5-day Outdoor Retreat at Sea Breeze Lodge, Hornby Island, BC

5-day Outdoor Retreat at Sea Breeze Lodge, Hornby Island, BC          

                                                                                                                   by Gin

It had been my wish to attend a Chan retreat lasting more than 3 days for a long time.  Finally, the moon, the stars, the sun and everything else in my life lined up perfectly.  I was able to carve out some time and fly to Vancouver for the 5-day Outdoor Retreat.  Here I will share some impressions of my experience from the retreat on Hornby Island from 9/10 - 9/14.  
 
On the first day, we had to take three separate ferries to reach Hornby Island. These ferry rides took us away from a busy and crowded city to a remote island.  On the way there, the ocean was calm; the sunshine was warm and pleasant and the breeze was light and soothing most of the time.  The journey seemed to establish the tone for the retreat.  As soon as we arrived at the destination and found our cabins facing the ocean, I felt a sense of peace.  Everyone pitched in to convert one of the cabins into a “temporary” Chan Hall, which accommodated the whole group of 25 people perfectly.  The retreat started after dinner with the video of Shifu’s Dharma Talk and our first meditation session. 

For the next three days, we followed the normal retreat schedule with a few twists. Just imagine doing the Eight Form Moving Meditation at 6 am in the dark by the ocean, listening to the powerful sounds of waves. I bundled myself up with a scarf, hoodie and warm jacket, leaving my face and hands feeling the cold wind that spread to my entire body.  Then I put my awareness on breathing, the movements and sensations of parts of my body, feeling very relaxed eventually.  Soon enough, I was not cold anymore.  What’s left was a sense of serenity and quietness.      
 
In the mornings, we meditated in the cabin, on the deck, or on the grass. While eating, we practiced eating meditation. In the afternoons, we hiked and meditated in the woods.  Before starting up one of the trails with a steep slope, Chang Wu Fashi told us to be very mindful of the movement of our hips and thighs first, and then knees and feet in that order. She also advised us to use a proper amount of effort and hike at our own pace going uphill, as we usually use too much effort attempting to accomplish our goals. Most of us who don’t exercise on a regular basis would be short of breath while hiking on a steep slope.  Strangely enough, while I hiked following the above principles, I felt such a calmness in my mind and complete relaxation in my body.  We meditated at a few scenic points overlooking the ocean. The calmness and relaxation remained unchanged.  Then all of a sudden, I could feel that I was a very tiny part of the universe and the universe a part of me.  A sense of humility and gratitude arose.  

I was completely stressed out before the retreat.  I could feel the painful and tight knots on my neck and shoulders.  By the time we finished hiking the first day, I noticed that the knots had disappeared. I guess meditating and immersing oneself in nature has a better healing power than a massage in a luxurious spa.       

On the morning of the last day, we completed the retreat by Taking Refuge and paying homage to buddhas, historic enlightened Chan masters, bodhisattvas, sangha, fashis and volunteers who organized this incredible retreat.  I was in the front row in the room facing the ocean, and I could see early morning sunlight shining on the ocean as if it was buddhas’ infinite light illuminating the entire universe.  It almost seemed like time and space did not exist at that moment.  Everyone we paid respect to was present with us in the cabin. My tears rolled down my face as I was prostrating.  I realized at that point that time away from the mundane routines of daily life was necessary to practice, reflect and reinforce my vows and faith.  I understood that I needed to remember the experience and create a constant quiet place in my daily life.  Ultimately, I believe by practicing regularly, we can reach out beyond our own little world and connect ourselves with people, sentient begins, nature and universe as one.  The bottom line is that I have nothing but gratitude for this retreat.  I have faith.  I have peace.