(By Nancy Peters*) Having already reserved a space at the newly-opened Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC) for our summer sessin next June, our Zen Center will be the first organization to hold a retreat there once the center reopens after extensive renovation work through the winter.
In July I had the privilege of being able to learn about RMERC by spending three days there. The first weekend’s activities–consisting of indoor and outdoor meditation periods, silent hikes, and talks about the new center–were led by Johann Robbins, a Buddhist Vipassana/Insight Meditation teacher and the center’s cofounder, director and cheerleader-in-chief.
I learned that a group of dedicated Buddhist visionaries, led and inspired by Robbins and Boulder-based Buddhist writer and activist David Loy–who through Impermanent Sangha have been leading outdoor meditation hike/retreats for years together–formed a nonprofit organization which two months ago used donations plus an interest-free loan to purchase the property from the Christian Science church for just $375,000. The rock-bottom price was due largely to the fact that when Hazel Schmoll, the famous Colorado educator, biologist and lobbyist, bequeathed the land to her church, her will stipulated that the property could only be resold to a nonprofit, and that it could never be developed but must remain in its unspoiled state. Conservation easements administered through the Nature Conservancy further ensure that the original wildness of the land will forever be preserved.
Offering 180 acres of pristine land a few miles from the Indian Peaks Wilderness and adjacent to the Arapahoe National Forest, just a 40-minute drive northwest of Boulder, RMERC is an excellent location for our summer outdoor sessin, now that our beloved Blue Mountain site is no longer available. There’s a lodge which will provide a zendo, dokusan (interview) rooms, kitchen, dining area, and space to sleep up to 25 participants, along with campsites for those who choose to sleep outside. Not to mention–hiking trails, a creek whose symphonic medley invites you to “enter here,” and a balcony overlooking mountain views that will take your breath away.
RMERC a place where we can breathe in “mu” and tread lightly on the land that the spruce trees, wildflowers, mountains, elk, moose, hummingbirds, flies, mountain lions, and black bears call home–even while unflinchingly confronting and acknowledging the deep injustices and suffering which the conquest of this land inflicted upon the original Indigenous inhabitants whose bones are buried beneath the soil where we walk in kinhin.
As stated on its website, RMERC’s mission is to be “a low cost home for spiritual practice, with an emphasis on practice in nature. We are a supportive place for deep practice, a place for meditation, retreats, workshops and Ecodharma; a place for learning from nature, teachers and other participants, and a place for discovering ourselves in a wild environment.”
Writes Loy, RMERC “brings Buddhism and Dharma back into the natural world where they originated, and fosters the clarity and compassion needed to better address the ecological crisis and its related social justice issues. We call this Ecodharma.”
Similarly, Robbins suggests that this center provides practitioners an opportunity “to experience your consciousness in a different way; realizing you are not separate from the natural world, and to be nourished and healed by that connection. To spend time in silence simply being, with inner and outer nature, in a beauty and wildness that humans cannot create, and the absolute need we have to be a part of that. And to share that experience with others of like mind and intention. To be, learn, teach, share, practice, and act; while being held by the earth and the sun.”
They expect to host both group and solo silent meditation retreats, for varying lengths of time, and welcome all spiritual practice traditions. They are further committed to providing “low cost retreats that are offered in the spirit of generosity.”
And especially, recognizing the privilege which a history of domination and conquest have conferred on European Americans at the expense of people of color, and which is at the core of deep national and international injustices and inequities today, RMERC leaders are committed to encouraging “retreats for underserved communities including people of color, veterans, youth, and other groups who have historically borne or will bear the brunt of ecological and socio-economic devastation;” as well as ecodharma workshops and retreats for activists.
But more than this, RMERC leaders want this to be a place where activists and spiritual practitioners come together to explore the true meaning of “ecodharma” and to express dharma in action by working to alleviate the root causes of the suffering and injustices in our world today.
This aspect of RMERC was brought home to me by Zen priest, climate scientist and RMERC board member Kritee Kanko, who conducted the zazenkai I attended during my second weekend at RMERC. Kritee writes in her essay, Whiteness and privilege in eco-dharma: How should we confront them compassionately? “It is not hard to see that at least some of the institutional drivers that militantly keep poor people poor, disenfranchised and in the most polluted environments are the same drivers that lead to exploitation and plundering of mother Earth within and outside this country. The sense of duality and separateness that makes us (both as individuals and institutions) objectify nature, other human and non-human species also makes us materialistic and causes both environmental and social-justice problems…. we need true Eco-Dharma communities that look at both our inner (psycho-spiritual) and outer (institutional, corporate and political) greed….”
Finally, and most importantly, while at RMERC, I learned about the additional $200,000 and “sweat equity” required to make the septic system, insulation, water, and other infrastructure improvements that will allow the 80-year old lodge, cabin and barn to host the many spiritual practitioners and activists who are already lining up to reserve a spot for their retreats, programs and events. Which brings me to the question of “Who does RMERC belong to?”
As Robbins continually reminded us all, RMERC doesn’t belong to him and the board members–it belongs to all of us for whom it was created, who see the great need for such a center, believe in its potential, and plan to use it in the future. RMERC is counting on all of us to actively support it, through our financial donations, if we’re able, by volunteering to work on the many land and building restoration projects, and in whatever other ways each of us may be inspired to become involved.
*With degrees in English Literature and Human Resource Management, Nancy has worked as a storyteller, English as a Second Language teacher, employment specialist, and, most recently, intensive case manager in a Housing First program and volunteer in an organization advocating for the rights of people experiencing homelessness. Currently Nancy is helping present Paula Palmer’s Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples workshops, practicing Zen Buddhism and yoga, and disciplining herself to write.