Solitary retreat has been an integral part of many spiritual traditions. Stepping away, even for a short time, from the bustle and distraction of daily life is a precious opportunity to focus the mind and refresh the spirit.
Wonderwell offers a beautiful, tranquil place for solo retreat. Its caring and attentive staff are always available to support your practice. Gazing across the meadow and beyond the miles of forest to the distant mountains wreathed in morning fog and glowing in the setting sun, you are drawn into the splendor of the natural world. Settling into the stillness, your heart-mind falls gently, completely open.
The Joys of Solitary Retreat at Wonderwell
Here at Wonderwell, where the wind and trees dance together, the wild turkeys and their chicks run to the blueberry bushes heavy with fruit, and the ridge-line kisses the floating clouds, I sit in retreat. The “outer” solitude of this beautiful hermitage inspires, enhances, and deepens the inner solitude, that is intimate with itself and all things.
A poem of Lama Shabkar, written from his meditation cave is coming to mind.
Behind me, the rock walls,
Beautiful and massive.
In front, snow on the peaks
Of the majestic range.
In the four directions, the mist rises,
And rainbows appear.
Somehow, here, hundreds of years after Shabkar gazed out over the Himalayan range, I feel a kinship with him, in his joy.
To have the rare opportunity to dive deeply into practice, dharma study, communing with the natural world, and having the time and silence in which to listen to the subtleties of one’s own heart, is utterly precious. Somehow, here, the mind’s open and luminous nature becomes more apparent, like when the new moon comes out of hiding and once again floats in the night sky.
While Wonderwell remains closed to group retreats, there has opened up a secret treasure: Solitary retreat in a self- contained space, comfortable and simple, facing the mountains and the forest, the gardens and meadows.
One night I stepped out after dark. The sky was sharp and clear, a deep midnight blue, and a thin slice of crescent moon floated above, alternately revealed and hidden by scudding clouds. A few fireflies winked on and off in the grasses. The last birdsong had faded into the dark. An ownerless gratitude arose, out of nowhere, filling space.
Written while on solo retreat at Wonderwell in July 2020
In search of a spiritual home for years, in 2012 I found it in NDF/Wonderwell. Deeply wise, and caring teachers offer retreats in a beautiful and gracious retreat center, and a close-knit, cohesive, supportive community of teachers and students that is deeply nurturing. Having done several “solo retreats” at WW and elsewhere, WW provides an ideal hosting atmosphere for such experiences; a well supplied yogi kitchen in addition to the comfortable rooms, a grand meditation hall and beautiful views. I am deeply grateful for the spirit and substance of NDF/WW.
I had a threshold experience while staying on solo retreat over Halloween 2019. Spending suspended time while gazing at the mountains and sky, exploring the books in the library and sitting, just sitting, either in the meditation room, porch, or private suite. There was a shift in the old reality, and what an elegant place to experience that.
— What a great gift! Yes, the retreat surpassed my expectations, which were already high because the last zoom retreat hosted by Wonderwell was also excellent! I loved the extra last minute AM & PM meditation offerings as well as the extra Q&As too—they really rounded it out.
— Lama Liz, Camille and Janine each brought so very much of themselves and the Dharma. I loved the interplay between each teaching, the commitment to providing an embodied experience (not easy online, so bravo!), the thoughtful answers to questions, etc.
I was also so pleased that we didn’t turn away from the state of our nation and world–that the clear focus of doing this retreat and deepening in these practices is (and always has been) so we can engage with the world with greater wisdom and compassion for the purpose of liberating ALL.
I liked that it was also clearly stated many times that we do not need to, nor should we, wait for our own enlightenment before taking action in the world. Rather, the action of enlightenment is something that we awake to more and more each day and as such bring into our lives both in a natural fashion (i.e., in our relationships and work), but also that we can and should be intentional about awakening to the reality of samsara and engage in dismantling systems that perpetuate harm.
Again, I am so very grateful for Lama Liz’s teachings, especially her call to social engagement, willingness to share her own persona challenges and opportunities for growth along the path, interwoven with a deep, grounded intellectual, practical and beyond words understanding of the Dharma, Camille’s deep, vivid weaving of history, stories, sensual imagery, and true engagement with the path, as well as Janine’s wonderful yoga classes that have allowed me to return to yoga and to unburden myself of my resistance and reactivity to it that had prevented me from engage with a physical/spiritual practice that I once loved.
