The Magic of Retreat
(Particularly at Buckhorn Springs)
I’m the first to admit that I’m not normal. Or certainly, not normal as defined by the mainstream. Spending eight years in a silent Zen Monastery isn’t ‘normal.’ Being a vegetarian since you were a young teenager isn’t ‘normal.’ Valuing silent retreat with your vacation days over cocktails and a beach isn’t ‘normal.’ And yet, if you are reading this, it’s possible that you, too, don’t quite fit comfortably in the mainstream box of ‘normalcy.'
I’ve been on many retreats. I’ve led many retreats. To me, nothing beats the silent ones. Nothing beats not checking e-mail. Being out of cell range. Knowing that I can rest into my announcement to the world that I’m off-line. Sinking into practice completely. Indulging no distractions.
Years ago, for my own continuing education, I started attending some retreats in which silence wasn’t the backdrop. I still do. They’re wonderful. Terrific community has formed through my experience of them. Sangha (the community of people who share spiritual practice) has expanded. I am grateful, privileged, and blessed.
And, regarding silent retreats, I’ve learned that there seems to be no turning back for me. I used to wonder if perhaps I was clinging to old form that no longer served. Was I attached to retreats that mirrored my monastic past? Unwilling to let go and open things up? Surely, releasing the silence would make retreat, and practice, more accessible – a passion that is near and dear to my heart. Let’s face it, accessibility is a passion that is my heart – not just near it. It pumps blood through all I do. If my spirit had a bumper sticker I think it would be:
Liberation is not a singular experience. Neither is practice.
We’re all in this together. ‘Alone’ is a figment of the imagination.
Ok. So that’s a little long. Maybe not a bumper sticker. How about a t-shirt?
When we fall for and feed the distortion that practice is just for a select few - specifically, the privileged - we’re missing the heart of what practice is all about. In the beautiful focus on, and dedication to, the recognition of our shared being – it’s important not to miss the shared part.
And I do think there’s something to be said for offering practice in a variety of ways – in the name of accessibility. It’s why the four retreats I’m offering this summer are so distinctly different. 1. The week-long silent immersion at Buckhorn Springs for those ready to dive deep. 2. A five-day workshop-like retreat at 1440 Multiversity (not silent.) 3. A mindful educator retreat with Maggie Steele, bringing in the lens of trauma. 4. An iBme retreat for teenagers. 5. A weekend urban retreat with Rev. angel Kyodo williams. It couldn’t be a more diverse line up of offerings. That’s intentional.
Perhaps when I return from 1440, I’ll rave about the value of a retreat in that setting. (It’s likely - often my favorite retreat is the one that’s happening now!) In this moment though, I’m deeply present to how sacred and magical the silent retreat at Buckhorn Springs was.
I wanted to tell folks about it, in particular, because we’ll do it again next year. It’s not too early to save the dates—June 23-29, 2019.
The land there is deeply sacred. When my husband Vineet and I were driving down to Ashland, I was exclaiming that “we’re never doing a retreat at Buckhorn again. It’s just too far away.” Alas, that couldn’t have been a more misguided statement. It was beyond ‘worth the drive.’ Think of places where the veil is thin. Where it’s easy to directly experience the presence of Awareness. Where nothing is diffusing the experience in any way. You’ve just thought of Buckhorn Springs.
There’s nothing like being still in a still environment where the animal life is teeming. It was perhaps the most vibrant ecosystem I’ve ever experienced. One retreatant glimpsed a mountain lion, we saw countless butterflies, deer and fawn, garden snakes, fish (in the stream that runs through the property), frogs, abundant bird life, etc. And that’s not just ‘lovely’ – for the heart, it was like getting to rest, to truly be, in a place of balance. Where the inner and outer landscapes sing in resonance. A place where the land, well-loved and well cared for, is not in turmoil. These days, finding such places is, sadly, deeply remarkable.
Vineet brought Vedic chanting into the mix. This was new for the kind of retreat I usually offer. It was called ‘Resting as the Stillness of Being’ and we focused on different doorways into Truth. Into Reality. Here’s what one retreatant said about it:
“I have so loved the unique experience of this retreat. The eclectic but complementary teachings – Vedic chanting, Zen walking meditation, process mapping, Qi Gong, etc. – have created a very special mix of breadth and depth with the background of silence and the foundation of many daily silent sits that have facilitated the integration of all the teachings.
What could have felt shallow and scattered in the hands of less skillful teachers instead gave a deep sense of possibility of different, valid paths to the same goal – a deepening relationship with Self, and the experience of true, healing rest as the stillness of being. I came here a week ago with the intention to receive (guidance, care, nourishment) and I did get all that in spades, but I also have felt the incredible gift of a page turning in my life, unfolding of Truth, and the joy of community.”
Though I have no aspirations to create a monastery, there is a part of me that would be enlivened to solely focus on guiding retreats. I fall in love with the depth of experience that easefully and naturally arises in that context.
Is retreat required for practice? I won’t say that. In the same way that I wouldn’t say you have to be a monk to attain enlightenment. I would say though that if you want to run a marathon, practice running. Learn to find that place within where you love to run, just for the love of running. Don’t do it to lose weight. To be the right person. Do it because you love it. Go to a running camp. Hang out with others who aren’t ‘normal’ and want to go to bed before 10pm so they can wake up early and run. Let yourself lean into your not ‘normal’ love. The love that makes it so you don’t fit into the box easily. The wild love that makes the heart sing.
Let your practice be like that. Fall in love with the recognition of your shared being. Do things that support living your life from that recognition. Let what doesn’t fall away. Surrender to the love.
Hope to see you on one of the upcoming retreats soon. In the meantime, enjoy the gorgeous photos of Buckhorn Springs that Vineet took!
May all beings benefit.
P.S. There are more spots available for the 1440 retreat, The Bridge to Happiness. I’ve got two partial scholarships left. My intention is to offer them to folks who identify with being from a marginalized community. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
P.P.S. The retreat center, Buckhorn Springs, is for sale. I’m committed to supporting the lovely owners find a buyer who intends to continue to maintain it as a platform for furthering the Dharma. Contact email@example.com if you are interested to know more.
Photos courtesy of Vineet Teames.