Retreating Into Auschwitz – a Participant’s Reflection on Raising a Mala

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, USA. ZPI encourages reflection from retreats participants and members around the world as part of the practice of bearing witness and to share the depth and breadth of Zen Peacemakers worldwide. Miriam Eisenberger- mindfulness trainer and somatic therapist based in New York- participated in her first Auschwitz-Birkenau Retreat this November 2019. What follows is Miriam’s reflective response to a post about her Mala Practice she had shared on her social media to raise funds for her participation on the Auschwitz Bearing Witness retreat. 


COMMENT: “With all the powerful word-crafting that went into creating this funding statement, I was kind of stunned at the choice to use the term ‘retreat’. Whoever wrote this had me until that word, and lost me immediately at that word.”

MIRIAM: Hey [name omitted]… thanks for reading what I wrote. I don’t usually fundraise for retreats, but part of the encouragement to do so is to let others know about this work and raise conversation, so I feel compelled now to respond to your comment, which is an interesting one for me.

“Retreat” is not my word, and is often used to describe collective Buddhist (or other) gatherings for practice. My father often jokes to me when I go on meditation retreats “there you go, retreating again… what are you running away from?” So I get it can conjure up different meanings for people. Curious what meaning it brought up for you, but your comment made me reflect on the use of that word for these types of gatherings.

One definition of retreat is a withdrawing… and I would say from the usual way we habitually move through the noise/trance of life in order to go deeper inside and allow for newer insights and understandings to arise. Another definition is a place of quiet and safety, which is often the container one might need for that depth. I also like the definition of stepping away from a fight, which is not to say this is a stepping away from the challenges of what this retreat will ask participants to bear witness too, but rather to step away from our defensiveness and fear of one another and the fight with parts of own selves and feelings.

In some ways, there is withdrawing, but in other ways, we will be immersing ourselves in whatever the history of that place has to teach us, day after day spending time in the heart of it, and doing it with a group of 90 people from all over the world… descendants of survivors, descendants of SS officers, peace-builders from many war-torn countries, people of all faith traditions who feel it is important to bear witness to what our humanity has the capacity to do… good and bad… so that we can better learn how to use that capacity in skillful ways for the benefit of the collective.

I can’t say I am not nervous, but I know it will be teaching me important things that I hope to find a way to share when I return. Anyway… thanks for reading, and for writing, and for reading again (maybe).

About the Author:

Miriam Eisenberger, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, mindfulness and somatic-based therapist, meditation instructor, spiritual counselor, Jewish ritual facilitator, and founder of Mindful Element. She has practiced meditation techniques from Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and mindfulness traditions for over 15 years and integrates these varying ancient wisdom teachings into her offerings. She teaches to individuals, groups, and organizations around NYC and co-leads spiritual retreats around the New York area and in Peru. Miriam was a participant on Zen Peacemakers 2019 Native American Plunge.

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Retreating Into Auschwitz – a Participant’s Reflection on Raising a Mala

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