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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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 –

And most importantly the awesome tool kit they our friends at Earth Day have put together here –

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.

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