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Notes from Dhanakosa, Scotland

Oct 10, 2012

Hello! Finally I have a chance at the computer to give a quick update of our retreat at Dhanakosa in Scotland.

Disorientation of arrival

We flew from NYC to London then Edinburgh on Friday, Sept 28. Then on Saturday took a bus to Glasgow, then Stirling, then a smaller bus to Callendar. We sat in a pub in Calledar waiting for a taxi to arrive and there was a dog sitting on a barstool! I was dismayed by how cold it was – definite Scottish chill in the air and I had to wear my warm coat right away. So this combination of jet lag + cold + dog on barstool was a wee disorienting. Then our taxi whisked us to Dhanakosa, which is a lovely Buddhist retreat center on a loch in the Scottish highlands.

Feeling at home

I knew we were in the perfect place to start our journey the moment we arrived. Dhanakosa is idyllic – shooting stars, the braying of deer at night, moon reflecting in the loch, mist in the moutains, fall colors in the trees, waterfalls, sheep everywhere, Buddha statues, kind people, warm hearty vegetarian food. The retreat schedule was:

7am wake up bell
7:30am meditation
8:45am breakfast
Talk or hillwalking in the morning, more meditation
1pm lunch
Free afternoon
5pm meditation
6pm dinner
Talk in the evening, plus free time
9pm close the day with short meditation

So you can see there was a loose structure and lots of free time, which allowed me to catch up on rest, go running, take long walks outside, read (I read Ghandi’s autobiography, Experiments with Truth). It was the perfect way to transition from hectic NYC life to slower pace of the sabbatical.


All of the people on retreat with us were so warm and kind, I was really touched. First of all, they were very welcoming to non-Buddhists and Buddhists alike. And they were so thoughtful in all of their questions – people would ask me how my jet lag was, how my meditation practice was going, about my interest in Buddhism, my goals for the sabbatical.

There were 25 of us on the retreat, and 2 different people came up to me and introduced themselves saying, “Hi I want to make sure to talk to everyone this week and I haven’t spoken to you yet.” Such generosity of spirit. We all felt like a family by the end.

A number of people were frustrated by their meditation – when you spend so much time meditating each day and your mind is jumping all over and others are talking about visions of lights and colors it can be a little discouraging! But we were all supportive of each other and it was a new experience for me to be able to speak to others in detail about meditation.


3 learnings to carry forward were:

1. Compassionate connection – by asking thoughtful and specific questions as I mentioned above, and connecting with everyone instead of picking favorites and dismissing others. Be open, do not judge.

2. I am not lazy – even though I wasn’t working, I filled the day with a lot of purpose, with reading, exercise (running, hiking, or yoga every day), chores (we all had to help with chores), meditation, etc. This schedule is very different than what I’m used to at home, and not what I typically think of as productive or efficient or ambitious. But the spaciousness is a wonderful and fulfilling path to growth. Instead of doing lots of hectic travel from A to B to C on this journey, Karan and I want to have more days like we spent at Dhanakosa.

3. Be bold – another friend on the retreat took this away as his big learning and it inspired me too. He saw a postcard with a picture of a monkey jumping from a cliff across a churning river with a fierce look of determination on it’s face. The photographer caught an amazing moment where the monkey was soaring over the river. Karan and I put this lesson into practice right away by renting a car after the retreat and Karan taught himself how to drive manual in 30 minutes in the Alamo parking lot – scary at first but also very exhilarating, and he was a pro in no time. We’re looking to continue with boldness and decisiveness in our decisions.

4. Bonus learning! This happened after the retreat, while reading a magazine in London. I learned the Danish word “hygge” which is pronounced whoo-ger. It means a combination of coziness, relaxation, comfort and inner warmth – like snuggling up under a warm blanket to read a book on a rainy day. It has no direct English translation but has to do with finding great pleasure in simple activities. I think that perfectly describes the Dhanakosa experience – it rained every hour on the hour in Scotland but it was a cheerful rain and the sun was quick to come out after and I drank 1000 cups of tea as the Scottish do and always felt safe and warm.

Well I know I covered a lot of ground here! We’re now in London spending the week with Karan’s family and friends and then will move on to Italy for our Vipassana meditation.

Lots of love and hygge,


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