At the Karuna Meditation Retreat, nature and simplicity help connect mind and body

Peace and wellness: In the middle of the Monchique hills, the Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center focuses on spirituality and personal growth

– May 27, 2024 | Text Beatriz Maio | Photos Phaze Photography

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique

In the middle of the Monchique hills is the Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, a place dedicated to spirituality and personal development, in an open and free space with an incredible view. It was born in 1992, the fruit of the will of Bal Krishna, and, since then, it has been well known for its silent retreats.

With the help of his wife Ana Ferraz, from the region of Trás-os-Montes in northern Portugal, Bal, who is of Indian descent, created a Center where anyone can spend a season connecting with their inner self. This desire arose as a result of a three-and-a-half-year retreat Bal did with Tibetan masters, where he dreamt of creating a place where each person can “look inwards, care and be cared for”, according to Ana.

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique

After a childhood and adolescence spent in India with his Hindu family, Bal studied Traditional Chinese Medicine at the École des Cinq Éléments (O.C.N.A), in France, and, later, completed a Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Abel Salazar Biomedical Sciences Institute – University of Porto. Ana and Bal, who have three daughters, met on a coach trip to France, which completely changed their lives.

Together, they decided to buy a plot of land with little access and no electricity and realised a dream. As Bal passed away at the beginning of 2022, Ana is running the Center, with the help of a community of friends who continue the founder’s work, from acupuncture to meditation.

“It’s a collective effort, with many friends from all over the world and people who support the project and help us,” said Ana, who has a degree in Body Psychotherapy from the International Institute for Biosynthesis, in Switzerland.

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique

Initially, there was just a ruin, but now there are two temples, a dining hall, a main house, which sleeps around 28 people, and four houses for individual retreats.

The outdoor space is large and diverse, with two ponds – one you can enter and the other where various plants grow, including the beautiful lotus flower –, traditional agriculture plots, and a labyrinth drawn on the ground for walking reflection, either individually or in groups.

“The goal is to get to the end, relax and lose your fears,” Ana Ferraz reflected as she looked at the circular design painted in white. “This centre also symbolises our centre,” she added.

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique - 1

Ana believes nature and the absence of commotion are essential factors in both self-knowledge and awareness. “Altruism applies to all beings, not just people or animals, but also nature,” she emphasised. As well as meditation sessions and yoga classes, Karuna also offers health treatments, such as Ayurveda consultations, which aim to keep the body and mind balanced through the relationship between the two.

This is not a place to come for a leisurely weekend, it has a different purpose. “It’s a place where you can simply be, without wanting to acquire knowledge, where you can erase what bothers you, what you no longer need, and rest your mind from its constant thoughts,” expressed Ana.

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique

Even though there are few rules, individual retreats last a minimum of three days, aimed at self-discovery. They are best suited to those who already have their own meditation practice and knowledge of techniques, but anyone can give it a try.

“Meditation is a training of the mind. Anyone who has never meditated, but has a strong desire to do so, can start. What you can’t do is expect immediate results unless you dedicate yourself deeply. Otherwise, the results will appear gradually,” she stated.

At Karuna “there is no guru or master, nor is there an exact philosophy. Everyone must look within and find their own resources”. However there are renowned guest masters who have shared their wisdom here. The aim is for everyone to “find their own path within themselves”, being free to carry out the activities they want, wherever they feel best, whether between four walls or surrounded by trees and the sounds of nature.

There are many charms in the garden, such as oriental trees and Buddha figures, which convey calm and serenity, as well as the dogs that live at Karuna, Gingko and Mel, and the four cats.

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique

People of all religions are welcome at the Karuna Retreat Center, which is not defined by any religion, but by the inner search. “Regardless of your religion, philosophy, beliefs, race or gender, everyone is welcome, as long as they want to get to know each other,” according to the Center’s manager.

Regarding meals, the food is home-cooked organic vegetarian, or vegan, if required, made only with local products and from the garden, when possible.

Volunteering is also an option at the non-profit Center, but it is important to have a “spiritual basis”, Ana stressed, explaining that she gets to know the candidates before approving them. “This is a place where people seek inner knowledge. It’s suitable for those who want to do a retreat and not tourism,” she clarified. Volunteers can help with cooking, gardening, reforestation, or cleaning while practicing meditation, yoga, or introspection independently, and can always join the practical sessions.

Karuna Meditation and Retreat Center, Monchique

Nothing is imposed on those who come to connect their mind, body, and health at the Karuna Center; everyone makes their own way, with no obligation to take part in group classes. Ana spends some time with each guest on arrival and makes herself available for further conversations during their stay, if necessary.

The Center was completely destroyed in August 2018 by the fires in the Serra de Monchique, but with the help of the Territorial Planning and Environment Study Group (GEOTA), it has been possible to reforest the land. In a few years’ time, Ana expects there will be a native forest here.

Author: Inside Magazines

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