Last weekend, I went down to the Rockaway Summer House in Arverne, which is located a couple of blocks from the Beach 67 St Station (Arverne By The Sea) and yes, the beach! This house is a residential retreat center offering workshops and events focused on meditation, yoga, mind-body activities, and more—all on a donation basis (1). Buddhist Insights is the organization that hosts these retreats with the goal of making monastic teachings more accessible to the public by connecting New Yorkers with monastics (from all over the US and the world) (2).
I found out about Buddhist Insights via a google search looking for meditation retreats close to NYC. It had been about a month or so that I was back from my month-long stay at a yoga ashram in the Bahamas, and I was looking for a place that I could go to re-focus my energy and spend some time focused inward. I found a two-day retreat entitled “Limitless Good Will with Bhante Jayasara” and decided to sign up, because it seemed like it would help undo anger and resentment. I am so glad I went!
WHAT THE RETREAT WAS ACTUALLY LIKE
Even though there was a sample schedule that was shared a few days before the start of the retreat, I showed up to the Summer House not quite knowing what to expect. I arrived on Friday evening, which comprised of an orientation to establish house rules and then an introduction to Bhante Jayasara, who led the retreat, along with a sneak peek into the weekend’s theme, cultivating metta to get ill will, anger, and negativity “out of every nook and cranny” within us. Metta can be translated as loving kindness, loving friendliness, or limitless goodwill (my favorite interpretation). We were instructed to turn our phones off, practice contentment with the food given, and to give gratitude for being able to experience the retreat based off generous donations. We were also told that we should remain as silent as possible throughout the weekend, and that if we really needed to communicate with someone, we should whisper or write down what we wanted to say. After a short guided meditation, we headed off to sleep. I was in a shared room with six other women and we slept on the floor with futons provided.
The next morning, at 5:30am, the sound of a gong woke us up as we got ready to begin our day with 6am meditation. The retreat itself was challenging—you’re sitting for most of the time and meditating; think 8 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday. I have been meditating for a long time (albeit, inconsistently) ever since my statistics teacher in high school led meditations in class to help us reduce our stress levels. The schedule was essentially big chunks of time dedicated for lectures and meditation (sitting guided, sitting silent, and walking), with one hour breaks for various activities in between.
Everyone is assigned a one-hour work period. Because I had worked in the ashram kitchen before, I was placed in the kitchen to help with lunch prep, which I loved! They only serve two vegetarian meals per day (7am breakfast and 11:30am lunch) using organic foods and vegetables grown in the garden or ethically sourced products from local farmer. On the second day, I was able to bake some delicious and simple vegan blueberry muffins to celebrate two birthdays. (See bottom of this blog post for the recipe one of the monks shared with me.)
On Sunday, during our final meditation session, we went to the beach to meditate. We were by far the most eclectic looking group on the beach, led by Bhante J in his long red robes and matching bucket hat. Despite the sweltering hot weather that felt magnified as we sat out in the open on the sand, it was exciting and peaceful all at the same time to be by the water.
- The thing that I really loved about last weekend was that it felt like a welcoming space, full of loving kindness, community, and mutual growth. I was amazed to see this in such a short period of time, without knowing anyone’s name or speaking! I felt that people were considerate of one another and genuinely existed in a way to create a positive environment for everyone. This was exemplified in how people moved quietly around the house, as not to disturb anyone, and in how diligently everyone completed their work tasks. Maybe it was all the metta we were practicing and offering to the world, but there was a genuine sense of openness and kindness.
- As a non-Buddhist, I appreciated that the retreat offered a space where anyone could come and take and give as they could. This begins with the fact that this retreat is open to all for free and only on a donations basis, allowing everyone to participate. No one yelled at you if you were tired and rested during meditation and nothing was forced upon you. Everything was a suggested guideline that you could take or leave as you saw fit. I personally felt a little skeptical when I first arrived, because I didn’t have much experience with Buddhist teachings and was worried it would be similar to my ashram experience where you were expected to do everything the way that you were told, at the exact time, and in the exact method they prescribed. However, this retreat created such a safe and loving atmosphere, which invited me to lower my defense mechanisms and try something new. I left on Sunday feeling love radiate all throughout my body and was grateful for such an experience.
- Last weekend was also a really good reminder about how to live harmoniously with the planet, which includes all living beings! The monks reminded us that this extends to even the “creepy crawlies” and annoying ants, and they asked us not to kill any bugs during the weekend. If we saw ants or spiders, we should take them outside safely. In addition, I noticed how environmentally-friendly the House was. This includes things like minimizing waste, composting, and recycling different types of material correctly. In addition, they only prepare vegetarian meals, using organic and ethically sourced foods from their garden, chickens, or local suppliers. The quality of the food was very good and felt nutritious, although the meals were very simple—another reminder of how little we need to live well. They also air dry laundry, use natural and less toxic cleaning supplies and personal care products, and reuse wherever possible. This simplistic lifestyle is the result of how to live harmoniously with the Earth and you could tell that they took the time to thoughtfully make better choices in consumption, waste disposal, and overall living—much of which had to do with doing and using less, reusing, and practicing contentment with what you already have.
Many thanks and much loving kindness to this wonderful organization and other retreat participants.
Check out the original post to get the berry vegan muffin recipe: https://www.bodyofearthglowup.com/blog/how-a-silent-meditation-retreat-with-buddhist-insights-proved-to-be-an-earth-friendly-experience