The interplay of all these teachings, and mostly of the way the teachers embodied and demonstrated the teachings was profound. The curriculum itself is truly a great gift to me and to the world. It was clear, well-paced, deeply engaging and transformative. My deepest gratitude to all involved.
— beyond excellent. way Way WAY beyond excellent
— Some people despair over Zoom, however it is clear the dharma transcends times and space and this week proved it so!!
— A deeply meaningful retreat, all the more so, with it all being offered by Zoom. The teachers and Zoom hosts did a fantastic job!! Thank you so much and to all of the wonderful sangha who participated. Deeply appreciated this opportunity.
— I liked the combination of serious scholarship, committed practice, and very human presentation as opposed to the usual “throne teachings” or watered down teachings.
— NDF is really getting the hang of this! Its visibility on the web is increasing all the time, which means the Dharma is being shared in an authentic way to a lot of people. Rock on!
— This was an incredible retreat, beautifully designed & executed, so perfectly relevant. Feel extremely grateful to have had this opportunity. Thank you so very much!!!
— This was my first time receiving teachings from Lama Liz. I found her graceful, very knowledgeable, eloquent, friendly and that she embodied the feminine divine in Tibetan Buddhism. Though I live in Boudhanath, Nepal (currently in quarantine in the States), I get so much out of teachings from female Lamas from the West. Thank you! Tashi delek, Namaste!
— I really appreciate online availability. It makes sessions possible for me that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to attend. Thanks!
— Thank you for offering this. I only learned of your existence thanks to the mention of a friend who was on your 5-day retreat and I was thrilled to see that Olivia was offering this one-day retreat. I hope to be able to experience Wonderwell in person at some point but in the meantime I look forward to more online workshops.
— I loved how gentle and warm Olivia was. I felt the difference between this retreat and many I have attended taught by men. The Feminine was present. Olivia greeted us as we arrived. It was a Sacred Circle, not a top down experience. I appreciated it greatly. I also really liked the break out experience. It was a truly great retreat.
I would like to share my experience with Natural Dharma Fellowship online retreats coming from Wonderwell. I have been a part of NDF’s Margha meditation program since 2012 and recently participated in two online Zoom week-long retreats (Lama John Makransky and the Margha retreat). I have been in a remote/online monthly Margha meeting since I began the program and also have been attending the live stream of the twice yearly Margha retreats.
I am deeply grateful for the transformative power of online retreats and teachings. The technology facilitates a strong sense of being taught one-to-one while being gently held by the larger sangha. This simultaneously magnifies and simplifies the rich teachings and becomes both a model and opportunity to awaken. The energy touches my inner core and nourishes it. Both my heart and brain abandon their individual filters and a third energy of hearing takes over. Buddha becomes palpable and new benefactor moments are born.
I never imagined that a remote workshop over multiple days could be as impactful, energetic, and engaging as an in person event. But this is exactly what happened with the Natural Dharma Fellowship retreats this summer with events that were forced online.
Having my teacher projected on a screen, as if looking at me directly, relaxes and opens my heart up. That meant receiving the teachings with clarity, sense of trust, and a felt energetic connection as if there in person. I can fully engage into the experience that is pointed out within this enlarged meeting space.
Moreover, it made more teachings available in multiple one-day events that I would otherwise not have been able to attend because of limitations of place or time to travel.
I found Wonderwell about a year ago through a FAC retreat. Before that I had a practice, but I didn’t have a community. Through retreats, the Margha Program, FAC meditation groups, NDF online classes, interviews with Lama Liz, NDF newsletters, etc. I have experienced tremendous blessings over the course of this past year which I never could have received as a solo practitioner.
The deep value of sangha was something that I had lacked and longed for, even though I didn’t have clarity about what the lack and longing were. Now I see the tremendous supportive value of community, that this path is not (and never has been) meant to be walked alone and that this spiritual work is only really effective within the container of community….
