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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

A Retreat to Nada

November 11th, 2013 · 2 Comments

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Right after returning home from my epic trip to Alaska, I set forth once more. This time, however, I drove only 200 miles south to Colorado’s lovely San Luis Valley for a week-long Buddhist meditation retreat in the Roman Catholic hermitage at Crestone, Colorado. I drove four hours from my apartment in Boulder to the hermitage, where I joined 10 other experienced meditators. But people can also go there singly either to meditate or simply to retreat from the wider world for a time. This was the most fulfilling and peaceful week of my life.

At 8,000 feet, the hermitage is located where Colorado’s San Luis Valley rises into the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. This valley is high desert with less than 14 inches of rain per year. It is the largest Alpine valley in the world, and it remains relatively unspoiled by people, so it is one of my favorite places on earth.

Crestone is the largest intentional interfaith community in North America, although only 132 people live there. It is is a spiritual and new age center with several world religions represented.

The center of the hermitage a lovely chapel called Sangre de Cristo. I attended the Sunday mass there with about 30 other people from Crestone, who almost filled the 36 pews. Not only does the church no longer use Latin in its services, but at least here the church has much less ritual than I remember from when I was a Catholic in my young adult years. The mass had almost no music and no “smells and bells.” This was the first time that I had attended mass since November or December 1963. That was a service in the memory of President John F. Kennedy at the national cathedral in Mogadishu, Somalia.

The Nada Hermitage Chapel in Crestone at Sunset

The Nada Hermitage Chapel in Crestone at Sunset

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A bridge connects the chapel to a cloister, which Nadans call Agapé. For the first half of the retreat we sat together there. With minimal exceptions we were silent for the entire week. We chanted together at the beginning and the end of the retreat and spoke during two half-hour interviews that each of us had with the retreat leader, David Chernikoff.

A Sunrise View of the Cloister where We Meditated as a Group

A Sunrise View of the Cloister where We Meditated as a Group

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We sat and walked in silent meditation — and repeated. Except for a group meal at the beginning, we ate alone in our hermitages. When we happened to pass another person, like in walking meditation, we had no expectations to smile or even make eye contact. I found this profoundly freeing.

We sat in meditation for 45 minutes and then walked in meditation for about as long. And then we repeated for a total of five or six hours of meditation every day. It was joyful and freeing, never boring.

The Meditators (Photo Courtesy of Rich Hanke)

The Meditators (Photo Courtesy of Rich Hanke)

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The second half was individual practice in our hermitages. My hermitage, which is named for Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is a part of the overall Nada Hermitage, the Colorado branch of the Spiritual Life Institute with roots in the Carmelite order of Catholicism. Nada is, of course, Spanish for nothing, undoubtedly chosen to reflect the letting go that is the purpose of a retreat.

The Lindbergh hermitage was essentially a fully-furnished studio apartment with food. While Nada provided all the food we needed, I took some favorite foods of my own, including Greek yogurt, Assam tea, and stevia. For lunch I usually made a salad from lettuce that I gathered in the garden, the freshest salad I ever had in my life. Hummingbirds also appreciated the garden, which has a hummingbird feeder, and two of those little birds came within three feet of me.

My hermitage came without neighbors but complete with an expansive view of the unspoiled high desert. Like each of the 17 individual hermitages at Nada, it faces south to wild fields of sunflowers and very few trees.

Each individual hermitage is 300 to 400 square feet in size, described appropriately as “simple, beautiful, homey, and not institutional.” Each side of the Lindbergh hermitage has one small window, but a distinctive feature of the building is that it is built as essentially as am entrance to a cave with earth at the back, the top, and on most of the sides. It is truly of passive solar construction and blends in with the environment as much as possible in color and form.

The Setting of My Hermitage

The Setting of My Hermitage

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My hermitage had an open floor plan with four floor-to-ceiling windows and a door that is a window in the doorframe. It had a wood-burning stove and a fan, but I didn’t need either in the mild August weather (the high temperature during the week was 84° and the overnight low was 47°).

I didn’t use the Internet or any computer or radio, TV, stereo, or phone. The only electronic devices I used were my alarm clock and my iPod, and that solely to time the length of my meditations and that of the water I heated for tea. I never used my car or went off the property.

The Interior of My Hermitage

The Interior of My Hermitage

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A shoulder-high wall in front of the hermitage gave privacy, and the only creature that came to my door was a single chipmunk, but it didn’t stay long. At sunset one evening a small herd of deer passed by as I stood at the doorway.

The Simple View from the Doorway of My Hermitage Where I Sat and Meditated

The Simple View from the Doorway of My Hermitage Where I Sat and Meditated

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My goal for this retreat was first to turn inward and away from the world, some of which I love and some of which I hate. I hate what people have done to our planet home. I began to recognize on retreat that my hatred must be an external manifestation of something that I hate in myself that I began to dig into and to change accept what I can’t change. Another goal was simply to cut back on external stimulus so that I could better know who I am and what I want in the remaining years of my life.

Outwardly, nothing dramatic happened during the retreat except for a thunderstorm on the last afternoon. I was meditating in the chapel when the rain and hail came down ever more fiercely and the thunder clapped loudly practically simultaneously with the lighting. I had my hearing aids turned up to the maximum to more fully experience the event. I welcomed the storm both because the desert needs whatever rain it can get and personally because it cleared the air, immediately ending my seasonal allergies.

Inwardly, I came away from the retreat with the goals of getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle and scaling back my incessant travel. I decided to live more simply, be less busy, and tread less heavily on the land. I have already seen more of the world than practically anyone else has and don’t need to see it all.

They called us retreatants. Maybe that sounds better than retreaters, but I was of course doing that too.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jean Richards // Dec 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thank you, David, for sharing your retreat experience. It does sound wonderfully peaceful and your lovely photography
    is always appreciated.
    Jean Richards

  • 2 David Mendosa // Dec 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Dear Jean,

    I am glad that you appreciated my post about my retreat at Nada. Just this week I signed up for the upcoming retreat in August 2014. I made sure to be early to sign up, because there are so few spaces available.

    Namaste,

    David

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