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Review of my meditation retreat at La Casa de Loto (December 2018)

Terrace of La Casa de Loto

I decided to finish my four-months stay in Medellín with a week-long meditation retreat. I had been planning to go on a retreat for a long time and I figured why not do it in Colombia. I also like to work towards a goal and use it as motivation. After a quick google search, it became clear that La Casa de Loto was the only option for a retreat in Medellín. I didn’t mind because the program looked well rounded and the retreat had great reviews. The small group size of the retreat also appealed to me. La Casa de Loto is located in El Carmen de Viboral, which is an 80 minutes ride away from Medellín and a 45 minutes ride away from the José María Córdova International Airport.

Booking

You can book a private room ($660 per week) or a shared room ($450 per week). The monthly rate is lower. I booked a shared room by email. You can also use a booking platform like BookYogaRetreats. Additionally, I booked a driver, who picked me up in Laureles. I was the only one booking the service so I wasn’t able to share the costs and I had to pay the whole price ($45). Transportation from Poblado is a little cheaper. You can also hire a driver on your own, but he might get lost because the road to La Casa de Loto is easy to miss. A couple of retreaters came late because their driver got lost. Another option is to take a shared taxi from the San Diego Mall to the airport and book a driver from there.

Sunday, Day 1

I arrived in the afternoon and got greeted by Pema, the German founder of the retreat. He has an extraordinary life story, which led him from a struggle with addiction and depression in Berlin to living in Tibetan monasteries for over two years before finally coming to Colombia. He instantly made an impression on me with his centered and compassionate demeanor and I knew I was in good hands during the retreat. We went inside to the living room, where other retreaters were already gathering. I spent the first 30 minutes filling out a questionnaire, booking an Ayurveda Massage and choosing my meal plan (chicken or vegetarian). Usually, retreats offer only vegetarian food and almost everyone in our group chose the vegetarian option.

The afternoon was the last chance to talk to other retreaters before the silence started. I spoke briefly to a social worker from the Netherlands, who was traveling around Latin America with her boyfriend. Our group consisted of 7 retreaters (3 men and 4 women), a yoga teacher and Pema. The yoga teacher was from Spain and took part in a teacher-in-residence program of La Casa de Loto. I shared my room with two other young guys. Both were in their twenties and I talked to them for the first time after the retreat. One of them was a British guy who had worked for Goldman Sachs and was using his free time in between jobs for this retreat. The other one was German. He had finished his studies in Australia recently and was about to start a finance job in Australia.

I noticed the clean air and the calmness in comparison with the constant noise pollution of cars and street vendors in Medellín. The silence was only broken by an occasional dog bark or a call by a donkey. The altitude of El Carmen de Viboral is higher than Medellín and therefore the temperature was lower and I wore a sweater instead of a t-shirt.

The finca itself was also impressive. The living room terrace overlooking the surrounding valley was the centerpiece of the finca. I also liked the natural style of the interior and my room was much nicer than expected. Four well-trained dogs and two cats were milling around and added to the relaxed atmosphere. I felt at home right away and was more than happy to spend a week in this environment.

We went to the dojo for our first guided meditation and the introduction. The dojo is at the bottom of the valley and you have to walk downwards for a couple of minutes. I liked the separation of the dojo and the finca because the walk to the dojo became part of the daily ritual. Pema guided a meditation, explained the schedule to us and answered remaining questions about the retreat. He recommended meditating between 24 and 48 minutes per session depending on our experience level. I am still a beginner, so I decided to meditate for 24 minutes per session. His talk centered around the elephant mind and the monkey mind (picture below). His daily talks focused on different aspects of Buddhism.

