What You Learn At The Educational Center For Contemplative Ecology in Vermont
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by Laura Ahrens, Metta Earth Yoga Teacher and dear Friend
Metta Earth Institute, a center for CONTEMPLATIVE ECOLOGY, is nestled in a mountain bowl on 158 acres of meadow, forest, orchard, and farm in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The grounds include a biodynamically oriented, organic farm and garden, a greenhouse, a post and beam barn, four yurts, four wall tents, a net zero, carbon neutral Elder House, and the Metta Earth main house. Contemplative ecology is the integration of yoga, meditation, and other contemplative practices with ecological sustainability.
Metta Earth translates to “compassion for the earth” and is a fitting name for all that they do. Their powerful mission is palpable in every aspect of the center, its lands, and its activities. In their words, they are a:
“Center for Contemplative Ecology and an educational retreat center integrating contemplative practice, deep ecology, regenerative food systems, and social activism to create resilient sustainable communities.”
Year round, they tend to their land and its structures and provide education about Contemplative Ecology to guests and students through retreats, leadership trainings, sustainability intensives both at their institute and through Middlebury College and University of Vermont. Scroll further to read my personal travel report.
When I arrived there recently for my second annual yoga retreat it felt like a homecoming. I was greeted with hugs from Gillian and Russell, owners and founders of the property and the potent movement that is happening there. The two are starting a quiet revolution full of compassion, reverence for the earth, and lightness in their every step. I have found kindreds in Gillian and Russell, and I awe at their approach and soak in their wisdom for the duration of our trip. Retreatants trickled in after their drives on long winding roads through the mountains and Gillian showed them the lay of the land. We practiced yoga and then it was time to eat. As is customary at Metta Earth before lunch and dinner, we all held hands in a circle and were invited to “popcorn” into the center our images of meaningful moments and gratitude from the day.
Starting The Day
We started the day on Saturday with smoothies. That morning’s blend included, among many other ingredients, peaches, cardamom, and maple syrup tapped from their trees. A buffet style breakfast following yoga practice included three different kinds of granola, fresh fruit, and vegan gluten-free strawberry rhubarb muffins – the result of an overflow of strawberries picked by the Metta Earth interns on a neighboring farm.
After breakfast there was time to explore the nearby river, visit the small general store in town, or befriend the resident sheep, cows, and chickens. The sheep were immensely affectionate and nuzzled, head-butted, and wagged their tails enthusiastically as they were pet. Three-month-old lambs reminded me of puppies: playful and excitable. Two barn cats strolled around the grounds and could be seen lazing in the grass and brushing up around guests’ ankles asking for attention.
Photo: Laura Ahrens
Lunch followed and even those who were not quite hungry yet were excited to eat because of the immense love that goes into every meal. Those who partook in growing and preparing the food explained what it took to get it from earth to plate, and we reveled in the details. Images of gratitude were shared into the center of the circle, we chanted “yum!” and lunch was served.
The Tea Ceremony
After lunch we prepared for a tea ceremony, Metta Earth style. A walking meditation to the river connected us to the land and to water, an integral part of tea and most importantly, all life. We gathered in the flower and herb garden to learn about and collect the plants that would steep in the water, and that there is a way to pick the plants which both recognizes and respects the consciousness of plant life. We meditated on sipping our tea while practicing “looking deeply” as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, which asks us to see our interconnectedness with all life.
Photo: Laura Ahrens
Saying Our Goodbyes
Evening practice and dinner followed, after which we prepared a bonfire to celebrate the full moon and connect to its ability to help us release old patterns and make space for what’s to come. After Sunday’s morning activities we shopped in Metta Earth’s farm store. Among the offerings for purchase were their own cookbooks, maple syrup from the trees on site, home-brewed kombucha, dried garlic, and housemade tinctures and salves. Then we said our goodbyes.
Photo: Laura Ahrens
Metta Earth Institute teaches us about community and living a life of interconnectedness with all beings that we can carry with us as we venture back to our own corners of the world, whether in bustling cities or off the beaten path. Change can come from recognizing and acting on the truth that we are not separate from one another, animals, or the earth.
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community—a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth” Thich Nhat Hanh.