Comments from past Open Mind Retreat participants

Open Mind is a wondrous transformative vessel of a retreat—no one does this quite the way John Tarrant does.

John weaves a gentle spell with story, myth, and poetry, offering a way for the group to enter mythical time and space together, to feel at ease, and to securely share messages from deep within the journey.

You see each other and your own path in a new expansive way without effort. Connection to your own unique experience of life deepens. In a vessel of transformation nothing can be excluded—there is allowance for pain, joy, dreams, fears, grief, excitement: whatever arises. Koans work with us on a symbolic, subliminal level. They are conundrums that do not need to be logically solved so much as swallowed whole and experienced. I came away realizing how often I skipped over what was always available in my own relational core and with a greater sense of our essential connectedness. 

Commonweal as a place perched on the cliffs, collaborates with the process. Lulled by the sea and winds at night, my dream life was incredibly activated.  I have to remark on the food too, which so often at retreats is something you just accept. But the food here is consistently extraordinary—an unusual perk for this kind of intimate journey. Not to be missed.

—from Corey, attended 2013, 2018

* * * * *

Between the meditation/meeting periods, I found unrushed time to draw, in this case old vine-covered stumps and swirling cypresses. I began to sense the koan “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha” in the two old stumps that were very much alive with sparrows and blossoms. 

I should mention that my meditation practice was in shambles before going to this retreat and so far it has taken root.

—from Jeff, attended 2017, 2019

* * * * *

The classic Sesshin structure for me has always been a struggle because I already spend a massive amount of time working in silence and solitude as an artist on a daily basis.

Through the vocalized interaction arising from koan work in this style of retreat, I feel more connected to people. To hear what they are experiencing in actual time, this helps broaden my own practice back home into places I find challenging.

Open Mind Retreat is a place of respite. A safe place to allow my mind to unravel and sort through into the darkest places that were nicely tucked away. Whether it was the ocean air, waves crashing, poems, meditation, healing foods, or a quiet place to share; it allowed me to go deep into my suffering while feeling held in the light.

The weekend retreat felt like time expanded, all the while time was too short. But it was perfect just as it was and remains with me still. As a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner and practicing Shaman, I felt John Tarrant did an amazing job at holding space, listening, and being able to truly see you. Thank you everyone from here to the great beyond, a truly magical weekend!

—from Sonja, attended 2018

* * * * *

Do you have the courage to allow your mind and heart to open?

The retreat gave me courage and support to open my mind and my heart. I had the freedom to explore, to dive deep. I had the support of John, the other folks, the koans. Trusting them, and held in the beauty of the ocean, the cliffs, trees and flowers, we opened up. We felt safe—trusted each other and learned from each. It gave me the opportunity to really listen to myself and to really listen to others. The koans had their own life source that deepened throughout the weekend unlocking truths about ourselves. The rhythm of the day, with morning, afternoon and evening meditations, delicious meals, long walks and plenty of free time also did its magic. And let’s not forget the poetry.

I am going to send you some photos of the dragon I found in the forest the Monday after the retreat.

—love from Roddy, attended 2018, 2019

* * * * *

There are pivot points in life. The Open Mind Retreat of August 2014 was one of those points for me.

I was in an intractable situation and I didn’t have a clue as to how I might extract myself. Somehow I managed to find my way to John’s retreat. In that weekend I came to a resting point in my life and its difficulty. I didn’t get any answers, but I felt something shift inside of me. I also met new friends that weekend that have sailed the seas with me for the last almost five years. I look back in wonder at my great fortune and deeply know that my life’s course was altered during that retreat. 

—man overboard and much love from Leon, attended 2014

* * * * *

I arrived late Thursday night due to work commitments in San Diego…a very long and beautiful drive followed and though it seemed to go on forever it was simply one startlingly beautiful vista after another.

