Last spring, a friend contacted me to introduce me to North Burn. North was beginning a project to host extended silent meditation retreats for dedicated practitioners in a beautiful setting in the Pacific Northwest.
Having had the opportunity to do extended retreat myself—and knowing how deeply transformative that opportunity had been for me—I was deeply inspired by North’s project. I also admired that North wanted to run these retreats on a generosity (dana) basis. That means that we will not require a payment or donation to participate in retreats, that he participants who are dedicated to serious practice are welcomed regardless of their financial means or situation.
I offered to help make that opportunity available to others. For the past year, I’ve dedicated a portion of my time each month to helping North plan, organize, and raise funds for this program.
Earlier this year, I was able to visit North’s first extended retreat for a one-week practice period of my own. This time was deeply supportive to my own practice, and also strengthened my sense that what North is doing is a beautiful gift for the world. I could see the impact that his teachings and the container for practice that he helped create was having on the participants mind, and how that would ripple out to benefit others in the world.
The opportunity to do extensive, deep practice is a tremendous gift – not only for the individual practitioner, but also for the world. Aquinas said, “it is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation.” The benefits of contemplative practice reverberate through our lives, our communities, and the world. That’s why I’m so passionate about North’s project, and ensuring that he is able to continue to offer these retreats.
It costs $3,000 to host a participant for three months, which makes a total of $21,000 needed for the next three month retreat in Spring 2023.
If seven people donated $3,000, we would be able to support seven retreatants for this next three month practice period. Of course, any donation offered in the spirit of generosity is welcome and appreciated as a precious gift.
Additional funds will be needed for a planned two month retreat in the fall of 2023. Furthermore, we are actively looking for a new home for the practice periods for 2024 and beyond.
I recently had North on my podcast (video / audio), to learn more about his background and teachings, and to share his visions for his project with the world. If you’d like to learn more about him and this project, that’s a wonderful opportunity to do so.
This past spring, we accomplished our first dana-based three-month practice period! I have aspired for a long time to teach a retreat of this length and intensity. During the pandemic lockdown I had time and space to reflect on my purpose and decided– with the blessing and council of my mentors and guides– to focus in this way. Organizing this practice period was a yearlong adventure of gathering funds, building adequate infrastructure on a remote island, and inviting practitioners for whom this was a good fit. Ten practitioners came from near and far, some for the full three months and others for a shorter time. Each person slept in a tent in the forest and we meditated together in a cabin. We upheld Buddhist Precepts, lived in Noble Silence, and followed a daily schedule of formal meditation similar to a Zen sesshin or Vipassana retreat. I gave frequent dharma talks and individual practice discussions. A fog of doubt had rolled into my heart as the practice period approached. Yet as we practiced together doubt burned away into confidence, joy, simplicity, and clarity. The forms of the practice period brought forth strong and continuous mindfulness and an intimate encounter with our deepest aspiration. Every person who came here settled and opened psychologically and spiritually, and I am encouraged to reflect on the myriad acts of compassion which will surely flow out of them, helped along by their time here.
I feel inspired, energized, and dedicated to lead one or two practice periods like this every year for as long as possible. If this past practice period was a pilot test run, we are now entering a year that is like a bridge to a fuller offering. A wonderful team of spiritual friends has come together to work with me toward this aim. We plan to put in two more tent sites increasing our available places from five to seven (the maximum that can work in this space), and we will offer two practice periods in 2023, in the spring and fall. We will also hold work periods for several weeks late this summer and next summer. We can use the same property for just one more year. After that, we need to relocate.
Our practice periods are happening entirely in a culture of dana, or generosity. Dana is traditional in Buddhism yet rarely found in the West for long retreat opportunities. People who come to our practice periods are not asked for money or pressured to make donations and are offered a place irregardless of their financial situation and based only on their sincere aspiration and affinity. Rather than being hired, freely offering teachings establishes a dynamic more conducive to good spiritual friendship. These are just some of the many benefits of this way.
