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Interview with Ryan Patterson/ Away Inward Retreats

December 13, 2009
Interview with Ryan Patterson from Away Inward Retreats.

In the last year and a half California-based massage therapist Ryan Patterson and his Partner Jason Frahm have taken four groups to Peru for a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience including hikes to sacred Inca ruins, fire dances, earth offerings and plant ceremonies guided by Andean Shamans, massage, journaling, yoga (of course), Machu Picchu (of course) and a deep commitment to serving 2 local orphanages. I interviewed Ryan about the vision of Away Inward and his mission of charitable outreach.

How did Away Inward begin?
Jason had been working in southeast Asia; Thailand and Bali, but he had anchored in Peru to work on his project (The At-Onement Project) bringing education to remote areas. Simultaneously I was starting Away Inward as a charitable yoga foundation, mainly doing retreats. I had just started it when I met Jason. I had the bank account and the url, the business side of the setup, but I hadn’t done retreats yet. I went on a journey with him to Peru and the retreat center we stayed at was working with an orphanage (Casa de Milagros), so we spent some time there and we were introduced to the process that they had in which profits from the retreat center funded the orphanage. During that time we also found out about another retreat center (Las Casitas del Arco Iris) which supported a different orphanage that was part of a larger initiative that also included a daycare program for young children, a technical and vocational school for children and adults, and a free medical and dental clinic for the community. We both felt pulled to help support these programs and that’s where we came together to start the retreats to Peru.

mama kia's orphanage

What kind of funding opportunities does Away Inward set up for these two programs? What do you do, how do you do it, how much do you give?
We start with simply asking each of the guests to bring a bag of supplies; clothes, medical supplies etc. Before the trip we each do various fundraisers, I do raffles for massage and teach donation yoga classes. We typically take down about $2500 USD at the beginning, which may sound nominal to us but is actually a good amount for them.
The way we set up the retreats, our guests know that they’re supporting the programs, they know that’s part of the reason for the trip. When we stay at the retreat center attached to Casa de Milagros we spend a good portion of our last day there with the kids at the orphanage. On our way back (from Machu Picchu) we stay at Las Casitas del Arco Iris where we do a tour and our guests get to see the facilities and see what they’re supporting. Our company gives 10% of profits back to the orphanages and at the end of the trip we open the door to guests to donate as well. We typically raise an additional 8-10,000USD from the guests per trip. (Editor’s note: 3 trips to Peru per year averages an accumulative min. total of $34,500-$37,500 per year raised for the projects)

Do most of your guests donate after?
Yes, for sure. We’ve been blessed, but as I said we build that in from the beginning. So introducing the guests to the people, showing them where the money’s going and what they’re doing with it really makes an impact.

How is that for your guests? How are they affected by these trips and the visits to the centers?
They’re tremendously moved, in the last trip we had a few guests from Italy who had been fairly sheltered from the severity of third-world poverty. When they see people who have given their entire life such as Mama Kia, (who moved from Sweden to start Casa de Milagros, or Helena Van Engelen from Holland who started Casitas del Arco Iris) who have moved to Peru with the sole purpose of taking care of the kids that are left on the streets; when our guests see how much good work is being done they’re usually moved to tears.

Why do most of your guests come? What are their motivations?

Peru. It’s the destination that they’ve always wanted, thought about, but they would never go on their own. Most of them are into yoga also. We can work on the charitable side because we have the pull of Peru and the element of Karma Yoga, or of giving back. When we first designed the retreat it actually wasn’t about getting people to donate to causes, but we knew that just by staying in the retreat centers we could help the orphanages.

Can you speak a little bit about your personal philosophy and intention behind Away Inward? What does “Away Inward” mean?
Going inward to me is the notion of connecting with intuition or what some people might call a “sixth sense”, but I just call that inner awareness. For most of us in our day-to-day lives we have so much external stimulation that we lose track of simple things like our breath, how we feel, illnesses that are going on, stuff that we should be connected to and inherently know.
So I think that sometimes we have to go away in order to reconnect to that knowing, to our ‘center’. The destination’s not really as important as the going away. Going somewhere new takes us out of our routine, takes us away from obligations, cell phones, internet. Without those things we don’t have expectations and distractions that are barriers keeping us from listening to our bodies and our inner guidance, or that inherent wisdom. So I think that’s the main philosophy; to find a way inward. That was the original idea with Away Inward, to get out of your comfort zone, out of your daily routine and check in with yourself at a higher level.

What is it about Peru that would help someone to go inward?
In Peru we spend a lot of time with Shamans. We do things like creating ceremonies to connect with Mother Earth and saying prayers. It’s simple ceremony that brings back aspects we’ve lost in our culture and daily life. But here we can reinforce that connection. It’s a bit easier in Peru because there are so many people that are still connected to the earth and earth based traditions. For westerners that whole concept is a great catalyst for introspection and an invitation to tune in to a higher potential.

