Yarne, the Winter retreat

the Ice and a small strip of SeaTo say that I haven’t had time to post something new would not be entirely truthful. The Winter Retreat has been busy, sure, and there is a pretty tight schedule but I could have found an hour or two to upload a few photos. It’s just that the idea of this retreat is to come together and spend a couple months focused on practice, study, and teachings. I’ve never done that before, putting down my usual life to focus on something else. Using the internet and watching films and chatting are all lumped into the category of ‘distractions’. I don’t entirely agree with that. Small talk can be very valuable, it’s a very non-threatening way to establish a base level of communication, a genuine familiarity with another person or group of people. I may only talk about the weather and the news with my neighbors but when someone is taking something out of my garage, my neighbors stop them, because we are friendly with each other, because we are connected. The same with email and the internet, even watching viral Youtube videos provides some basic communal knowledge. My friends Erin and Melisa had a baby in January and being able to see the photos, participate in the comments and talk with them over email was so great. But they can be distractions. Everybody has had the experience of talking about inane topics instead of talking about what is really going on, or getting online and participating in dialogues instead of talking to your partner or family. All this is what I had running through my mind at the outset of this retreat, so it was nice to be able to take a step away from everybody and my normal mode of operating and really see where I was truly engaging in life and where I was pretending. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.

Now onto what you really want to know…. What did I do for 7 weeks all day in an old farmhouse by the Sea in Nova Scotia? So I’ll start with the schedule. Every morning at 5:50 am, an ordained person walks through the whole house clacking two specific sticks together to alert us that it is time to line up. We go into the shrine room for morning liturgies which last about an hour, then do our house jobs and eat breakfast, perhaps clean up from breakfast too. One of the different things about Yarne is that they counted the days with these orange sticks. yarne sticksThere were 15 of them, to count down the days between the full and new moons. Three cycles of the moon, or 45 days, is the length of the retreat. It was a great visual to help you watch the progression. This picture was taken on the last day, but that’s about how it looked on the first day. Adventure started, adventure coming to an end. Then there is 3 hours of sitting meditation, mind/body time, lunch, work period, more sitting, evening liturgies, soup time, more sitting, bed. There is an open day once a week, that is chock full of eating and laundry and getting to know the 15 new people who came for it. Chock Full!!!

The days were broken up by talks and discussion groups. Pema Chodron gave 6 talks on Teachings with Ani Pemathe 4 marks of existence, or as she refers to them, the Facts of Life, (and yes, I had the theme song from the 80’s sitcom running through my head for 7 weeks) Suffering, Impermanence, Egolessness, and Nirvana. So every week there was a talk and the next day, a discussion group. I got to leave a few times to go to town and pick up food, milk or one time, get a massage. I also read a lot of dharma books. Most notably, books in the Zen tradition and some basics in the shambhala tradition. Oh, and shoveling. There was lots of shoveling of snow. It didn’t snow that much so it was shoveling the same snow that kept blowing back onto the walkways.

It all ended yesterday with a New Year’s celebration (year of the Water Snake!) IMG_3378with a fire, flags, guests, food, talk by the Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche, and a casting of the I Ching for  fortune of the Abbey in the new year. And then all the guests left, just like that. It had really become like a big family, like a big community and then they were gone. Now it’s just a few of us here, it’s so quiet. We have 3 open days where we can watch movies and eat all day (yes, being able to eat when you want is a luxury ) and here I am watching the black birds dig in the snow, the ice is flowing back out to sea, and I’m happily reconnecting with the world through this blog.

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