuming one made all the more cathartic by the quietness of the silent retreats held there throughout the year. The next one, titled “Leaving Everything At The Door,” is scheduled to last from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31 and serve as a way to bid adieu to the calendar year.

Executive Director Margaret Cooley said there is no defined reason people utilize silent retreats at Woolman, but all participants seem to want to nurture their spirituality.

“People kind of do whatever suits their individual needs,” she said. “Some people come carrying a lot of weight and they just need to sit with it, and that’s what they do. And others come, really, with a project in mind, like a writing project, a journaling process, or they come just wanting to take stock of 2018, think about 2019, what their intentions are for entering into it.

“We usually have a bonfire where people … often write things on paper and then put them into the bonfire to say good-bye or send their prayer up to the universe, or whatever,” she continued. “It really depends of what people are looking for.”

Participants marinate in what Cooley called a functional silence. There is always a spoken introductory gathering the first evening and during the final day’s closing session.

“You’ll be amazed how much can happen without words,” she said. “And a lot of people get different things than they expected when they come. Being in a silent community is really different than being home alone.”

The retreat, facilitated by Deerfield resident Aggie Mitchkoski, is rooted in communal oneness. Mitchkoski said she found Quakerism following a lengthy journey on a spiritual path.

“Our concepts about ourselves, our pasts, our worries about the future, all of these things seem to occupy our attention,” she said. “But this is a time to leave those things behind.”

Cooley said there are usually optional group activities, such as meditative walks or worship in the meetinghouse, which was built in North Dartmouth in 1849 and brought to Keets Road board by board in the 1990s.

She said world tensions and a toxic political climate can inspire people to seek refuge, if only for a weekend.

“If people in society are feeling the need to be grounded spiritually, to be connecting with what really matters, they’re draw to retreats. That’s part of the nature of it,” she said. “People are feeling rattled.”

Cooley said the months and years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks saw an uptick in retreat attendance.

The standard $310 per-person cost includes the program, meals and accommodation. There is a sliding scale, and scholarships are available. Retreats are open to everyone. There is no age minimum – Cooley said a teenager attended last year. Lodging is available in the property’s main building and in a number of rustic cabins. There is no television on site.

Cooley said the upcoming retreat has five definite attendees and there was still plenty of availability as of Dec. 20.

The retreat center at 107 Keets Road is an incorporated nonprofit run by a Quaker-majority board. Quakers are members of a religious group also known as the Religious Society of Friends.

Cooley, who has been at Woolman for 14 years, said Quaker beliefs are embedded in the center’s mission.

“Most people would say that one of the core Quaker beliefs is there is that of God in everyone. So, each person … has equal access to the divine and is worthy of treatment that way,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite retreats of the year, actually. It’s just such a warm feel. It’s hard to explain. This community forms with whoever happens to be here.”

More information is available at www.woolmanhill.org or by sending an email to info@woolmanhill.org.

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