Anticipation of writing the mystery

Words of Introduction – Unchain the Mind, a weekend writing retreat with Bobby Marie

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 Allowing thoughts to arise and flow, words on paper, creative ideas, powerful voices in a complex, contradictory, unjust and confusing world.  And when we let them go, we discover deep inside, a quiet, a field in which new and authentic thoughts are free to sprout.

That we struggle to turn our thoughts into powerful and original writing, is not simply about our grasp of the rules of grammar or vocabulary.  It is about the inner blocks and censors that have settled in our minds.

In this retreat we worked with writing and meditation within the natural and quiet beauty of Dharmagiri to see these inner blocks, oppressors and censors clearly, and to by-pass them in order to allow the flow of words on to the page with sincerity and honesty.  This was not a traditional “writing skills workshop”.  It was a space where we could explore the power of our own words in the form of writing.

Bobby  offered us a space, some ideas and support to assist us to design own writing practice that would allow our thoughts to flow freely as words into writing.  The retreat combined a process of meditation sitting, walking, or just being quiet, with writing – with filling blank pages with words.

The writing that emerged during the retreat follows in a compilation of our pieces put together by Bobby after the retreat together with a description of the processes that Bobby used to help us write freely and to offer each other our experiences as listeners when we read out some what we had written to each other.

The retreat was a fascinating journey into flowing with and through words with each other – learning of each others’ struggles – life struggles and writing struggles – reflecting on different viewpoints and  how we navigate our way through these differences – sharing moments of pathos with each others’ suffering, moments of joy in playing with each others’ words, and moments of surprise as we discovered what others hear from us – at times quite different from what we imagined we were conveying!

It was also a wonderful exploration of the interplay between form and formlessness: between letting words flow out as thought forms into word forms on paper, and then allowing all the words to dissolve back into the silence of meditation – going beyond the words and forms to merge into the background awareness where we watch it all appear and disappear back into stillness again.

So we wanted to share the experience which for each of us was so very rich – and here it is!

Day Zero – Our Words on arrival

Arriving, I was already here. As always. Never different no matter where. Flowers, keys, program, setting up, waiting and wondering, on my own. Anticipation of writing the mystery. Gentle, soft arrivals feeling their way into the unknown. Comparisons, doubts, concerns, fleeting like wisps of mind dust in the wind. To finally settle in the welcoming candlelit warmth of the promise of a journey into flow.

 

Friday arrival at Dharmagiri was rather nervous as I had never attended a Retreat before and had no idea of what the Writing portion of the time was going to comprise.  But I was determined to have an open mind and just let it happen, I have a tendency to get myself into a tizz over nothing and then feel silly afterwards.   I was there before anyone else but C welcomed me and showed me my room, we knew each other as I had gone to the Monday meditation classes she guides though I hadn’t been for some time.

 

Stigma and preconceptions causes us to label certain groups of people as rude and unhelpful.  But I arrived after yet another positive public transport experience.  I realised I was tired when I could not follow the programme for the retreat in the dining room.  Even positive days can be long and tiring.  I think my host saw this and assured me there is another in my room that I can peruse at my leisure.  There was chatter around the supper table, and we got to gain a small glimpse of each other.  Some more talkative, and myself, surprisingly, also participating.

 

In the week before arriving, there were changes, thoughts that we should not go ahead with the retreat. All my plans (written in matrix formation) wobbled.  I too. I’ve been to Dharmagiri, many times as a retreatant and I looked forward to it. But this was different. I was a “teacher”. Anxiety and doubt set it. So what was the plan. S advised. No plan. You have a few ideas, a few approaches, methods, pack it in your bag and keep walking. You will work out. So I arrived  attentive, listening, the plan will emerge. On the evening I arrived, the road was hidden in mist the mountain was not to be seen. In this uncertainty, M who fetched at the bus stop, drove carefully but kept driving with intention. So we reached Dharmagiri to start the retreat.

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Day One – Our Words start to flow

We walked on the mountain side in the midday sunshine. Using our little note books as baskets, we gathered words, objects as we saw and heard, and smelt the fragrances in the air, soil, the mountain, the sky itself. We associated each word we collected with thoughts and feelings that arose from somewhere within.

 

In the afternoon, in the meditation hall, we spread them on the floor like fresh spring flowers, we let them go. We invited each other to pick words that asked to be picked and make a little sentence of meaning or even no meaning. Then link them all together. This we did in communication with each other through our silences but the voice of our words.

It was a good first day in our retreat and our poem brought smiles into our quietness.

And then night set in, clouds built up around us and the wind begin to howl.

Here is the poem we wrote

 

Reflections of the Mad Rooster in the Mud Hut

The ominous future reminds me of another time

When rotting memories became dry and normal

Threatening the earth with xenophobia

I smelt decay

 

My generation walked past the young

Exhausted leaders

The loss of rights and failed schooling

Left children caught in the awful

Mystery forest of sadness

 

Their call was heard only by the grass

And our future returned as a cloud

 

Smelling the rich night we called up to the sky

We were studying the rain on damp sticky fences.

Recognising the warm side

Took us to a time of blessing

And the primary beauty of the moist

Landscape without fences

This brought back a majestic smile

 

The mad rooster ran into the mud hut

 

It is me

 

Reflections on the day

 

The mad rooster exercise was a delight of fun and interest, surprise and play. Pulling words out of their context, muddling them up, and watching them reform into new meanings as other hands sentenced them out in multi-colours on the board. Struggling to allow words to lead the way into ideas instead of the other way around.  And yet still each mind finds its own way to express its own concerns, history, humour – how intriguing is that.

 

The Mad Rooster got thrown into the mix and was the real but welcome “disrupter” of the whole writing story.  I had to giggle because there we all were trying so hard to dig deep, be conscious of how words make a connection with our innermost secrets, introspect and haul out the deepest emotional thoughts even while we used everyone else’s mixed-up words, and suddenly there we had a Mad Rooster and a hut, like from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Brought us all into the real world like a ray of sunshine.

 

I become a participant, adding, words to a mad poem. I feel it has helped bring us together.

 

I started off on the poem writing process with some doubts.  Will this work?  But such concerns and questions soon left my mind.  The free writing process jumps all blocks.  The poem writing process worked wonderfully.  We laughed in (mostly) silence as the poem started to take shape.  There was a giddiness in the room.  I felt somewhat intimidated as Bobby read initial contributions, wondering if my inputs will measure up.  One person commented that they could see from the nature of the words from whom they came.  A person with a keen sense of awareness.  The poem had a wonderful mystique to it.  Serious and silly.

 

A Reflection on Words

We talked about words and their power. This discussion arose out of how randomly and how lightly  we  used the word “Mad”. Each of us came to this word differently. It was ok, we had created an environment where our differences enriched our perspectives. But what held us together, we did not conclude with agreement or disagreement?

Here is a reflection on our discussion:

 

words have power

Mad.  Crazy.  Insane.

Mental health is contested terrain.  Stigma.  Discrimination.  Professional power yielding.  Legal disempowerment of human beings.

Professional power.  Label power.  Word power.

What are the value of our words?  What do our words signify?  What are the implications of our words?

What is censorship?  If a person uses a word to describe themselves does it give another person the right to use the same label to describe the first person or is this a right reserved to the in-group?  If many out-group people use a label does it make it acceptable or is it a form of out-group power domination?  Should certain words be off-limits to those not part of the group they describe or is that too politically correct?

