September Simplicity Retreat at Juniper Hill


An article by Rachel Li.pton.

For those who have made the decision to redirect their earth-bound lifetime towards a spiritual path, I feel a common point of origin may be shared. We awaken to our new-found spiritual aspirations, we delight in their discovery, and we begin our journey by fantasizing of a life of deep and profound meditation in the woods somewhere, surrounded by spiritual comrades, and perhaps, just maybe, shaving our head and walking around barefoot all the time. Or perhaps that was just me?

And though we all arrive at the start of a spiritual path for our own reasons, and the journey we take is authentically constructed by each of us who walk it, we are all beautifully bound together by a common hope: we are all seeking to transcend the limits of our current self.

That community of path-walkers is a very powerful and dynamic environment, and it was that very energy I had the opportunity to be a part of the September Simplicity Retreat at Juniper Hill Buddhist Retreat Centre. Under the never-faltering hosting prowess of Madeline Conacher and Louis Allen, a group of people from novice to nearly-pro had the noble opportunity to sit, breathe, and just simply be together. To just be. In a culture of all-consuming doing, doing, doing, that really is quite something.


As a definite novice to the art of meditation, the weekend was, as the classic phrase goes, “not too tight and not too lose.” Amidst the wafting incense and the seeming calm of the shrine room sitting periods, I was a pile of aches and pains. Each sitting, which was only thirty minutes, was more of a struggle than enjoyable. But I wasn’t alone. We were all working at our own speeds and in our own ways. We all tried our best and would come back and try again – perhaps with another cushion under our seat this time!

The sitting was interspersed with walking meditation around the lovely property (a key ingredient to retreat experience, I have learned), yoga lessons on the lawn, and of course, tasty eats. As a committed eater in this life, food is an essential piece of the puzzle, and I was not let down in the slightest. Organic and local veggies at every meal, wonderful soups, and always dessert. Fantastic!

At Juniper Hill, there are bedrooms and cabins for sleeping. I got to sleep in the actual shrine room. How cool is that? Answer: so cool. As well as opening their home, Louis and Madeline also offer up their well-endowed library to their visitors with comfy sofas or scenic outside seats to compliment the literature.


My favorite part of the weekend was the group discussions. Although sharing a physical and spiritual space with others has its own delights, the verbal communion is always a favorite of mine. Hearing other people’s questions and/or experiences intermingled with one’s own process has such value. I felt comfortable asking questions of my comrades and the teachers there and of commenting on other people’s queries. And me, just a novice!