after a year of being away, I returned a few days ago to karuna retreat center in the serra de monchique, algarve. it was the first time i was visiting the place after last year's wildfires had burned it down to ashes shortly after we had sat through a silent retreat contemplating, ferocious winds sweeping across the mountains during the whole week, the passingness and insubstantiality of all things.
it was a surprising sight to see how in the span of a few months the community attached to the center had rebuilt everything from the ground up and created a beautiful sanctuary for practitioners from far and near to come to these secluded hills for periods of personal inquiry and indwelling. clearly, this was the manifestation of the flawless labor of love.
as i took my very first steps on the paved pathway leading to the main building i suddenly noticed a deep sense of quiet and peace come upon me. something you may at times feel as you sit for long periods of silent meditation when the mind is at once aware of whatever is unfolding around it yet settles in a state of poise and quiet without ceding to the appeal of rising stimuli. at once present to whatever manifests itself while being unhindered and unmoved by it.
reflecting on the sense of peace i felt when passing through the entrance of this place of retreat it became clear to me that the atmosphere of an edifice has little or nothing to do with the stones and timber that go into building it. it is something created over the years by the silent prayer we call meditation of countless practionners showing up to the subtle almost imperceptible calling of their deeper being. the atmosphere or soul of a place is not something that fires can annihilate, it cannot be destroyed.
this is, i suppose, what we mean by spiritual presence; not something that obeys the laws of creation and destruction as entities appearing and disappearing in the physical realm do. rather a metaphysical presencing that comes with its own laws and responds far more to the embodiment of grace than to the forces of gravity.
in a few days, we begin our first intensive silent meditation retreat of the year in karuna center followed by a second one in october. if you already have a regular meditation practice or are building one and there is a calling here for you it will be easier to find the motivation to come and sit for a week of journeying within in silence and stillness for to sit, not unlike love, while requiring effort, does not aim to achieve anything and becomes over time its own reward. we do not practice in order to become a buddha but as we become intimate with the pracitce of seeking no reward we find that awakening is our true nature.