What is political correctness?  It has become a swear phrase.  Does labelling labels as politically correct close debate or does it facilitate deeper discussion?  Does it contribute to understanding or to indifference?  Does the changing nature of labels mean it is a waste and that anything goes or is it an indication of striving for a better world?

Should we consider dignity?   Should we consider empowerment?  Do out-group people have any right to determine which labels we may use?

Words have power.  Words can give dignity and words can take away dignity.  Words can inspire and words can disempower.  Words expose how we see the world.  Words expose our deepest inner beings.  Words influence our actions in the world.  Words give meaning to shared worlds.  Shared words can nurture understanding in shared worlds.  Or our words can foster divisions in contested worlds.

Our words influence our actions.  Our actions can contribute towards building a better world.  Words have power in building a compassionate world.  We should choose carefully when picking our words.

 

Day Two – Words and the snow fall softly

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It is Sunday the second day of our writing retreat, the first week in September, the month, when the rich dark hills, break in fresh green shoots, first for the new year. It is our planting time, when the blanket of cold falls away and we stretch our limbs and prepare for endless sunshine that will last months on end.

 

But it snowed last night in Dharmagiri,

 

Gentle piles of fresh flakes covered the grounds, a feather light eiderdown. Will this make us warm, bring us together, as we learn new skills to difficult often insoluble questions of our lives. How mysteriously opposites combine.

 

We gathered again in the meditation hall. Began the special writing approach we learnt yesterday. Put your pen on the blank page, keep your hand moving, don’t stop, for correctness, the rules of grammar, just let your thoughts flow, spill over the page in create their own meaning or no meaning.

 

We broke for meals, sitting meditation, walking meditation and returned again to our writing. In the afternoon, we invited each other to read, if they wished, their thoughts on paper. We listened to the words, received the message, we felt the message as it appeared as pictures in our minds and touched our body.

Then we spoke each in turn

  • What words stood out
  • What message did you get
  • What did you feel as you listened
  • What pictures did you see in your mind as your listened
  • Where in your body did it touch you.

This was our feedback gentle hands, caring hearts.

With this feedback we reflected our writing and adjusted if we wish.

 

Our  thoughts , feelings , words on paper

 

Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri . We were given first signs early in the evening but never expected snow, the rain was freezing, a howling wind, curled around the mountain, and swept  across the Underberg  valley, turning water into ice. The morning awoke in a blanket of fresh snow, crickley crackely layers that so nicely carried the patterns of our shoes.

The excitement of snow, to one whose life and previous life was the sweltering heat of the tropical sun, where all is dry and brittle, wet and green. White?  All this a cause for excitement, the novelty of an air that is crisp with frozen moisture, the recolouring of green and gold to white and black, surprising the senses. For a while as little children we danced in the fresh flakes but then the biting cold that we are not used to set in.

Today, I will begin the morning with a free write that would begin with a word or phrase from which to begin our walk with our words. What words should I suggest, I looked outside it was first light on the eastern hills blanketed with snow

“Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri….”

 

It snowed last night at Dharmagiri – no surprise to those of us who live locally, and experience it often, we could smell it coming.  But there is always everything magical about waking to that hush, the ethereal light, and the loveliness of a wonderland of white.  There is a sadness, and a profound spirituality, about a snowfall.  I wonder if it is because of the transformation it brings – before the snow there is one landscape, and in the space of a few hours a completely different one, a pure, untouched, mystical, almost unrecognisable world.   That touches us, makes us introspective, perhaps we hope that could happen to us, a transformation to something new in a few hours?

And there are happy memories for some of us, of a loved one rushing out into it playfully and excited like a big kid, building snow goblins, throwing snowballs, acting dilly.  And it reawakens the long and difficult process of dealing with loss, of coming to terms with what “gone” means, and of how high a price we pay for love.

 

Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri. It was cold – it was super cold. I was not turning on my heater because I was worried that the power might trip. Comforting my girlfriend over the phone while bandaging up my finger, I thought “wow it’s my ring finger on my left hand – the marriage finger”. It seems somehow significant that I would hurt this finger so badly. That it would rot, and that my girlfriend put up with me all that time, yet I treated her so badly on this day. It seemed that in the moment that she forgave me after I had apologized, just then had the snow started to fall, almost as if the snowfall was a sign of my absolution.

Isn’t it up to the individual to ultimately collect him or her-self and find their own meaning in life? I wrestle and challenge myself with this question.  Just when I think I have everything figured out, something hectic happens and rocks my world. Why can I not collect myself? Am I meant to fall apart all the time and rebuild myself – build myself back up again. E (my GF) started a 1000 piece puzzle to distract herself from the pain I had been putting her through with my silence that day (yesterday) she told me over the phone.  She told me over the phone how much she loves puzzles, the only puzzle she didn’t like was mine. Am I a puzzle? A puzzle to others and a puzzle to myself? My book is titled An Indigo Puzzle. I feel blocked to write it but I know ultimately it is me who is blocking myself. Am I bound to make the same mistake over and over again?

This morning the snow outside was thick. I first observed it outside my window. Without electricity I would die… or would I? Sitting in a meditation posture could save me. My feet are always freezing, but tucked away in a half lotus they warm up. Is my body telling me to sit? It seems I have too many questions but no answers. Perhaps I should just sit and let go of the thoughts. Enjoy the present silence, that the white blanket outside blesses us with.

 

Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri.  The mountain was covered in a magical coat by the time the sun slowly emerged from the east.  Far removed from home.  Flowers covered in white snow.  Birds drinking sweet nectar.  Where is home?  Where am I going?  How I am going to get there?  I hear the chatter of the birds as they drink the nectar from the flowers covered in snow.  Talking, we need to continuously talk.  Through talking we create meaning.  Through sharing we create understanding.  The icy wind bites at my face.  What does it mean to live in the present?  Does it mean letting go of guilt?  What does it mean for the future?  The snow-covered landscape makes us see with new eyes.  Listening to people makes us see our lives with new eyes.  I’ve come this far, why is the doubt still there?  The picture is so clear.  When the sun goes down behind the mountain most of the snow has disappeared below.  We see the land as we saw it yesterday.  For a moment in time we lived in an exquisite white wonderland.  Is that what living in the present is?  We have a choice to do, knowing that it will disappear, or not doing, knowing that it will never be.

 

It snowed last night at Dharmagiri and well aware of it we were searching through the early evening first mushy snow in the dark for the missing cat.  Looking with torches under bushes and in the sheltered spaces of doorways and passages finally coming face to face with her sheltering in the carport under a car.  Blinded by torchlight, out of reach, and definitely not wanting to move.  Hiding away and not wanting to be seen.  Really?  Or was she wanting to be found?

Images from a childhood movie of a family hiding from Nazi torches in the dark behind gravestones terrified of the toddler making a sound and giving them all away. Why do we ever need to hide? What is so terrifying? Why do I hide?  What is this fear of being revealed? How strong and powerful and painful could it really be? Well, I know how it can be and don’t want it again. Or do we have to walk through it like breaking through a wall of fear?

Reminds me of walking down European canal streets at night trudging through dirty mushy snow under foot passing gleaming black metal poles slushing along and talking of revolution and change, organization, strategy and tactics, words now foreign to me, foreign and dead.  How did I get so interested in all that? Walking beside a man pacing like a trapped lion, feeling his energy searching and searching, such striving, so much focus and concentration, me complaining but thinking it was good to be toughening up for the fight ahead. And all we were really doing is going to someone’s safe warm home for the night.