Thank you for challenging me into greater growth (in so many ways) and for providing a community within which to do so where I am safely held in love and compassion. All the words in the world couldn’t adequately express my sincere gratitude to have finally found true refuge. A deep bow of thanks. ~
Well-run retreat center in a beautiful location located in a historic building with recent extensive renovations. More importantly, the Natural Dharma Fellowship (NDF) is one of the finest Buddhist communities I have ever see in the US. Its teachers are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhist lineages, but also humble and accessible. I’ve come to Wonderwell for a “Dharma Sunday” and two week-long retreats, which I was able to do thanks to the generous scholarships offered by Wonderwell/NDF. I cannot recommend this organization or its affiliates highly enough.
I’m still fondly remembering the unforgettable experience I had at Wonderwell in November. From the atmosphere to the teachings, practices, meals, and company of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever encountered. I definitely will attend another Wonderwell retreat at some point. Thank you Wonderwell!
I was amazed by how well Lama Willa Miller and her Sangha has designed this huge retreat place. Loved every moment of being there. At the end of the retreat, someone found out that the land has a sacred well which never dried during droughts. So, farmers in the area regard the land to be a sacred place: and it is really serene and sacred. 3 Bows to the Sangha!
I have spent many weeks here at this magical place and found every aspect of it, the teachers, the teachings, the land, the facility- all kind, well managed, beautifully taught teachings that matter in this 21st century world we live in. It is beautiful here, peaceful, filled with joy and deep living and a rich opportunity to open our soul consciousness in new ways.
Excellent retreat. Went for five days. It was my first retreat and other more experienced people told me later that they also thought it was excellent. Beautiful meditation room and thoughtful teachings. Well organised with good food, accommodation and lovely staff.
I went on a silent retreat here last year hosted by Tranquil Flame Yoga. It was a priceless, beautifully transformative time. The retreat House has perfect charm, with a peaceful and gorgeous main meditation hall. The artwork is amazing. Each room is a treat to spend time in. The land is perfect, with oak and birch trees and a wonderful little stone garden. I am going back next week for another retreat and I am so excited and already can feel it’s relaxing vibes. This is a must go for anyone who wants to attend a retreat.
Over the last eight years, I’ve been fortunate to attend many different retreats at Wonderwell, during all seasons, in all weather conditions, live and virtually, and with many gifted teachers. Each time I walk away feeling enriched, renewed, enlivened and awed by the power of both the location of Wonderwell itself, and the teachings offered. Wonderwell and NDF are deeply committed to living the Dharma, and to an ethical model of leadership. This allows trust to deepen, and more space for receiving and deepening in the practices offered.
Being on site at Wonderwell offers the refuge of the natural world, the joy of simple but beautiful and comfortable accommodations and the most delicious vegetarian food— what a delight to be cooked for every day! I look forward to decades ahead of retreats at this intimate retreat center that feels like a home away from home.
With the challenges of today’s world, we all need a welcoming, spiritual refuge. Wonderwell beckons—a serene sanctuary set in the mountains of New Hampshire. Having done a number of both group and solo retreats, I am always moved by the sense of the sacred that pervades Wonderwell— the stunning natural setting, vast skies, mountain views, the land itself— all conducive to deepening practice.
Wonderwell is guided and inspired by Lama Willa Miller and Lama Liz Monson, two outstanding teachers in the Vajrayana tradition, both dedicated to honoring embodied practice, our interconnection with the natural world, socially responsible engagement especially eco-dharma, and the centrality of the sacred feminine. One senses the deep presence of their example as well as the energy of all who have practiced there.
Besides the beautiful meditation hall, there are comfortable accommodations, organic meals lovingly prepared, a caring, helpful staff committed to supporting retreatants. Wonderwell combines a sense of mission, inspired teachings, community building, and engaged Buddhism—a treasure for all followers of the dharma.
Wonderwell has always been like a second home for me, where I feel its welcoming, nourishing, and loving environment. But it’s the full embrace of Natural Dharma Fellowship that sustains me, with our lamas, the dharma, and our sangha—this is home. Whether at our retreat center, on the screen, or walking in the woods alone, NDF reveals my path.
First-Time Retreat Experience, January 2019
Can you imagine … just stopping … everything …your daily life …Gratefully? … With calm? … With joy? …With golden silence?
This was my experience in my week at Wonderwell, from the moment I arrived to the moment I left. It was another life, another “family”, another way of being, another way to grow, and to feel, and to rest.
