A short look back at the year so far, and some of the highlights, plus a couple of lowlights…
What has had the most impact on me has been the Dharma tour of New Zealand and Australia that I did with Vijayamala from February to May. It had been 15 years since I’d been in that part of the world, and it was a real joy to catch up with old friends, share a lot of Dharma, and to see how things had developed both in Triratna and more widely in society. Vijayamala and I worked hard, but none of it felt like hard work. Out of our 12 weeks in NZ/OZ, we spent 8 or 9 leading retreats. And the rest of our time was mainly taken up with giving talks, meeting groups, and seeing people individually. Everywhere we went, people were very appreciative, hospitable and generous, and we had an excellent time. I’d had serious misgivings about accepting the invitation, because I’m very concerned about climate change and find long-haul flying very hard to justify. However, it certainly seemed as if a lot of people gained new perspectives and inspiration for their Dharma practice, so that was worth flying across the globe for. Many thanks to the Australian and New Zealand Triratna centres for inviting us!
Coming back wasn’t much fun, as I hadn’t managed to keep up with things while I was away, so there were an awful lot of messages squatting in my inbox, and a lot to catch up with. it was a relief to go to Rivendell in June to be back on retreat for another two weeks. The first week was for ‘experienced meditators’ and focused on the Root Verses of the Six Bardos from the Bardo Thodol (or Tibetan Book of the Dead as it’s come to be known). The weather was good; the Rivendell garden was at its lush and fragrant best. It was wonderful. The retreat gelled very quickly, helped by the fact that over half of those present had been on the equivalent retreat the year before. It was great to have that continuity of contact with people, and they formed a core of connections that made it easy for newcomers to engage with the retreat. I enjoyed studying the Root Verses, which are all about keeping a continuity of awareness through all kinds of mental states. The second week was for Order members, and was focused on some meditation instructions given by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. On the second evening we watched Brilliant Moon, a film about his life. That seemed to set everyone up for the week. He was such an extraordinary example of unconditional love! It felt as if we all sat and basked in it for the rest of the week. As usual, Ambaranta’s shrines for the 2 weeks were a living presence, growing and transforming in dialogue with the Dharma that we were exploring.
In July I went to Greece to attend a course led by Lama Tilmann Lhundrup, who guided me in my long retreat in France. The course coincided with the height of the Greek financial crisis. The banks were all closed, and many Greeks left the course for a day to return to their villages to vote in a referendum to reject the austerity measures being imposed. (A few days later, the Greek prime minister signed up to them regardless.) Angela Merkel and her government were extremely unpopular. It was a difficult time, you might have thought, to run a course consisting mainly of Greeks, but led by a German, and attended by some of his German and Swiss students. In the event, it was great. Lama Tilmann created a very relaxed and easy sense of solidarity between everyone on the retreat. It was friendly and harmonious; people who couldn’t afford to pay for the retreat found themselves quietly being paid for. The whole event was such a contrast to what was happening around us in Greece, with tempers running high, and strong antagonisms. It shows how Dharma practice can bring people together and transcend national and political boundaries and tensions.
I came back from greece expecting to have some quiet time to myself, to write and meditate. But then a few days later, Vijayamala’s father died. He was a celebrated academic, a social anthroplogist and historian. (His obituary in The Times took up a whole page, and nearly as much in Le Monde.) Vijayamala ended up organising a very large funeral, and I needed to rally round. More recently, I’ve had another bout of catching up with correspondence and seeing people. Sitting at a computer doing emails doesn’t seem to agree with me, and my health took a dip for a while. I’ve recently had a scan, which didn’t show up anything, and my health is picking up again, so I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about.
I’ve just been at Adhisthana, leading another retreat in the series that I’ve been doing there on the Mandala of Spiritual Practice. it went very well, despite me being under the weather with a bit of a virus, and it was a real pleasure to be practising with so many Order members. I’m really loving doing these retreats. I hope to see many of you at Adhisthana next year for the last 2 retreats in the series in February and September. (Details here.)
The plan is that for October and November I’m going to stay put in Cambridge, close my door and meditate. After several very full years, it feels like time to regroup, and see where the creative flow of the Dharma wants to take me next…