by Bev Wann
It was a rough couple of years. At age 19, my son Brendan had a bleed in his brain that resulted in half of his body being paralyzed. He muscled his way through months of rehab and eventually picked up the pieces of his life. Just one month into his second semester at college he had a second bleed. This one also froze half of his body and required him to come to a complete stop … no school, no job, back into my, his mother's, home. He started on an earnest, often painful, journey of healing … focusing on his body, his heart, and his spirit.
In March of his 23rd year he went on his first residential, silent retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center. He died of a third episode six months later.
His teachers and the practices they encouraged during that week on the mountain offered him support for being with the limitations of his physical body, tools for working with times of overwhelming fear and sadness and ways to find moments of peace. His last chapter of life on earth was a time of profound awakening to the truth of unending love. His time at SDRC was an important part of his dying with an open heart.
Shortly after his passing I found my way up the winding road to SDRC for a retreat of my own. I have returned to attend many retreats since then. The land has absorbed my tears and the mountain has heard my cries of grief. This retreat center has become my place of refuge and solace. The sanctuary, silence, teachers … the shared wisdom, gracious staff, natural beauty … have all supported me through years of recovery and beyond. Last month I attended a solo retreat in one of the little cabins right by the creek. I found great joy sitting in meditation with the other retreatants, weeding the gardens, climbing the mountain, eating the incredible SDRC meals, resting in the sounds of the bees and the flowing water, and communing in the evenings with the small band gathered together for the week.
Each retreat offers me the dual gifts of silence - deep peace and profound confrontation with my own mind. And each retreat offers me a chance to reconnect with my inner life, with the pulse of wilderness and with my son. I sense him most clearly when I am quiet, in my heart and in this place we both know and knew as sacred. In the closing retreat circles I am always moved to mention his name to honor his short, but full life.
I write this to bring to life the power and possibilities a retreat can offer someone coming into their own as a young adult. It may offer a place of healing, it may offer a space for exploring one's path or purpose, it may provide vital teachings that support years of practice and growth and it may plant seeds that mature into a lifetime of compassionate and wise choices. A contribution to the Brendan James Scholarship Fund will support young adults in being able to attend retreats before they may be able to afford one on their own. I can't think of a better way to pass on what we know in our hearts to those coming behind us.
Attending a meditation retreat is a luxury that many young adults cannot afford without support. If you would like to make an offering to the Brendan James Scholarship Fund for Young Adults, or any of our other scholarship programs, please visit our Donation page and let us know in the comments how you would like your gift utilized. Deep thanks to Brendan for his inspiring example and Bev for her commitment to all our early stage practitioners. May all who are searching find their way to the Dharma.