Wednesday, 25 May 2011


I just returned from my five day silent meditation and yoga retreat and I am very pleased to say that it was excellent!  It occurred at the Dharma Fellowship Hermitage on Denman Island (off the coast of Vancouver Island).  The retreat took place in a Buddhist Monastery.  I didn't really know what to expect, to be honest, but it met or surpassed my expectations completely.

I arrived at about 11:00 pm, after having terrible luck with the ferries on the way over.  I listened to many Buddhist podcasts in the car on the way over, which passed the time nicely.  When I arrived, there were still two gentlemen that were there and working on building a "yuti", or small hut, that retreat guests stay in.  I had a bit of a hard time locating the place, and even once I found the property, had a hard time finding the main building.  It was quite dark and the property is very large (60 acres).  Nonetheless, I did find it eventually, and I was taken to my own yuti, where I was to sleep during the retreat.  I met another one of the retreat guests that also arrived around the same time as I did as well as one woman that had been staying at the Hermitage for a couple months and meditating.
My hut

My yuti was very basic, as expected.  There was no heat or bathroom, and just a twin bed, but it was perfect.  I had brought one very warm sleeping bad and a duvet, so although I was always cold when I got into bed, generally I was able to warm up.  The weather was erratic, some days sunny and warm (not hot, though), and some days rainy and cold.  We were busy meditating, though, so the temperature wasn't that important.
The trail to my hut

Every day we had a two hour yoga session, followed by one hour of meditation instruction which included a 15 minute group meditation.  There were three meals a day (oatmeal for breakfast, a large fantastic vegetarian lunch, and soup for dinner), and the food was phenomenal.  Every day we had a chore that we were required to attend to, as there are no actual paid employees of the Hermitage, so everyone that attends has to pull their own weight.  So one day you might have to do the dishes after breakfast, then the next day you would sweep out the main hut after lunch.  Nothing huge or time consuming, but things that contribute to the smooth functioning of the Hermitage.  The rest of the day, from about 1:00 pm onwards, consisted of individual meditation (either laying down, sitting, standing or walking meditation).
The patio in the main building where we ate

As I've mentioned, the retreat was silent.  I was a little apprehensive about the silence, but once it started, found that I was not missing out on anything.  I believe that the theory is that when we talk to one another, we get caught up in our "ego" or "personality" and that this is distracting from our goal, which is to work on our inner selves.  I found the silence to be very helpful and allowed me to achieve insights that I would not have had were I spending time talking to others.  We also were discouraged from reading, journalling, talking on the phone (this one was obvious, I think), checking emails or otherwise busying our minds with external communication.  I read a bit on the first and second evening, before I knew that we weren't supposed to read, but the third and fourt evening I did not, and I found that I wasn't bored at all.  I mostly meditated in the "yurt" (I don't know the technical word for this, but it is the area where the shrines are set up, where the chanting happens, and where our classes occurred), and then took breaks to walk around and try a bit of the walking meditation.  I quickly found that the laying meditation quickly led to sleeping meditation.
The kitchen area

I would wholeheartedly recommend this retreat to anyone and everyone that it interested.  The food was excellent, the silence was blissful, the instruction was very capable and allowed me to achieve some really great insights into both my meditation and yoga practices, which I would have continued to struggle with had I not attended.  It was a terrific experience and I will definitely be going back again, both to volunteer in the kitchen and make the food for the retreat guests, and to attend this retreat, hopefully this time next year.

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