Reflection on Winter Retreat 2021 from Richard

Signs of spring are making themselves felt. The early birds have started arriving, showering us with
their multiple calls and exhibiting their mating dances. The sun now feels quite warm, even on days
where the air is cold. The snow is all gone; the coyote and deer are free to roam unconstrained by their
narrow trails. Hello, I am Richard. I have been a steward at Tisarana for the past two years. Luang por
Viradhammo has invited me to write a blog entry about the winter retreat.
Every year the community at Tisarana works hard to maintain and further establish the monastery,
doing so both on the grounds and in the offices. The winter retreat is thus set aside expressly to provide
an opportunity away from these duties in order to focus on meditation. The winter retreat is quite quiet
both in terms of routine and nature that surrounds us. The pace, with its daily work period, already
begins to slow down as the cold weather arrives. And so, very naturally the monastery settles into the
long wintery quietness of retreat, like the first dusting of snow gently falling to the ground. In order to
relieve the monastic community from their mundane duties yet keeping the monastery functional, a lay
retreat crew is invited to serve on the retreat. The retreat crew for winter 2021 was composed of Arinda,
Curtis, Niraso, Tristan and myself. An honorable mention is due to Anoma who came to give us a hand.
Although formal daily work periods do not happen during the retreat, the winter crew keeps up with the
needs of the monastery. And so, among many things, danas were booked, food was cooked, floors were
swept, toilets were scrubbed and snow was blown away. Consequently, a couple of mornings and
sometimes an afternoon or two every week were taken up by these chores. So it is, that during the
retreat, work actually gets done and not solely by the retreat crew.
What if the winter retreat isn’t about ‘not working’? What if the winter is really an opportunity to
retreat from some of our tendencies, an opportunity to step back and look? Having lived at the
monastery for a while now, it is clear to me that the retreat offers this clear break in my daily habits
even though I don’t have the clear break from a life outside of the monastery. The retreat still gives me
a fresh perspective with a lot of space and time, while maintaining generosity as the backdrop of daily
The retreat has now ended, the murmurs of projects are once again making themselves heard around
the monastery. Just like last year, I can see the anticipation arising in myself, the inclination to repair
and improve things, to be creative and bring a touch a beauty.
The context of a global pandemic has changed the way in which Tisarana receives food offerings
(Dana). In the past (and hopefully in the future) meals were often cooked or prepared on site by the
donors. Currently, the stewards receive prepared meals from donors outside the main house and ensure
it is heated up and offered on their behalf. Oven ready disposable containers make the process very
easy for stewards but any reusable containers are gladly washed and returned to the donors before they
leave. The donors have the opportunity to meet with a monk if they so wish, provided that Ontario
health regulations continue to permit this.
Dana offerings are often brought on days that have special significance to donors. While it is not
always possible to drive all the way here, so we have seen an increase in monetary donations
specifically for food dana. When this happens, the stewards proceed to buy groceries and cook a meal
for the occasion. For those offering groceries there is a wish-list kept up-to-date on our website.
And thus, the retreat would not have been possible without the support of the generous donors. Much
gratitude to all those who offered cooked meals, groceries, cash donations and for supporting us with
their Metta, warmth and good wishes.