 

Fences

The mountain lays in front of me with blemished magnificence.  Magnificence divided into fenced territories.  Symbolised ownership.  Dividing the land.  Barriers built between your land and my land.  Walls between you and me.

The African continent lies scarred with fences.  Artificial boundaries imposed by people alien to the land.  Foreign people intent on ownership and wealth accumulation.  This is the legacy of my people.

The legacy continuous.  Keeping some people at the margins.  Children.  Children born stateless with no access to being legally human.  Children living within the fences of the land but banished to exist outside the fences of society.  Denied schooling.  Denied employment.  Denied legal existence.  Denied humanity.  Denied hope.

Children called udoti[1] by those who answered the calling of nurturing young human beings.  Children accused of stealing if they dare eat of food provided because they have no legal existence in a database maintained by those who chose to take responsibility for ensuring the constitutional right to free basic education and the constitutional right to dignity.  Failed leaders.

Children.  Human beings whose parents and grand parents and great grandparents have lived inside the fences that divide the continent but discarded outside the fences of society.  Children.  Human beings whose children and grandchildren will grow up inside the fences of the country but who will not be allowed entry into society.

Living inside visible colonial fences but outside invisible colonial borders.  Children caught up in fences not of their making.  Children caught up in fences that they are not permitted to dismantle.  Stigma and xenophobia infusing lives with hatred and pain.  This is the legacy of my people.  Fences that deny hope…

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Reflections on the Day

 

The snowfall was like a gift from nature to bless us all, and it dominated a lot of what we did.  It was a focal point for words and the reaching into ourselves for meaning and deep feelings.   For me it raised quite deep feelings of sadness in missing my late husband, but also a light-hearted feeling of remembering his child-like joy as he enjoyed the snow.  But for me there was suddenly quite strange feelings of not being quite sure who I really am as if the snow had cast doubts, made things uncertain, and wondering at my stage in life if I ever would know who I am, a bit disconcerting.  Maybe that’s because as we discussed the snow completely alters the landscape.

 

Making words in the snow. I see someone writing outside with a stick in the snow literally making words in the snow. And didn’t I do that trying, for the first time, to form a little Buddha out of the snow on the table outside? A word, a form, a symbol. I thought it would be so easy but it was puzzlingly difficult. Falling apart, not sticking together, not yielding to my strokes – what?!  Like trying to patch bits of meaning together into something that will stand. But it all just keeps breaking apart and falling out of shape.

 

The snow that fell overnight created a sense of excitement in all of us.  Reading my writing to the group was uncomfortable.  It was raw and personal and had not been polished for public consumption.  Going in to the retreat my intention was not to write on personal issues.  But listening and participating in feedback to others, it would have created a power imbalance not to also share.  The feedback process worked very well.  Hearing how others received it helped to add more polish to our stories.  A different process would have created writing blockages in the future.

 

The snow fall was a surprise, a gift, beautiful in its quiet, a sense of sadness and loss. I’m not sure why , sunshine , happiness, dark clouds sadness , but it is.

 

 Day Three – Searching for words that are not there

 

So the instructions for the day were: Take your little basket (your note book) , walk meditatively, be aware of what you see, but look around it, behind beyond, look at the one who is looking. Then pick a few thoughts, words, phrases that emerge and free write.

A good facilitator would check, is the instruction clear and give participants time to clarify. But the method that had evolved over the past two days was, whatever, however your thoughts come to you, that is where you must be. The instructions were simply because somehow we feel comfortable when there are instructions.

A few hours later, we returned with basketful of wonderful words, phrases, sentences and a story that we all agreed should be published.

 

Following the Sound of Running Water

I follow the sound of running water.  A stream hidden behind the bushes.  Crouch lower I slip underneath low branches.  In front of me lies an empty, dry stream bed.  I am puzzled.  I hear the sound of running water.  There is a pool of water higher up, and a pool of water down below.  I hear the sound of running water.  In front of me is a streambed filled with dry rocks.

How much of life is hidden below the surface.  We are aware of things that have happened.  We are aware of our behaviour.  But the connection between the two is hidden.

I hear the sound of running water.  Insects are pirouetting on the water surface of the pool above.  They draw circles on the water’s surface that combine into intricate patterns.  A ballet.  The circles end where the dry, rocky streambed starts.  Then some distance below the stream re-emerges.  Do I need to know how the stream gets there?  Do I really need to understand?  What is the value of such understanding?  Preoccupation with understanding the invisible stream causes me to miss some acts in the ballet being performed on the pool above.  Is this what we do in life.  Analyse.  Over analyse.  Analysis paralysis.  Inaction.  Missing acts in our own lives.  Missing life.

I hear the chatter of the birds.  I feel the soothing rays of the sun on my skin.  What is the opposite of analysis?  Of analysis paralysis?  Doing?  Just doing?  Does doing mean not thinking?  What lies underneath the surface?

Doing inevitably leads down paths not otherwise ventured.  New worlds encountered.  New people enriching life.  Enriching our lives.  With the richness also goes other experiences.  Pain.  Humbling.  Awe.  Learning.  Understanding.  Growth.

The insects continue their ballet.  Drawing intricate circles on the water’s surface.  The water flows to the pool below, following a path invisible to the eye.

 

But could we live without our stories?

Looking out to the mountain, fresh green leaf shoots pushing out into space, soft cool breeze vuvving around my ears blurring the sharp melodious chirps of birdsong and the dull background rumbling humming of the odd passing car.

Mountain monkey sitting and mountain man resting, both gazing out in opposite directions of the sky.  What are they thinking? Are they spirits of the mountain? Maybe the mountain married the sky yesterday adorned in her sparkling white dress. Today she is green again with only a few jewels left glittering in the sunlight.

So different today she is. So different today I am.  Tired out of a restless night the morning greeting me with strange signs of new fences, sprung up who knows when? Gone the flurrying excitement of yesterday’s snow leaving the moist dryness of winter grass exposed.  The day-after effect following inevitably on some great movement of the heart, invariably besieging the soul.

Little things, little signs of change, flagrant and capricious, as an unexpected eddy swirling through my blood, sending a cold current tingling to my toes. Ominous change that dawns like darkness casting its shadow like a shroud over yesterday’s glorious mountain.  Can we disarm our shadows I wonder, or are we condemned to live the illusion of a world without them?

 

Forever playing games with meanings in words and sentences, paragraphs and pages, commas and full stops, and still more words on and on and on forever.  How long have we been telling each other stories? Do they ever really change? Is there a finite set of themes? And why do we eternally find them so fascinating?  What is the point of going through it again and again and again throughout the millennia of the ages.  Telling stories on and on and on.

But could we live without our stories?  How might our lives be different? Can we even imagine that? Or do we need our stories to make our lives feel important, significant?  Would it still be a search – this time for the meaning of meaninglessness, coming full circle but still caught in the same frustrating game.  Or might it be that we would flow through time, moment by moment, awestruck by the exquisite beauty of the kaleidoscopic panorama of momentary fragments falling into new patterns; ephemeral as sea sprays blown away by the wind?

 

An atmosphere of grey, brown, pink and orange, blend like the natural peace of a setting sun at the end of busyness. Just sitting and watching.  Soft flames reaching for the heavens of inner stillness. Searching for meaning among the dying embers of thoughts.  Sinking softly into silence.  Just being. Like looking into the eyes of an elephant and meeting with presence. No hurry. No agenda. No push or pull. How I would love to trust enough to play with the elephant, abandoning all fear of the powerful allure of the unknown, knowing that the elephant senses what I don’t know that I know about myself. And just how will he reveal it to me?

