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
Looking at the stunning fall colors unfolding on its branches, I was drawn, after the Hong Sau Meditation during our recent Silent Retreat, to connect with a particular tree outside the Sunburst Temple.
Holding a beautiful leaf in my hand, the delicate Divine artistry so intricately displayed on this leaf was outstanding! Arrayed upon its borders was a slight tinge of the most remarkable reddish hue. “How do you feel about losing your lovely foliage, which will leave you so unclothed in the midst of the oncoming winter rains and the inevitable cold, I curiously inquired of the tree?
Into my consciousness flowed the following reply, filled with utmost love and compassion:
“I simply go with the natural order of things. Fall is a time when Nature withdraws inwardly, conserving its energy for the harsh winter conditions that always follow. We trees do not resist the Divine Order of things —we simply allow its unfolding through us. We simply are— one hundred percent a tree, just as we’ve been created to be. And, yes, we are conscious beings even as you are; however, we do not resist our ‘beingness.”’
Upon reflection, and at that very moment, my own inner voice intervened:
“Model this wise tree. Resist not or complain about life, the weather, the seasons…. Embrace it all fully and you, too, will continue to feel the unbroken inner peace that you’ve been so blessed to enjoy.
Amazing Nature, you are indeed Spirit’s playground – a repository of the greatest wisdom, beauty, joy, strength and courage, yet humble beyond compare! O how I adore you!
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 Valerie King
Amidst the lush green landscape of Sunburst Sanctuary in late February, about fourteen people gathered for a silent retreat weekend. The elephant image shown is one of the group mandalas that participants enjoyed co-creating together. We also practiced walking and sitting meditations, listening to singing bowls, a grounding yoga session, and mindful eating, There was plenty of free time for rest and solitude
Everyone learned to carefully listen to and be ever so grateful for the sounds of life which are always all around, like the crunching of our footsteps, the singing creek, the croaking frogs, or simply our rhythmic breath. Silence in a group was powerful and soul-nourishing, transforming participants and facilitators alike with deep peace and strength to move forward in life.
What a necessity this kind of experience is, especially in these times on our planet. We hope many more people will be able to experience this healing retreat in times to come!
The Silent Retreat inspired me to write this poem.
Like a fish who longs for the waters,
As soon as I step into silence
Is so tangible.
Roaring around and through me…thick Air,
Thick with Spirit Divine.
You are always here,
Permeating every particle of my being,
Enfolding me in the Matrix of your Being,
Silence brings it to the fore
Sweet yet utterly powerful Om.
To be still is to Awaken.
This is my new favorite retreat and one that will feel new and different each time I do it since the silence takes me on a unique journey.
I loved this opportunity for intentional silence. To be around other positive, intentioned energy without having to fill the space with narrative; to be able to work on creating more space within myself while not feeling secluded or alone—what a magical concept!
The retreat was well conceived and planned; wonderful activities and the freedom to engage or not.
By Craig Hanson
To renounce the ego is a little different than what we may think of as renunciation. The Upanishads say that letting go of ego is not a renunciation of life; it’s a renunciation of all those things that make us unhappy—anger, selfishness, and desires for things or people, desires for money, for relationships, or to be recognized.
What is ego? I think of it as being like a grain of sand in an oyster. The grain of sand is irritating. It causes development of layers and layers of belief systems and sense impressions around it, eventually becoming a sphere of what we identify with. The ego builds up this whole concept of what we think we are.
I find when I’m working during the day, if I’m not staying centered on the work at hand. I’m thinking about results—thinking, “I want to get this job finished, so I can go on to something else.” This is ego talking. Or, when I get done, if I keep looking back and thinking, “Oh, that’s a great job. I hope someone notices my beautiful work.” That’s the ego talking.
The ego is a slippery little guy. It has all this inner dialogue. It can look at a person and all of a sudden form a judgement: “Well, that’s probably somebody I wouldn’t want to know.” Ego creates a whole culture of stereotypes that we’re familiar with. if we watch the news, we’re constantly confronted with it.
The ego has created what we see in movies, and in our daily lives. But, we can look at our lives and ask ourselves how we’ve really enjoyed life over the years. What experiences have we found most enjoyable? Looking back upon my life, I see the most joyful times are when I’m giving a present, or making a gift for somebody. I’m not thinking about how much I’m going to receive for this; I’m just giving it. I’m not thinking, “If they don’t like it, then I can always get it back and resell it on e-bay.” My ego has had those ideas, but I had to say to myself, “Let go of that thought, and bring it back to center.”
Each of us is exploring our inner world and learning to use our God-given abilities to bring heaven on this earth. Whatever talents or gifts we have, let us remember to give those gifts unselfishly, for the enjoyment of others and the inspiration that we might give to others. This is our true enjoyment.