Among the sixty participants at Easton Mountain’s 2012 weeklong annual “Gay Spirit Camp”, only five of us were first-timers. Most guys return to Easton Mountain many times and for many of the different programs offered here throughout the year. After just one day, I begin to understand the attraction.

Easton Mountain is a community, retreat center and sanctuary created by gay men mostly for gay men (with some programs for women.) It is a lush 175-rolling-acre, wooded and rustic campus located near Albany, NY, founded and run by men who bring extensive professional experience as counselors, healers, teachers, writers, artists, musicians and creative spiritual thinkers of all varieties.

In workshops, programs and events, they provide opportunities to celebrate, heal, transform, and integrate body, mind and spirit.

Established 12 years ago, Easton has built a worldwide fellowship of people enriched by their experience here. There is the sense that men make regular pilgrimages to Easton to recapture their balance and their vision of healthy gay life and spirituality or to acquire new tools and insights to become excellent gay men.

I will confess to arriving with some fears that the week would be too New Agey for me and that the participants might be too quirky/wacky. Those fears soon evaporated as I met the intelligent, thoughtful, attractive (all sizes and ages), and inquisitive men who had signed up for the week, and the dozen experts who would be offering workshops and leading the groups through a variety of shared experiences, discussions and activities. If this sounds intimidating or too touchy/feely, you will be relieved to know that you can attend as many or as few of the sessions you like. You can decide without fear of recrimination to spend the week hiking or sleeping in a hammock, or floating in the pool, or getting frisky with your neighbors in the wood-burning sauna, or relaxing in the hot tub (for the most part, guys walk about clothed but there is plenty of casual nudity in the wet areas), or making a necklace under the beading tree (During the initial tour, I thought I heard my guide say “I am now going to show you the beating tree!”), or creating a portrait in the art tent (Plenty of men here willing to model), or learning the art of massage (As I write this, a dozen naked men just passed through the room having completed a session in the art of sensual massage), or mastering Reiki or deep breathing, or joining the early morning yoga sessions. No one is keeping track of you. The week is yours to design as you wish. In the course of their greeting, Easton Mountain leaders John Stasio and Harry Faddis ask the attendees to promise to take good care of themselves, to be careful with their fellow attendees and to avoid the anxiety of trying to do everything.

As is always the case, making new friends is a big part of a week at Easton Mountain. I was startled by the huge variety of life experiences of the attendees and of that of the largely volunteer and international staff. The men were urban, rural, coastal, fly-over and everything in between. They seem to have some qualities in common: a desire to celebrate healthy gay masculinity and a strong desire for the exploration needed to chart the best and highest course through the life of a gay man.

Earlier today, I chose to attend a workshop offered by Ray Rigoglioso entitled “Beyond Pride: Stepping Into Our Full Powers As Gay Men – Radical Self Love.” This proved to be a fascinating exercise in constructing how we think about ourselves as gay men, how we own the good and bad sides of our personalities and how we build the self-love we need for healthy living. We made lists of stereotypes and discussed the truths and fallacies behind each of them. A funny moment occurred when one participant who shared that he is the president of his condo association talked about taking a tour of the property with a group of straight board members and telling them, “This place used to be much better looking when there were more gay men living here! You straight people don’t know from pretty. You install two rolls of new carpet and then you try to tell me that they don’t match because of the way the housekeeper vacuums. It’s because you installed them in opposite directions! A gay man would never have done that!” I mention this to let you know that the overall tenor of Easton Mountain is unbridled mirth, relaxed good humor, frequent laughter and honest camaraderie. There are also some inevitable tears and hugs when men tell their personal stories.

Easton Mountain is a magical place where even a jaded and world-weary writer of a certain age may be inspired and refreshed. Have a look.  Choose a program. Book a trip.