Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back to Gampo Abbey

I have now been back at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada for a little over two weeks. I am being made very welcome and am feeling pretty well settled in already, which is comforting as I will be here for a whole year. There are currently about 35 people in residence. There are perhaps ten people here that are new to me, the rest I already have a connection with through my 7 month stay back in 2007.

As we drove over Irish mountain on the way down to Pleasant Bay, there were still some persistent patches of snow on the ground. Coming down to the Abbey I was glad to see that the snow had gone for the year, although it has still been quite cold some evenings with some strong winds and driving rain some days. The swimming season feels a long way off.

The countryside here is even more stunning than my memory of it. Especially the view from the hill behind the Abbey called Gampo Lhatse. The view over the highlands, cliffs and the deep blue bay is fantastic. The animals here are often very tame, birds will come and sit on your shoulder expecting food and I was joined on my rock seat one afternoon by an inquisitive squirrel, very cheeky and not all scared. I have already seen four or five sunsets here that wouldn’t be put to shame by those of some exotic island.

(photo by Kalsang)

Ani Pema Chodron, the Acharya (teacher) to Gampo Abbey arrived around one week ago. There was much preparation for her arrival and she was warmly welcomed. Last week, she gave a talk on Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings on the Black Ashe. How to work with the mind when experiencing difficulty, about courage and fear and containing the desire to take our difficulties into our world. It was a good talk. I very surprised when I was asked by Ani Pema to comment on taking our practice into the world. I was put right on the spot, but managed to respond with a couple of reasonably coherent (I hope) sentences. Talk about feeling groundless!

My long term work situation here has not yet been decided, I volunteered to help out in the facilities (maintenance) department in the meantime. I am enjoying this work and would be happy to continue doing it in the long term if asked to. I have been hanging Buddhist flags for Ani Pema’s arrival, putting up fly screens on the windows and other small maintenance work.

My meditation practice seems to be settling in and calming down quite quickly. I am sure this cannot last! The longer hours of sitting are causing me some back ache, but I guess this is something I will just have to work with. Ani Migme, a wonderful nun of 85 years has agreed to be my meditation instructor. This is great, as I felt a strong connection with her from the last time I was here. Unfortunately, she has not been in good health this last week and continues to struggle with an ongoing heart condition. We have all been very worried for her.

The Abbey is currently in the process of formulating new house rules based on the Vinaya. I was included in a study group giving an overview of the Pratimoksha (training rules for monastics) and have been allowed to observe the committee discussions in formulating these new rules. It is a fascinating process.

Karma Chogyal, a very funny Texan monk in the room opposite mine is a big fan of our (British) Queen – he has even written to her! He even gave me a large photograph of the Queen, which now dominates most of my desk (along with a large plant). He is also a fan of Chouwowa (the Mexican dog), but fortunately hasn’t offered me any pictures of these, well not yet anyway.

I am getting used to being back in robes, much simpler than worrying about ordinary clothes. This visit I am trying out wearing a blue Dzen (pronounced zen) over my ordination robes. This is a Tibetan style upper robe worn by monastics here. It wraps around one shoulder leaving the other uncovered. It seems a good way to fit in with their life and practice here. Wearing it requires mindfulness and patience as it is constantly getting in the way or falling off. Some days I wish I had forgot to bring it, especially when it falls into your dinner or the washing up bowl.

Love to All,


Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Happened to 2008?

Wow that went fast! I haven't updated this since March 2008. What a crazy year.

So, News in brief:

My niece Rebbecca got married early 2008 to her long time boyfriend Peter. A great dress - shocking red, and a great party!

I have been working at Windhorse:evolution project managing the expansion of our chain of ethical giftware shops. Some long hours, some hard work but well worth it. What a fantastic bunch of people in the Retail Team - Abhayakirti, Peter Hunt, Sam Cottis, Aryajaya, Matthew Widowson, Paul Wiseman, Andrew Turner and Mia. It was great working with you all and the guys in the Property Team. Lots of fun, lots of laughs and some real challenges. Thanks for it all, wouldn't have missed it for the world!!

Two chances to study with Bhante Sangharakshita, a week on our ordination group get together studying the Bodhicaryavatara and a weekend with the guys ordained by Arthapriya studying a Perfection of Wisdom text. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity to study with Bhante as I didn't think I would ever get the chance.

September 2008 A very challenging month long order retreat at Guhyaloka. Lots of difficult emotion to work with - urgh! Much help from my good friend Vajrapriya.

March 2009 Beccy and Pete have a very handsome baby boy! Way to go guys - not wasting any time there!

April 2009 - finish work at windhorse:evolution to return to Gampo Abbey.

Peterborough Meditation Group going strong thanks to help from Peter Hunt, Paul Wiseman and Jayamuni. Hand the group over to some very obliging friends (you know who you are!) until Peter Hunt picks it up on return from his ordination in August.


Reporting in from the Hermitage

Here is a copy of a reporting in that I prepared for our AHS Quarterly Journal (called Tendrel). As the journal is only available to member...