The Byron Fellowship held a week-long retreat in late August, during which seventeen young changemakers articulated and refined their visions, contended with obstacles, fostered connections and developed leadership skills to assist them in realizing their goals. The 2023 Byron fellows were selected from a pool of global applicants in a competitive process working in a range of sectors: from agriculture, climate justice and environmental conservation to affordable housing, global poverty alleviation, girls rights and empowerment, spiritual leadership, the arts, human rights and refugee advocacy, higher education and youth empowerment, shareholder activism and more.
Guided by seasoned mentors and former fellows, the fellows discussed the work they are pursuing individually and addressed shared challenges. The retreat was opened with a land-based welcome in the sacred Cheriklo site, where they acknowledged the land and its first inhabitants – the Lenape people – as well as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, whose members spent time hunting and foraging in the area and seeking refuge when fleeing cultural and religious persecution. Participants shared powerful introductions and connective stories and defined group intentions for the week together. The group enjoyed a sound bath in the yoga studio at the end of the day before resting.
Throughout the week, the group gathered as a whole, in small groups (flocks) and enjoyed time individual reflection: reading, writing, or simply being. In the evenings, the group enjoyed a yoga class, art-making, fires under the stars and time in the pool or sauna. Making wonderful use of the space, fellows and mentors could be found journaling on floor cushions in a nook outside the yoga studio or sharing whispered reflections on the Anam Kara bench by the crabapple tree, where many intimate conversations have taken place.
Tuesday afternoon featured a facilitated hike down to the brook, filled with moments of connection and reverence for the natural world, including a mindfulness practice by the miniature cascades of water. That evening, participants gathered around a blazing bonfire to share their visions for change in the form of stories: evocative allegories that conveyed despair when confronting entrenched practices that harm people and the natural environment, reflected on the limitations of conventional approaches and explored how healing and sustainable transformation may be realized.
By Wednesday, participants were reflecting on their purpose as changemakers and emergent leaders in their fields, which was explored further in small group discussions. The day’s work concluded with a tour of the garden and a harvesting session, resulting in a tall pitcher of juice from purple carrots recently dug from the soil. Well after sundown, a small group joined an optional night walk to observe the sounds, smells and textures of the moonlit Catskills night. The final day concluded with an optional art project, followed by a celebratory dinner and dance party, before the group rested after a full week.
It was deeply gratifying to host the Byron Fellowship, whose participants came to The Uplands with open hearts and appreciative spirits, ready to take in all that the space has to offer and foster durable connections amongst themselves. This group of inspiring leaders encourages hope, and we were so pleased to hold loving space as they developed their visions and hone their focus, preparing to go out and make this world a better place, each in their own spaces and realms.