This is a first-person account of two Shamatha Project participants who chose to devote themselves entirely to practicing shamatha.
"We finished the Shamatha Project fall retreat in December of 2007. The three months in retreat had been an incredibly meaningful time for each of us. Training our minds to be more brightly present and less perturbed, more introspectively in-tune, and nurturing deeper altruistic tendencies, had brought forth a deeper sense of connection with our own being and with that of all others, and, naturally, a greater overall sense of well-being. All the while, we had additionally contributed data that could potentially enhance the scientific understanding of such mental training. We were all a very happy bunch and primed to apply the skills we had developed. Many of us would be returning to families, continuing on in our careers, caring for loved ones, and engaging in other activities now with a more balanced mind and with abundant opportunities for practicing the four immeasurables.
There were also some of us at the time who had minimal, if any, external obligations and an aspiration to continue in retreat. We saw our situation as a rare and beautiful opportunity to further our spiritual development by devoting ourselves wholly to contemplative practice and, in particular, to practicing shamatha. We each felt that, given our situation in life, staying in retreat would bring about the greatest benefit for ourselves and for others, and were thus set on our path.
Our circumstances at Shambhala Mountain Center, where the Shamatha Project took place, were sufficiently conducive for practicing shamatha full-time and single-pointedly; we had an experienced and knowledgeable teacher, the presence of each other to provide support as fellow practitioners, food and shelter all taken care of, and a quiet, peaceful environment. Such conditions are typically found when one pays to participate in an organized group retreat. But we now found ourselves wishing to engage in contemplative practice as a long-term pursuit and without any definite lattice of support for doing so. As we embarked on, we found that the conducive conditions necessary for practicing shamatha single-pointedly were very difficult to find. We still had Alan fully supporting us as our teacher, as well as each other practicing together. Finding an environment that was relatively free from sounds of human activity, however, was elusive. We moved twice in Colorado, living in rented houses, and then spent a summer building kutis in rural Washington, where we lived next. Other significant challenges for yogis, such as engagements with landlords and prohibitive local building regulations, were also present.
In June of 2009, we made a fortuitous connection with someone who offered to support us in building hermitages in the mountains of New Mexico, a place so remote that the nearest neighbor would be two miles away. Over the summer, we began building the first hermitage, and now plan to finish building this summer. The whole process of ordering materials and finding a way to transport them to the land turned out to be an adventure in itself. The buildings themselves were designed to be sturdy and beautiful, and hopefully will be around for many generations of practitioners to enjoy. With plans in place for completing the hermitages, it now seems like just the right place to be. We hope that others who aspire to live in retreat will also see it as a feasible option."
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