Three Year Retreat

Christmas in Silence

Thirty-nine meditators in the Arizona desert are approaching the end of their first year of silence.  On December 30, this great experiment in the contemplative sciences—called Retreat for Peace—will celebrate its first anniversary, yet the retreaters are less than a third of the way through their commitment to three years, three months, and three days of silent, rigorous practices which they hope will yield firsthand answers to some of the deepest questions of human existence:

  •  Can problems such as war, hunger, and ecological catastrophe be solved through inner methods?
  • Is lasting happiness attainable?
  • Is there more to reality than what ordinarily appears to our senses?

No news of any of the top stories of 2011 has reached this group in their secluded valley at Diamond Mountain retreat center.  The nearly 20,000 deaths in Japan after its 9.0-magnitude earthquake, devastating tsunami, and nuclear melt down; the killing of Osama Bin Laden; the Arab Spring; and the European fiscal crisis—these do not exist for them.

Their method, though, is not to be simply locked away and kept in ignorance of the too obvious suffering in this world. They hope to empirically determine whether they can, through the deep contemplations and focus attainable only in prolonged silence, change the world by changing themselves.

In 2003, at the end of her first three-year retreat, I asked the leader of Retreat for Peace, Lama Christie McNally, how she would know if the retreat had been successful. “You know the success of your practice,” she replied, “by how the world appears to you.”

Several of those in the three-year retreat at Diamond Mountain are among my closest friends, and during this holiday I keenly feel their absence. I spend many distracted but exhilarating moments in my own meditations these days imagining how the world appears to them and in simple admiration for their courage. I can’t wait for the firsthand reports of their discoveries, but until then, here’s a Christmas wish that all the retreaters and their dedicated caretakers, find the joy, good health, resources and tenacity required for success under their juniper trees.

You can find out more about Retreat for Peace; read profiles of the varied group from the ranks of college professors, doctors, airline pilots, nurses, musicians, and advertising executives who walked away from their lives to participate; and find out how you can support their mission at .

By Douglas Veenhof

Douglas Veenhof is a former mountain guide, a first place winner in the Society of Professional Journalists’ "Excellence in Journalism Competition" and the author of White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet’s Lost Emissary to the New World (Harmony Books, 2011). He has studied and practiced Buddhism for more than twenty years and graduated with honors from the seven-year program of advanced Buddhist studies at Diamond Mountain, the academy in the Arizona desert founded by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally. He writes and blogs on Yoga philosophy, Buddhist meditation practice, the philosophy of mind, and cultural analysis, and has been interviewed on both radio and television (ABC, New Haven, CT). He teaches workshops and modules for Yoga teacher trainings in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, and is currently at work on a memoir.

5 replies on “Christmas in Silence”

what a beautiful christmas post, Doug … it’s funny, ive been thinking similar thoughts – how will the world look to the 3 year retreaters when they emerge ? I know that the people I’ve met who have completed a 3 year retreat are unlike any other people i’ve been around … the way they can penetrate to the heart of things and say and see it so clearly … it will be such a privilege to be around so many of them in 2014 … the way, i bought your book for my dad for xmas 🙂 – much love – jaki

It’s great to hear from you, Jaki. I hope you your dad will enjoy reading White Lama. Have a very merry Christmas in Singapore. I have fond memories of a holiday there and the disorientation of seeing giant images of snowmen and Santa in his North Pole get up down in the sweltering shopping district.

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