Dry bits of scattered broken grass lying on the earth. Reminder of Eliot’s Hollow Men and how it meant so much to me that poem about dry sterile brittle meaninglessness. Dry, broken, scorched and terrible earth; something happening beneath the surface.  Mind can’t see, can’t feel, don’t know. Living in happy land and our eyes are blank like death seeing nothing but pretence of life, love, devotion.  Why so poignant this expression of brokenness?  Is it just a reflection of my own brokenness that I see in the eyes around me?

 

Flapping wings of birds in flight – flap, flap; flap, flap – so rapid like a drum beating rhythmically passing by just overhead.  How beautiful are the birds. How deeply they touch the depths of longing for freedom, independence, movement, aliveness.  We have lost so much of our intuitive ability in the maze of modern urban life. Who are we becoming? What are we turning into, destroying the earth and making such an ugly mess of our home? Do we believe ourselves to be so invincible as to be able to force the whole of nature to bend to our will? Unrelenting human hubris.

 

Musty, mossy, fungal smell of soaked wood on soaked earth. And I am back in Chithurst monastery in the forest, green so green in grey-brown sticky, gluey mud smelling moist of rotting leaves and crumbling wood. The bridge over the stream – that smell, full and rich in my nostrils – leading to the special soft secluded spot – shaded cool peace in the still silence.

 

Conversation with a Rock

So – our writing Teacher has sent us out in Walking Meditation, armed with our little notebooks, to look and find some special object, to concentrate on the negative spaces involved with that object, and discover something that will resonate in our personal journey, and spark some inner, reflective thought that may result in a piece of writing that may rock the world.  I was making a very poor job of this effort, somehow my wellspring of deep and profound thought seemed to have dried up.

I did find a tiny plant that before the snowfall was looking very cheerful, and now was clearly frostbitten and tattered, but after consideration and a desperate search for some negative spaces, I decided that the theme of eventual triumph after struggle and adversity had been done to death by far more competent writers than myself.

Exasperated with my clear lack of insight and profundity, I leaned on a large convenient rock.  The Rock harrumphed quietly, and I moved away.   “I’m sorry”, I said, “I didn’t mean to disturb you, that was rude of me”.   “Not at all” he said graciously, you are very welcome to lean.  It’s just that so many people do that, but then they never stop to chat, just rush off looking scared, and that seems rather ill-mannered to me.   “Well” I replied, a little uncertainly, “it is rather strange you know, really I don’t think I have ever had a conversation with a Rock before”?  “Oh yes you have.  When you were a small child you chatted to rocks and flowers and trees and even hairy caterpillars.  But then the world got in the way, grown-ups you know.  And the South African Education system has a lot to answer for.  All that discipline and stifling of imagination.  And the rubbish they teach children these days; really it shouldn’t be allowed.  Then children forget all the good stuff, the important stuff, like being in touch with all of us natural people around here.

He paused, and as I was a little uncertain of how to continue this conversation, I said politely “It snowed at Dharmagiri last night, so it must have been pretty cold out here”.  He snorted.   Now that’s a thing you don’t forget quickly, a Rock snorting.  It’s pretty impressive.  “Don’t be daft, I’m used to that.   And he paused again.

Then he said with a rush “I suppose you think it’s really boring stuff, being stuck around here for millions of years and not a lot going on.   Let me tell you, life was not always so mundane.  There was a time when my existence was full of drama, and turbulence and really scary stuff.  Oh boy, there was a lot going on back in those days.   It was pitch dark, and there was din and racket, and terrifying violent shaking, explosions and blast after humungous blast.  Things were falling apart everywhere, the world heaving and groaning and roaring, with blood-red Magma and infernal rivers of blazing lava pouring in every direction, and it went on for many many years.  I just tried to keep a low profile.  It was hell I tell you.  Then suddenly there was a particularly horrendous shudder and contraction, and the next thing I was ejected from the earth’s womb, and was flung miles and miles up into the air”.

“Well, that was really nice you know. Lovely feeling it was.  It only ever happened to me the once, and it didn’t last long – but I do feel that I have something in common with the birds, though they just refuse to acknowledge that I can fly”.  He sniffed.   “They think they are so clever but there weren’t even any birds then, they came much later, even though they give themselves “airs” now”.  And he giggled.  A giggling Rock is very disconcerting, really it is.

He went on – “Then I landed here with a huge crash and a crunch and rolled for a bit, and I’ve been here ever since.  I’m lucky you know, the wind, the rain, snow and ice are all my special friends, they love me, and they have shaped me over time as all proper friends should do.  And all the local birds stop off for a chat from time to time.  I ask them not to leave calling cards, but as you can see sometimes they forget.  There are some birds any respectable Rock doesn’t bother about of course; the vultures are a really nasty stuck-up bunch, always circling about with no time for polite conversation.  The only time we see them down here is when there is something very dead and smelly around”.

“I have my favourites of course, there’s a lovely little rock-jumper feller calls regularly, keeps me up to date with everything that is going on around here, in the village and on the farms.  The only thing that troubles me is this lichen which grows all over me in spots, really I don’t think it’s aesthetically pleasing and I’m rather proud of the way I look, I’m a rather handsome Rock, aren’t I.   But there is nothing I can do about that, the wind and rain have tried but it’s very stubborn.  Never mind, it is what it is, and we are all called upon to accept our limitations”.

“Are you here on an escape”? he asked.  “It’s called a retreat” I said.  Alarmingly, he snorted again.  “Same thing, if you ask me, but folk seem to find them useful and healing and I have to say it’s nice to have people back and forth, it’s a peaceful placed this.  It’s been called all sorts of names since I arrived, but now it’s Dharmagiri”.

“Now – there’s your bell for your next Meditation.  Off you go – C, bless her, does try to keep everything running to schedule, though sometimes it’s like herding cats around here – she’s lovely C isn’t she?”    “Oh Yes” I replied she is lovely.  “I’ve got to go Rock” .

“Bye then – pop back and see me before you leave, ok”?  OK – Bye….

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Reflections on the Day

 

The Mountain delivers the Stone and we look behind and beyond

What a day. To me it was like a sudden rebellion, a wish to no longer earnestly dig and strive for emotional stuff and find connecting words that linked to feelings and intellectual constructs, which is an exhausting business, and I felt I just couldn’t anymore, because my head was full of big-word stuff fighting for importance.  And a simple story rose up in my mind like a spring, filled it up and came spilling out.   I couldn’t write fast enough for my mind to translate the words into my fingers.  It was cathartic, soothing.  And I hope more of this happens I enjoyed it, it was so much fun.

 

The mountain, the river, the stones. We look behind and beyond. Going out and looking at the shapes of space – so strange – I never look at things like that. Unexpectedly difficult, but so interesting. Looking at the spaces between the leaves and branches of trees I could feel them pushing out into space. How amazing is space – so malleable – refusing nothing as Mandaza would say.  Allowing everything and anything to move into it. No disturbance.

 

Urging us to look at things differently.  It reminded me of something that I had observed on Saturday but did not think to write about.  There was a wonderful story of a conversation with a rock.  My piece again was personal and polishing it did not add enough shine.

