Balance seems to be elusive, no matter how hard we strive. We seek it with our work-life dynamic, our food choices, our sleep habits, our relationships. We fall out of it, we pull ourselves back in, and round and round we go. Balance takes a lot of intentional practice to cultivate. But the founders of Harmony Dawn Retreat Center in Hastings, Ontario, have been at it for quite some time - and they are actively living an approach that works.
Nicola James runs the center with her husband Andy. We asked her to share their journey with Harmony Dawn and the work that goes on there.
“Balance is underestimated in our Now culture, which celebrates excess and the Wow factor. Ageless Wisdom teachers point to balance as the real, enduring source of Power,” Nicola says. “The Buddha taught the Middle Way between extremes during his six-year search for Truth throughout India. He taught that we suffer because we are attached- to things, people, ideas, beliefs, and more- when in reality, all of life is impermanent.”
Which is to say, that balance isn’t so much a place to strive for as it is a state of being.
She continues, “The Buddha’s solution to end suffering is non-attachment- letting go; not holding on; recognizing that change is normal and not an aberration. If we can be non-attached, we can flow with life moment to moment in dynamic balance.”
Nicola and her husband have woven this philosophy into everything they do at Harmony Dawn, including how they built the retreat center itself to be completely off-grid, attuned to the natural surroundings. Run on solar power and designed using the principles of Feng Shui and Yin Yang, Harmony Dawn is truly a holistic approach to living in balance. It’s no wonder guests find that the space itself creates an immediate sense of calm.
“My husband Andy discovered and has practiced the fundamental wisdom of India’s Buddhism and China’s Daoism over forty years ago and has taught for about thirty-five years,” Nicola shares. “He has instilled these fundamentals in me and I witness them in action daily -- in myself, my relationships and the world at large. When you are aware and in the moment, being mindful of all around you and with ongoing practice, you can flow with what comes at you in the best possible way: without being attached.” This is how she and Andy endeavor to live their daily lives.
Nicola is the cook at the retreat center, which hosts retreats of between 14 and 22 people every weekend, ten months of the year. She is also a Qigong therapist and Macrobiotic chef. She sees each of these roles as crucial in maintaining the flow of balance.
She explains, “Macrobiotics is an ancient art of living that is rooted in a profound understanding of the laws and patterns of nature, as applied to the human body. The human body is seen as an integral part of the natural world. Through food, you connect with your spiritual nature and open yourself up to natural healing. It is living in harmony and trusting your intuition… When your energy is balanced and harmonious, true health radiates from the inside out.” In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), food and eating are seen as part of herbal medicine.
Not surprisingly, many of Harmony Dawn’s guests report that the food is one of their fondest memories of their time at the retreat center.
Whether you visit to attend a Qigong workshop or a guest instructor retreat (like yoga, music, meditation, art), study Macrobiotic cooking during a weekend retreat, or just check out the James’ cookbooks - The Dao of Harmony Dawn: Innovative and Acclaimed Spa Cuisine and Eco- Harmony Dawn Cooking: Balancing Your Internal and External Environments - you’ll get a taste for how the ethos of Harmony Dawn permeates every aspect of life.
Nicola reminds us that The Thousand Mile Journey is traveled one step at a time. And you’ll begin to understand what they mean by saying that balance isn’t a destination, but a state of becoming unattached, flowing with the dynamic expression of life.
Harmony Dawn is Andy and Nicola James’ Dream, purpose-built to enhance the subtle but profound Power of Balance. As Nicola’s food is an important and acclaimed part of the Harmony Dawn experience, Andy’s 31 years of mind-body wisdom and teaching experience includes Tai Chi Chuan, Mindfulness (Vipassana) meditation and Qigong. You can learn more about the retreat center by visiting Harmony Dawn's Center Page.