by Ischa Beharry
In the silence of my soul, words, sounds, scents, impressions, thoughts and feelings seemed greatly amplified, yet with a gentleness and sweetness almost indescribable. And as I walked slowly and mindfully through the Sanctuary gardens with friends old and new, joy swept over my being in such gentle waves that my only reaction was exactly what our teacher, Sharon Ray, hoped it would be – a taste of what the Silent Retreat should evoke: A journey into the Path of SMILES and a deeper connection to Divine Spirit through silence and mindfulness.
A dedicated practitioner of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, Sharon has embodied the concept of mindfulness in her daily life and needs not verbally extol its incredible effects on her quality of life, spiritual awareness or demeanor—it expresses itself naturally and gracefully in the truths and virtues that are her life’s guideposts, and in her very demeanor, speech and interaction with others.
Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s at the railway station or supermarket, we are walking on the Earth and, therefore, upon a holy ground. To walk with reverence everywhere is to find nourishment and solidity with each step. Each mindful step brings us back to the here and now, reminding us that we are alive on this beautiful planet. It propels us into present moment awareness. Ultimately, all of us are looking for our solid ground, our true home. The Earth, and the Present, is our true home. We can’t be grounded in our body if our mind is elsewhere.
Following the Path of SMILES, we are guided by the meaning of this wonderful acronym:
S is for Smile – uplifting my vibration
M is for Mantra – expressing my heart’s desire
I is for Inhale and exhale – aware of my breath
L is for Letting go – of my name and game
E is for Ears listening, Eyes watching – I come to my senses
S is for Sensing – the Presence of the Divine in and around me
Experience being the greatest teacher, I have to humbly agree that for the two days I practiced mindful walking and the Path of SMILES, the beauty and wonder of the Earth and its creatures around me was greatly amplified. Being in the moment was joy unbounded! There was no room in my mind for anything worrisome; my mind was totally absorbed in the moment, whether I was mindfully eating, looking at the beautiful pond and gardens, walking the labyrinth, listening to the birds, or perusing the roadways looking for tiny pieces of quartz crystals amidst the gravel.
As the Master Hahn himself says:
No one has lived in the past or the future, only the now. The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. While you are walking, smile and be in the here and now, and you will transform that place into paradise.
Yes! I do enjoy the beautiful sanctuary where I happen to live; however, during every Silent Retreat its beauty, peace, tranquility, and divine resonance is, for me, amplified a hundred-fold! Ah, the power of many together!
Thank you, Sharon Ray, for bringing this priceless gift to Sunburst as a prelude to an approaching beautiful spring when the subsiding rains and entrancing green hillsides beckon us into mindful walking. And thank you, Thich Nhat Hanh, for reminding us that the very ground we stand on anywhere and everywhere is still Sacred Earth, and has the power to connect and ground us if we are mindful and receptive!
By Ischa Beharry
Sometimes, it just seems like the years and months quickly vanish into oblivion, some being a memory sweet, and others predictably similar or uneventful. This past year, however, seemed different. Despite all that’s been happening around the world, in our own country, and in our personal lives, there are certain things that do not change; for example, the fact that spring always follows winter.
As I think about 2018, the latter part of the year captures my focus. August through December were exceptional at Sunburst Sanctuary: A star-studded cosmic stage on a clear, warm August night found many of us excitedly transfixed on the Heavens, eagerly engaged in a concerted effort not to miss a single shooting star as we camped upon The Wheel of Life Hill. The Perseid Meteor Shower was the night’s highlight, and we were it’s dedicated, entranced audience, ready to explore in our individual imaginings what the evening’s earlier presentation had entailed—a fun, interactive lecture by Sunburst’s own Moksha Badarayan on “Living in Space.”
The euphoria of an incredible evening presentation and observation of the Heavens through powerful telescopes paved the way for even more excitement as we counted upward of 100 beautiful shooting stars between 11:30 P.M.and early dawn! Our star party was indeed a hit!
Mid-September found a group of us enjoying an afternoon of delicacies at the Sunburst Lodge, hosted by Michelle Schaeffer who shared her secret recipes and hidden talent for turning any vegetable or fruit into a dehydrated delight! We excitedly tried our own hands at learning that fascinating process, never mind treating our tummies to a buffet of treats! Emily Wirtz also shared her hidden talent for canning, further whetting our appetites with several culinary creations. But wait, no fun afternoon would’ve been complete without a sumptuous potluck dinner—and that it was!!!
