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Why Attend a Residential Retreat

Why attend a long retreat? And how silent are they, anyway?

When I returned home one spring from a four-week meditation retreat, the main comment from friends was, “You didn’t talk for four weeks? Really?”  

If you haven’t been on a long retreat before, it can feel a bit scary to commit to what sounds like a total communications shut-down. But once you’re there, it’s not that big a deal. At the end of a retreat, I’ve never heard anyone complain they hadn’t talked enough.

Besides that, yes, you do get opportunities to talk. At Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, anyway, the retreat begins with a non-silent dinner, and some short exercises in conscious talking in the meditation hall with other individuals or in small groups before we all go into silence.  

During the last two days of the retreat we gently returned to talking, with more structured mini-sessions in the hall. There were also voluntary non-silent periods outside, when those who wished could chat with others, but a choice to be silent was also respected.

In addition, most longer retreats schedule some group and one-on-one practice meetings with a teacher throughout the retreat. In the March month-long retreat I attended, each participant met with a teacher every two to three days for 15 minutes.

The teachers want to hear how your practice is going, and you can ask any questions that may have come up. Sometimes you can also publicly ask practice questions of the teachers in the hall, at the beginning or end of a group sit.

If you haven’t tried a long retreat, you might want to consider it. A five-day or seven-day residential retreat is a great place to start. (And if you do intend to go for a month or longer retreat, there’s usually a prerequisite of having attended at least three seven-day retreats beforehand.)

It’s hard to say how much benefit a long retreat will continue to have once we’ve returned home, but it’s definitely a valuable way to spend time with yourself. We may well develop deeper understanding of the teachings. We may have blissful experiences, or deep, even life-changing insights. Perhaps we will even stumble closer to enlightenment.

Back at home after one long retreat, I found to my surprise that I was less likely to get lost in feelings of fear or anxiety. Instead the discomfort drew my attention inward. I was less swept up by the story, and more aware of what was happening in my body. I was better able to be present with the discomfort, give myself some compassion, and skilfully regain some calmness. I was now much clearer that I didn’t want to dwell in that discomfort or overwhelm, so it became harder to feed it and keep it going.

Please don’t get the impression that happened magically, however. I learned I had a choice only by making the wrong one enough times! When there are few distractions, the pain of staying in a story that creates anger or fear can become very obvious. Over time, we learn to accept, more and more, that things are the way they are.

In a longer retreat, you get the chance to really relax into and dwell within a deeper space than normal. In the midst of mostly silence, ideas and teachings heard in daily dharma talks can go deeper and live longer. Often the teachings come much more alive for me – something I’ve heard many times before may feel not just true, but riveting.

This past retreat, I was particularly inspired by the Four Noble Truths. It felt as if I was hearing for the first time that once we really understand them, liberation will be attained. It was good motivation to spend more time for the rest of the retreat pondering them, and seeing how they played out in my daily life.

Another teaching that reverberated deeply was one mentioned as the Buddha’s shortest liberation teaching: To see nothing whatsoever as ‘me’, ‘myself’, or ‘mine’…

Another aspect that always amazes me at retreats is watching the degree to which my body relaxes as my mind quiets down. Walking mindfully down the hill at Spirit Rock one day, my feet seemed like the soft pads of an animal’s feet, that spread out with each step. I’d have to say normally they feel like they have more in common with golf clubs! I had no idea how much tension I’d been holding in my feet. (Not to mention my back, neck, hips, shoulders, face, etc.)

In most of the longer retreats I’ve attended, we are given the opportunity to learn and practice the Forgiveness Meditation, as well as the Brahma Viharas (usually translated as the four Heavenly Abodes:  Metta, or Lovingkindness meditation, Karuna or Compassion, Mudita or Sympathetic Joy, and Upekkha, or Equanimity).

