SnowFlower member Zach Smith reflects upon the recently held 2016 SnowFlower’s annual fall retreat and shares his experiences as a first-time retreatant. For a different perspective, please see Lisa Glueck’s post, where she discusses the value of retreats and what over the years has made SnowFlower’s fall retreat so special.

Enveloped in Silence, Embraced by Metta

Bethel Horizons main hall in the mist of the morning

Bethel Horizons main hall in the mist of the morning

Deciding to get off Highway 151 a bit early and lazily make my way up the backroads until I found County ZZ was a wonderful way to start the retreat. With windows rolled down and nothing but the sound of the pleasantly warm autumn air whistling by, I slowed down and soaked in the beautiful, rolling hills and fall foliage of Wisconsin. With a mixture of excitement and anxious anticipation, I arrived at Bethel Horizons for my first extended retreat.

Not knowing what to expect, I took a breath and began to explore and meet more members of this amazing community than I knew existed. Even after regularly attending SnowFlower’s Friday night sit for the last year, I had no idea how many people were sangha members, nor did I anticipate there would be so many others from the surrounding states. While it was initially a bit overwhelming, the smiles and warmth emanating from everyone quickly made me feel comfortably at home.

Cliff overlooking the beautiful lands surrounding Bethel Horizons

Cliff overlooking the beautiful lands surrounding Bethel Horizons

Although the talking capped the beginning and end of the weekend, the warmth and smiles endured, added to, and shone through the Noble Silence during the retreat. And it was the silence amidst the 100+ people that was so wonderful, a veritable representation that everything can be in nothing, and that experiencing now is enough. Without words, the smiling, warm people and beautiful, calm surroundings supported me, allowing me to focus more deeply on my breathing, and be gently embraced by the palpable metta. I too, then felt like I could smile, relax and inter-be.

While the dharma transmissions were enlightening, it was this envelopment into the community that affected me so deeply. Having the chance to mindfully live together in a shared space gave me the confidence to practice mindfulness in all aspects of my life. It brought some of Thay’s teachings to life, and allowed them to sink in after the repetition of a few days.

A Shakuhaci, or Japanese bamboo flute

A Shakuhaci, or Japanese bamboo flute

My mind began to calm in ways that it hasn’t in a very long time, and I was able to write, be and smile. Two moments that were true gifts for me were Saturday morning’s sit, and Frank’s playing of the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. They both watered some very dry seeds buried deep within me, and were personally powerful moments. They encouraged me to do more regular watering of something I hadn’t felt so concretely in a while: joy.

– Zach Smith