Tucked away in the woods in Northern California in the North San Juan area is a delightful retreat center called Ananda Meditation Retreat. Founded in 1968 by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of the great spiritual master, Paramhansa Yogananda, Ananda Meditation Retreat has remained an intentional spiritual community attempting to embrace the truths that underlie all the great religions. Because in my personal life I was inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda and I consider myself Interfaith, I was eager to go and explore this beautiful place.
As with any retreat center, a number of surprises awaited me. The first was how far out it was in the wilderness. I confess I did not expect to be 23 miles from the nearest town (Nevada City) and many miles up a dirt road called Jackass Flats (of all names) making the drive to the nearest town (Nevada City, CA}, forty minutes away. Knowing this now, my recommendation is if you decide to retreat here, be prepared to be in a very remote setting. On top of that I choose a cabin that was an additional 1/3 mile of bumpy dirt road away from the main buildings at Ananda Meditation Retreat because I wanted a shower and bathroom in my cabin (instead of a small cabin or tent where you use a community toilet and bath). Still, I am pleased to report that my cabin, Peace of Mind, was quaint, very clean and comfortable. Out in the remote wilderness the silence was amazing. But, you might want to prepare yourself for being out in the wild. I certainly wasn’t. In fact, one night as I was pulling up to my cabin a mountain lion bounded out about one car length from me. I was impressed and later discovered no one had ever seen a mountain lion, though they had once found a few tracks in the snow. Lucky me then to have one so close. Still, I was just a little nervous walking the path to get to my cabin’s deck with a mountain lion so close by at night time.
Another thing I had to come to understand was unless you are here doing “seva” (service) here by helping out about 20 – 30 hours a week for a lower cabin rate, you won’t have much people interaction. The people here were very friendly. They are just very busy. And, some of the guests who come here request to be on a silent retreat, meaning they don’t want to talk to anyone. I was told by Charles the gardener (with the green cap in the picutre above) that if you want more people interaction stay within the gated grounds where the main buildings and gardens are. You can also join into meditation with others in the morning, at noon, and at evening in the Temple of Silence, but that isn’t exactly social interaction. My conclusion? Unless you are here to help out through Seva, this place is best if you really want to be alone, study, and meditate. I also discovered that internet and phone service are spotty, though if you stay inside the main parameter (which is fenced off) where the main buildings are, internet and phone service are much more reliable. Main buildings within the gated parameter include the office, meditation rooms like the Temple of Joy and Temple of Silence, dining area, and library. As for doing a Peaceful Self Retreat virtually with me at this location, you will need to be sure you are within the gated parameter to work with me more reliably on the phone.
On a different note, I had the opportunity to speak with Charles about the amazing gardens that are within the gated parameter of the main part of the retreat center. He explained how a long time ago the Maidu Native Americans gathered withing this area because of the many oak trees that grew here. The Maidu felt the area was a sacred place where they could commune with the Divine. As Charles put in the gardens and ponds in the area, he felt he had to commune with these sacred oak trees to allow for the new plant life to come in. He did this because at first the oak trees seemed to not accept the foreign plant life. The roots from the oak trees kept disrupting the new plants’ ability to grow there. After he found and spoke to the grandfather and grandmother oak trees )which he pointed out), the invasion of oak tree roots stopped and the new plants at last flourished.
In conclusion, my stay at Ananda Meditation Retreat was worthwhile, the people friendly, the food (vegan and vegetarian) delicious. I enjoyed my retreat, though at times it was too solitary for me. If you decide to go here I recommend you prepare well for the quiet and isolation. Then you will get the most out of your stay at this beautiful and spiritual place.