The Brahma Viharas are all purification practices, which means they can really bring up your stuff!  For instance, I was dismayed and humbled by how quickly my ego jumped in to interfere, as I tried to practice Mudita for a dear and deserving friend, who had gone through a terrible time just before I left for the retreat. But humbling is very good for us. When we see how little we really know, how imperfect we are, it helps us to open our hearts more to others and their imperfections as well. And it’s certainly not all discomfort – practicing the Brahma Viharas can also create insights, as well as many pleasant and even blissful states.

The Forgiveness Meditation is well worth spending time with. I’ve found it a beautiful way to begin healing some relationships, including my relationship with my self.

A whole week or month of meditation practice allows us to see and to become much more intimate with our own mental patterns, and our habitual responses of aversion and grasping. We can take the liberating opportunity to spend time witnessing them, instead of going along for the usual ride. There is also time for insights to arise. Sometimes they’re relatively quick and simple, like seeing my own limited ability to practice Mudita as wholeheartedly as I wished.

Sometimes the insights are surprisingly big and seem to arise from nowhere. I remember hearing a teacher talk about how he’d done some volunteer work overseas when he was young. As part of the preparation for working in third-world countries, participants had been taught to kill a chicken. He dutifully killed his chicken, went off overseas, and continued living his life. Years later, during a meditation retreat, the event arose in his mind and he said it took three days of sitting with it to process the horror he had actually felt at killing the chicken, but had repressed till then.

I too have re-experienced painful events from my childhood or past, and often found I was seeing them from a different, wiser, and sometimes less personal perspective.

Another very valuable part of attending a longer retreat is the greater possibility of integrating our awareness throughout the day. We are encouraged to be mindful both on and off the cushion, while doing work meditation (usually one period a day), and as we transition from one activity to another.

And there is so much support. I was simply awed by the kind and generous level of support available at Spirit Rock. There is really good, wholesome food, and they try hard to accommodate everyone’s real needs (not necessarily everyone’s desires, of course!). Accommodations are simple, warm and comfortable enough. The setting is lovely – on a nature preserve in rural California, with visitations from wild turkeys, lizards, hawks, and deer, among others.

Unscented soap, shampoo and conditioner are provided for everyone, in order to make the environment safer for those whose health can’t tolerate perfumed products.  Several scooters are available for those who aren’t able to walk up and down the hill to the dining hall.

Spirit Rock also has a commitment to make their retreats as accessible and welcoming as possible to everyone, including those who can’t afford them. Scholarships are available for several groups: those on limited incomes, young people, people of colour, and those with health challenges.

There’s something very special about spending time in silence while also being in community. For one thing, it keeps us out of a lot of trouble! Perhaps we are inhabiting our bigger, more beautiful souls, as we are temporarily less able to express our smaller selves. Many of us feel some reluctance at the end of the retreat to begin chatting normally with each other. It can feel like something very precious is being lost along with the silence.

If the Buddha’s teachings resonate with you, you might well enjoy an opportunity to spend a longer time on retreat, dwelling on the teachings, and deepening your practice. Most of us enjoy the time as a lovely break from demanding and stressful lives.  Many find a deeper sense of peace and even joy in being with ourselves, and with nature. And for some, a long retreat can be a life-changing event, when deeper truths have the time and space to make themselves known.

— Grace


Westshore Weekly Meditation

Weekly meditation in Langford from 7:30 to 8:30

Our group meets weekly at different locations in Langford and practices Buddhist meditation in the Thai Forest Tradition. We welcome new members, including new and experienced practitioners. We begin the evening with a 30-minute sit, followed by a short break, and then a talk and discussion.

For more information, please email Dave Riddell at

2018 Brock Brown

Brock Brown is a founding member and Chair of the Victoria Insight Meditation Society where he teaches and leads meditation retreats. He has been dedicated to the study and practice of the Buddha’s teachings in the Theravada tradition for the past 27 years, and is inspired by the Thai Forest tradition. He is a graduate of the Spirit Rock Dedicated Practitioners Program and the Community Dharma Leader Program and completed the Birken Forest Monastery Upasika program. Brock enjoys studying the suttas and making them relevant to our everyday lives.

