The winter retreats offered by the sacred village of New Vrindaban, West Virginia were a wonderful endeavor. The four-night mini-retreats ran every week from Thursday through Sunday, starting on January 5th until the end of March. It opened many avenues for newcomers and experienced devotees alike.
For new devotees, there were Japa meditation classes, lessons on how to wear tilak, and sessions on how to perform achaman- purification ritual. The newbies were also welcomed to meet residents of New Vrindaban, learn about their lifestyle and mission, ask questions about kirtan, Krishna, cow protection, and take a tour of Prabhupada’s Palace. Experienced devotees could utilize their time both individually and collectively, as in, they could choose individual reading or group classes for their spiritual nourishment.
Protecting cows is one of the most important activities of the New Vrindaban Community. The Vedas, saints, and Lord Krishna Himself proclaim that the service and protection of Mother Cow is the greatest solution for mankind’s suffering and is the path to real peace.
The practice of cow seva and association is centered on the inherent healing propensities of the cow—considered to be one of the seven mothers in the ancient Vedas. The cow’s warmer body temperature, slower heartbeat, and mammoth size made associating with them an incredibly soothing experience, and giving them a brushing or even getting licked were all part of the therapeutic encounter.
There was an opportunity for all the participants to observe the milking of the sacred cows and serve them. It was a service the participants would always cherish. It provided a beautiful chance to come closer to the Lord who is also known as Govinda, the protector of the cows.
The sweat lodge was an integral part of the retreat. It was a reserved place incorporated for the purpose of connecting with nature and restoring some degree of order and balance in life. This was an optional facility that was under the aegis of experienced facilitators. It provided a great opportunity to cleanse oneself thereby fulfilling both spiritual and cultural purposes in one’s life.
Hatha yoga with elements of vinyasa flow, incorporated with breathwork and kriyas (energetic exercises to release blocked energy) was conducted by Nikunja Vilasini Dasi. Now residing in New Vrindaban, Nikunja Vilasini is originally from Moscow, Russia, and has completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training course at the Bhakti Yoga DC training academy, and a 500-hour yoga teacher training at the Bhakti Center.
In a Satsang or spiritual gathering, we hear the pastimes of Krishna or His ‘lilas’ and sing the names of the Divine or kirtan, transcending time and space and entering a place of magic, wonder, and bliss.
Vrindavan Priya Dasi was the kirtan leader at the retreats. Born in Czechoslovakia, she is a great teacher who does the wonderful service of imparting expertise over different instruments for the performance of a glorious kirtan.
Srila Prabhupada always prioritized health over everything in spiritual life. One needs to learn the art of healthy cooking for following this particular instruction of Srila Prabhupada.
Anuradha Dasi guided the participants on how to offer food to the Lord. Originally from an Indian family in South Africa, she is the Director of Communications for New Vrindaban now.
She also collaborated with New Vrindaban Lodge Manager, Sarah Ferrer to enlighten the participants on the ancient yogic practice of Shankhaprakshalana, and the practice of fasting to maintain the body and mind in the mode of goodness. It must be mentioned here that Sarah holds a degree in sports science and is a longtime practitioner of different kinds of exercise and nutrition.
We explore the outdoors in contemplation and reflection. Parikrama is the Sanskrit word for pilgrimage or circumambulation of a sacred place, a common practice for pilgrims.
The participants were given a chance to replenish themselves through these parikramas. It was an overwhelming experience for all of them. They could feel a new sense of life and be very happy being a part of this particular activity.
The following is a testimonial submitted by one of the participants of the New Vrindaban Winter Retreats.
“I was recently guided to visit New Vrindaban after my mother’s passing. Very reluctantly, I took on the 8-hour drive from New York City to West Virginia. Still full of grief, the drive over to New Vrindaban was somber and gloomy like the weather. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a devotee. He spoke briefly and left to get the guest services greeter. Shortly after, another devotee appeared seemingly surprised at our arrival. She briefly gave us the essentials and the to-dos, and we parted ways. Once settled, I took in the atmosphere after walking around the compound, and after a few deep breaths of mountain air, a mild sense of peace entered my heart.
Later I walked into the temple not knowing what to expect; I was greeted by a recording of the (maha-mantra). I sat in silence and closed my eyes, and that peace I felt earlier started to magnify. Later that day, I was asked by Sarah, another devotee in a kind, warm-hearted manner if I would like to visit the cows the following morning. I reluctantly agreed and decided to let my guard down and immerse myself wholly into everything the temple offered. The following day I woke up for the 5 am prayer, it was a wonderful experience. After the prayer the temple’s coordinator, Anuradha greeted me with a very warm welcome and told me about the other activities I could partake in if I wished. I agreed, and that’s when many wonderful experiences started to unfold. Visiting the cows was a soothing experience and brought me a sense of grounding and comfort. Shortly after, I had my first meal and met with Anuradha and Vrinde, we had a delightful conversation, and we went over the schedule and activities offered in further detail. The rest of my stay was filled with prayer, meditation, yoga led by Nikunja an outstanding instructor, water purification, learning how to play different instruments, an insightful class on the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, a tour of the golden temple, and lastly the sweat lodge. Each activity and encounter with all the respected teachers brought me closer and closer to a sense of calmness and peace for my grieving heart and my unstable emotions. I felt more connected to the Divine or source, as I say.
As the days went by, peace and calmness grew with every activity. The teachers were some of the most kindhearted and knowledgeable people I’ve met, each displayed great inner beauty and peace. My last activity before leaving was the sweat lodge. Despite some hesitation, the weather and the labor, I felt it was necessary to do before leaving, so I took on the task with other visitors and Vrinde our teacher, to whom I’ll be ever grateful.
The sweat lodge brought all the experiences and activities into synchronization in one moment where I found some closure and peace. I cried, communicated, and found the strength and stability that was missing and not part of my “normal” demeanor. The things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met in my short four-day stay at New Vrindaban made a lasting impression that I will carry through life. Certain practices that I have learned from the respected devotees, I have incorporated into my daily routine. These practices have also transferred seamlessly into my career as a law enforcement officer. I am much more level-headed and centered no matter what the situation presents. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to Anuradha, Vrinde, Banabhatta, Nikunja, and Sarah for helping me heal and find peace during a challenging time in my life. Most significantly, I would like to thank my mother for guiding me to New Vrindaban.”
The participants could relish an unforgettable winter in the serene atmosphere of New Vrindaban, West Virginia. They could learn a healthy lifestyle to focus all their energy on serving the lotus feet of Their Lordship.
The four-day retreat had packages with prices that ranged from $499 to $649, including all activities and meals, with extra therapies offered at an additional cost.
The main intention behind these retreats as revealed by Sarah Ferrer was to make people feel refreshed for their spiritual journey in the coming year.
Finally, it cannot be denied that these retreats truly open the door for so much spiritual advancement for all the participants. It must be attended by more and more people every year.
For more information, click on: https://www.newvrindaban.com/winter-retreats
May 15, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium