Buddhism three years retreat history

The cliffs of Cape Breton rise behind the Rigden King in this detail of a thangka by Gregory Smith. Photo courtesy of Gampo Abbey. This is the fourth article in a series on Sopa Choling and the three-year retreat experience.

Sharon Keegan shares how personal experiences of impermanence led her into a three-year retreat, and guided her activity in the world when she emerged. Be sure to read the fifth article or click here to view the entire series.

A longish story made shorter: I met the buddhadharma early on in my life and am now a Shambhala Vajrayana Buddhist, thoroughly committed to the stages of our Shambhala Path contained within the Scorpion Seal teachings. I am also presently the administrator of Vermont Respite House, a hospice residence in Williston, Vermont.

My practice path started with meeting the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche at Naropa Institute in 1978 and eventually led me to our sangha’s first three-year retreat program. I completed the retreat in 1996 as a member of “Group A” at Sopa Choling, the retreat center of Gampo Abbey in Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia.

Sharon Keegan at Sopa Choling in 1993.My time at Sopa Choling was powerful and fruitful. The retreat container provides undistracted immersion of one’s body, speech and mind in the dharma, supporting one to experience the nature of one’s mind on a profound level. I believe my life presently reflects the benefits of such concentrated training in those noble retreat practices, which have been personally practiced and blessed by generations of great Kagyu and Nyingma meditation masters. As is often said, the three-year retreat is an on-going practice that does not stop when retreat is over. I continue to explore and expand from that strong foundation.

I feel this clearly on the Scorpion Seal path, which is stabilized and energized for me by the thoroughness of my three-year retreat training. The guru yoga practices of retreat awakened my appreciation for our teachers; my heart opens to the authentic presence and guidance of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The sadhanas of retreat familiarized me with visualization and gave me confidence in its power to transform. And the many hours spent working with formless meditation allow me to connect with the profundity and brilliance of the Shambhala teachings. At Sopa Choling we made the aspiration over and over to be of benefit to others. Lovingkindness blossoms on retreat; now it fuels my work in the world.

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