Basic information about this retreat

    What: This retreat is a four-day immersion into an experience of Presence with each other, with one’s Self, and with the Divine. We will share in a variety of contemplative practices [chant, silence, meditation] and private and small group exercises [journaling, Creative Conversations, and conflict resolution]. Click on the tabs above and see the sections below for more detail about the retreat.

    When: This event normally starts on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 and concludes on Thursday afternoon at 1:00.  We don’t currently have one scheduled.  Get on the mailing list to be notified of new offerings.

    Who: People from any or no religious tradition who seek a fuller access to spiritual depth in the context of everyday life.  Each retreat can accommodate from 24-30 persons.

    Where: We don’t have a next retreat scheduled.

    Why: The pace of modern life is accelerating with the consequence that we have less sense of connection to ourselves, to those we love, and to the spiritual practices that helped our forebears know the Presence of God.  This retreat will give us an opportunity to be with others in a context that is small enough to connect with each other, private enough to not be distracted from each other, and safe enough to really encounter ourselves with each other.


    By Whom: The School for Living is a project of Sacred Soup and the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution.  The Center is the fiscal agent for this event.

    The retreat is led by Rev. Dr. Mark Lee Robinson.  Mark is the Executive Director of the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution.

    He is the creator of a set of principles and practices that are collectively called JustConflict.  This retreat will be an opportunity to learn about and to practice these disciplines for mastering the complexity of everyday life.

    A disclaimer:

    Because the sponsoring body of this retreat [The School for Living of Sacred Soup] has a very similar name to the Living School of the Center for Action and Contemplation and because the retreat leader was a student of the Living School, we want to make it clear that this event is not sponsored by or endorsed by the Living School.

    Full Information

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    The Nature of Presence

    In certain teachings, such as Buddhism, the practice of mindful presence is the central fact. In Islam remembrance is the qualifier of all activity. In Christianity we must look to the experience of its great mystics and to prayer of the heart. But in all authentic spiritual psychologies this state of consciousness is a fundamental experience and requirement. For the purposes of our reflections I shall call it presence.

    Presence signifies the quality of consciously being here. It is the activation of a higher level of awareness that allows all our other human functions—such as thought, feeling, and action—to be known, developed, and harmonized. Presence is the way in which we occupy space, as well as how we flow and move. Presence shapes our self-image and emotional tone. Presence determines the degree of our alertness, openness, and warmth. Presence decides whether we leak and scatter our energy or embody and direct it.

    Presence is the human self-awareness that is the end result of the evolution of life on this planet. Human presence is not merely quantitatively different from other forms of life; humanity represents a new form of life, of concentrated spiritual energy sufficient to produce will. With will, the power of conscious choice, human beings can formulate intentions, transcend their instincts and desires, educate themselves, and steward the natural world.  Unfortunately, humans can also use this power to exploit nature and tyrannize other human beings. This potency of will, which on the one hand can connect us to conscious harmony, can also lead us in the direction of separation from that same harmony.

    From the Introduction of Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness & the Essential Self,

    by Kabir Edmund Helminski, page viii-ix.

    Presence makes encounter possible.  It also makes life meaningful.  The search for meaning is really a search for presence, because grand systems of truth or meaning can never satisfy the basic human longing for life to be meaningful. Without presence, nothing is meaningful. But in the luminous glow of presence, all of life becomes saturated with significance.

    Only in presence can we encounter anyone or anything. Others may be present to us, but we will not notice their presence until we are present to ourselves.  Once we are truly present, everything that has being is potentially present to us.

    From the Preface of Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life,

    by David G. Benner, page xiii-xiv.

    Themes and Structure

    There are four themes we will explore with a variety of activities spread through the four days.  They are Maps for the Journey, Tools for Transformation, Individual Transformative Practice, and Communities of Care and Concern.

    In order to construct something we have to have a push and a pull, an up and a down, an off and an on.  Structures are a result of duality.  We can’t have non-dual without dual.  So the leadership will construct the affirming, the participants will supply the denying, and we will seek together to find the reconciling.

    To do this we will have periods in which we all meet together and Mark will teach a module.  We will then do work on our own through journaling, in dyads, and in family groups of five or six.  These will be stable groups for the duration of the four days so we can build a deep level of trust.

    Maps for the Journey

    Building on a host of maps of personal transformation including the work of Graves,  Wilber, Fowler, Kegan, Benner, and Schwartz we will look at a map of my own assimilation called Orders of Self.  This will be the fundamental framework for the way we conceive of transformation and seek to support it.

    Tools for Transformation

    Because the place most of us spend most of our time and attention is in the context of our most significant relationships and because the issues that are most likely to disrupt our sense of safety and satisfaction arise in those relationships and because the energy for transformation is to be found in those places where we experience the greatest discord, we will look at how we experience and respond to conflicts in those relationships.  We will use a set of tools I have developed which I have been calling Creative Conflict Resolution but have recently adopted the name JustConflict.  You can find much more about this at

    Individual Transformative Practice

    Much as we would like others to change, the only person we have any hope of getting to be different is ourselves…and that is difficult.  Being who we choose to be requires a level of discipline and self-care that will not arise by accident.  We will have to be very intentional about what we do when we are taking exquisite care of ourselves.  While we all mostly need the same things, the specifics of how we care for ourselves can be very different.  To best provide what we need we will each have to develop a specific plan for how we care for ourselves.

    Communities of Care and Concern

    When it is so hard to care for ourselves it helps to be able to feel the support of each other.  Indeed, most of us find it easier to act on behalf of others than to care for ourselves.  We long to be in communities which care for us and allow us to care meaningfully for each other.

    This is where we pull together each of the other three themes into ways of thinking, acting, and seeing.  We will explore what it means to worship and seek to live in worship in all of the activities of the retreat.  This will include some behaviors that we commonly associate as worshipful [prayer, lectio and visio divina, chanting…] but will also explore how the ways that we address our emotions and create agreements with others can be a form of worship.

    Leadership of the Retreat

    To as great a degree as we can generate, the leadership will come from those who choose to attend.  If you have skills in small group facilitation, leading singing or chanting, teaching tai chi or qigong, or other relevant activities, you are invited to be a part of the leadership team.

    For everything else, the retreat director is Mark Lee Robinson.  Mark is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution which is the vehicle for teaching the skills of JustConflict.  He is the Minister of Reconciliation and Evangelism at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ which together with the Center is the host of Sacred Soup and the School for Living.  He is also the creator and director of the Peacemaker Fellowship.

    Mark is also a member of the 2013-15 cohort of the Living School of the Center for Action and Contemplation.  The core faculty of the Living School include Fr. Richard Rohr, Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, and James Finley.

    Daily Schedule

    This is a tentative version of the schedule.  We will probably revise it but this gives you an idea of the intended structure.

    This would be the model from which we will depart.


    The Pallottine Renewal Center is within easy distance of the airport in St. Louis.   This retreat center has a beautiful chapel in the round, multiple conference rooms and private space for small groups to meet.  There are a variety of interior and exterior places to socialize including a heated swimming pool.  All meals will be served buffet style in the dining room.  The chef is accustomed to accommodating dietary needs.


    The full cost without transportation is $690 per person single occupancy.  Double occupancy is $650.  This covers housing, meals, and snacks and drinks for social hours.  We will be able to offer some partial scholarships.

    Transportation from the airport will be available for $20 each way.  It is about a 20 minute ride.