Spokane’s Harmony Woods Retreat Center Provides Sacred Space for All
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News Story by Cassy Benefield
When one opens the door and steps into Harmony Woods Retreat Center these words greet guests: “Please remove your shoes for the place in which you stand is holy ground.”
Christi Ortiz, and her husband, Fernando, hope all who enter their now one-year-old retreat center feel this sense of the sacred when they come.
Ortiz says “there’s such a need for this right now in a time of division and struggle and separation — something to remind us of our shared connection and our oneness with one another.”
Located about 15 miles south of downtown Spokane and near the James T. Slavin Conservation Area, Harmony Woods can be used for personal or corporate retreats or classes that meet regularly.
An Inclusive Space for All
The Ortizes offer this space, which they built on their property during COVID, for all religious and spiritual practitioners to share.
Inspired to build the center together and to “steward” it for others’ use, Ortiz and her husband believe they would, in part, have an exponential impact on the world for good that they would not have had otherwise.
“If people have a transformative experience of coming here of healing or a deeper connection or living more into their own truth, and they go and spread that out to the world,” she says she is honored to have had a part of that.
She also makes retreats accessible for people of all economic backgrounds, as she remembers growing up wanting to attend spiritual retreats and not being able to financially.
“I don’t think a retreat should be a privilege of the few,” Ortiz said. “I think it should be a regular thing that all of us can receive. Can you imagine if we had a world where we are all taking regular time to ground and center and connect? … so that’s a big thing of wanting equality and wanting it to be accessible to everyone.”
They aren’t “fully living into this yet” because they are still in the beginning phase with their non-profit retreat center, Ortiz explains.
But, she adds, people do “pay it forward” to allow others the same opportunities. She also offers reduced rates for those who want a personal retreat but are in need.
A Variety of Classes and Retreats Offered at Harmony Woods
The building houses a circular meeting room with seating for 40 people and access to a projector, a screen, tables and other amenities, along with four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and a commercial kitchen.
Currently, the space is scheduled for a multi-day yoga and art retreat, a grief recovery group series, a class to help participants connect to their “innermost self” through “meditation and light energy medicine practices, movement, rage ceremony + vocal exercises” and Integrating Body and Mind classes that use the Alexander Technique and movement awareness.
Other groups that focus on spiritual practices use the space for silent retreats. The Spokane Vipassana Mindfulness Community (SVMC) hosted their first silent retreat at Harmony Woods about a year ago.
“What Harmony Woods Retreat Center does is you get a sense of uplift,” said Eric Swagerty, who is a financial analyst for Enduris and the SVMC board treasurer.
He likens it to walking into a rather ornate old church where one looks up and “the space itself expands the soul.”
“It’s not that you can’t practice in a more closed, pedestrian place, but when you have the opportunity to practice in the year with amazing acoustics, a skylight and you’re looking out on pine trees, it lets things just quiet down a little bit easier … So the first time I walked in, I said, okay, this is amazing.”
Despite the retreat not being an overnight one, Swagerty took the opportunity to reserve one of the rooms to stay the night before his community’s silent retreat to help him begin to “settle down” before his practice the next day.
“Harmony Woods provides the invitation of you can set your burden down — for a time, you can rest—it’ll be there for you when you need to leave … but you’ll be refreshed,” Swagerty says.
A Place for the Spiritually Homeless
Janessa Winder discovered Harmony Woods Retreat Center, in what seemed like perfect timing and not a coincidence last September.
“I just had this feeling like I needed to go online and look,” Winder said. “I was grieving some things, going through sort of like a spiritual awakening … I was kind of transitioning out of my faith that I was born into.”
What she found was a Community Grief Retreat scheduled last October and hosted by Pacific Healing Circles.
“I had such a powerful experience at that retreat,” Winder said. “It was like, I had found my people if that makes sense — these like-minded people that want to talk deeper, that wanted to just share in each other’s pain or not just pain [but] goodness, but just the deep, the heavy. I kind of thrive on that.”
At the beginning of her spiritual awakening, Winder was diagnosed with complex PTSD from sexual and religious trauma. She didn’t find healing for this in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that she grew up in. She knew others in the church who thrived there, but she was not one of them.
So, after the Grief Retreat, she and others encouraged the Ortizes to open the space regularly for them. Many did not attend the church of their origins anymore and sought a spiritual community.
The Intentional Community Gathering Was Born
Starting in January, the Ortizes began Intentional Community Gathering, a free monthly meeting for those looking for spiritual community without borders.
“This group has just given me life, and I think for others that it’s very similar of a feeling where you have the chaos and the noise of the world and you come to this place that really is so peaceful,” Winder said. “And it’s a beautiful space as well … it almost feels like a touch of home.”
Winder adds, “It’s a very safe, brave space.”
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.