Buddhist Reflection: The Retreat pt 1

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I recently returned from my six-day silent meditation retreat and I have to admit that I am still running on the serenity resulting from it. I absolutely love Spirit Rock. It’s the place I went to for my very first retreat three years ago and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to return every year since. Each experience there has been unique for me. No two visits are the same.

There are many retreat centers across the country but I picked Spirit Rock because it was recommended by members of my sangha. It’s also located in the Bay Area, a place I love to visit and that is easily accessible (the cheapest to fly to also). The center is very welcoming and accommodating. The registration costs are pretty reasonable and the center offers scholarships and reduced rates to young adults, POC, and members of the LGBT community.

The last two year’s I’ve gone during the winter months but after the horrors of trying to travel out of SFO during random snow storms (both years in a row) I decided to go when the weather was nicer. So what was I greeted with when I first arrived at Spirit Rock?

THIS!!!!!!!

How gorgeous is that? Spirit Rock sits in the middle of a huge reserve located in Woodacre, California. Nothing but nature, hills, and wildlife.

Like this kind of nature

And this kind of wildlife. These lizards where everywhere!

I spent the entire week trying to get a picture of the wild turkey and herds of deer that were roaming around everywhere but I wasn’t successful.

Adding to the beauty of the location is the utter silence. As you can see its way up in the hills, away from everything. You can’t hear so much as a car drive by. No loud police or ambulance sirens. There’s not even any cellphone towers close by so forget about using wi-fi or electronic devices. I’m not going to lie, not being able to access my cellphone for six days was very challenging but it was also very liberating not to have to be so tied to it.

There’s two parts to Spirit Rock. The community hall, which is located at the bottom of the hill. This is where the administrative offices, dining hall, bookstore (which I’m going to talk about more in part 2), and community events/classes are held. The other half of the center is the retreat area at the top of the hill where I stayed. The meditation hall and cabins are  located there.

The structure of the retreat itself is pretty simple. Each retreat is centered around a specific topic and is led by three or four teachers. For this one the topic was Essential Teachings in the Path of Awakening led by Anna Douglas, Howard Cohn (who actually remembered me from my very first retreat), and Mark (his last name escapes me, lol). The schedule went basically like this

6am-wake up

6:30-sitting meditation

7-breakfast

7:30-work period (I will talk more about this later)

8:45-sitting meditation

9:30-walking meditation

10:30-sitting meditation

11:15-walking meditation

 12pm-sitting meditation

12:30-lunch

2:30-sitting meditation

3-yoga!

4-sitting meditation

4:45-walking meditation

5:15-dinner

6:30-sitting meditation

7:30-dharma talk (led by one of the teachers)

8:30-walking meditation

9-sitting meditation

9:30-sleep!

Yes , no joke that was the exact schedule my entire six days there-all done in complete silence. Here and there some things would be thrown in like small groups and individual meetings with the teachers (not done in silence of course). Now before you look at that schedule and think that I am totally crazy let me say that  meditating like that for so many days straight wasn’t as difficult as it may appear. Plus none of the retreatants are bound by the schedule. No one is checking for you so it’s not as though you’re going to be kicked out of the retreat for missing a couple of sits. There were days where I stayed in my room and slept for several hours or read books. Oh and here is a picture of the cabins.

Just in case you were wondering what they looked like

Ok, moving right along to the insights and realizations I experienced during this retreat…

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