Are people able to integrate these elements when they come back from the trip? Or do you always have to go away to be inward?
*Laughs* Unfortunately a big part of me believes so. I try to hold on to it when I get back but I can feel it changing day by day. It’s back to the phone calls, back to the stimulation that distracts us from our center. That’s the whole goal of yoga, or at least my yoga practice, is to stay in that center. But having to work and carrying on with the daily routines can quickly move us out of center.

How does a yoga practice fit in while you are on retreat? Is it something that you encourage people to continue with when they come back?
On the retreats we have much more time for meditation, we can do walking meditation and we do silent portions of the hikes, all with the intention of grounding and reconnecting. We offer that to guests to bring home and we encourage them specifically to develop a meditation practice that will help them to maintain the essence of what gets created on the retreat.

When I first contacted you by email you mentioned that part of the work of Away Inward was to create community. I think it’s an interesting proposition that two totally different cultures can come together and “create community” and I sometimes wonder what people really mean by that, it’s a term that’s used in many different ways. How does it happen for you, how do you go about it?
When I talk about building community by going to Peru, I’m speaking more about global community and awareness. We’re bringing different worlds together. We’re taking people that know the energy of Manhattan sky-rises and we’re bringing them to third-world poverty and dirt floors. It’s about building awareness of the larger community of Planet Earth. Our guests build community within themselves too, they bond and form relationships and afterwards when we’re back we have a community of shared experience and we can talk about it and motivate to keep working together and then everyone affects their outer circle of relationships.

What I’m hearing from you is that you’re encouraging a community that’s less something physical or spatial with borders, but rather a community of understanding or a coming together of knowledge from different cultures and exposure for people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.
Right, it’s exposure to knowledge with a lot of cross-polination. A lot of information we’re getting from the Shamans in Peru is similar or even the same as the information coming from the yoga practice and from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

What is your definition of a healthy community?

A healthy community to me is a larger awareness within each individual. A healthy community is made up of individuals who have a broader sense than just how they were raised or what they know specifically.

kids from casa de milagros

What was your original motivation or calling to this work?
I was in Thailand and a lady I met there mentioned visiting the orphanage. It wasn’t even something that I had thought of doing, but I did and then I ended up spending the next three days there and that opened the door for me to really want to participate in an orphanage in the third world in some fashion. Eight months later I was in Peru with Jason. When we went, we knew that there was an orphanage affiliated with the retreat center but that wasn’t the original purpose of the trip. But then we got there and we realized it was the obvious thing to focus on and so it fell into place.

How long have you been teaching yoga?
2.5 years

Can you tell me what drew you to yoga as a practice and how your practice has shaped what you’ve decided to do with your work/ career?
Yoga has enhanced my compassion, and it’s definitely changed my view of people. My senses of awareness, service and gratitude have all opened up with my yoga practice. In my work as a bodyworker and massage therapist yoga has made me much more intuitive and connected to my clients. It’s given me a way to stay open and healthy.

What is your vision for the future of Away Inward?
To duplicate what we’ve done in Peru in other locations. We’re in the process of working with someone in Bali who has an orphanage and a midwife center. In the long term we want to have 3 or 4 destinations annually that are all tied in to charitable organizations.

Are these retreats accessible to people at different levels of income? Do you have a scholarship?
In the future we’d like to have a volunteer program, where we can bring people down who will work longer at the orphanages, but we don’t have that in place yet.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t recall ever having a mission really, like I never thought “I want to be a fireman“. I went to college for pre-med, then I went skiing for a few years and I was on ski-patrol. I was always kind of in the field of health and healing, but as a kid I wasn’t specifically drawn to anything I can remember. Bodywork just kind of happened, a friend suggested it and I tried one day of massage school and I just knew I would do that for a while. That’s how I came to yoga, I was looking for a way to heal without putting my body through so much work.

kids

Where do you want to be in 20, 30 or 50 years from now?
I would love to have a local studio in California and one in Boise, Idaho which is where I’m from, and one that’s abroad. I’d like to have a company that runs retreats and a sustainable retreat circuit that’s available to other teachers with similar goals.

Do you have any major influences/ inspirations?

Someone like Mother Theresa, someone that can roll up their sleeves and work without worrying about what they’re going to get back from it.

Do you have New Year’s resolutions?

I’d like to find a consistent volunteer program here in California where I can volunteer and be involved.

If you could make a bumper sticker what would it be, what’s your message?

Turn off your television. Turn on your heart.

Away Inward Retreats are one week long Cultural Immersion Retreats.
Prices range from $2300USD- $3700. Included in the cost are meals and transportation, daily yoga and meditation, mindfulness practice, 3-4 hours hiking daily led by Andean Shamans to sacred Inca sites, ceremony, massage and visits to Casa de Milagros and Casitas del Arco Iris.
Airfare is not included
The next trip scheduled is March 7-13, 2010.

For more information visit http://www.awayinward.com

Other Links:
Casa de Milagros
Casitas del Arco Iris
The At-Onement Project
Ryan Patterson’s personal website

Ryan Patterson and Jason Frahm

Ryan Patterson and Jason Frahm

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