When life summons you to new places — a new job, a destination wedding, or to visit a friend — exciting things can happen when you look beyond the traditional. We recently found ourselves planning a trip to San Francisco. Rather than stay at a hotel in the City, we searched for a retreat. Spiritual retreat, that is. Two places emerged: Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and Spirit Rock. Both seemed wonderful, but only Green Gulch had availability, so the decision was made for us. The more we looked into Green Gulch, however, the more it seemed too good to be true.
Green Gulch is a Buddhist monastery in Muir Woods — a environmentalist’s sanctuary. For $125/night, we would get 3 meals a day, access to a sanctuary for meditation, and other activities included.
As the days approached for the visit, our excitement grew. And at the same time, so did our trepidations. We are not Buddhists. Would we fit in? Would it be enjoyable? But forever the optimists, our excitement outweighed all other thoughts.
The time finally arrived, and we landed in SFO. A $17 shuttle took us to the Fillmore district where we met a local friend and grabbed a bite. “Might as well get a burger before you detox with vegetarian food,” she suggested. We dined at Roam, and the food was ah-mazing. We had the truffle french fries and a burger. It was lip-smacking good. Nice to have locally sourced Lev’s Origina Kombucha too. We were very very happy campers.
With full stomaches, we crossed the Golden Gate bridge, and headed on Route 1 for Green Gulch. It’s the twistiest, turniest part of Route 1 there is. After a 20 minute drive — with one stop to grace the mountainside — we arrived.
The sweet scent of the forest engulfed us. We checked in, and made our way to our room. Shoes off, slippers on, is one of the tenets of the monastery and the guest house. We like that. The wood burning stove at the center of the common area was a delightful welcome. So were the organic apples and oranges.
We took a walk through the property, and enjoyed every aspect. Green Gulch has a working farm that sells produce at the farmer’s markets and to local restaurants. The people that work here, live here. Many are recent college grads who have made their way west, and decidedly are staying there.
You meet most when it’s mealtime. A gong lets the community know it’s time. And at each meal, we’ve been delightfully pleased with the fresh and tasty foods served. The apprentices in the kitchen create the best meals one could have.
The people are as friendly as you are. The first 10 minutes of every meal is silent, except breakfast where it’s the whole time.
Meditation is on most days, and it starts early… like 4:50am early. There’s no pressure to go. On the contrary, one has to want to meditate, and make it happen. There is no hand holding. We were able to attend just one meditation, and thankfully, it’s all we needed to recharge our meditation batteries.
Hiking is a must for us, and there are plenty of trails to see the sights. Sometimes fog shrouds much of the vistas. That’s ok. Just getting to the top of the mountains is reward enough. The black sand beach had plenty of surfers and we spotted whales off shore. It’s summer time, yet here, some parents wore winter coats and kept a fire, while others donned shorts, and kids splashed at the water’s edge.
A quick visit ended just as fast as it started. We are fortunate to have taken the trip, and are happy to say that it forever changed us, for the better.