My last post saw me about to go into retreat. I very much enjoyed my little 5 day solitary in the "Longevity Cabin". I managed to get in plenty of study and meditation and prepared my talks for the introductory weekend I was to be supporting later in Guelph. The weather was pretty chilly with a light dusting of snow. I really enjoyed the wood burning stove!
Coming out of retreat I was given a surprise farewell rejoicing party - with lashings of ice-cream. What a great way to come out of retreat - I felt completely love bombed! I usually feel rather awkward at these sorts of things, but really enjoyed it all the same.
My last week at Gampo Abbey flew by in a whirl of activity. I had lots of loose ends to tie up and those around me were busy preparing and supporting Shambhala training levels, so it was all a bit of a blur. Being driven out of the Abbey to meet my shuttle bus felt slightly surreal and I felt a lot of sadness to be leaving my Abbey friends.
Twelve hours later I landed in St. John's - the capital city of Newfoundland. My hosts for my two week visit were Les & Lewis Cranford, two old friends from my 2007 visit to the Abbey.
My first week was spent in solitary retreat at Les & Lewis' cabin in New Harbour. This is a secluded little spot close to the tourist destination of Dildo (no comment). My week was very quiet and I had the opportunity to enjoy meditation, recorded Dharma talks and some study of Madhyamaka, which tied my brain into knots and often left me with headaches. After this, I really enjoyed my pleasant strolls down to the harbour and to the local gas station for a coffee. Before I left the Abbey a nun had mentioned that she had heard stories of this cabin being haunted. I didn't have any experiences while there, but the thought that it might be certainly added an extra edge to my already over active imagination.
My second week in Newfoundland was spent mostly around St. John's. Les and Lewis introduced me to some hikes around the coast of the Avalon peninsular and to the delights of eating wild berries such as partridge berry - a new one for me - and spruce sap, which apparently can be used to make homemade chewing gum - very sticky and an acquired taste!
I loved the Newfoundland culture. We took in a number of local bands, some traditional dancing and some traditional ballad singing. The mixture of Celtic roots and the development of a local folk tradition was fantastic. It would be a great place to visit during the annual music festival. The locals are friendly and very easy going and George Street is a wonderfully condensed party/club/bar district catering to all ages and tastes, it was great to watch little old fellas and teenage girls have a good night out on the same dance floor - I don't think this happens much in England. Nobody in NF seems to go out till 10pm and the place is really kicking at 2am!
I was invited to give a talk to the local Shambhala Buddhism group and decided to lead the evening on Spiritual Friendship. The evening seemed to go well and around 25 people came along. It was a lively and intelligent group with lots of practice experience, I really enjoyed the warmth of hospitality.
From St. John's I jumped on a 3 hour flight to Toronto. Harshaprabha and his mate Kam picked me up and drove me to the charming little city (about 128,000 people) of Guelph. Here another friend of Harshaprabha had loaned me his flat for the weekend and I enjoyed sharing the flat with his long haired and idiosyncratic cat called Mork.
Harshaprabha was a little disappointed at the sizes of the classes, but everyone seemed to get something from it and it was a very friendly weekend. Sunday night we watched the Grays Cup at a friends house. This is the big Canadian football game of the year and I have to say that I really got into it. It helped having lots of people to explain the rules.
CN Tower (the worlds tallest building at 555 metres). It seems I am still scared of heights.
I went to a number of museums and art galleries, partly accompanied by Sylvie, the twin sister of my Gampo Abbey friend Tsultrim. The highlights would be the collection of Buddhist Art at the Royal Ontario museum and a small museum of Inuit Arts. I was really impressed by the intimate connection the Inuits have with the natural world, a sort of sacred outlook, and the parallels with Buddhist cultures, particularly the Tibetans. I'd love to learn more about this way of seeing the world, which seems rooted in a deep respect.
Today, I am sitting in my good friend John's comfortable house in Thundridge (near Hertford, UK). I have been getting re-acquainted with English culture over the last week - particularly enjoying the English phenomena of the Indian Restaurant! There are some great little walks around here, one going through the neighbouring village of Cold Christmas. In two days I return to my community in Cambridge.