Saffron Lions Retreat 

Exceptional Lives in Compassionate Activism



Saffron Lions Retreat THE RETREAT

Saffron Lions Retreat - Lions Bay
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Saffron Lions Retreat is a private residence with a spectacular ocean view located on a forested mountain slope in a quiet neighbourhood overlooking Howe Sound in beautiful Lions Bay, British Columbia. The Village of Lions Bay is situated at the base of The Lions mountains (the Twin Sisters) which tower 1280m above the coastal landscape on the Sea-To-Sky Highway leading north from West Vancouver to Whistler.

The dream of establishing a small and intimate retreat is a belated, but timely response to a request by the Venerable Dorge Chang Kalu Rinpoche many years ago who asked me to create a Buddhist centre in Spain on the island of Mallorca. I still do not know when he whispered in my ear, if I was pre-destined to do this, or if he was planting seeds towards the establishment of a dharma centre with a number of individuals who gathered together to meet him. As I was not a resident nor citizen of Spain, I graciously declined, suggesting that it would be more fitting that this should be taken up by interested Spanish individuals who subsequently dedicated themselves to making his vision, their own.

However, as the years passed, I often had the feeling that Kalu Rinpoche was behind me looking over my right shoulder. In 2006, I unexpectedly suffered a stroke in Spain, and on returning to Canada to recover, I frequently drove out to a house I own in Lions Bay, British Columbia, which was vacant, at the time, to rest.

During this time, I remembered a summer I spent in 1976 at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado (later to become Naropa University). With a casual history of success as a visual artist, I had registered to study Tibetan Tangka painting in order to design an animated film series. Universevisions included a Tibetan Creation story which I sourced from the book "Tibet", by Thubten Jigme Norbu  (the eldest brother of the 14th Dalai Lama) and Colin Turnbull, as one of the first episodes. With this objective in mind, I did not pay too much attention to many of the other programs offered. However, as life tosses up its surprises, I strayed from the storyline and became pre-occupied with the vanity of trying to see myself reflected in the images of the brightly painted deities and restless with my lack of patience which was not contributing to the final moment of opening the eyes of the Buddha with the minute hairs of a paint brush made from the tail of a California goat. Still bordering on detachment in the creative re-interpretation of the Tibetan Creation for young audiences, I had no particular interest in sitting on a zafu snafu. This became a poem I wrote on a dharma detour in a poetry workshop taught by Allen Ginsberg within the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa.

However, by the time summer began its transition into autumn frost on the Sangre de Cristo mountains as I traveled from Boulder to northern New Mexico, it became apparent that the spirit of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche had shaken up my resistance movement of one. In some aspirational moment of self-discovery I surprised myself by taking refuge at the Lama Foundation near Taos, New Mexico, under the guidance, smiles and laughter of the Venerable Lama Chime Rinpoche, a guest spiritual teacher, who had his own retreat and meditation centre, Marpa House near Saffron Walden in England. Thus began an inconsistent journey within the formal practice of Tibetan Buddhism into its initiations, teachings, and ceremonies all designed to develop compassionate and peaceful activism out of my precious human birth, or so I thought. At the very least, it offered me the opportunity to attempt to free myself from suffering, with its ancient traditions so directly relevant to the challenges of living in a complex local and global world.

Recalling my experiences of that mid 1970's summer of awakenings, I had a vague recollection of some portable wall panels that were set up in Naropa's classrooms. These panels created smaller inner rooms painted with solid primary colours and which, in my memory or imagination, had something to do with energy fields and healing if you sat around in them and breathed deeply. I was too preoccupied testing my skills at outlining delightful Tibetan clouds on the roadmap of enlightenment and missed the opportunity of going to sit in these spaces. However, some thirty years later, the memory of these rooms kept coming back to me while I lay on the carpet in the house in Lions Bay. I began to select small paper colour chip samples from the local Benjamin Moore paint store in West Vancouver and spread them out on the rug. I also immersed myself in the Tibetan photographs of Brian Harris in the calendars published by Seva with some additional consideration to the favourite colours of my sister and my mother.