2018/10/14 Christina Feldman Retreat day two audio files

The following audio files were recorded at Goward House on day two of a weekend retreat given by Christina Feldman in October 2018.


2018/10/13 Christina Feldman Retreat Day One Audio

The following files were recorded at Goward House in Victoria on day one of a weekend retreat given by Christina Feldman in October 2018.


2018/09/12 Ajaan Geoff talk Audio Files

The following audio files were recorded at Goward House on the evening of 12 Sept, 2018 during a presentation by Ajaan Geoff.


2018/06/24 Ajahn Viradhammo Retreat Audio Day Two

The following files were recorded at University of Victoria during a weekend retreat given by Ajahn Viradhammo. These are from Day two.


2018/06/23 – Ajahn Viradhammo Retreat Audio Day One

The following files were recorded at University of Victoria during a weekend retreat given by Ajahn Viradhammo. These are from Day one


2018/09/14 VIMS Council Meeting Minutes

VIMS Council Meeting Minutes (UNapproved)

Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

Sandra’s home


Brock, June, Sandra, Bruce, Brian, Rhonda

Absent with Regrets:


Agenda Items:

  1. Review and Approve Council Meeting Agenda:

An addition (point 3 last item) to the distributed agenda was proposed to request updates on two outstanding items. Motion from Rhonda to approve the modified agenda. Carried.

  1. Approve Minutes of Previous Meeting (July 20th, 2017):

There were no changes to the distributed draft minutes from the July council meeting. Motion from June to approve the minutes. Carried.

  1. Business arising from the Minutes and Updates:
  • Ajaan Geoff retreat update (Aug 19/20): There were 74 participants on Saturday (19th) and 63 participants on Sunday (20th). Participants were enthusiastic and good feedback was received after the retreat. Thanks to all those who supported this retreat: Coordinators: June Fukushima and Brock Brown; Co-managers: Eric Bedard, Ken Sohm and Grant Laing; Registrar: David Axon; Sound: Bruce McRae; Hospitality: Pascal Courty, Piriya and David Nowak, Brock Brown and June Fukushima.


  • The visit to Galiano Island with the monks following the retreat went well.


  • Arising from Ajaan Geoff’s visit is a new pilot project named the Aranya Refuge. It is a project that is separate from Victoria IMS but is supported by a number of sangha members. The purpose of the project is to have a place on Vancouver Island for monks to come from Wat Meta in California to be on retreat. The initial plan is for May 2018 when two monks would stay at David and Piriya’s house in Duncan and David and Brock would act as stewards. During that month there would be an opportunity for people to offer dana meals on Saturdays. Following the meal people could stay and listen to a recorded talk by Ajaan Geoff and then meditate with the monks.


  • Victoria IMS total retreat participants between January and August 2017 was 259.


  • Update on the status of outstanding items discussed at earlier meetings this year:


    • Gender inclusive signs for the washrooms at the yoga studio: Helga spoke to McAvoy and Associates who own the building but as at this time nothing has happened. June will follow up again with Helga.
    • Verbal acknowledgment of First Nations’ land at the start of retreats held at Goward House: Council is still undecided about this matter and will keep the topic in consciousness and see how it evolves over time (perhaps a chant; perhaps something in print that we can leave on the dana table; etc.).
  1. Finances:
    • June reported on the July-August financials (the report was distributed to council members prior to the meeting).

Account Balances as of August 1st, 2017:

Chequing: $1,240.95

Savings: $6,774.34

TOTAL: $8,015.29

Account Balances as of September 1st, 2017:

Chequing: $1,764.91

Savings: $6,775.78

TOTAL: $8,540.69

Motion from Sandra to receive the July-August 2017 financial report. Carried.

    • A scholarship was requested from Victoria IMS and was approved by Brock and Bruce. The value of the scholarship was $157.50 and it has been remitted to the sponsor organization.
  1. Bylaws and Constitution:
    • The Council agreed at our last meeting to move items 3, 4 and 5 of the current Constitution (see below in italics) to the new by-laws in accordance with the new regulations. Our new Constitution will comprise items 1 and 2 of the existing Constitution.


