A Weekthun at Juniper Hill Retreat Centre


Article by Janet Murie with photos by Chris Luginbuhl.

The weeks that led up to the week-long retreat at Juniper Hill Retreat Centre between Christmas and New Years were busy with social obligations, eating too much rich food and shopping for family and friends. I was looking forward to the imposed quiet of the week ahead, but having done two previous retreats I knew enough to have some apprehension about the work that was ahead of me.


I had spent a weekend at Juniper Hill in the fall and knew how beautiful it would be. It feels much farther from the city than the two hour drive it takes to get there. The landscape is wild and unmanicured , and the view from the house makes me wonder what it would have felt like to be the first person to stand on that hill and look down in to the valley. It was even wilder in the snow.

Juniper Hill is on acres of forested stillness, far away from the concrete solidity of Toronto. Madeline and Louis welcomed us warmly; and their house smelled of soup and wood. I settled into my comfy upstairs room along with my roommate and new friend Sarah. After lunch we found our cushions in the meditation hall and began the week’s work.


The schedule left little time for us to think about anything other than our own practice. We were up at 6:30 and in to the meditation hall at 7. Silent breakfast at 8, and sitting, walking meditation and shamatha yoga from 9 to noon. Lunch and reading until 2. Sitting and walking until 4:30, then tea and a small snack. Then contemplative reading and more sitting until a wonderful meal at 7. Evening was sometimes sitting, sometimes a video presentation, and occasionally discussion. Wrapped up at 9, lights out and 10. Repeat for seven days.

It’s amazing how deeply you can delve into your practice when the need to plan what to do next is taken away. That, and there is no place to run. The first day felt like a relief, the second day felt like a bit more effort, and the third day I started thinking up reasons to run away home. The big pay offs started after that.


Madeline is a terrific cook, not only organizing food for eleven people three times a day but also accommodating a variety of dietary restrictions. And I would be remiss not to mention Louis’ amazing French Canadian crepe breakfast.

I was deeply surprised at how closely I could feel connected to ten other people with so little speaking, but the week felt deeply intimate, warm and close. The silence was a beautiful challenge and left a lot of room to experience other people as who they really are; full of basic goodness.


It was a wonderful week – demanding, challenging, exhausting, exhilarating, satisfying, confusing, and ultimately full of contentment, peace and quiet cheerfulness. I look forward to the next part of my dathun, and continue to be grateful for the shift this week created in my daily life and practice.