Zen Retreat at Green Gulch

Green Dragon Temple at Green Gulch Farm
Green Dragon Temple at Green Gulch Farm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things that I was interested in doing on my sabbatical was a meditation retreat. Over the last few years I had read a number of things on mindfulness, including the great . I was hoping to use the time off to find a location where I could get immersed in the practice of meditation as a total novice.

Luckily where we live, there are many options. There is the legendary Spirit Rock center just a few miles away, and for those looking to drive a couple hours to Big Sur, the beautiful Esalen.  In the last week, I learned there is actually a center that offers vipassana retreats right in town.  In any case, I found a really nice option in the San Francisco Zen Center at Green Gulch Farms. What sold me on this center was the combination of proximity, cost and sheer beauty.  If you have ever driven to Muir Beach you will have driven past the entrance.

Full disclaimer: I did not really know a great deal about formal meditation before going, so everything that I am writing about was based on this one experience.



From the moment you drive down off the main road you feel completely immersed in another world with towering redwoods and eucalyptus, ferns of all shapes and sizes and the cool, clean smell of the ocean in the distance. The temperature was consistently cool, even in the hottest hours of the day when the sun was able to penetrate the canopy over the farm.

I arrived in the early morning and as I ambled down the path towards the main grounds, an owl swooped overhead and perched on the tree next to me. Throughout the day I would see many different types of birds throughout.

The main grounds consisted of the Japenese style Zendo (or meditation hall) surrounded by a number of modern buildings that contained the dining hall, some offices and dormitories. Everything was surrounded by freshly tended native flower gardens.  Beyond the main buildings it was possible to enter the actual farm, which is communally worked for the subsistence of the community. It appears that in addition to supplying food for residents and students, there are also plant sales that occur on-site.

About the practice


The practice at Green Gulch was based upon the Vipassana and Zen traditions, the distinctions of both being new to me.  For those that are also not familiar, I would summarize them by saying that the Vipassana tradition uses silent meditation and is based on the notion that ‘what happens is what happens’, meaning that there is not necessarily a specific end you are pursuing in your meditation. Rather, you focus on keeping the form and practice and allowing your mind and emotions to go where they will. As far as I can tell, the Zen tradition was based upon Vipassana but has built up quite a bit more in the way of ritual and formality in terms of the postures and forms of the meditation.

At the core of the experience were about four different seated meditation sessions in the Zendo of about 40 minutes a piece.  These were alternated with 40 minute periods of walking meditation, 40 minutes of qigong as a group in the gardens (very similar to tai chi) and an hour long silent group meal consisting of soup, salad and bread from the on-site garden. There were also a couple hours of Dharma talks which I could be describe as lectures on various philosophies and practices of buddhism and how they can be interpreted.

It was during the dharma talks that we were able to really get to appreciate our practice leader, Edward Brown, as he took the time to point out to us what aspects of the practice were really important and which were less so.  He had a tremendous sense of humor and I thought his teachings were very pragmatic.

Overall Experience – What I would look for next time


I had few expectations going in as I really had no idea what I was in for. That said, I found the time very rewarding and exhausting.  I don’t think anyone can really explain to you how physically and mentally tired you can become by meditating all day, but it really does take quite a bit of strength. As a newbie to the practice, I can say they were incredibly friendly to new students. There was also a tremendous amount of diversity amongst our group and other attendees there.  I would highly recommend a meditation retreat here, although I might explore the one closer to my home just as a counter point to this experience.

The outdoor beauty was a bonus. I was completely in love with the farm itself and it was just such a perfect compliment for me, given my love of gardening.  I look forward to heading back just to explore the gardens some more and hopefully talk to more of their gardeners.

I think the only additional thing I would look for would be a retreat that incorporates some yoga practice. While there was nothing stopping one from practicing on their own here, I think the scenery was so fantastic that it would have been just an amazing complement to the weekend.


Three Month Sabbatical

This week marks the beginning of my three month sabbatical from ThoughtWorks.  One of the very special perks we have is the 12 week paid sabbatical after 10 years with the company.   I reached my 10 year milestone last August but it took until now to plan a suitable time and to prepare my team.

It’s a pretty weird thing to plan on stepping away from your job for 3 months.  Immediately I was peppered with lots of questions from friends and colleagues:  “what are you going to do,” and “where will you go?” The truth is when you have two toddlers at home, you’re not going far, but the possibility of having that much free time on my hands again was very exciting.

That said, I do have lots of plans including:

  • Eating and sleeping well
  • Daily fitness activities, namely lots of Yoga, but also hopefully taking advantage of the many hiking trails around our house
  • A meditation retreat
  • Spending lots more time on my hobbies including gardening and music
  • Returning to working on my personal blog and website which has become something I don’t make enough time for anymore. Considering starting one thats more professionally focused.
Proud to say that I’ve started off well with a great workout every day and an awesome trip with Jen and the boys to Stinson and then up the Highway 1 through the Marin hills.I don’t think I am going to live up to my original ambitions to blog daily, but I am going to set aside some time each week to work on it more, particularly some of the longer piece ideas I’ve had.


Stay tuned for updates!


Me and the family at Stinson Beach
Me and the family at Stinson Beach