The uncertainty of the dana model often compelled me to let go of control and open to uncertainty. I was then often delighted by the unexpected and unique nature of the gifts which emerged: a field of kale, a bucket of flowers delivered every week, a painting of lotus blossoms, a basket of fresh bread and hard boiled eggs slipped quietly onto the porch, an old blue pickup truck named Captain Haddock. Dana isn’t limited to material goods. The greatest gift is considered to be our practice. We can also give our time, energy, and skills. Dana nourishes relationships. I have heard that at the best monasteries in Thailand, which have operated for a long time on dana, the relationship of monastics to those who support them feels less like a business and more like a big extended family.
I hope this letter serves to strengthen warmhearted relationships. It is a meaningful gift simply to reach out to me and have a conversation. It is also helpful to share this letter with anyone you know who may be excited by our vision. We are looking to connect with dedicated practitioners for whom this is the perfect practice opportunity, people who are inspired by what we are doing and want to support it, and those who simply would like to be in contact or view our website. We rely on word of mouth to grow our community.
Financial contributions are essential. This year, it costs $3,000 to host each practitioner for three months. If we raise $21,000 we can confidently organize the next Spring Three Month Practice Period. Small donations make a noticeable impact. For example, $33 sponsors one practitioner for a whole day. As we have a relatively small network in our early stage of development, larger donations are crucial at this time. Your financial contributions, small or large, bring something of value to life and are deeply appreciated. Donors will be commemorated in a special ceremony during the practice period.
As we are seeking a new home for our practice periods after this year, we are actively exploring possibilities. If someone is interested in helping us build a center, that is ideal. We envision beautiful land with accommodations for fifteen people, and we are open as to the location. Perhaps an affordable option could be if someone lends or leases us land on which we can set up temporary or semi-permanent buildings. There may be other ways we haven’t thought of, and your ideas are invited.
Lastly, if you want to join a practice period or a work period then send your application as soon as possible this summer– especially for the upcoming September work period and the 2023 Spring Practice Period.
Our practice periods are an opportunity to settle thoroughly into silence and stillness, revealing the heart’s capacity for freedom, peace, wisdom, and compassion. Those who mature in this way become guiding lights for others and in our world.
All donations will go toward costs directly related to upcoming and future practice periods, such as food, fuel, supplies, infrastructure, and operating expenses. If you wish to make a contribution to my personal income, which also depends on dana, please specify this. Discuss with us if you wish to make a tax-free donation; we are not now a non-profit although we are pursuing fiscal sponsorship this summer and non-profit status long term.
Words from retreatants:
I arrived at the practice period from New Zealand knowing relatively little about North and left three months later knowing I was privileged to have received teachings of deep truth. North’s dharma touched on a range of traditions and methods, but what was consistent throughout was the importance he placed on a freedom which felt both incredibly close and incredibly important. I left the practice period feeling that taking one’s seat is as simple as recognizing what was already here. There is a newfound sense of capacity in me that is best described as the simple knowing that ‘all is welcome.’ This may not sound like much but I feel that it is enough to build an entire life upon.Ned
North is a dedicated teacher whose teaching is direct, compassionate, and responsive. He truly cares about communicating the dharma and is willing to go-to great lengths to meet someone where they are. Though the practice period was incredibly difficult at times, overall the experience was invigorating and healing. In large part, this was because of North’s unrelenting emphasis on right here, right now. The practice period is a wonderful opportunity to deepen your practice in a setting that is both challenging and supportive. North was able to create conditions for practice that are hard to find anywhere.Dylan
This Practice Period was the most important thing I’ve done in my life. It’s hard to convey how powerful it was. Since returning to ‘normal’ life, I’ve been surprised by the degree to which this new type of consciousness has persisted. North taught us how to cultivate a state of spacious awareness that can stay with us even amidst challenging experiences and emotional states. This awareness has led to a dramatic reduction in my own suffering and an increase in my capacity to show up for the suffering of others. It has created room to continue healing from painful experiences and gain more clarity on my deepest values than I’ve ever had. As I write this and reflect on the efforts North went through to teach us and offer this to us as a gift, I am filled with gratitude.Melissa
North’s gracious hosting and playful teaching bring forth vast open space in each of the participants. How lucky to get to be there for it.Phil