Women’s Crestone Retreat Story: The 10 Year Anniversary of Great Practice

About twelve or so years ago, a most beautiful, radically intuitive, organizationally gifted and God-Service-Moved Persian Princess approached me time and again about doing a women’s yoga retreat in Crestone Colorado. She said she knew of the perfect place and had a ‘strong feeling’ it would be really good for me to do a retreat there – with a huge emphasis on really. Overwhelm being a tendency I have yet to outgrow and with Prasad (Yoga School founded with Satchi Royers in Boulder, CO) in full force, I danced (or rather, frittered) around the request.

I can’t remember how, but the ever gracious Mersedeh Kheradmand, who many of you know as the great mentor and master-in-her-own-right, persisted with me into the concrete agreement that if she took the organizational end on entirely, I would do it. Like the most beautiful, joyful whispers of the wind in Aspen trees, I remember her saying time and again, with great mirth behind her words, “I think you’re really going to like this place.” All I thought of at the time was relative to ‘the kids’, the students/beings who might attend, but couldn’t help notice that her emphasis was personally aimed toward ‘me’ liking ‘this place’, mostly I thought it was the legendary ‘Crestone’ but Mersedeh’s mysterious inference was relative to the retreat center itself.

Mersedeh is what I call ‘a kick-ass practitioner’,  she is more beautiful and gracious as she is ferocious about her spiritual health and growth and had recently done some serious practice in the Zen tradition, amongst others. Our meeting in Boulder was not social, so she had no way of knowing my leanings in terms of zealous love and respect of great teachers, and in the fore was Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. The likes of him is always more than drive-by inspiration, you touch a field of his wisdom and practice by reading his teachings that can save your life or your very practice within your own tradition. I had recently, for my own pleasure, read and relished every shred any of his students had ever written about him or his community, so you might say I was a sort of private groupie of his legacy.

The Crestone Mountain Zen Center, the retreat center Mersedeh was so certain should host this women’s retreat and that she was so excited about me personally being introduced to was established by Zentatsu Richard Baker Roshi, the formal dharma heir of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and a man I had hoped to meet someday only out of deep appreciation for all he had done and endured for true Zen in America.

I have this curious Meso-American-Dyed-in-Old-India tendency to become ecstaticly related to the legacies and retreat centers of great masters as their very body. So, Mersedeh was right! To walk into the Zendo of Crestone Mountain Zen Center was the gift of a lifetime. It is as endlessly beautiful in the physical as it is in the subtle, not to mention the opportunity to eat food that is the light of the practicing monk’s meditative awareness, much more to be invisibly held by the non-dogmatic generosity of deep silence from real practice, and even more, the stunning tolerance and warmth consistently offered in the midst of apparent chaos. Mersedeh was more than right. The practice community surrounding Baker Roshi’s teaching in Crestone gives one great reason to be a googlie-eyed, reverent groupie. The Buddha is alive and well and living as great care and patience, great enough to encompass and serve many an un-tamed yogini!

The first year 46 women, mostly straight from city life, descended upon a handful of unsuspecting but deeply practiced Zen monks, only one of them a woman (Ulrika, who we deeply love as a fellow yogini). Long story short, I must emphasize here the meeting of what you might say ‘opposite’ traditions (apparently), in an uncommonly tolerant way. Just to give and idea: feminine spiritual practice (not to mention any large group of devoted women) necessarily/consciously includes hysteria, drama and highly demonstrative energetics, Zen doesn’t.

Since this first year was an experiment, we kept checking on numbers of participants the Zen center could hold, they kept accommodating the increasing numbers. The extent they went to in their deep hospitality and the amount of sheer work, service and sacrifice of their personal space attested to the miraculous authenticity of their practice, as does their humor; Dan (now the head monk and a genius with food) once commented after all of us ladies took a day of silence; “ that was the loudest day of silence I’ve ever heard!” Like the old woman who lived in a shoe, eyes bugging out, hair a-flying hoping “the kids (and the hosts) were alright”, I was concerned we may never be invited back, but quite the contrary! Our energy was met, respectfully held, metabolized and ultimately appreciated! And here we are a decade later… (though we have all been chastened by experience and now keep the number down to the low twenties).

Three years into doing the retreat, Mersedeh had some life-changes come up that prevented her from taking it on. I was too worn and busy and was ready to cede into it not happening. I received two completely unexpected life-changing phone calls from women who I deeply respect and (smartly) consider senior practitioners to myself. They had both been participants at Crestone one of the years previous. One in her sixties, the other in her seventies, both without any knowledge of each other told me almost the exact same thing. My experience of their phone calls was more like them reaching thru the phone, grabbing me by the hair for my full attention and telling me that this Crestone women’s retreat HAD to keep happening. They both said that it was 1. important for the place of deep spiritual practice Crestone itself was destined to be, and 2. important energetically and symbolically for the sake of women’s practice everywhere, and 3. the acknowledgement of sanctuary and nurturing of the impulse to practice in the style of women was beyond important to support and serve, NOW!

Say no more, I picked myself up by my subtle boot-straps, didn’t know how but knew I would stake myself in it happening one more year. Within days of this one ‘touch and go’ moment, everything miraculously fell into place, including many last-minute attendees, again from all over the world. Right up to last year, strange challenges have been many but She always shines through with great love and humor to the tune of one of the best assistants I have ever had being my 5 lb. Chihuahua who unexpectedly had to make the journey with me last year!

This retreat is not mine or even ‘ours’, it is Her’s with a capital H! I am elated and honored to be on this train ten years later without even noticing the time!

All of Crestone is a miracle, mysteriously designed by the laws of nature for thinning the veils of Reality for deep evolutionary personal practice. Nestled high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, flanked by The Great Sand Dunes and the largest high valley of its kind in the world, what is now Crestone is revered by native Americans, Jesuit Monks, Tibetan Lamas and Babaji Devotees alike. The modern version of the many sanctuaries that thrive there has come to pass largely from visions and huge leaps of faith, not to mention the mind-bending generosity of Hannah Strong and the Manitou Foundation (yet another story to tell). Several of the most revered currently living Tibetan masters have freely prophecied that Crestone is and will be the best place in the world to do serious spiritual practice in the coming decades.

Who knows? I do know that the weather and all of nature up there responds in spades regularly and obviously to our presence every year. I trust the momentum surrounding this retreat more than I can say. I trust the occurance of this retreat even more profoundly because it gives me cause to notice ahead of time how very much I trust each and every one of you that are on your way to arriving at the open gate of warmth and purification, amongst women, at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center. See you soon for more magic than we can stand!

On a final note, a quote from Marpa The Translator, Milarepa’s Guru (Milarepa was the Guru of the Premier Yogini Yeshe Tsogyal–more on her at this years retreat.

“When your numbers are many, use strategy; when your numbers are few, use Magic!”

Don’t know what will happen this year… Mark the dates if you’re moved, feel your heart and follow the signs.

With oodles of love,

Sofia Diaz

P.S. Click here for more information and to register for the Women’s Crestone Retreat, August 9th – 14th, in Crestone, Colorado. This retreat is limited to 26 women and will sell-out quickly. Reserve your spot today and celebrate 10 years of Great Women’s Practice with Sofia Diaz!

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