As the cycles of the seasons usher us into their own unique rhythms, so did the end of September find us engaged in a special journey of connection to our soul and the earth through the eyes of a horse! Every participant in the Equine-Guided experience, led by Natalie Riggs, spent an entire day spellbound by the deep and emotionally moving connections they made with the Sunburst horses, and the horses’ abilities to not only help us open our heart centers, but to connect to our souls, the earth, and Spirit, with many participants experiencing amazing emotional and spiritual breakthroughs!
October brought its own special gifts—a Kriya II Meditation Retreat in which one learned the technique of activating the healing power of our chakras. Meditation, periods of silence, and interiorizing of the senses were highlights, paving the way for an even deeper journey within at the Fall Silent Retreat led by Sharon Ray. What an incredible journey of Self-discovery it was! Yoga, guided walking and sitting meditations, visual presentations and enlightening talks by Sharon provided a fitting end to an amazing month of journeying within.
November found us exploring our body’s own sacred geometry at the Celebrate Life Retreat. Craig Hanson led this fascinating workshop of understanding our bodies with the objective of understanding creation. A captive audience expressed its delight at discovering the Divine thumbprint—the sacred geometry that is inherent in every aspect of our bodies, nature, and the cosmos! Our minds and senses fully satisfied, the evening would culminate with Dances of Universal Peace. Two hours of delightful world spiritual dance and song would prove to be the perfect ending to an amazing day!
The journey within that started with the Equine-Guided event in September was reaching a high crescendo as Sunburst celebrated the return of the light at our winter solstice meditation and labyrinth walk. An afternoon of hourly silent meditations proved the perfect prelude to dinner with friends, followed by a warming fire and labyrinth walk with lumineria under the stars. What magic ensued as the beautiful full Moon shed her glorious light beams over the meadow and labyrinth as we gathered around the bonfire enjoying the heightened cosmic energies of a most sacred day.
As I revel in the energy of a New Year and what it might bring, my heart is already uplifted by the blessings of the New Year’s Kriya Yoga Meditation Retreat held on the first week in January. One of the most powerful ones ever, I cannot but marvel at how the incredible energies of the previous six months were in sync with the very rhythm of the seasons they represented. And at how we started our journey inwardly in September just as Nature started her own journey of rest and rejuvenation, in preparation of a vibrant spring that’s sure to follow.
by Ischa Beharry
There they stood, majestic, commanding, glorifying the entire hillside with their immense beauty, three magnificent horses, while a beautiful lone poppy bloomed in full majesty on the Wheel of Life trail silently proclaiming to all, “Welcome!”
It was a late February morning as Sharon Ray led our silent procession to the Wheel of Life, an exercise in Mindful Walking Meditation, styled after the precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh. A cosmic blessing indeed to watch the pretty lone poppy as if proudly declaring, “Here I am – alone, yes, but here to offer joy and bring a smile to the faces of all who enter upon this sacred trail.” And smile we did!
As we stood on the hilltop in reverence of Divine Mother’s Nature, Sharon reminded us of the necessity to slow down, to observe, to feel nature and “listen.” And that we did for on our way down the hill on our way to the sanctuary temple, there stood the three gorgeous horses, looking directly at us and as I “listened” their voices in unison conveyed the message to me, “We bring blessings of the Divine Father to you.”
Weeks later, a large group of us made another procession to the Wheel of Life Seed Ceremony led by Sean Fennell. And what were we sowing? Poppy seeds! Could it be a Divine call from that lone poppy that she needed friends? Could it be Divine Mother’s blessing that she recognized just how much we appreciated her lone poppy child and wanted us to create a glorious poppy community? Whatever it was, it was all wonderful, for as retreat participants made their sacred seed offering at the Wheel of Life – sowing symbolically the seeds for the future flowering of their innermost hopes and desires – we knew with conviction that Spirit had heard our prayers and proclamations.
Having explained the Wheel of Life and its significance spiritually as our inner journey, and physically as our outer journey in the world itself, Sean talked about the spiraling nature of our inner journey and showed amazing physical examples of spirals in nature, some of which (a conch shell and pine cone) powerfully captured the message that all life forms, including us humans as well as the orbiting planets and galaxies themselves, are always moving and expressing their spiraling nature.