I already knew the Open Mind Retreats have a different flavor and format than our usual sesshin and I was excited about more opportunity for actual dialogues and more intimate sharing (talking is mostly allowed, even encouraged) with my fellow Open Minders! We met in triads revolving around issues which reminded me of the workshops I co-lead several times a year. Something happens when we show up authentically in these triads, by sharing our experience we reveal our vulnerability and grow closer to our fellow Bodhisattvas in retreat.

It is one thing to sit silently in sesshin and quite another to get to know, through listening, the many unique and remarkable folks who have come to sit and talk together.

I loved the free time to “stroll around the grounds” and as Chris G. said to “let the land in.” And the food was delicious too!!! All in all a lovely few days on the Marin coastline. Thanks for asking Sacha and John…I look forward to returning to the venue and the format!

—with a deep bow from John, attended 2018

* * * * *

Earth, ocean and sky, light and darkness, timeless and ever-changing, touches that in us which is timeless and ever-changing. Hawks soar, hummingbirds dart and the pelicans glide in formation just above the waves. There is generous delicious and healing food prepared by devoted and wise cooks. There is time to rest and wake refreshed.

The daily schedule combines quiet time and sitting in meditation together with conversation and space for walking and sitting outdoors noticing and absorbing the beautiful wild surroundings, the turns of dawn and dusk. There’s a gentle rhythm to it.

Our activity all together and in smaller groups investigates not only images and koans from the Zen tradition but draws in stories from our own western wisdom in myth and legend. Through these, in conversation, we investigate our own lives and dilemmas. Individually we devote ourselves to just listening simply and attentively to the voices of others. We try not to intervene in response with our own thoughts and opinions.  We just listen.

Gradually each person’s story seems to become part of an interwoven fabric of life which is both intimately personal and a precious part of a much larger whole which we share.

To me, the improbable and amazing thing is that in only 3 1/2 days a small roomful of distant friends and complete strangers can together open hearts, soften critical views and feel the deep interconnection of our lives and the deep warmth and strength of our individual beings. It’s like a collaborative musical improvisation where each voice gradually discovers its line and the voices come together, each its own tune and each interweaving with the others in the song of being human.

And this experience can continue to change us as we go out into our “ordinary” lives where we meet people and situations we encounter more openly and generously.

—from Amaryllis, attended 2015, 2017, 2019

* * * * *

For me…working on a koan is the most wonderful example of individual and not-individual that I can think of. It doesn’t take long before we are one mind…always a connected circle. Impossible to miss the threads running through us and weaving us together.

I see the koan as the weaver, the magical unifier, the great eraser of boundaries.

And what is utterly astounding, is that they weave us into a fabric that includes the ancestors who had the great presence of mind to give us the koans…and then ultimately…everyone is included.

Thanks for letting me try to put this into words.

—from Leon, attended 2014, 2016

* * * * *

Open Mind
The mind opens

Through koans, poetry and 
Everyone putting their voice in the room, 
Intimacy is amplified.

We are working individually but because John is leading it, it becomes collaborative. We rub up against each other’s stories. We become the myths that John shares. A new perspective might come naturally. Sometimes it is a deep dive. 

Open Mind brings the teachings home to your very own life. This crazy hard, wickedly funny, anxious, sorrowful sweet life.

Sometimes others’ stories become mine. They pull me forward. 
Dreams are shared. They are koans too. They are valued and sacred in that same way as the land, the waves, the rain. The light. 
Barriers might drop away. It’s not isolating. It’s not competitive.

Everyone is included so we might be encouraged to include ourself as well. Entranced by life itself. A listening. To ourselves. To others. We fall in love in a simple way.

Barriers diminish and waking up sneaks in. It might sneak, or blast in, or nothing may happen, or seem to happen. It may come later. Something you recognize. 

I wrote after an Open Mind retreat: I am never apart from life.
That stuck around too.

Open mind brings the teachings home to your very own life. This life now. You don’t have to pretend anything.

—from Sacha, attended 2014–2019

* * * * *


The Diamond Sutra says, “Out of nowhere, the heart-mind comes forth.”

—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 65b