Personal Retreat at the Ranch
By Steve Sandner – Community resident and a founding member of Song of the Morning Ranch
By Steve Sandner
After moving from Detroit to Gaylord in 1971, I was better able to spend many happy hours at the Ranch. One afternoon, a group of us were waiting to walk down to the main house for dinner as we stood outside the lodge listening to Mr Black. One of the group was Dr Klaus Grafer, a psychiatrist who worked at Otsego Hospital in Gaylord. Klaus was in a particularly mellow mood since he was taking vacation time and was staying at the Ranch for several days. Mr Black liked that Dr Grafer was there, and said, “Getting away for a few days now and then is a good thing.” He looked at me and said, “Maybe four times a year!” I certainly agreed with the idea, as I had spent many happy weeks at the Ranch before then. Then, as we all stood quietly, I thought about the work time I would be missing, since, as a musician, I don’t get paid when I’m not working. Reading my mind, Mr Black said, “Don’t worry about money. You’ll make plenty of money!”
Though the idea of “plenty of money” may be yet coming sometime in my future, I always had enough means to get to the Ranch now and again over the years. Sometimes it would be for an event, such as Birthday Weekend*, sometimes with family, and often alone or with a small group. Each visit seemed to take on a special life of its own as a kind of personal retreat. Each time visiting the Ranch, getting away from the world, there is always a recharging, a sense of “spiritual refreshment.” Mr Black once said that a week’s stay at the Ranch can have the effect of neutralizing four lives’ worth of karma!
On one particularly busy Birthday Weekend* there was a full moon, and I went to my room for the night but had trouble falling asleep. It was a very warm night, and I went back outside. Several others were also outside, looking up at the moon, saying very little, except whispering, “Wow!” or “Look at that!” A few of us took a spontaneous slow, silent walk around the retreat enjoying the beautiful landscape drenched in moonlight. I believe I was barefoot. We then quietly retired to our rooms for the night.
* “Birthday Weekend” is an annual Ranch reunion and gathering on Labor Day weekend celebrating Yogacharya’s September 1 birthday.
I remember arriving for a week’s visit (from Chicago) rather irritated with myself because I had brought such stress with me. I was having a hard time relaxing. After two or three days, I consciously realized that the stress had fallen away, and, instead, there was a wonderful feeling of peace and inner joy. This is the “Ranch feeling” that is so hard to describe in words. I believe it comes from being in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Ranch and being around people who are sincerely seeking inner growth and peace in meditation. At that time a small group of us were sitting and talking in the lodge. Then, a friend and staff member who had been away a couple of weeks arrived, and she said what we all felt from her presence, that she was irritable and stressed out. I could certainly relate to how she felt, but I knew she would be OK in a couple days!
Occasionally I would find myself staying alone in the domes or in the lodge. One cold winter evening, I was staying in the lodge, and I was alone there after the group meditation. In those days, there was a couch facing the fireplace. I put a couple of logs on the fire and, feeling the warmth, fell into blissful night’s sleep on the couch. Another time, in the summer, I was alone in the domes reading and meditating. Well, I thought I was alone, but I hadn’t realized that Yogacharya was in the middle dome lying on a Clusterbed (which he invented) which had been pulled away from the wall. He was lying on his back with his hands folded on his chest and his legs were crossed. There was such a feeling of peace, and it seemed like he was hardly breathing. I sat quietly enjoying the peace and watching with wonder from the adjoining dome. Just then, a woman walked into the dome from outside and said, “Yogacharya? I have a question for you!” He slowly and gracefully sat up on the bed. I thought at the time it was a tragedy for Yogacharya’s peace to be disturbed! “Nooooo, this can’t be!” I thought. “How could she be so rude?” She asked him some questions about kriya, and he answered with complete attention, calmness and enthusiasm.
Yogacharya liked to say, our visiting the Ranch wasn’t about him (though we certainly enjoyed his company at the time). We would find our own ways of enjoying the Ranch, he correctly predicted. I was visiting the Ranch one weekend which was particularly busy with guests and activities, which I was a part of, and I was also able to stay Sunday night after most of the guests had left. It was an especially beautiful evening and I was enjoying the quietude and watching the view from the porch of the mainhouse. Then Nirmala, Yogacharya’s assistant at the time, came by and told me I was invited to go into town for dinner with Yogacharya and a small group. I said I appreciated the invite, but I preferred to continue enjoying the evening at the Ranch. Even with the chance to have dinner with Yogacharya, I couldn’t pull myself away. “Besides,” I thought. “There will be other opportunities to have dinner with Yogacharya.” But, as fate would have it, another opportunity never came, since he passed away shortly after that.
So, in my experience, a personal retreat at the Ranch can be as easy as coming to visit, by yourself or with others, and “going with the flow.” You can enjoy others’ company as little or as much as you want; and there is no need for fasting, in my opinion, with such wonderful vegetarian meals available. You can, and will, make new friends, learn about yourself and find something deep within yourself, a renewed energy and joy that you can take with you back out into the world.