"Making it to the Monastery"
(In Our Practice, Spring 1998)
By Cheri Huber
I hear from people with some regularity that the idea of coming to the Monastery for the first time can strike terror in the heart. "How would I get there?" "What is it like?" "What would I do there?" "Where exactly is it?" "Have other people, people like me, regular people, not-drawn-to-be-a-monk people, actually gone there and survived?"
By way of encouragement I would suggest that no amount of preparation ever prepares us for life. Your trip to the Monastery will contain pieces that are similar to what you imagined and pieces that you won't be able to imagine even after you've experienced them! Conditioning will always lead us to paralyzing fear if we let it. Given that, we don't need to be stopped by logistics.
The Monastery Practice Center is located about three hours east of the San Francisco Bay Area. We are discovering after many years of airport runs that it is easier for us if people fly into San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose. Those are the most direct flights for most airlines. Sacramento is a possibility, but passengers usually stop in San Francisco before flying on to Sacramento. Because so many Sangha members live in the Bay Area, we are much more successful in arranging car-pools from the Bay Area airports.
You have probably surmised from the previous paragraph that we are prepared to transport people from the airport to the Monastery. If no one from the Sangha is driving up, a monk will come to fetch you. On occasion we encourage people to make their way to Stockton (large city, no airport) via AmTrak. This cuts our driving time way down since Stockton is only an hour away from the Monastery. Of course it is possible to rent a car and drive up from the airport, but the thought of a rental car sitting in the parking lot for the duration of a week or ten-day retreat can deter people. We do ask that people seeking assistance with transportation contact the Guestmaster to arrange flight arrival and departure times. We often have several people coming in for the same retreat, and it certainly helps us to have the arrivals and departures coordinated.
We generally have no more than ten human monks in residence at any time. The Monastery is also home to one dog and five cats. The facility consists of 320 acres, one large building containing a kitchen, a dining room, a meditation hall, four bathrooms, and a dormitory with beds for 8 or 9, a wood-working shop, a small "meditation hut" which can seat 15 (and doubles as a yoga room), the "kitchen tent" which was the hub of the property until the main building was completed and now stores odds and ends, 12 hermitages (some permanent homes for monks), and 2 small travel trailer hermitages.
When people come for retreat, they are asked if they would prefer to stay in a hermitage or a dorm room. Hermitages are simple and rustic. If you like camping, you will probably like the hermitages. If you prefer indoor plumbing, you might choose a dorm room. The dorm rooms have walls that don't quite reach the ceiling and cloth doors&150;they are visually private and auditorally not as private. If you snore, talk in your sleep, or are a particularly light sleeper, you might go with the hermitage/out-house/away from everyone option.
Life here is simple. We will send a list of what to bring and what not to bring. You can call ahead to check on current weather. No need to bring books or journals or any other entertainments or distractions because we will endeavor to provide you with a full retreat experience. As my teacher was fond of pointing out, "no reason to be bored!"
So, let us know when you're ready. Or, if it feels like you'll never be ready, just let us know when you're willing and we'll assist in the arrangements. If you have questions not addressed in this information, please ask.