I arrived a bit early. The lovely and competent retreat managers, greeted me warmly, picked up my very big load of stuff, and showed me to my room—the women’s dorm. I was awestruck immediately, as the entire back wall of the spacious room was glass, and framed a spectacular view of mountains and blue sky. I chose the beautifully dressed bed right next to that window—I would sleep in a treehouse for this week:)
If I were using a quality-rated checklist , this is how it would look, 10 being the Golden Five-Star Best Ever, and including my personal descriptions.
10 — Overall Organization & Flow/Balance/Integrity of Daily Schedule and Program
10 — Exceptional Courtesy, Respect & Support between All Staff, Teachers and Retreatants
10 — Delicious, Creative & Healthful Meals, (including vegan);Snacks and Tea & Coffee 24/7
10 — Peaceful, Beautiful Spaces to Learn, Study, Meditate, & Practice Yoga In
10 — Teachers of the Highest Level, and of the Highest Devotion to Their Work & Students
Noble Silence. Being a professional musician, I enjoy silence very much as a respite from so much sound in my daily life. As it happened, Noble Silence was an entirely new, spacious world for me. Our communications were quickly rendered to just the necessary (like a hand gesture or quick smile). I pondered on the wastefulness of most verbal communication, and on our reliance on words, which are frequently not effective and sometimes harmful.
Noble Silence allowed me to stay, without interruption, in the place of just being, of current experience, and of mind/heart permeability to what I was learning every day, nearly every hour. It was freedom, mental rest, a refuge in and of itself. I believe Noble Silence also brought us together in purpose and gratefulness. Our ears and eyes were opened and used in new ways as well.
Teachings and Meditations: Our teachers presented their lessons with grace, humor, expertise of knowledge and experience, and sensitivity to who we were as a diverse group of students. The teachings were ordered in a way that overlapped and reviewed the core lesson concepts. The teachers gave generously and wholeheartedly, and also in our private conferences/interviews toward the end of retreat. They led our lesson meditations with clarity and care. I found meditations simple to follow and very productive for my own needs. A person with no meditation experience would probably be quite comfortable, as everyone has their own unique experience of meditation. No strict rules here.
The kindly Closing Circle was our good-bye , with all four teachers present . We were sent on our way with love and encouragement, and new eyes and ears and bodies (the yoga was stellar), and for me—the hope and resolve to stay in my new place of refuge, calm and growth, forever.
Grounding, real and heartfelt. Everything about my stay felt meaningful to the core. The meals served felt like a culinary adventure, food for thought from outstanding and earthbound teachers helped liberate my stuck mind and my heart grew bigger and wider each day in my five day Ecosattva retreat. I feel as if I can meet an uncertain human future with an open, loving heart. Natural Dharma Fellowship feels like my spiritual home base.
I have been a student of Lama Willa Miller for about NINE years and Lama Liz Monson for about SIX years. I listened to their teachings often online. I am grateful for their positive impact in my life. They are not only intelligent; they are also very heart centered.
Gorgeous space, amazing wilderness views, lovely rooms— a mountain refuge indeed. The meditation hall in particular is quite impressive, with high ceilings and two fireplaces— wonderful in cold weather!
Wonderwell’s commitment to an embodied approach to Buddhism resonates so deeply with what I’m trying to share with the dharma community. It’s a special place, a refuge in the increasingly disembodied world we all live in, a sanctuary for real sanity.
In the flurry of our everyday lives and world we need places of refuge, places where we can gather to meditate, contemplate and engage in meaningful dialogue—Wonderwell is just such a place.
The word that keeps echoing in my mind when I think of Wonderwell is home. From the first moment I arrived there, even if I have felt challenged during retreats, it has always felt like home. It truly is Wonderwell Mountain Refuge.
Lama Willa and the Sangha have created a beautiful and secure outer refuge where one can find the inner refuge to realize the secret refuge. Actually what has really happened at Wonderwell is incalculable and inconceivable.
Wonderwell is emerging as one of the leading retreat centers in the United States, with great natural beauty, a caring and capable staff, deep programs of contemplative training, and thoughtful engagement with the environmental and social issues of our time.
Wonderwell is a very special center for the teaching, study and practice of Dharma, and possibly one of the first centers in the U.S. practicing eco-dharma. Teaching at Wonderwell has been an extraordinary experience for me.
My aspiration prayer is that the wonders of Wonderwell continue to be experienced by teachers, practitioners, artists, the local population and all who are searching for and promoting peace for our planet.