A visual warmth and iconography began to emerge through the silence and fragility of recovery, and as my health slowly improved, I tried to match the colours of the Tibetan landscapes, clothing, and ritual objects in the photographs, with the paint chips. Eventually, I began to organize some minor renovations in the house, and as the changing sunlight and shadows played games with my choices of paint, I experienced a deeply rooted desire to share the silence, the moods of the sea and the vast expanse of sky.

Saffron Lions Retreat was born out of the self-directed healing from my stroke through a genuinely unexpected and evolving therapeutic meditation on colour, the golden light at sunset turning the Lions mountains into the flow of monk's robes, the pungent scent of Spanish saffron in the kitchen in Spain where we cooked for His Eminence the Venerable Dorge Chang Kalu Rinpoche and his attendants way back when. The Ven. Kalu Rinpoche, the esteemed Chogyam Rinpoche, and many others who brought the Dharma to the West, as well as a poet who was determined to interpret it, have now gone to the other shore. And it seems as though I did learn something from acclaimed poet Allen Ginsberg after all: the Heart Sutra!


Gone, gone gone beyond, gone completely beyond, bodhi soha


Since writing this, a Dharma sister has informed me that the coloured rooms of my memories at Naropa mentioned above were called Maitri Rooms, within which one devoted oneself to the Maitri Five Wisdom Energies Practice.


In October, 2010, I was fortunate to attend a five-day retreat held by RIGPA ESPANA in Tarragona, Spain where we received teachings from Sogyal Rinpoche on Video What Meditation Really Is: Getting to know your own mind - The Secret of Meditation and How to Actually Practice It.

Looks Like Me - Padmasambhava

Saffron Lions Retreat Director, Natalie Drache
with Looks Like Me - Padmasambhava
Tarragona, España 2010

Apparently still lacking the necessary discipline to tame my mind, as they say, of all my distractions, I took one more senior leap: the RIGPA group in Palma de Mallorca hosted a two day retreat in 2011 with Andrew Warr from Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ireland.

In the sultry heat of the Mediterranean, facing a vibrant saffron coral wall in front of which Andrew sat, with the sound of horses on the cobblestones clip clop clip clop on the narrow street outside in Palma's old quarter, in the stillness of my heart, in the radiant stillness of everyone's hearts, a quiet peace, something settles:


Natalie Drache
Director, Saffron Lions Retreat

Natalie is embarking on a personal journey in the development of Saffron Lions Retreat. She is a former professional in the Motion Picture industry and Producer of Dialogue Between Nations, an interactive global communications network focusing on current issues directly affecting the identity, self-determination and presence of Indigenous Peoples in the modern world. Natalie was a member of the Lions Bay Climate Action Task Force and is an active participant in the "greening" of the Lions Bay Community.

This peaceful Lions Bay retreat house is available for rent for daylong and weekend retreats or dedicated programs designed to engage individuals, practitioners and organizations in common reflection.

Close proximity to Vancouver's expansive multi-faith and eco-friendly communities provides opportunities for guests, spiritual practitioners, consultants in the healing arts and medicine, and friends of the environment with an attractive retreat location. With easy access to the natural beauty of the northwest coast only a short drive from the lower mainland, guests with limited time constraints can make the most of a free day or weekend without the necessity of extended travel to the Gulf Islands or to the interior of British Columbia. Saffron Lions Retreat is a unique and intimate space, warmed by the sun and watered by the clouds and mists that dissolve the horizon into the secrecy of winter followed by the elegance of spring.

Saffron Lions Retreat - Blossoms

At Saffron Lions Retreat, guests seeking personal growth and change – through silence or in the company of others – will be able to gain deeper insight into themselves through the restorative power of inner tranquility. It is a place to enhance health and wellbeing, a place to enjoy personal or collective clarity of mind; to develop and understand compassionate activism. It is a place to envision new possibilities.

We welcome your energy and expression, in small gatherings, study circles or private consultations, as well as the sharing of your experiences, in public and/or private talks with invited guests on topics and methodologies supporting contemporary and transformative lifestyles.

Saffron Lions Retreat - Lions Bay

Saffron Lions Retreat - Lions Bay

Saffron Lions Retreat - Lions Bay

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