Monday to Wednesday (Day 2, 3, 4)

We followed the meditation schedule from Monday to Wednesday. The program consisted of yoga in the morning and several meditation sessions throughout the day. The days started at 6 AM and ended at 10 PM. The daily schedule was as follows:

6 AMSilent Meditation
7 AMBreakfast
8 AMWalking Meditation
9 AMGuided Yoga
11 AMSilent Meditation
12 PMLunch
2 PMWalking Meditation
3 PMGuided Analytical Meditation
4 PMTea Time
6 PMSilent Meditation
7 PMDinner
8 PMWalking Meditation
10 PMLights out

Despite living together, we spent most of the day in solitude. The silent meditations and the walking meditations were our responsibility and we could do them wherever we felt most comfortable. I meditated in my room in the morning and the evening and during the day I went to the dojo. Other retreaters also mediated in the living room, on the terrace and in the garden. The guided yoga and meditation sessions and the meals were the only group activities. During the guided yoga and meditation sessions it was allowed to speak and ask questions.

Thursday, Day 5

Thursday was different in that reading and long walks were banned to reduce stimulation and to facilitate introspection. The schedule was reduced to the meals and the guided meditation and Pema recommended to skip the yoga session in the morning. Pema also told us to meditate without the fixed times and without a timer. I enjoyed the missing schedule and I was able to let go of the checklist mentality, which I had brought with me from everyday life. As a result, I was more present during the day.

Friday, Day 6

After the Thursday break, we went back to following the regular meditation schedule. My presence from Thursday carried over to Friday and I felt great. My Ayurvedic massage was scheduled for the afternoon and I went to a small hut in the garden for the massage. The masseur Carlos had a strong presence and radiated positive energy. The massage was great and ended with a short explanation of my Ayurvedic body type.

Pema revoked the silence after the guided meditation and I was a little taken aback by the sudden eruption of chatter. It seemed like everyone was happy to talk again after one week of silence. In the evening, I got to know the other retreaters and we shared our experiences. I think a meditation retreat attracts open-minded people and I liked everyone.

Saturday, Day 7

A final guided meditation with Pema replaced the yoga session in the morning and the retreat was over after lunch. I left La Casa de Loto with a great sense of gratitude and inner peace. One of the retreaters gave me a ride back to Medellín, where I was greeted by the noise and air pollution of city life.

My Experience

I read The Miracle of Mindfulness and You are here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh during the retreat. I like his clear and personal writing style. The books complemented the daily meditation sessions and the talks by Pema.

I think the peaceful environment of La Casa de Loto is perfect for a retreat. The combination of cats and dogs, healthy food and scenic countryside has a calming effect. I also liked the personal responsibility of following the schedule. Some people in our group took the meditation schedule very serious and others were less committed and skipped a couple of meditation sessions. I think it’s nice that people can meditate at their own pace.

I noticed how I slowed down throughout the week, mentally and physically. I didn’t get caught up in random thoughts as often, and when I got caught up, I noticed quickly and shifted my focus back to the present moment. I had never experienced a mental clarity like this before and the effect probably would have been even stronger if I had stayed longer than one week. I also moved slower and more deliberate. I noticed this the most during my walking meditations, where I slowed down with each passing day.

The daily talks by Pema were my highlight of the retreat. I liked his straightforward teaching style and his thought-provoking impulses. He was able to make Buddhist concepts like gratitude and forgiveness more relatable. He also gave practical advice on how to implement mindfulness in your daily life. He answered general questions during the talks and he was also available for personal questions after the talks. I had a short conversation with him and he was able to give me a new perspective on my problem. The retreat was the highlight of my four months stay in Colombia in terms of personal growth.

Conclusion

Our group consisted of meditation beginners, but I think the retreat is also valuable for advanced practitioners. The retreat was a great starting point for my spiritual journey. I think the teacher, the program and the environment are the most important elements of a retreat. Pema is a great teacher and he created a balanced program in a peaceful environment and therefore I can recommend La Casa de Loto wholeheartedly. Now you know everything you need to know about La Casa de Loto. The rest is up to you,

 

 

 

Recommended books

The Miracle of Mindfulness
You are here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment

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