 

Day Four –  Words of Departing

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Departing, but actually staying, although departing too. Sadness and breathing out. The kindness of common history in worlds so far apart. Tears that long to be shed. What? Where? When? How? Why? The classic journalistic impulse leaping towards shared perspectives. But we go our separate ways leaving bits of ourselves in each other’s hearts.  A sunny day ending our exploration of the flow from the heart out into words all held in the space behind the words.

 

It was a good experience.  Monday supper was very chatty, and it was interesting to hear people’s stories.  The writing methods will definitely be of value in the future.  Both personal and professional.  It also felt good to be heading home.  Determined to use flow of consciousness writing.  Hopefully I will create opportunity to return to Dharmagiri in the near future.

 

We worked within the Dharmagiri structure of waking (to M’s  6.00 bell) siting, working, sharing in wonderful meals, sitting, resting and more siting. There was a writing process with guidelines, work that was built on over many years by so many people across the globe. But it was okay that we did we improvised as we went along. Perhaps what held us together more than the structure or the process was our intention. We had the intention to  be there for each other with respect and love. And the intention to be there for ourselves. to free our minds, our hearts, a task to be done by none but ourselves.

 Written By – all who attended the retreat

Photos By – Bobby Marie & Kobus Meyer

About Bobby Marie:

bobby marieI am an activist as a way of living. I participate in struggles to bring about change now, to protect the freedom of all people, to promote a sharing of the earth’s wealth, as well as the poverty, to oppose all forms of oppression, economic inequality and domination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. I am an activist so that people would live in harmony with our planet and the larger universe.

I have been part of the rebellion against race rule in South Africa, the black student and community movement of the 1970s and the trade union movement of the 1980-90’s. I am currently involved in movements who support communities living near mines resist the destructive actions of mining corporations in Southern Africa.

I try to be a reflective activist, I have a personal practice of contemplation, of being quiet and learning to listen to self, to connect with the energy flows of other people and our planet. All of this so that my activism arises from love and not fear and that my intentions do not slip into being another form of the destructive will to power and survival of self.

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Kuan Yin, the Albatross and a Prayer for Our Times

Devotion is the cultivation of a prayerful attitude within life. Contemplative prayer isn’t about asking for things, but is a still, open listening into “how it is” within a cacophonous world that is actually permeated with living silence. Our ability to figure everything out is limited. In prayer, accepting our limitations, we lean into that silence, which has a listening presence. One way to connect to the listening heart is through the practice of mantra. Mantra, which means to “guide and protect the mind,” is sometimes done as a concentration practice to help steady and focus mental energy. But mantra is also a heart practice that taps into the universal intelligence inherent within the matrix of consciousness, while at the same time transporting us beyond the mind’s labyrinth-like hall of mirrors.

When we are locked into states of confusion, overwhelm and anxiety and are left circling in our reactive mind, our mantra is “it’s hopeless, I’m hopeless”, which probably won’t get us very far. Instead holding a sacred name or phrase reminds us to soften, listen, trust, have patience, and reconnect to the authentic, innately inherent living Dharma. As the mantric word or phrase dissolves, we are returned to the mystery of intuitive depth knowing – the domain of prajna wisdom.

Namo Kuan Shr Yin Pu Sa, meaning, “I return to the one that listens at ease to the sounds kuan yinof the world,” connects us to the immeasurable listening heart and mysterious power of compassion. We are not alone. The heart of the universe is not a dead, unfeeling space but is receptive, responsive, intelligent. Feeling our hopelessness, compassion can arise, even for a moment. Mercy and love can be there, for ourselves, for it all, for the enormity of our collective disaster. Prayer brings us to our knees. Right now, we humans need to humble ourselves before Mother Nature. We have to move out of our clever abstractions so we can recognise we are actually part of nature and dependent on her. Within the vast intimacy of innate, unbounded reality, we must glimpse the truth that all beings are resident in our awareness.

Compassion is not only gentle, it also calls us to stand up and be passionately aligned to the deeper call of truth. The extreme intensity of our current planetary emergency has fierce compassion within it. The kind of compassion that strips away our human hubris and the pretence generated from our narcissistic obsessions and delusions. After months of burning in the Northern hemisphere and deep drought in the Southern, we are being called to wake up…fast. We now know that every choice we make has an impact. Therefore, can we move from a place that recognizes our deep intimacy with all life?

A stunning recent documentary that helps re-connect us to the listening, knowing heart, the “intimacy of all things” which is the essential meaning of Kuan Yin, is the achingly beautiful Midway Project’s Albatross. It unfurls a meditative art experience that transports us into the story of a mythic bird, long known to the ancient mariner from sea-faring times of old. From the 10,000 mile food gathering journey for its young, gracefully gliding across the ocean where the Pacific Garbage Patch stalks, we are invited into the albatross’s power, beauty, and its metaphoric impact reflecting our collective challenge and dilemma.

Take time out to watch this. It will break open your heart. These days, we need our hearts to break open, we need to feel the grief of so much loss so we can shake off our complacency. So do please watch Albatross, it is a work of love. And do bring some friends together to watch it with you,* to discuss and to explore how to be part of the community of Earth Responders needed for our collective survival. Time is short and an urgency is upon us.
Kittisaro & Thanissara

To witness a young albatross open wide
its translucent, newborn throat,
open the soft, pink shell to its mother,
to the contents of the sea she carried
in her body for thousands of miles,
for over twenty million years – to watch, 
today, the chick wholly embrace
the amber-coloured squid oil
and cloaked shards of plastic,
to see it all slip down in an act
of ancient swallowing – it to witness
eons of trust absorbed into nature’s gut.
And for our own trusting throats
defended by lips, teeth and taste buds,
we evolved to sweeten what poisons us.

Victoria Sloan Jordon
“Midway V Poem – On Witnessing An Albatross Feeding.”

Notes From the Botswana Road

We traveled for nearly a week through the Greater Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Moremi parklands onto Savuti, the Place of Lions, over interminable dust, scree, and Csand roads as if the vehicle was riding waves, up and down, rather than the earth. Then the landscape suddenly changed. The Botswana landscape is mostly flat, but this was different. The geology and contours weren’t dramatically different, but the feeling was. Small rocky hills and Baobab Trees encircled us heralding the arrival into a deeply sacred space. It felt ancient. When we explored, there was a painting on the rock from 4000 years ago. It was the simplest art. An Eland, Elephant, Oryx Antelope (or Gemsbok), and Snakes. Essential meat and medicine for survival.

Tsonxhwaa, Savuti Marsh, Chobe National Park.

All through we had been traveling the lands of the San/ Bushman/  Khoisan “First Sitting There People” where we peeked through a timeless portal into a peoples who for 30,000+ years roamed this dry and brittle ground, rejoicing when the rains came. One day, bees invaded the camp looking for water. As we drove out, we saw the Oryx antelope dance. Rock, our Botswana guide, told us they felt the rains coming. And then the black water laden clouds swept in and dumped the rains. We weren’t prepared; our tents were washed out.

Once, a long time ago, when we were new to Southern Africa, an Elder Bushwoman told a friend that they, the San, were the peoples “on track.” That we, in contrast, in our modern world, were so off track, we didn’t know there was a track. She said that as they, the first peoples, crossed over from this world first, we would follow not so long after.

