Although the days are hot and sunny, I’m already conscious of the onset of autumn.
We are one week in to a 30-day retreat, and the atmosphere is calm and settled. I’m really appreciating seeing the ways that the retreatants are supporting each other; checking-in to see how everyone’s doing, having quiet conversations, sharing the chores, talking about the teachings. Everyone has slowed down (even the bumble bees) and the sun is getting up much later now too.
I was reminded of the time I was practising in one of the monasteries in Burma. Although we spent the day in total silence, around sunset we gathered in small groups of two or three and did our walking meditation outside in the cool air… and had warm conversation. In Burma I found this routine especially supportive, and I can see how the participants here are forming friendly, supportive bonds too.
Before this retreat, someone asked me what Lama Mark was like. Is he an angry person, was their first question! NO! He is a totally chilled out happy being, I said. I had never seen him anywhere close to expressing anger. I thought it was a very peculiar question, perhaps the person asking has come across angry buddhists, or angry teachers before. Coincidently, I have just finished reading The Naked Buddha by Eric Harrison. It’s quite a depressing critique of Buddhist institutions (not Buddhism itself), and I felt quite sorry for the author who clearly had some very unhappy experiences with some Buddhist teachers, and centres. So this month I’ve become aware that some Buddhist circles do in fact have a shadow side. Reluctantly, I have to acknowledge that there are scandals within the Buddhist scene, and not all teachers or groups have their shit together. But my invitation to you, if you have come across something that doesn’t feel right, is to shop around. Also, we are likely all looking for something a bit different from our teachers.
I had a discussion very recently with some wonderful women, about leadership (in a business context). One area up for debate was whether a good leader should allow herself to develop a friendship with an employee. My take on it, is that friendships and deep respect are not mutually exclusive. In the dharma scene I have the same opinion, and I count some of my teachers as dear friends too. I think this is important.
The Dalai Lama (apparently!) has said:
On this retreat, things really are running like a well tuned machine. We are all in the flow, and it’s a joy to be here.
I’ve been enjoying cooking some more autumnal dishes, including my new favourite salad which has robust leaves including spinach, kale and rocket, tossed with toasted hazelnuts, beetroot and black berries (above); houmus enriched with cumin-roasted carrots & toasted walnuts, wholemeal breads loaded with seeds, and muffins with stone fruits like the plum & ginger ones below.
On the first day of retreat, Lama Mark joked ‘welcome to this 3-year retreat!’ and now I’m almost wishing this retreat could just go on and on…! If only life could always be this sweet eh?