Summer 2010 Simplicity Meditation Retreat at Juniper Hill


An article by Nick Butler with photos by Chris Luginbuhl.

The idea of attending a weekend meditation retreat sounded like a pretty idyllic escape from the beginning. But I must confess that, on the drive to Juniper Hill Retreat Centre, I found myself wondering what I was really getting myself into. After all, I had never sat in meditation for any extreme length of time, or adhered to any sort of strict meditation schedule. Like many beginners, my approach to sitting had always tended toward the forgiving side…I would tell myself: “five minutes on the cushion? Good enough! At least I tried”.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the incredible warmth with which Madeline Conacher, Louis Allen and Mabinti Dennis welcomed the eclectic group of around ten into our new, weekend home. Their open-armed approach to hosting set a wonderful tone from the start. It’s as if their welcoming attitude gave us all permission to be open and receptive to one another, ridding any sense of shyness or trepidation among the group. It felt safe and nonjudgemental.


The second thing that struck me was the breathtaking view offered by their sprawling property. The rolling hills seem to go on forever, uninterrupted and untouched. As we were treated to a delicious and healthy abundance of food outdoors, it’s safe to say that we had all begun to feel relaxed, and the meditating hadn’t even started.


Over the course of the next two days, we were guided along an incredible path of practice that combined sitting meditation, walking meditation, Shamatha Yoga, useful talks by by Madeline, Louis, and Mabinti, as well as a great video of a talk by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche from the 2009 Sangha Retreat at Shambhala Mountain centre. The schedule was an ideal fit for a beginner since it offered a satisfying challenge without pushing too far or feeling too strenuous.


But the group was comprised of people with all levels of experience and it became clear that, no matter what stage each one of us was at, we were all finding value in sharing our practice with like-minded people in this secluded oasis, far removed from every day distractions.

Madeline, Louis and Mabinti offered clear, practical and detailed instructions and also encouraged discussions. It was incredibly comforting to hear about the challenges others faced and to realize that none of us were truly alone on our path. We had all been dealing with the same questions, obstacles and experiencing the same breakthroughs, yet so rarely do we have the opportunity to share these moments with others. There was tremendous benefit to the sense of community that emerged even over such a short period of time, as it helped forge a feeling of companionship and unity.


I think we all left Juniper Hill with a renewed commitment to the practice and a mysterious sense of inner peace that had definitely not been there on the drive up.

To view a slide show of Chris’s photo’s go to our Flickr website.