We all know we live under the terrifying shadow of a rapidly warming biosphere that is radically changing weather patterns and threatening sustainable life. Alongside this, the immensely destructive power in the hands of a few wracked by greed, hatred and delusion is endangering our collective well being. We have read and heard so many words and perspectives in response. We have anguished and put ourselves to task to try and step down the looming disasters. And while we must maintain hope and work for a sustainable, just, and equitable world, we too must remember, as the KhoiSan knew so well, that we are only dust on this ancient Earth. One day, the winds will blow our foot prints away too.
Kittisaro & Thanissara, notes from the Botswana road, 
Dharmagiri Ubuntu Tour July 2018

                               The Wind Intends to Take Away Our Footprints
Its name is ≠Koaxa, while the Europeans call it Haarfontein; and it was at Haarfontein that Smoke’s Man saw the wind. He saw the wind but thought it was a !kuerre-!kuerre bird, and therefore, he threw a stone at it, and it burst into wind, it burst out blowing, it blew hard, it blew fiercely. It raised the dust, and it flew away and went into a mountain hole: and he, Smoke’s Man, being afraid, went home. The wind was once a man, but he became a bird and wore feathers on his skin and went to live on a mountain. He became a bird and no longer walked, but he flew. He wakes up early and he leaves his mountain and he flies about, he flies about, about, about, about, as he flies to eat, and then he returns, he returns there to sleep; and because he feels that his feathers used to blow, he, too, blows. They were the wind and therefore they blew, and he, the son of the wind, is now a bird.
So said /Han≠kasso.

Leaving.
We are leaving.
Shredded and raw heart seeks calm shore.

We dream another shore waiting
and we need to know how to go.
Not flights of fancy
of awakenings’ glitz
floating eloquences
of enlightenment.
Tongue bright with witty rational
flowing from throat to head
shaping realities of transcendence
while in the core of burning samsara
swirling emotions
float free
on upward circling perceptions
divorcing themselves from our heart connection.

Ascenders into the light,
we descend before you.
An exhausted pile of bones
smouldering in cold ash
from words sliding sideways
in mega churches
preaching crazed dissonance non-union.

But here is the truth.
There is no heaven in the sky.
No nirvana apart from samsara.
No paradise virgin to your violence reward.
And no Planet B.

So sit the night patiently through
and gather your wayward mind.
Take up your own power
as in your heart
is the earth’s body
and all bodies,
the stars, mountains, oceans,
flowers, trees, cities and moon.

Sit until dawn, without flying to the light,
instead, plunge your life
into your unfathomable yearning
so you can be pulled to the intimacy
that this direct path heralds
within each beating heart
where every precious breath
redeems your lost soul.

And when preachers promise a far off place
challenge them
with your honest voice.

Can you dissolve walls of the mind
and into the undivided heart arrive
to stand up fierce
for our Earth
and her all living beings
?

Because from common ground
we move from birth into destiny
while death dream reality
and bone ash wait.

Because all is possibility
with no substance found.
Particles of no-thing-ness
transform into each other
in universal systems
of potentiality
where space, time, matter and light
forever melt like waking dreams.

The wind does thus when we die, our own wind blows; for we, who are human beings, make clouds when we die. Therefore, the wind does thus when we die, the wind makes dust, because it intends to blow, taking away our footprints, with which we had walked about while we still had nothing the matter with us; and our footprints, which the wind intends to blow away, would otherwise still lie plainly visible. For it would seem as if we still lived. Therefore, the wind intends to blow, taking away our footprints.
So said Dia!kwain.

Time with relentless harvesting
your precious human life
is short.
As all life
gathers proof of our faith
through the pilgrimage of the night
that tests the grounds of our being
so we may know
the measure of courage
and the wellspring of our heart,
from which we sip nectar.

Just as the brown, striped bug
drinks from the white elderflower,
and the orange, thin-winged butterfly
skips through ochre grasses,
and the grey, knowing wolves
move through cold, white snow,
and the rhinos through dry, bush veldt go
as lions stalk impala
along the river slow.

Slow is the Earth’s rhythm,
deep and unfathomable in our collective soul.
The rhythm of the days tick-tock,
winding through the web of our connection
of Internet consumption
where we search what we hope to know.

But to truly know is to not know.
And to not know
is so much evidence of where faith can go.

And even when the realms of empty space are exhausted, the realms of living beings are exhausted, the karmas of living beings are exhausted, and the afflictions of living beings are exhausted, we will still accord with this, our deepest heart, endlessly, continuously, without cease. Our body, speech and mind never weary of service to living beings and to this great Earth. So whispers our true heart.
                               Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha

 

AA

B

Extract from The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra by Thanissara, written at Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat KwaZulu Natal, 2013, which includes extracts from The First Bushman’s Path, stories, songs and testimonies of the /Xam by Alan James, University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg 2001 SA.
Photos – Thanissara
Baobab Tree of Life, Animal KoiSan Paintings, Savuti Lions, Chobe Park, Botswana
Community KoiSan Painting – Garden Castle Park, Southern Drakensberg, Underberg.

The Journey so Far… Dishin’ Up & Conquering the Peeks

Ru in kitchen June 2018Food wise, feedback so far has been good. I’m not one to brag so I appreciate feedback even more. When I’m cooking up a storm, my olfactory senses may sometimes become overwhelmed and temporarily disable the full capacity of my taste-buds, so I designated Penny-Jane as my taste-tester/quality control manager (horribly difficult job – I know, we both agreed). I am often to “in the zone” so I forget to take pics… but I did on a few occasions. My Gluten-Free & Vegan Moussaka dish went down like a hit… it was actually improvised – a hybrid between my mom’s recipe and the Vegan Planet cookbook (a breadcrumb alternative for the topping is ground pecan – yum!)

It was a pleasure to have Nobantu joining us for her Birthday and so 2 chocolate cakes were made. Ironically Penny-Jane and I wrote the Gluten free one off as a flop (it did actually look quite floppy initially), until Martin came along and had a slice… let’s just say both cakes were eaten happily. I decided to end the retreat off with a lovely moist Naartjie and Cardamom cake.

Ru rhubarb pieAnd more pie! Strawberry and Rhubarb without the Rhubarb because we couldn’t find any, so improvisation was needed again. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t even take the picture in time because we were so eager to dig in! I say, after all, Pi(e) is the golden ratio so you can’t go wrong with one.

A couple of weeks into my time at Dharmagiri, two of my close friends and I went right up the sacred mountain. It was stunningly beautiful. Fear gripped me at times, between the rocks and the steepness, but ultimately I overcame it and marvelled at the surrounding beauty in awe.

Ru climbingThis is where the fear set in. My experience? Don’t try this unless you have some climbing experience and/or are preferably accompanied by someone who has some climbing experience (luckily my friend does). Later we found that the tip is actually reachable without having to scale up any rocks, if one zig-zags up and around the right hand side of the mountain. It is however, dangerously steep.

Thank you for reading! Go well on your own journeys. We will all soon meet, be it on the mountains or in the oceans.

Namaste!
Light and Love Blessings To All Beings!

By Ru

 

Ru & friendsThe three amigos

The Journey so Far – Natural Connections by Ru

I truly felt the magic and the benevolent power Mandaza has when he took my hand in greeting and looked me in my eyes. You can instantly sense some people’s energies when you meet them, and he is one of them. I did not get to attend all the workshop sessions due to my responsibilities in the kitchen, however when I did sit in, I was overwhelmed by the peace and the love which radiated from Mandaza and all the other incredible souls that took this journey with us.