1. The name of the Society is Victoria Insight Meditation Society

2. The purposes of the Society are:

a. To promote Buddhist teachings and meditation practices as taught in, but not limited to Theravada Buddhism.

b. To provide access to the practice and study of the dhamma, the Buddha’s teachings.

c. To facilitate the growth and sustenance of a sangha, the community of Buddhist practitioners.

d. to promote the cultivation of insight, generosity and kindness in order to awaken heart and mind and to foster the possibility of freedom from suffering for all.

e. to encourage a personal meditation practice and the embodiment of the dhamma in daily life.

f. to do those things incidental and necessary to promote and attain the foregoing purposes, which shall include but not be restricted to the promotion, organisation and conduct of Buddhist meditation retreats, instruction, study and practice groups in British Columbia, primarily in the Greater Victoria regional district.

3. Upon winding up or dissolution of the Society, the assets, which remain after payment of all cost, charges, and expenses which are properly incurred in the winding up shall be distributed to a registered charity or registered charities as defined in the Income Tax Act (Canada), as may be determined by the members of the Society at the time of winding up or dissolution. This provision is unalterable.

4. The above purposes of the Society shall be carried out without purpose of gain for its members, and any profits or other accretions to the Society shall be used for promoting its purposes, and all the above purposes shall be carried on in an exclusively charitable manner. This provision is unalterable.

5. No Director or Officer shall be remunerated for being or acting as a Director or Officer, but a Director or Officer may be reimbursed for all expenses necessarily and reasonably incurred by him or her while engaged in the affairs of the Society. This provision is unalterable.

    • Member-funded society or not: after some discussion and with reference to page 5 of the BC New Societies Act: A Guide to the Transition Process, Council determined that Victoria IMS is not a member-funded society. Bruce motioned that we designate ourselves as not a member-funded society. Carried.
    • Brock suggested that we use the government offered model by-laws template as a start to creating the new Victoria IMS by-laws. Sandra suggested that we do this with reference to our current by-laws to retain anything we feel relevant.
    • Council decided that we would hold a separate meeting specifically to discuss and assemble the new by-laws. Before the meeting we will review the new model by-laws which can be found in Schedule 1 at this link:
  1. New by-laws meeting
  2. October 12th, 2017
  3.  7:00 – 9:00
  4. June and Brock’s home
  1. Sunday Night Community Sit:
    • As there will be no sit on Sunday December 24th, Margo has suggested doing a Solstice evening at the Yoga Studio on Friday evening December 22nd between 7 and 9pm. Council is supportive of this event. Sandra will speak to Margo about the logistics of the evening.
    • An extended meditation siting will be held on Sunday 31st December between 4 and 9 pm.
  1. Communications:
    • Newsletter: There has been a request to put an announcement about the Aranya Refuge project into the newsletter (see #3 point 3 above) and to also provide a link for readers to subscribe to the Aranya Refuge mailing list. Motion from Sandra to include in the newsletter. Carried.
  1. 2017 Programs/Retreat Operations:
    • Upcoming retreats/events:
      • Sep 16/17 – Adrianne Ross – registration opens Aug 21, 2017
      • Oct 14/15 – Steve Armstrong – registration opens Sep 18, 2017
      • Oct 27 – Victoria IMS Potluck/Social
      • Nov 11 – Brock Brown – registration opens Oct 16, 2017
    • Retreats completed:
      • January 21/22 – Heather Martin
      • February 19 – Margo McLoughlin
      • March 18/19 – Howard Cohn
      • April 30 – Tuere Sala
      • May 27/28 – Ayya Medhanandi
      • Aug 19/20 – Ajaan Geoff
  1. 2018 Programs:
    • January 20/21 Heather confirmed – Goward House reserved
    • February 23 – Margo McLoughlin – confirmed – evening talk – Goward House reserved
    • February 24/25 – Margo McLoughlin – confirmed – Goward House reserved
    • March 31/April 1 – Pascal Auclair – confirmed – Goward House reserved
    • May 26/27 – Susie Harrington – confirmed – Goward House reserved
    • June 23/24 – Ajahn Viradhammo – more than likely – UVic conference room reserved
    • September 15/16 – Brock Brown – confirmed – Goward House reserved
    • October 13/14 – Christina Feldman – confirmed – Goward House reserved
    • Nov 10/11 – Carol Wilson – confirmed – Goward House reserved

It has been suggested that we have a Friday program (day long) on May 25, 2018 facilitated by Susie Harrington. This would be the day before Susie ‘s two day retreat. The Friday one-day would be a separate event from the two day weekend retreat and would be focused on Buddhism and the environment. Earthspring Sanctuary outside Langford is suggested as the venue for the 25th May and the cost would be $400. Earthspring holds 25-30 people. Lawrie and Brock would be endorsers. Bruce motioned we should go ahead with this. Carried.

Isy has been working on the 2018 retreat teams. Brock distributed copies of the 2018 retreat schedule populated with current volunteer staffing and requested Council to review before our next meeting.

We are still looking for additional Sound support for retreats.

  1. Meeting adjourned at 8:55 p.m.

Next Council Meeting

November 16th, 2017

Sandra’s home

2017/11/16 Council Meeting Minutes

VIMS Council Meeting Minutes (approved)

Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

Sandra’s home


Brock, June, Sandra, Brian, Rhonda

Absent with Regrets:


Agenda Items:

  1. Review and Approve Council Meeting Agenda:

Motion from Brian to approve the agenda. Carried.

  1. Approve Minutes of Previous Meeting (September 14th, 2017):

There were no changes to the distributed draft minutes from the September council meeting. Motion from Sandra to approve the minutes. Carried.

  1. Business arising from the Minutes and Updates:
  • Adrianne Ross retreat update (September 16/17): There were 74 participants on Saturday (16th) and 63 participants on Sunday (17th). Participants were engaged and appreciative and good feedback was received after the retreat. Thanks to all those who supported this retreat: Coordinator: Joyce Elliott; Co-managers: Joyce Elliott and Kathy Jago; Registrar: Lawrie Thicke; Sound: Bruce McRae and Juli Macdonnell; Hospitality: Joyce Elliott.


  • Steve Armstrong retreat update (October 14/15): There were 89 participants on Saturday (14th) and 80 on Sunday (15th). The teachings were very well received and good feedback was received after the retreat. Thanks to all those who supported this retreat: Coordinator: Lawrie Thicke; Registrar: Rod House; Co-Managers: Isy House and Sheena Wilson; Sound: Rod House; Hospitality: Lawrie Thicke.


  • Brock Brown retreat update (November 11): There were 46 participants for this one day retreat. The teaching of Joy permeated the day and feedback received after the retreat expressed appreciation for the benefits experienced. Thanks to all those who supported this retreat: Co-ordinator: June Fukushima; Registrar; Pascal Courty; Co-managers: Sandra Joy and Margo McLoughlin; Sound: Juli Macdonnell and Bruce McRae.


  • Victoria IMS thanks all volunteers who gave of their time to support our retreats during 2017. In addition to those mentioned above who took on formal roles, there were many volunteers who undertook small tasks, came early at the start of the retreat to help with set up and stayed late at the end to help with clean up. Your contributions are greatly appreciated.


  • Victoria IMS total number of retreat participants for 2017 was 354.


  • Victoria IMS social: the gathering in October was smaller than in previous years and in discussion Council suggests that in 2018 we opt for a more informal venue such as a home garden.
  1. Finances:
    • June reported on the September-October financials (the report was distributed to council members prior to the meeting).

Account Balances as of October 1st, 2017:

Chequing: $2,395.82

Savings: $6,777.17

TOTAL: $9,172.99

Account Balances as of November 1st, 2017:

Chequing: $4,298.65

Savings: $6,778.61

TOTAL: $11,077.26

Motion from Sandra to receive the September-October 2017 financial report. Carried.

    • Another scholarship was requested from Victoria IMS and was approved by Brock and Bruce. The balance remaining in the 2017 scholarship fund after two earlier scholarships were granted was $157.50. Brock sent an email to council members requesting that we add to the fund increasing it to the maximum value of a single scholarship (that is $250.00), in order to support the applicant to attend a retreat. Brock made motion to implement the increase. Council members were in agreement and the motion was carried. The scholarship has now been granted and the funds remitted to the sponsor organization.
    • June put forward a suggestion to make suitable donations to three organizations with some of the Victoria IMS year-end surplus funds. The organizations are: Wat Metta, Forest Sangha and Dharma Seed. All of these organizations provide us with the ongoing use of dhamma educational materials. Motion from June to put the donations into effect. Carried.
    • 2018 Budget: June prepared a draft budget for 2018 which was distributed to Council prior to the meeting. Upon review, Council felt that the proposed Budget looked good. June will send it to our bookkeeper Wei for her review and modifications as needed. We will further review and approve the Budget at our next meeting.
  1. Bylaws and Constitution:
    • Council met on October 12, 2017 to go through the current Victoria IMS Constitution and Bylaws in conjunction with the new Society Act. Modifications were discussed and documented during the meeting. Sandra incorporated the results of this meeting into a working version which has been circulated to Council. Council will revisit and refine this working version at our March meeting and a final version will be created for review and approval at the 2018 Annual General Meeting.
  1. Sunday Night Community Sit:
    • Victoria IMS hosted a beautiful evening with Will Pegg’s community and the CBC as they documented Will’s journey through his illness. Those in attendance were deeply moved by Will’s honesty and courage in speaking about his illness and too his humour, open heart and depth of compassion. Thank you Will for allowing us to be a part of your journey.
    • In 2018 there will be a change in the Sunday Night Community Sit program which is scheduled to have more teacher-led evenings than in previous years and will be more focused on specific dharma topics – e.g. Brock Brown will be presenting on the Eight Fold Noble Path over several Sundays and likewise, Margo McLoughlin will be presenting on the Brahma Viharas. Community member-led Sunday evenings will continue to be offered.
  1. Communications:
    • Website: discussions about ‘revamping’ the Victoria IMS website have been in progress for some time but no action has been taken as yet. We will revisit this subject again, early in 2018, after the revision of the bylaws is complete.
  1. 2017 Programs:
    • Retreats completed:
      • January 21/22 – Heather Martin
      • February 19 – Margo McLoughlin
      • March 18/19 – Howard Cohn
      • April 30 – Tuere Sala
      • May 27/28 – Ayya Medhanandi
      • Aug 19/20 – Ajaan Geoff
      • Sep 16/17 – Adrianne Ross
      • Oct 14/15 – Steve Armstrong
      • Nov 11 – Brock Brown
  1. 2018 Programs:

All programs will be held at Goward House with the exception of the retreat with Ajahn Viradhammo which will be held at the University of Victoria.

    • January 20/21 Heather confirmed.
    • February 23 – Margo McLoughlin – evening public talk – confirmed.
    • February 24/25 – Margo McLoughlin – confirmed.
    • March 31/April 1 – Pascal Auclair – confirmed.
    • May 25 – Susie Harrington – evening public talk – confirmed.
    • May 26/27 – Susie Harrington – confirmed.
    • June 23/24 – Ajahn Viradhammo – TBD.
    • September 15/16 – Brock Brown – confirmed.
    • October 13/14 – Christina Feldman – confirmed.
    • Nov 10/11 – Carol Wilson – confirmed.

The 2018 retreat teams are in place.

  1. 2019 Programs:

Planning for the 2019 retreat schedule is in progress.

  1. Meeting adjourned at 8:55 p.m.

Next Council Meeting

January 18, 2018 7:00-9:30p.m.

June and Brock’s home