In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a man takes his son on a seventeen-day trip from the American Midwest to the California coast. He tells the son the trip is just a vacation, but reveals to the reader that he thinks of the journey as something called a chautauqua.
The basic idea of a chautauqua is to create a kind of “meeting of minds”, an educational travel experience where people gather at some geographical destination, usually in a natural setting, with the goal of exchanging ideas about how to live better lives. Typically, a few speakers give presentations on lifestyle, health, work, personal well-being, or other big-picture topics to get the discussions going, and the rest of the time everyone gets to know each other well enough to talk about what’s important to them, in a relaxed and supportive setting.
Two years ago I was invited to speak at a modern-day chautauqua in Ecuador, and it was a fantastic experience. The event was organized by Cheryl Reed, who started holding these retreats in Ecuador a couple of years ago. Cheryl’s an American who fell in love with Ecuador when she first visited in 1997. She bought a small farm there in 2002 and spends half the year living there.
We’re having another chautauqua this Fall (from October 29th to November 5th) and we’d love to have you if you can make it. The overall theme is “Happiness, Mindfulness, and Living a Full Life”.
There will be four presenters. Aside from Cheryl and myself, award-winning personal finance blogger J.D. Roth will be returning to talk about creating confidence and personal freedom. And this year we’re thrilled to have Leo Babauta from the enormously popular blog Zen Habits. I’ve been a fan of Leo’s for years and I’m excited to meet him.
After everyone meets up in the capital city of Quito, we’ll spend the retreat at a secluded little resort called El Encanto. It’s set into the side of a mountain in the cloud forest, the temperate rainforest at the foothills of the Andes. A dozen or so dwellings surround a main courtyard, where there’s a pool, hot tubs, and a big balcony that overlooks the valley. We’ll eat together at a big long table every night, have wine on the balcony, relax, chat, and go for hikes down to the river, spotting toucans and some of the craziest looking insects you’ve ever seen.
It’s hard to describe how beautifully this place is situated, so here are a few of the 500 pictures I took:
From the resort we’ll take day trips to see the countryside, nearby Mindo, Cheryl’s coffee farm, El Quetzal chocolate factory, and also participate in community activity (a portion of the proceeds go to causes in the local community). We’ll also participate in a shamanic cleansing ceremony, which, despite my skeptical nature, completely blew me away. It is an intense, totally unique sensory experience I would need a separate post to describe.
Throughout the week there will also be one-on-one meetings between the presenters and the attendees, to discuss life plans, or anything you like really.
All the activities, meals, accommodations and overland transportation are included in the retreat, but you’ll have to get yourself down to Quito on your own. It’s a major trip, and certainly not everyone will have the time or funds to do it, but if it’s doable for you I hope you consider it. Many attendees of past chautauquas have called it a life-changing experience. Big plans are hatched, epiphanies are had, friends are made. My goal is to help make the retreat a pivotal, memorable life experience for everyone who attends.
The most memorable part for me, though, was how well our group got on with each other. By the middle of the week everybody knew everybody. We sat in random seats every night at dinner so that we each got to know everyone. I’ve never gotten to know a group of strangers so well in such a short time. Our conversations quickly moved past the initial “so what do you do” layer, and we soon became comfortable talking about deeper and more meaningful things.
I can’t wait to meet the new group. If you think you might want to be part of it, the details are here on Cheryl’s site.
Also, it’s not a part of the retreat, but if you plan to extend your stay in Ecuador beyond the week of the chautauqua, you’re only a short flight away from the otherworldly Galapagos Islands. I spent a week there after the last retreat and will never forget it. [A few of my pictures are here].
In other news:
If you’ve ever wanted to hear Raptitude in audio format, Justin from Optimal Living Daily is doing something pretty neat. He records his own readings of his favorite blogs posts (with the author’s permission) in podcast format. He’s done posts from Mr Money Mustache, Zen Habits, Blonde on a Budget, Exile Lifestyle, Steve Pavlina and others.
Last week he released my banana-related classic “The Elegant Secret to Self-Discipline” and will be doing more soon. So now you can finally take me with you in your car.