Having had some profound experiences surrounded by water in the past, my once idle visions, thoughts and intuitions were reaffirmed and rooted… the water spirits are real and they seek to illuminate our world with compassion and wisdom. They love song! The song which Mandaza sang for us brought tears to my eyes, and as we joined in, even a little bird came and sat on a tree branch near us and also joined in on the song.

Ru - Mandaza gift

Here is a Nyami Nyami (Zambezi River God/Snake Spirit) bead necklace. Mandaza’s wife back in Zimbabwe makes beautiful beed pieces, some of which Mandaza brought along. This one chose me.

When we learn to appreciate and respect nature, we align with our true selves, and we are indeed reminded of that old saying “We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” And the more we align the more we realize that we don’t “need” as many “things” from this physical realm as we once did. Nature, in all its forms, the mountains, the waters, the birds, it is all part of us; an extension of our spirit. I feel that this is a truly important reminder for anyone feeling disillusioned in today’s consumerist paradigm.

The retreat made me feel in-tune with the unity of the collective human spirit and the plight of the natural world. My dream is not just my dream, it is a dream for all who seek to find meaning. Leadership is a force that lives in the hearts of all of those who choose to listen, even the meek at the back of the pack. Forgiveness is where true strength and peace are found. We are all leaders, healers, peacemakers… and our intention is the key to unlocking our power. “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace” today I want to expand on that, not only one word but one song, one dream, one feeling.

The soft and gentle energies I felt from nature and the earth and my fellow humans was something extraordinary. Within me, I felt the importance of manifesting this “state of being” regularly, and it is doable by simply following a few suggestions made by Mandaza. For example visiting the stream daily and making an offering to the water (water spirits)… I myself am the offering if I so choose: my presence is my present! Another is continuing with the dream circle once a week (kudos to Chandasara for encouraging us to do so). As I become more aware, more mindful, I too become more grateful and walk the earth with gentler steps.

Mandaza’s words stick with me: “One day we will all meet again in the Ocean.”

by Ru, Dharmagiri’s excellent cook & housekeeper

About Ru. 

RuGive me the outdoors so we can go for a hike, and a lake, to paddle and swim. I have had several jobs in my past across several fields. A manager, a writer, a capturer (I’m not gonna tell you what I was capturing but I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t buses), yes I even gave stand-up comedy a go in Manchester (UK), but that one didn’t go too well as you’ve probably guessed by now… but ultimately in my heart I am striving to leave the rat race as much and live as sustainably as possible with nature. Nature, as I see it, is the symbiosis of all manner of life on our realm, including but not limited to: the plants, the animals and other human beings. This yearning along with the spirit of Ubuntu and Sangha in my heart, has sent me to the most beautiful parts of the world… but also to those that are truly sacred.

One feels the energy with which Dharmagiri is blessed, as it sits at the foot of this mystical mountain, a mountain Mother-Nature took millennia to sculpt. I am fascinated by the human mind, in what makes it work (is it only the brain, or is this “I” something more…), and how it communicates with and perceives the world around us. I care about nutrition; I want to feed my soul and the world around us only excellence, and that within itself suggests sustainability. My passion has taken me to cooking (at which I am alright if you compared it to my stand-up – let’s just say I was hackled off the stage in the first minute or so)…

I am very enthused and deeply grateful to be joining such a beautiful team of people here and continue my career as a cook. What an incredible opportunity: To feed people healthy food! I am excited to meet some awesome new people as well! I am very sensitive over many things but not emotional, I find there is a difference, for example I recently read Sister Abigail Nkleko’s book, Empty Hands, and I must have cried cover to cover, but if someone were to taunt me about it I wouldn’t burst into tears, so I would say I’ve curbed having a ‘reactive’ attitude.

My first step towards Buddhism and meditation was at the BRC in 2013, after a friend of mine had past-away and I decided to do something good (rather than destructive) to morn him and for myself. After attending a weekend silent retreat with Stephen Coan – I was truly humbled to my core. Humbled by the things I learned about Dana and the kindness and generosity that has been, and still is, such a powerful force of prosperity within the community. Humbled by the teachings that were passed down to me and the blessings I received. May we all walk a humble path, and may we all truly know how to love ALL of life. Namaste.

 

 

Reflections on Mandaza’s “Understanding Our True Connection with Nature” Retreat

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The theme for this retreat was: understanding our true connection with nature.  What emerged from the experience for me was not so much ‘understanding’ as waking up to a living oneness with nature – of being gently reabsorbed into nature –  the sense of separation between ‘me’ and ‘nature’ softly fading away and being replaced by a vivid sense of oneness, of belonging, of being of the same fabric.  Something perhaps like Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘interbeing’ including all and everything.  Mandaza spoke of it as the great spider web of Spirit that interconnects everything in the universe.

 

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On reflection it seems to me that this sense of separation is something that we unconsciously create when we withdraw from an active relationship with the abundance all around me – because it was through consciously engaging with this abundance that the vibrant sense of oneness sprang out of its dormancy and into life.

On the first day of the retreat we were awakened to the earth.  We sat outside on the rocks and grass in the beautiful spaces cleared by Martin, beside the stream flowing and babbling down from the mountain, and were asked to identify all the other communities present there with us: the grasses, mosses, flowers, trees, soils, minerals, insects, mammals, birds – in the earth, on the earth, above the earth.  Our group identified over 70 within a very short time.  We looked at just some of their roles and contributions to the web of life.  In simply bringing this to mind, an awareness of the abundance of interconnected support all around us arose together with an awareness of our forgetfulness as humans – of our dismissive disregard for all that gives and supports our life  when we imagine ourselves to be separate and superior.  We blindly blunder on in our arrogance, caring little for the source of our lives or for the wellbeing of future generations.

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This led to a lot of discussion about how this way of conceiving ourselves leads to such flagrant abuse and destruction of that upon which we depend for our lives and wellbeing.  Mandaza spoke of all that we receive from the earth and how the earth receives all our waste, transforming it into fertile life-sustaining nutrients.  He asked how often we say ‘thank you’ to the earth, how often we give back to the earth by seeing, feeling, noticing, appreciating, tending and caring for the earth and all her communities?  Later in the day we were encouraged to take a handful of seeds and go out to the places on the land that we feel a special bond with and express our gratitude by giving some seeds back to the earth as a gesture of recognition and thanksgiving.  It is difficult to describe how powerfully meaningful and moving it felt to do this. And the earth took her rightful place as our mother.

On the second day of the retreat we were awakened to water.  We began by talking about water – its qualities, attributes, roles and contribution.  A rich dialogue followed about water – the beauty and functions of its various forms like ice, snow, rain, rivers, ocean, mist, steam; its volume and extent on the earth and in our bodies and all other bodies, its network of streams and rivers and oceans, its life-giving and sustaining role, its role in circulating carbon dioxide, cleaning the air and maintaining the atmosphere, its molecular structure and capacity to respond to sound and other forms of energy, the pleasure we feel in playing and bathing in water….and so much more.  And then Mandaza asked us, each one individually, instead of speaking about water as if it is something separate from us, to speak as water about water’s contribution to the web of life: “I am water, I ……”  And water came to life within us.

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In the afternoon Mandaza took us each through a water ritual at the stream after which we spent time on our own outside contemplating our individual experience of the ritual.

In the evening we began to talk about dreams and listening to the messages that come through our dreams – both for ourselves individually and communally.  So began the process of integrating the dream world into the healing of our wholeness.  Each morning then began with a dream circle where we shared the dreams we could remember from the night before and shared what we saw in each others’ dreams.  And the messages lived among us.

