First Open Sangha Weekend Retreat a Success


The first retreat event for the Bay Area Open Sangha was a rousing success. I just returned from spending the last two days practicing with folks that came to our two day meditation retreat.

This was our inaugural weekend as an organization. I’ve never organized a retreat before this one though I have attended plenty and even done some minor teaching at one. This was also, as far as I know, the first retreat event held at the new Bear Oaks Dharma Center in Briones, California. This is a small center about 30 minutes East of Berkeley and Oakland that just opened up in the last month for practitioners.

We had a total of nine people attending, including me, with eight on each day. This is less than had initially signed up but I had expected some to drop away given that this was a brand new event with no history being held in a new space. With the space being outside the city a little ways, I figured that some people would get up Saturday or Sunday morning and make the decision that they did not have the energy to attend with all of the other commitments of day to day life. This is normal and a good thing. I want people to get to a retreat excited and energized to practice and everyone that came definitely was these things.

We had a number of people associated with the East Bay Healing Collective’s “Saturday Night Sangha” group, which is an open sitting group that meets every Saturday night at 6:00 PM in Berkeley. (In fact, we had at least three or four attendees who, on leaving the retreat at five or so in the evening, immediately headed to the Saturday Night Sangha to sit an hour with them and attend a teaching.) Several attendees had also met at or attended the Buddhist Geeks 2011 conference in Rosemead this Summer.

With the existing associations, there were a number of shared interests or perspectives on practice within the group. Most of both days was spent in periods of 40 minutes of sitting practice followed by 20 minutes of walking practice, either inside the main Dharma room or outside on the property. There were also discussions during lunch and at other arranged times. Discussions ran the gamut from discussions of the object of meditation used during practices (either concentration or vipassana meditation) to the role of textual or doctrinal study for Dharma practitioners. Given the small group size and the existing connections between some of the people, I felt that it had a nice, friendly, group atmosphere for these discussions.

Of the attendees, at least two or three had studied Zen at some point (including me) and several had either trained with or attended retreats at American Vipassana meditation centers, such as Spirit Rock. This fulfilled my personal goal in having this as a non-sectarian event that crossed some of the common boundaries in the Buddhist world. Since I am a Zen practitioner but have begun working with vipassana (in the Theravadan sense) meditation techniques, I felt completely at home with the group. It is my sincere hope that everyone who attended found it to be a warm and welcoming environment for practice.

I’ve scheduled our next event, one day meditation retreat for the third Sunday in December, the 18th. This will likely follow the same model that was used this weekend of rounds of sitting and walking with some discussion but only for a single day and probably in town, to make it slightly more accessible to new people. I definitely encourage people interested in what we’re doing to come attend.