Aloha from Hawaii,
I left summer camp yesterday and I plan to go back. However, parts of it were difficult and more than once I said to myself, "what am I doing here?" My intention for this letter is to help people coming for the first time, letting you know some of what to expect and how to be better prepared than I was...
Summer Camp is about people and connections. In the first few days there will be workshops and processes that will introduce you to many new people. You will also be given tools for meaningful communications. By the time I left I knew over 75 people by name and had shared some amount of personal time from a few minutes to much more with each one of them. There were babies to elders, almost everyone approachable. You will be entering into a group of over 120 people, a majority of whom have been there before and have many close personal connections. I came knowing only a couple. The first 4 days were quite difficult for me. I was observing lots of meaningful hugs, spirited conversations, and play. There is definitely an "in" crowd. The people most easily approached were other "newbies" walking around in a daze, somewhat lost.
I decided to break down the walls, make myself visible, and take part. This included putting myself out there any way I could. I wanted people to see me, recognize me, and know my name. One skill I brought was juggling so I put it out there that I was teaching juggling to anyone that wanted to learn. Mostly newbies came to me but a few insiders did as well. I announced several times about juggling. I also gave time to some of the kids. It was rewarding, noticed, and appreciated. During workshops when volunteers were requested, I wasn't shy about raising my hand, even though it's not my usual m.o. to be so seen in a crowd. When you arrive you will be asked to take on three or more work shifts, do at least two of these the first week. Working with people for a few hours creates a good connection.
For several days I was overwhelmed with so many new names. It's more difficult to get to know someone and not know their name. I wasn't shy about asking again and again. I was still making mistakes at the end of camp, but not many. And I acknowledged everyone as they walked by.
We are all attracted to certain people's energy, be it a presenter or a participant. When you experience such a connection go over and acknowledge it.*
Be willing to expose yourself. The Forum is a tool for transparency. The insiders all know their stories and dramas and are not afraid to put them out in the open. Naka-Ima is also a tool or strategy for exposure. If something is up for you it is probably up for others... by bringing it up to the group you will reign in new friends who relate. Give it a try.
When preparing your stuff bring fun clothes and toys. The more playful you are the more fun you will have. It will also draw others to you to play. There is much free time.
I have to warn you a little about the facility. It was hot, damn hot and even though I thought it was going to break, it never did. If you can find a spray bottle with a little electric fan bring it. You will be able to wear nothing most of the time. The river is a wonderful refuge especially in the afternoon. It's a very pleasant walk. There are also many bugs. I thought I was used to it living in Hawaii, wrong. If you are not opposed to repellant, bring some. The heat and the bugs are not intolerable but close so be prepared as you can.
At the end of our camp, the last full day all the late afternoon workshops were cancelled for a town hall type meeting. There were two big issues brought to the table:
1. Inclusion. The insiders acknowledged that it's their responsibility to help for more inclusion, especially for the newbies. So this hopefully will change. 2. Sex Camp. Summer Camp has earned a reputation for open sexuality. Many people think it inappropriate. It is very very easy to set your boundaries. You may wish to push your edge and experiment, it will be available. You may also wish to use camp as a non-sexual retreat.
My partner and I came as a monogamous couple and made it clear from the beginning. I loved it! I was able to relate to all the men, not as a competitor but as a brother. I was also able to relate to the women who knew I wasn't interested in sex but wanting to get to know who they were. It was awesome. I made some wonderful contacts.
* A tip: don't just tell someone "you're great!," this is a meaningless complement. Be more specific and express associated feelings you experienced, e.g. "when you lead the first exercise it really touched my heart and opened me up." Or "I was shocked when you revealed your pain as I had a similar tragedy, I now realize I am not alone. I would love to share my story with you." Read Non- Violent Communications and you will understand why non-specific complements are life-alienating communications.