Dialogues continued through the remaining days on our purpose as humans on earth, on our relationships with our partners, families, children, elders and ancestors, on race and gender, on what love is, on the languages that we use – of love and hate and gossip, on leadership, on service, on prayer, on healing, on forgiveness and justice in our personal and national lives, on living in peace. Interspersed among the dialogues were meditations, laughter, play, song, and drumming. And the birds and butterflies came to join us.

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I was left feeling both immense joy and sadness.  Joy at the taste of fulfilment of a deep yearning from childhood for this immersed attunement with all that is – and sadness at the tragedy of what has been lost and devalued through the alienation and arrogance of human hubris. May we yet have the humility and courage to ask for the help we need from the wisdom keepers among us for the wellbeing and joy of present and future generations of all life on our planet.
by Chandasara

 

 

Ending Plastic Pollution

Greetings! We missed getting this out for Earth Day, (April 22nd) but then as our wellbeing and survival depends on a healthy environment, Earth Day awareness nowadays has to be every day. We all know we live in an intensified world where resources are increasingly limited, our eco-systems are under great threat, our wildlife too, and our warming biosphere threatens to tip us into climate melt down.

But it’s never too late for a reminder about how we can do our piece, and certainly awareness around consumerism is a very large piece. Below Dharmagiri’s recently employed office admin manager, Penny-Jane, has penned an encouragement for us all. Take 10 mins to read how we can take steps to leave the planet in better shape for those who come after.

First, to introduce you further to Penny-Jane

penny-janeI am an environmental scientist by training with a strong background in environmental law and policy. Having grown up and studied in Stellenbosch and Cape Town I feel a strong connection with nature and feel blessed to live in, what I think is one of the most beautiful countries in the World. I have spent the past four years of my career working for Greenpeace Africa as part of their Climate and Energy team with the majority of my work focusing on renewable energy as an alternative future for Africa (and the World), with a move away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. My studies as well as my work are based on my strong belief that we as humans need to find a more sustainable way of living in harmony with our planet if we are to survive as a species. Our fundamental disconnect with ourselves has led to a society that has forgotten it is a part of the natural World that we are systematically destroying. Travel is one of my great passions and I have spent time in many parts of the World, most recently a four month working period in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This also allowed me to fulfil a life-long dream of seeing a glimpse of South America which included the majestic Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu and the jungles of Peru.

I have had the privilege of attending retreats at Dharmagiri in the past and I have been on a long journey to find my way back. I believe that Dharmagiri creates the space for us all to reconnect with our inner truth and to feel part of the beautiful natural surroundings here. I feel strongly in the work that is being carried out at Dharmagiri and look forward to being of service here to further that work. This opportunity to live and work at Dharmagiri is a real privilege for me and I look forward to meeting you all.

Earth Day 2018 (and every day!) – End Plastic Pollution by Penny-Jane Cooke. 

Here’s the thing about plastics right, they have become a pervasive part of our everyday lives, they are the substance that makes our lives more convenient, from that shopping bag when you forget your lovely reusable material one (again), to that straw that seems to make your smoothie taste extra good. They are the substance we love to hate.

The dark side of this everyday convenience is that they are polluting our lives and the lives of so many species that share this planet with us. My heart breaks every time I see a picture of a turtle suffering with a plastic ring strangling its body or a beached whale with a stomach full of plastic. Our everyday convenience has become a problem on a Global scale that is impacting our health and polluting the environment at an unprecedented rate.

But what can we do, sometimes these issues seem so unsurmountable that it is impossible to imagine that an alternative World exists. The good news is that there are alternatives, there are solutions and in Earth Day 2018 there is the support we all need to realise our ambitions to kick that plastic habit.

The call for Earth Day 2018 is for all citizens of the World to band together help end plastic pollution by finding out how many plastic items you consume every year and make a PLEDGE to reduce the amount. To this end there is a fantastic update to the traditional 3R’s that we all know so well, to now bring you the 5R’s Reduce – Refuse – Reuse – Recycle – Remove

So what does all that mean…

Reduce (ok so you knew this one already)

Consume what you need – Many plastic products you may frequently use are generally unnecessary – do you really need a straw to drink a glass of water? It is important to only consume what you need, especially when it comes to plastics. Many of the most commonly disposed of plastic products have viable alternatives. Always ask yourself if you can get the same product without consuming plastic before you buy something.

Refuse

When you order a drink at a restaurant, you can tell the waiter that you don’t want a straw. If you know you need a straw, you can purchase a metal or wood/paper based straw and bring that with you. You could also go a step further and ask the restaurant to stop providing plastic straws or to only provide straws to customers when requested.

Plastic bags are one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution. Refusing the plastic shopping bags given away at retailers and grocery stores is easy. If you need a bag to carry your purchases, bring reusable canvas bags instead. And buy cloth or mesh bags to carry fresh produce to the cashier.

Take a little extra time while doing your shopping, select products without plastic packaging and always be sure to avoid or even boycott products that are excessively wrapped in plastic (for example fresh produce).

When you go clothes shopping, it is best to avoid fabrics with plastic microfibers such as nylon and polyester. Or check ways to collect the fibres in your washing machine.

Reuse

You can buy reusable mesh bags that replace the plastic bags you use for bulk produce at the grocery store.

You can purchase canvas shopping bags and leave them in your car for anytime you go shopping.

Get a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic ones and throwing them out.

There are reusable wax lined bags and wraps that effectively replace single use sandwich bags.

When you finally decide to get rid of old clothes, toys, furniture, or electronics, donate them rather than throwing them away.

Use dishes, glasses, and metal silverware instead of their plastic counterparts.

Consider trying washable reusable cloth diapers instead of disposable ones

Many food containers from restaurants are durable enough to be reused for kitchen storage.

Recycle

You have made it through the section about adopting a plastic reduction regimen. You are now thinking about turning down straws, carrying your own shopping bags, and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. But in a world where plastic is so ubiquitous, there are going to be instances where consuming plastic might be necessary. It would be difficult to expect you to reduce your plastic consumption to zero overnight. That’s where recycling comes in. Your next step is to learn about recycling. Recycling is far from the final solution to the Plastic Pollution problem, but it is an important part of it. It cannot replace the need for reducing consumption or refusing and reusing plastics when you can. If recycling is the best option, you should do so following the rules of the community, town or city in which you live. For the most part, only recycle if you are positive that the item is truly recyclable.

Should I recycle this?

Plastic bottles for recycling, Tel Aviv, Israel

Remove

Help the effort to remove plastic:

Start a beach or river clean-up in your local community.

Support the work of organizations removing plastic from the environment.

Purchase innovative products created from recovered ocean or environmental plastics.

Personally, I am really amped for Earth Day 2018 and keen to get started, for more information and to take the pledge check out the Earth Day website – https://www.earthday.org/

And most importantly the awesome tool kit they our friends at Earth Day have put together here – http://www.earthday.org/wp-content/uploads/Earth-Day-Network-Plastic-Pollution-Primer-and-Action-Toolkit-updated-2.20.2018.pdf

Blog post by: Penny-Jane

A bit about me… World Traveller, environmental activist, passionate about education, empowering communities and finding solutions to some of the environmental issues facing the World today. Part time blogger, currently living in the Underberg, KZN.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/penny-jane-cooke-45529a76

Penny- Jane (second left) at our recent retreat with Mandaza Kandemwa, focusing on deepening our relationship with nature within an ensouled world. 2 mandaza