Once again, the same three horses stood majestically in the exact location they had for the Mindful Walking event weeks earlier, as we proceeded down the hill toward our lodge area. Inwardly, I felt that Divine Spirit and the Ancient Elders of this sacred Chumash land were showering countless blessings upon us and our sincere efforts through these events to bring back Heaven on Earth, right here, right now.
Nourishing rainfall did not deter the afternoon’s planned outdoor events, for in its place an incredible Permaculture movie was shown that created an atmosphere of great anticipation and excitement as participants later eagerly planted trays of vegetable seedlings. These were to be taken home for infusing their own gardens under the guidance of Sean Fennell.
Little Eli, Sunburst’s most adored resident, was, of course, the most eager of all as he dug into the compost, playing with it, wanting to plant also but too young to do so. So thrilled was Carmen, one of the participants who had brought about twenty friends to the event, that she hugged Sean and said to him, “Thank you so much. This is the best birthday I’ve ever had!”
And as Sean humbly put it, “This is our gift to you for gifting us so greatly with your eagerness to learn, your loving presence, and the joyfulness that you and your friends all brought to us at Sunburst.”
Two months filled with many treasured memories of wonderful people, incredible energy, and great learning, blessed by three stately horses and that glorious lone poppy!
By Sharon Ray
In building a life of inner harmony, it’s so important to slow down. This is not easy. It’s not easy to create space in our lives, but it can be done through choices. Inner harmony is a form of peace, certainly. In order to have peace, it’s important to have quiet time, and to have it every day, especially on the days that we have “off.”
Sitting with a good spiritual book and a cup of tea or coffee is a balm to the soul. Taking a rest in between paragraphs or chapters just to look around the room to listen to the sounds: the rain on the roof, the birds chirping, the hum of the refrigerator. These are moments of pure consciousness, of pure conscious awareness. These are moments when we are consciously connected to our true and eternal Self. That Self is looking out of our eyes. It is listening with our ears.
Time alone with the Divine, doesn’t just happen. We literally have to “carve out the time.” That means we have to take something out to put our quiet time in. Developing this true inner life of harmony and to make it our home, whether we are at work or at play, is essential to our happiness.
On what days and at what times can you make space for simply sitting? What do you need to take out of your day, or reschedule, in order to enjoy some time with your own True Nature? Make a date with your pure Self to just enjoy Being.
“There is nothing else worth seeking in this life!”
– Norman Paulsen, Sunburst’s Founder
By Sharon Ray
Humility can be a hard thing for Americans to grasp. We’ve been raised in a culture that is competitive, where people are actually applauded for clearly “making their mark” as being better than others. We are raised to strive to be higher than, better than, and to shine brighter than others. The climate of competition leaves some feeling that they have more intrinsic value, and others feeling that they have less. Neither position is true, for the Divine lives in every heart. We are all equally, infinitely precious.
This culture of standing out from and above others is not an exclusively American phenomenon. It is a condition that exists all over the world. It is a human condition that needs the medicine of Humility which dissolves pride into love.
In a valiant effort to avoid self-glorification, often people will take the opposite stance away from pride: self-deprecation. We are all children of God, made in God’s image and likeness, and depreciating ourselves is just as false a practice. It is false to say, or even worse to believe: “I’m really not as capable or worthy as others. They shine and I’m dull. I can’t do the great things that others can do.”
Love, the Mother of Humility, takes neither of these two positions. Love cares nothing about being higher or lower, and wants only to be at one. Love wants communion, to be in relationship with others the way that the fingers on two hands can be interlaced. Humility, born of Love, knows that being higher is separation; being lower is equally separation.
Love lives in the truth. The truth is that we can all shine brightly—bright light is our very nature. Doing wonderful things is the Divine drive of the Soul. The important thing is to give all the credit to the Divine whom we are expressing. St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? Let he who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Encouraging us to shine our light, the biblical book of Matthew says, “Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
So, let’s shine in the image and likeness of the Divine, and do great things to uplift this world, saying, “Thank You, God, for living through my life!”
Ultimately, Humility will be experienced by each of us through God-Realization, and we will perceive, experience, and rejoice that there is only One Doer. We will know, and say, “I Am. I Am. My body is this whole world. I’m not higher than; I’m not lower than; I am every being. One. There is only One. I Am that One. I Am that Love.”
Father–Mother Divine, help me to use this lifetime to uplift this world giving all the glory to You, the Divine Doer of All. I rejoice that we are One. We are the Love of the Universe. Amen.