SOULscape teaches students about connection, reflection

For its third weekend retreat, Soulful Sit-Downs brought students to the Adirondacks for a weekend of relaxation and pondering life's big questions.

As Sean Martinelli handed out small gift bags, each with a pocket-sized journal in it, he instructed the recipients to stop what they were doing for a moment. Relax, he said, and leave your worries in Syracuse.

“Write what you feel," he said.

As the founder of Soulful Sit-Downs, Martinelli ’15 is also responsible for SOULscape — a spiritual weekend trip to the Adirondacks filled with deep discussion about life. 

In late February, 23 SOULscape participants headed north on a one-night retreat held at Minnowbrook Conference Center. The weekend was centered around several discussions on three topics — purpose, vulnerability and gratitude.

Minnowbrook Conference Center is home to SOULscape and is set on the edge  of Blue Mountain Lake. (Photo by Georgie Silvarole)

The discussion on purpose honed in on clarifying the difference between purpose and talent — just because someone is good at something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their calling.

Martinelli and Jill Ouikahilo, who recently left her position as director of communications for the Division of Student Affairs at SU, mediated the discussions. 

“Talent does not equal purpose — just because you’re good at something does not necessarily mean it is what you were created to do,” Ouikahilo said at the end of the discussion. “A calling lights you up and lets you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Vulnerability followed up purpose as an even bigger topic for a lot of participants — learning to accept failure and risk seemed to be something many people took  to heart.

One student brought up the law of attraction  — having the courage to put your thoughts and desires out into the universe, either verbally or mentally, will help you start to see those things in your life.

Finding a rhythm between asking for what you want, letting it show up and then continuing to do the work again is important, Ouikahilo added. Failure is equally prevalent, and it should be understood as a redirection, not a setback.  

Each student on the retreat received a small journal to keep track of their thoughts throughout the weekend. (Photo by Georgie Silvarole)

Nestled on the edge Blue Mountain Lake, the conference center is essentially a massive log cabin, complete with exposed beams and picturesque windows overlooking the water. It’s the perfect place to stop and think about life.

A discussion of gratitude slated last in the program had, arguably, the largest impact on everyone. Learning to establish a love for yourself — as well as a firm set of personal guidlines — has to have primary importance, Ouikahilo said. 

Don Miguel Ruiz's Four Agreements set off sparks of conversation. The Four Agreements call for self-reflection, patience, honesty and reliability, and when Ouikahilo asked everyone to create their own agreements, pens hit journal pages instantaneously. 

"Our ability to respond is where we hold our power," Ouikahilo said. "Let's take a journey from our head space to our heart space — how do you want to be seen and how do you want to conduct yourself in the world?"

Partially frozen over, Blue Mountain Lake offered a scenic and calming setting for deep discussions. (Photo by Georgie Silvarole)

Martinelli founded Soulful Sit-Downs during his freshman year at SU. The group meets every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in 204 Tolley and focuses its hourlong discussions on topics like intuition, connection and acceptance. The deep level of conversation is designed to give students clarity they may not be finding elsewhere on campus.

Over 100 students applied to SOULscape, Martinelli said, and the participant count is kept low to maintain a level of closeness and intimacy. Aside from lengthy discussions, the program offers a taste of yoga, a selection of thought-provoking videos and a friendly atmosphere to connect with others.

At the start of the program, Martinelli thanked everyone for their attendance and offered a piece of advice — not everyone will agree with everything discussed thoughout the weekend, but it is important to remember each person there is present for a reason.

“Everyone who needs to be here is here,” Martinelli said. “Just take what resonates and leave the rest.”

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