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 Dawn King, Sunburst
A young woman from Australia flew to California on a whim and hiked the beautiful 211 mile John Muir Trail in California’s high Sierras. Now she was hooked on solo hiking and decided to take on the Pacific Crest Trail, a much more daunting trek. Two other solo hikers that season lost their lives in this pursuit. Our Aussie girl met plenty of challenges, with swollen rivers, glaciers and snow, which she’d never seen before.
Even when we call it “vacation,” extended recreation can easily turn to “wreckreation.” My own experiences have born this out; and we often hear of the weekend sports person who’s now a recovering invalid.
“Work hard; play harder.” It’s a great motto, but can be our undoing. Coming home from activity-filled vacations with my husband, I usually feel like a wreck, and it takes me a week or more to fully recover from our non-stop hiking, camping, rock scrambling, etc. But I wouldn’t want to miss the beauty and adventure of it, maybe even the challenges.
After thinking I’d created a new word, I found it listed at the Internet’s wiktionary: Noun: wreckreation Recreation that wrecks or harms the environment. For example, running off-road vehicles and mountain bikes through ecologically sensitive areas, running boats with large wakes in narrow watercourses so as to cause bank erosion, climbing in areas where raptors nest, or simply hiking in areas that disturb existing flora, fauna and archaeological resources.
We owe our Mother Earth some conscious care, just as we need to respect our God-given bodies, minds and spirits. Actually, I was thinking wreckreation might be applied to over-indulgence in “recreational” beverages, or other substances that wreak havoc on one’s normal ability to function, i.e. one’s personal environment.
So what’s the purpose of recreation anyway? The word’s roots mean “renewal.” Each day the sun rises and renews our daytime activities, after (what should be) the restfulness of night. Life has a rhythm, an ebb and flow. Sunburst’s founder, Norm Paulsen used to say that even the Creator fluctuates between
“a movement and a rest.”
As a microcosm of the macrocosm, or a chip off the old block of the Divine Creator, we each require a movement and a rest. Re-creation or renewal is vital to our wellbeing. We need a balance of exercise and rest physically, mentally and spiritually, so we don’t become a wreck.
Spiritually, and mentally, the best rest is found when we connect directly with the Divine. This can happen in deep meditation, or sometimes spontaneously in reverie, possibly when awed by the beauty of nature.
My husband, Al once met a woman who was fifty years old and on a road trip, having left Detroit for the very first time in her life. She had never before been face to face with a mountain or a forest, or seen the ocean. Hers was a whole new life, a true recreation and renewal of her realm of experiences. She was very excited about it all.
Let us pray for a wonderful renewal of spirit for all humanity. It is our birthright to realize and reaffirm our divinity as sons and daughters of a Creator who loves us, each and every one so very, very much.
By Sean Fennell
At Sunburst I employ the principles of Permaculture to observe how I live daily, how I connect with the wisdom of the Earth, with myself and with others. This is the outward journey, having been sculpted inwardly through my practice of the twelve virtues and the eight-fold path of conscious living.
This practice supports a continual path of transformation and growth in my everyday life. It helps me approach ordinary activities in extraordinary ways.
Where Spirit, Nature and people meet in oneness in activity, as well as in non-activity, is that place where I find my center. Permaculture is the marriage of the spiritual with the natural and social and is, therefore, one of the highest expressions of spiritual practice.
Permaculture begins with the individual, and is contingent upon one’s thoughts, ethics and beliefs. This, in turn, is what one can fully utilize in creating a sustainable way of life, starting from the inside out.
By employing the benefits of meditation, deep self-reflection, time spent in nature and group interactions, one’s creative expression and endeavor can translate into a life that’s fun, rewarding and sustainable for oneself, for others, and the Earth!
“If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable” is the Permaculture mantra.
Sean demonstrating the permaculture method of planting trees.
Now available! Click the image for more information.
by Sharon Ray
“We come to the profound realization that the true path to liberation is to let go of everything.” Jack Kornfield
As we grow and change and evolve it is natural that our needs and our environment should change and evolve along with us, otherwise we are like a rose trying to bloom in the desert of the past. Our life is a reflection of what we value and, as what we value transforms, so does our life transform: our environment, our friends, and our activities. Sometimes these changes require a decision be made that says, “This doesn’t fit me anymore; it doesn’t describe me. I’m going to let it go and replace it with something better, something higher.”
It very often requires courage to let go, to detach. In fact, Sunburst teaches that detachment is one of the important words describing the virtue of courage. One of its opposites is grasping.
It takes courage to go into battle, but it also takes courage to walk away from the battlefield when we are called to stop fighting. An example is to let go of a relationship or an activity that no longer serves you. We grasp, clutching onto the hope that someone else or something else will change. We hold onto key people, places, and things because we are attached (sometimes addicted), and feel that we need them, that we won’t be happy without them, even if we are miserable with them.
Detachment is key on the spiritual path. It is difficult to go far without it—like trying to reach the top of Mount Everest but forgetting your water or your oxygen, or like trying to sail into outer space without dropping your booster rockets. Detachment is the ability to let go of every person, place, or thing that holds us back from progressing along the way. There are activities and people that, although they bring some pleasure or comfort in the moment, it is more destructive than constructive to have them in our lives. How can we detach so that we can move over onto the fast track in our spiritual life? After all, letting go leaves a void.
Filling that void with devotion is key. When we develop a love for God and a passion for God Union, where God becomes our mother, father, lover and best friend, our all-in-all, then little else is needed. “Become a spiritual alcoholic!” Yogananda said. This passion for God gives us the courage to do what we must do to live a healthy, serviceable life on the fast track to God. Devotion, in its ultimate form, gives us the ability to let go of everything, even of the small self we perceive ourselves to be, cleaving at last solely to the act of loving God.
God please empower me to let go of everything and everyone that is holding me back on the path homeward. I only want to see Your face. I only want to be with You. Make me a courageous Warrior of Light, strong in Your service. I am Yours, forevermore.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill