Stories from Yarne 2024

Around week five of the Yarne retreat Trinkar Ötso, Director of Gampo Abbey, ask a few participants about their experience of the retreat so far.

Amanda Atwood, Yarne participant from Harare, Zimbabwe

Trinkar:  Amanda, what inspired you to come this year? Why now? Why here? 

Amanda: A combination of things. I knew that I wanted something to help me deepen my practice, by which I mean putting the dharma more at the center of my life. (Finding) something that was (associated) with the Rimpoche family was important to me. 

Obviously, the fact that it’s connected to Pema Chödrön is a huge selling point. One of the things that I really value about Ani Pema’s teachings is how alive she makes the teachings, (especially for) a North-American raised female (like me). And the duration (of the retreat appealed to me). I was coming from far no matter where I went. To come for a week or even two weeks (wasn’t enough). I knew that I wanted something bigger and deeper.  A year would’ve felt too long and a week wouldn’t have felt worth bothering with. 

I had a sense (that Gampo Abbey) was solid and credible and (associated with a) lineage that you could trust and respect, and that (the retreat) was (organized) by people who took this stuff seriously and who were doing it from a genuine motivation to deepen their own practice and to make that sort of experience more accessible to people like me. 

Trinkar: And what has hit you strongest here?

Amanda: One of the things that stands out the most is finally having all of those teachings and readings — everything you’ve heard and everything you’ve been told about. Just apply softness. Just be gentle. Just sit with feeling — without the story. It was like that finally landed — that’s what that feels like!  And it’s valuable to have even felt that a couple of times. 

Trinkar: And what will you take home?

Amanda: (This retreat) has given me a glimpse of a very different relationship with myself which is powerful, exciting, and unfamiliar. 

It’s important not to assume that the magic that you can feel in a magical place is easily stuffed into your pockets and carried home. I know that it’s not like these six weeks magically fix or change decades or lifetimes of conditioned habitual propensities. But (it’s so precious to experience) that glimmer of Oh! — this is what a less self-critical, less self-denigrating, less self-judging version of some of these interactions or moments or thoughts or experiences could look like. 

(It’s also been motivating to fully understand) you are here to deal with your suffering, to be of more benefit to other beings who are also suffering.  And being able to be of more benefit to others is contingent upon your ability to bring less suffering onto yourself and be gentler to yourself. What a great motivation (it is) to figure out how (and why) to be gentler to yourself! It becomes less hypothetical.  

Sally MacKenzie Yarne participant from Krestova, British Columbia, Canada

Trinkar Ötso: What was your inspiration to apply to come to Yarne this year? 

Sally MacKenzie: It came up in my email inbox and I thought, “I don’t have to cross the border to do that!” I’d been here to visit several years ago as a tourist, so I was feeling fond of Cape Breton. I was looking for a longer retreat, more than a week. This came and I just went, “Yes!” When I mentioned it to my partner, she said, “Cape Breton, in February?” and I said, “Yes!” The icing on the cake was that Ani Pema would be here teaching. I’ve done several of the programs that she’s done, which were filmed here. 

Trinkar Ötso: And now that you’re in week five, almost six, what’s hit you the strongest?

Sally MacKenzie: The thing I didn’t anticipate was the impact of the monastic setting and what that means — all the rules. You go to a retreat at Drala Mountain Center (in Colorado) and there are hardly any rules. There’s just “Don’t park your car where you’re not supposed to,” but there are no rules. You come here and there’s a way we do things. Like eating — we don’t chew after 1:30. And so it’s all these little things — lots to “bump into” — that’s been fascinating. 

I finally understand at this point that part of the purpose of the monastic container is you have these edges to bump into — and what bumps into them is the ME. [I am] bumping into the edges and seeing all the places that I think I’m really important. “I don’t have to follow the rules, I am special, and I know better!” So that was unexpected. It’s been very interesting for me.

Trinkar Ötso: So what do you reckon you’ll take home from this experience? 

Sally MacKenzie: My daughter wrote me in her last letter, she said, “Do you think this will make a big change in your life?” And I wrote her back last night. I said I don’t feel like I know what it’s going to be until I’ve been home for a little while.

But at this point, what I’d like to take home with me is that sense of being able to watch myself doing things or watch my thinking, reacting, and being able to notice that. Because of all the silence, that becomes more obvious here. (I’ve) had a glimpse of that, of being able to watch my reactions and see how layered they are, how nuanced they are. 

I ran into something this morning that I thought annoyed me a little bit, and then it turned out I was furious about it!  And I was like, I’m not a furious person. (But) it was there. And then I think, wow. There are feelings banging underneath my behaviour regularly all the time, throwing me. I think I have this trajectory, and then there’s these huge waves that I’m not aware of, just sort of knocking me way off my trajectory.  So I think just having that one moment this morning is going to have a huge impact. 

When Ani Pema writes in her books the story about somebody having left their dishes in the sink and her being furious about that, a part of me read those stories and thought really, you get so angry about something so silly? But this morning I realized I’ve just been living (at a) superficial level with my emotional responses. Not always, but on a day-to-day level. But there (are these) waves that are fantastic and excruciating.

I was walking at the time (I had this realization). Walking meditation is a good time to feel your feelings. And I thought this is really unpleasant. Now I know why I don’t do this (normally). There is no more supportive place to do it (than here)!  

Trinkar Ötso: Are there any of the practices that you’ve been introduced to that you reckon are going to stick?

Sally MacKenzie: I’ve realized you actually can’t have a thought party. You can’t get more than one (thought) in the room at the same time. It feels like there’s more than one, but as soon as you greet this one at the door, you turn around to introduce it, and that one’s gone.

John Smythe Yarne participant from Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Trinkar Ötso  What was your inspiration to apply to come to the Yarne retreat this year?

John Smyth: I’ve always wanted to come back here. I’ve been here (before) and it’s where I feel my connection to this whole path arose. I’ve been to a lot of practice centres and they’re all wonderful, but this place supports practice in a very complete way. It’s so dedicated to the purity of what we’re doing. I can settle here and open up and it feels safe psychologically. Maybe not safe from the wind!

Trinkar Ötso: What’s the biggest impact this time?

John Smyth: Although I took the Bodhisattva vow years ago and it fit with an aspiration to help and to (be) open and give, well, it’s been 30 years! This is the first time I got that I really want to wake up. Waking up seemed like something that would happen or it wouldn’t. And I’m realizing, it won’t happen if I don’t do anything about it. 

I want to do something that’s of value to other people, not just of value to me. So that’s what I’ve taken away. It sounds huge, but of course, that’s what we’ve been talking about for 30 years! But it’s different for me right now. It feels like this is really the way to be of support (to others).

When I go home, I know it’s always harder. It’s easier here because it’s hard to distract myself. When I wake up at night, I can’t turn on Netflix or read the newspaper (or engage with) all of the other ways that sort of dissipate the energies that come up in us. Here, you have to relate with them (the energies), and that seems to be what I need: to use all of the energies I have, not fritter (them) away because they’re uncomfortable. But use them (for) all people in my life who I want to help. If I don’t know how to deal with these energies, how can I help (others) deal with them in their own lives? 

For this life, I feel like I completed some karmic obligations, which included practicing medicine for 40 years and all the rest of it, and (raising) my kids and everything. But it’s such a remarkable thing to be here (with) all these people practicing so intently in such a genuine way! The people here are so wonderful. 

I feel an obligation to take the gift and use it wisely. So that’s my aspiration going forth, that I won’t squander this opportunity. I know I’ll do it imperfectly, but I just want to do it with heartfelt yearning.