In the days of Shakyamini Buddha, during the rainy season, Buddha
would stop his meandering and spend time with his monks and nuns in one
locale. In Japanese this period is called Ango, a period in space and
time of peace. In English we use the word retreat to often mean “getting
away from the issues of the world.” A Bearing Witness Retreat is
becoming one with the “issues of the world.” A Zen Meditation Retreat is
to bear witness to the wholeness of life. I use the word “plunge” for
my Bearing Witness Retreats. To plunge into the unknown, i.e., to plunge
into that which my rational mind can’t fathom. These plunges or Bearing
Witness Retreats have helped folks let go of their attachments to their
ideas or concepts and experience things as they are.
Why do you call the Bearing Witness in Auschwitz event a retreat?
From Judy Lukin: Why do you call the Bearing Witness in Auschwitz
event a “retreat?” It seems so incongruous. How could one have a
“retreat” at the site of the torture and murder of one’s family and
one’s people? One retreats to a place of safety. Auschwitz was not that.
Your work seems good and important, but my family’s history makes it
difficult for me to get past the use of the word “retreat” in this
As you can see from my explanation of Bearing Witness Retreats, I use
the word “retreat” differently from how you refer to it. At the
Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat we invite as many voices as
we can to attend and we deal with the issues of diversity. This means we
deal with anger, guilt, love, hate, forgiveness, non-forgiveness,
blame, victim, oppressor.
I is indeed difficult to do this work but my experience has shown
that much healing arises from this. I have never looked at a retreat as a
place of safety but rather as a place to deal with the
inter-connectedness of life which is often very threatening to our sense