“Letting Go” @ La Casa De Maria

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I recently hosted a retreat with Indira Shekerjian at La Casa De Maria in Montecito, California the weekend of September 22 & 23. This was our second retreat together,  we first teamed up with Megan McCarver for a sold out weekend at White Lotus in Santa Barbara, May 2011. I’ve been to LCDM a number of times over the past few years as a guest yoga teacher for a series of retreats held by Dorothy James.  As a satisfied guest, I always desired to hold my own retreat there someday.

The theme for our weekend., “Letting Go” was based on certain aspects of the Fall Equinox where there is a perfect balance between “day and night,” the “sun and  moon.“ This is also applicable to the literal definition of Hatha Yoga: Ha”–sun, “tha”–moon,  and Yoga –“to yoke.”   Through the practice of yoga we strive to strengthen  and reinforce the connection and balance between the mind and body.   Therefore, it seems appropriate that as nature shifts into balance, we too, should try to do the same.  Furthermore, Pantanjali advises us in the Yoga Sutras to observe the niyama, Santoshacontentment (2.42)  and  abhyasa vairagyabhyampracticing non-attachment (1.12).    Indira pointed out in our group discussion, that we typically  start off the year making our “to do lists” and then over the ensuing months, keep pushing the agenda.  But, do we ever stop to see what we’ve accomplished? Is it enough?  As the year winds down, what can we “let go of?”

This welcoming center provided the appropriate setting for deep reflection.  LCDM is spread out over 26 acres covered with large shady oak trees—there’s even a towering 500-year-old eucalyptus tree on the property.  An eclectic assortment of  old Spanish Mission Style structures are situated around the estate. Each dwelling built at various times, has its own unique traits. For example, The Immaculate Heart Center, a stoic stone mansion built by a wealthy businessman in 1930, evokes the style and craftsmanship of an old world European manor, its rooms filled with antiques old paintings and religious artifacts.  Other facilities on the property include comfortable and soothing Retreat Rooms; Casa San Yasidro, a dormitory that accommodates more than 20 people, mostly youth groups; and there are houses, Casa Teresita and La Casitafor smaller groups or individuals.  The center has been undergoing renovation with an emphasis on energy conservation. While most of the buildings are being outfitted with solar panels, they still retain their historic charm.

The food is simply excellent whether you’re eating meals prepared by a private chef at the Immaculate Heart Center, or cafeteria food at LCDM, it’s all fresh gourmet mostly vegetarian/vegan fare that ‘s made primarily from produce grown on the property or from nearby organic farms.  A large orchard of fruit trees and a sizable garden further support the Center’s direction towards environmental sustainability.

This interfaith center has an interesting history  dating back to the Chumash Indians who once inhabited it, planting many of the trees, then later over the years privately owned.   The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, A Roman Catholic religion purchased the property in 1940 and after breaking away from the Catholic Church in the 1960s & 70s, turned the estate into a non-profit organization.  What I like most about the center is that it’s off the radar for popular yoga retreat destinations.  It’s a retreat and conference center that harmoniously hosts many types of groups and non-profit organizations,  with “programs focused on meditation, spirituality, personal growth, community service, environmental awareness, education and art.”  Many individuals also go there for silent retreats, to write or create.

I also experimented with a new retreat format–an intimate sized group of 10-12 people and the option to spend the weekend or come up for one day.  Most traditional yoga retreat centers typically require twenty people minimum, putting pressure on teachers to get these numbers when in fact they may be happy with around 12-15.  This format  gave everyone the opportunity to connect in a profound way that isn’t possible in larger groups bringing a lightness and calmness to the weekend that proved to be refreshing.

Our group of eleven people occupied the cavernous “Lounge,” one of the meeting rooms on the property, with lofty wood beamed ceilings and a grand stone fireplace. In all, they had an excellent time participating in a well-rounded program of yoga, restorative and meditation classes and a provocative workshop and discussion led by Indira and I.  Everyone also had ample free time to hike, swim read, draw or simply take a nap!

Nevertheless,  LCDM is a good place for serious heartfelt discussion and contemplation. You’re given a rare opportunity to move inward and connect to your innermost self in a supportive environment that encourages you to open up,  reveal and  “let go.” We were all graciously taken care of.  I’ve finally found a “retreat home” and I hope you and others will join me there sometime in the future.

Sightseeing: The Zoo in Ueno Park

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A few weeks ago, Charlottte Tanaka, Mikoto, Goto Hisako and Ryu Imaizumi invited me to go with them to the zoo in Ueno Park.  I hadn’t been to a zoo in years and was really looking forward to it and 4 1/2 -year old Ryu was particularly excited.  We took the JR LIne to this vast park, which is very similar to New York’s Central Park, in scale and for the presence of prominent museums.  Shortly after entering the zoo, we  saw the panda bears and then continued on to see an elephant, bears, a towering giraffe, penguins and a menagerie of variegated wildlife.  A powerful storm quickly moved in forcing us to run for cover and take a monorail through lush, green, treetops in search of an area to wait out the downpour.  The four of us had snacks under a pavilion overlooking a sweeping lake covered in waterlilies. Finally the rain stopped and we were able explore a bit longer until a classical melody played over the speakers indicating closing time.  Similarly, throughout Tokyo, a nursery rhyme is amplified at 5:00 p.m. each day, Tomoko Kawahara said that this is a signal “for all little children to go home because their parents are waiting for them.”  After leaving the zoo, Ryu wanted to see the bullet trains “Shinkansen” and we were able to get passes at the train station to go below and see them arrive and depart.  Ryu was so thrilled to be there with the trains–and so upset when we had to leave.  In all, it was great to spend the day experiencing life’s simple pleasures through the eyes of a child.