Tucked away in a peaceful forest on an island far from the buzz of the city, lies Deerheart, a true soul sanctuary. As it’s name implies, Deerheart offers a loving and gentle support for a real depth of practice. Hornby Island is an entire day of travel, 3 ferries and hours of driving from Vancouver, but it’s remoteness is what helps to make it so special. A known place of ceremony and pilgramage for indigenous peoples, Hornby is a place of unique beauty and power. The lunar rock formations on it’s beaches are unique and surreal. It’s old and newer growth rain forests infuse the island, infusing the air with oxygen, a perfect place for yoga and pranayama. I love that there are only deer and smaller wildlife on the island, no cougars or bears or any threatening animal life. Walking through the woods and on the beaches day and night, there is a deep sense of gentleness.
Deerheart is situated on 5 acres of rainforest land with a creek flowing through. The old growth trees around the creek and behind the main yurt have a powerful spirit and aliveness to them, containing ancient wisdom and support. I felt truly held here as a practitioner and teacher. I have been to many retreat centres world wide and this one has a supreme mix of quiet, gentleness, connectedness to nature and loving and deeply knowledgeable leadership that offers such a unique practice environment. The centre employes many permaculture principles such as composting toilets, organic gardens, and low impact structures, giving a sense of living in harmony with nature, yet it is cozy and comfortable in it’s rustic charm. The paths meander through rainforest and around the creek, from camping and caravan dwellings to the main mediation yurt to the outdoors kitchen to the compost toilets. Even walking from place to place was imbibed with so much beauty, each step a step on the quiet, gentle path of meditative experience. As I get deeper into my practice, I find the connection with nature a really important and supportive element. Deerheart provided the shelters necessary to feel cozy in a rainforest, with the ecological richness and stewardship to really feel connected to nature.
There is the awareness of prana in yoga, the life force energy that moves through the body guided by the breath, as a key element of practice. So practicing with the fresh air, water, earth and fire elements so pure and rich, really supports healing and a depth of experience not found in larger city centres. The electromagnetic field that surrounds us and our planet is less disturbed in these natural places, and this can be felt as an attunement to our essential selves. The negative ions emitted in the air from trees and running water provides soothing and healing by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of our nervous system is responsible for healing, regenerating and de- stressing the body. Practicing yoga and meditation in these environments is like deeply soaking up prana like a sponge into the areas of our bodies and consciousness. I was fortunate to lead a yin and meditation retreat at Deerheart. It was such a treat to teach and practice at Deerheart, the days filled a saturation of powerful, pure forest, ocean and mountain scapes, the nights in calm, cozy contemplation in front of a wood stove. We ushered one retreatant out of 3 weeks of silence in a candle lit yurt, jamming and chanting with instruments and vocal tones. We sat, listening to our breath and the teachings of Adyashanti in meditative practice periods throughout the day.
Seven day Meditation Retreat with Adyashanti, Garrison, New York.
After a week of yoga, kirtan and exceptional food in New York city with yoga buddies, I was invited up to Woodstock with Jeremiah Brimlow, Jivamuhti and Chi Gong instructor.
We drove up to the Tibetan Monastery, North American home of the Karmapa, the holder of the Kargyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
Situated on a mountain in the Catskills, the centre has one of the largest golden Buddhas and ornate traditional Tibetan Gompas (temples) in North America. I was reminded of the large monateries I had practiced in in Nepal, the art and architecture so ornate and beautiful, giving a near psychedelic visual experience. We were invited into the finale of ceremonies in a week long retreat devoted to Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion. He is the principle diety practice of the Dalai Lama (he is thought to be in incarnation of this deity also known as Avaloketeshvara). I was given this practice and Wongkur by my Teacher Lama Ludro in my one month one on one retreat with him in the Yukon, so I was stoked to walk into the vibes generated from a week of chanting his mantra; OM MANE PADME HUNG and visualizing his radiant light emitting from bodies of dedicated practitioners. It was such a warm, enthusiastic welcome by these practitioners, we felt deeply at home. The female Lama visiting from Ohio, had such a contagious, welcoming glow. She told us jovially that this was the place where “the elite meet.” She also told me to remember Bodhichitta in my own retreat. This being the notion of compassion and sharing with others. “This is why we practice,” she said, “to benefits others. It’s important to remember this on retreat.” It was a perfect send off to my own seven day retreat with my beloved teacher Adyashanti at Garrison institute.
Adya is a living example of awakening embodied. His name means primordial peace in Sanskrit and this is truly his presence, made accessible through, clear, direct and practical teachings. His down to earth, pure, yet humourous quality is refreshing, his teachings full of wisdom and experience. I feel so fortunate to have discovered him, sitting twice now in retreat with guidance from this awakened master. The depth of experience is notable while sitting with someone who speaks and lives in their true nature. It is always so supportive to be with his sangha as well, the community of retreatants that follow his teachings and sit with him. Their level of practice and understanding lends to a very strong container for our own experience of truth. Both Garrison and Asilomar, the two retreat centres I’ve travelled to, to sit with Adya, have been exceptionally beautiful. Garrison was a rare jewel along the gorgeous, giant Hudson river, only an hour away from New York city, but full of peace and natural wonder. The location is a converted Catholic monastery, housing gothic architecture and a long history of contemplative practice. The grounds were stunning with diverse botanicals, natural river side forest and a long network of hiking trails. Across the river the sight and sound of a large water fall inspired us. I spent many hours sitting outside in a large gazebo, doing my formal sitting and walking practice surrounded by the river, water fall and forest. Morning and evening we were guided by Adya in teachings and guided meditation periods along with Satsang, a time of coming together to ask questions. Many Buddhist teachers meet one on one with students so they can ask questions, but Adya opens this dialogue up in more of a yogic inspired format. It is quite wonderful to witness the openess and experience of fellow practitioners in their earnest pursuits. It is quite incredible to hear of people’s experience and how they are supported and held by Adya’s teachings. The questions, answers and insights being so pertinent to personal practice. Seven days with this teacher and sangha felt like years of personal practice.
I felt so fortunate to move from that experience into teaching and practice at Deerheart Sanctuary. But it was a long journey from Garrison to Hornby with Seattle Green Fest in between! A strange but wonderful, stimulating experience after going very deep within. My senses were heightened and focused after deep meditation, launching myself immediately into teaching kids yoga and theatre was shocking, but I was able to take it in good stride. Green Fest put us up at The Hyatt Olive 8, a more eco friendly version of this top hotel chain. We had a luxuriant room with spa access, so it cushioned the blow of travel and teaching quite nicely.
From New York city to quiet nature retreats to the buzz of Green Fest, to the 2 day long trip to Hornby Island, I was ping ponged along the coasts. Luckily the soothing energetic container of deep meditation was sustained around me. I managed to keep up a deep practice through all the travel and extroverted experiences. A little spaced out on the bliss, I was able to keep present and joyful in the stress of travel.
Journeys like this are unsustainable, the amount of fossil fuels used to fly from place to place is decadent. I do, however make much effort to ride my bike and take public transport and have done so primarily throughout my life. Still, I plan to offset the carbon in other ways and to go shorter distances for these experiences. It was a valuable opportunity that I will share for my whole life, it is important to learn first hand from diverse teachers. These teachers are the kids, wise men and women and spiritual masters that help empower positive change and I’m grateful to be able to experience it and share it.