Practical reflections on Embracing Simplicity

Buddhafield Administrator, Sarah Boak, reflects on our 2017 theme of ‘Embracing Simplicity’

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For me, simplicity is about making space to fully encounter the richness of life. To be able to be open to my experience, each day, with a sense of curiosity and wonder. I want to live life with purpose and intention, rather than letting time go by with no real sense of where I’m going or what I want to do. If life is too crowded or overly complex, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed and to keep this sense of openness and purpose.

As a Buddhist, I want to deliberately cultivate certain qualities or states of mind, such as patience, kindness and compassion. I want to be able to deal with whatever comes my way with as much grace as I can muster. The Buddha talks about the ‘eight worldy winds’ that blow – gain and loss, fame and infamy, praise and blame, pleasure and pain – and how to keep a sense of equanimity, as these blow us around. Having a simple life creates more space to be able to focus on these positive qualities and keeping balance through the ups and downs of life.

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One of the practical things I do is to reflect on different areas of my life, in terms of simplicity. These are starting points, not to beat myself up with if I’m far from them, but to consider whether there are any things that I could do differently, to foster a simpler life:

 

Schedule – What am I committed to? This might include events, chores, jobs I’ve signed up for, responsibilities with work, volunteering, school. Do I really want to do each of these things – does it align with my purpose, my plans and my sense of joy? Can I let go of some commitments? I try to use honest and kind communication to say no to people, where I need to, and schedule in time doing nothing or relaxing with family and friends. I want to make time for the important things, including meditation, silence, stillness and being out in nature.

 

Possessions – Am I surrounded with stuff?! It’s amazing the negative mental impact of too much stuff – or ‘stuffocation’ as it’s been famously called. Decluttering your home environment can bring a huge sense of peace. The less things we own, the less time we spend organising, cleaning and maintaining them. I consider what I really need, or what is beautiful to me. I found it very interesting to count how many things I have – how many mugs, how many pairs of socks, how many CDs. It’s as though I had no real knowledge of the things I owned! I want to come into relationship with my possessions, for which I have worked hard to earn money for. I also counted my clothes (which was a real eye opener) then spent time thinking about what clothes I really enjoyed wearing. I wanted to reduce my things to see what happens when space opens up in my home and I have a sense of really treasuring the things that I own.

 

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Technology – Our attention is captured in so many ways by technology, and this doesn’t feel very simple. There’s a reactivity we have with technology, when we get notifications and messages and we jump straight away, rather than intentionally deciding what to place our attention on. I ask myself, how many things am I signed up to? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, email lists etc. Can I be without some of these? Can I find ways to reduce my interactions or at least make them more intentional? For example, I have a ‘newsfeed eradictor’ on Facebook, which means I don’t see a newsfeed at all unless I choose to. I also try to have regular screen free days, where I don’t engage with my phone or computer/tablet at all, but spend the day with people in ‘real world’ environments

 

Parenting – Can I parent in a simpler way? Is my child over-scheduled? I want to make sure that my child has downtime, and can get bored, which then leads to a greater sense of creativity.
I also try to be mindful about the numbers of toys around, so that my son doesn’t get overwhelmed with choice. It’s not always easy to do this, so it’s a practice keeping mindful in this area. Can I also simplify my sense of control with my child? Parenting with ‘benign neglect’ gives children greater freedom to learn by themselves and makes life much simpler for the parent. I try to notice when I’m being overly controlling and can lessen my hold a little.


Finance –
We’re encouraged to buy lots of stuff, and with this comes a level of financial complexity. I try to check in on my finances every day and adjust when I need to. I make sure that I know exactly what’s coming out of my account and why. Am I making good choices about what to buy and what to pay for? Are these in line with my values? Am I spending money to fill a hole, and if so, can I really sit with whatever emotion is underneath that (such as fear, anxiety, boredom) rather than throwing money at it. Can I simplify my financial commitments? Do I really need all the things I’m paying for? Money is easier to manage if we stay mindful to where it’s going and reduce the number of outgoings we have.

 

So you may wish to begin considering one of these areas in your life. Take some time to sit with a cup of tea, and think honestly about your own choices and intentions. What do you really want for yourself and how might you be able to simplify?

 

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The point of thinking practically in this way, is to remind us to come back to what’s important, to the reality of life. The Four Reminders are traditional Buddhist reflections which help us to remember deep truths about our human existence. This life is both short and very precious, a beautiful gift to be used well. We cannot avoid sickness, old age and death, and we don’t know how much time we have. Whatever we choose to do with our lives – from the small day-to-day actions to much bigger choices we make – this has an impact on ourselves, others and our environment. So we need to make wise choices, and focus on that which really matters.

 

Simplifying our lives makes space so we can live intentionally, cultivate positive emotions and connect more deeply with others.

This life you must know

As the tiny splash of a raindrop;

A thing of beauty that disappears

Even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your goal and

Make use of every day and night

To achieve it.

 

Tsongkhapa

 

Buddhafield Retreats are one way to simplify and create space in life to reflect and to pause. Our 2017 Retreats Programme is open for booking!

Images by Sagaravajra and Steve Jackson

Exploring ‘Embracing Simplicity’

Buddhafield’s Danaraja explores what our 2017 theme ‘Embracing Simplicity’ means for him, as a practising Buddhist.

Danaraja

I find it useful to view simplicity on three levels. Firstly there is external simplicity. This involves removing from one’s life anything that may hinder one’s ability to engage in Dharma practice. Obvious examples would be hunting animals or selling arms. Other examples might be simply giving some activities up so that we have more time for meditation and reflection, more space to open the heart to what is.

Secondly there is the internal aspect. To be able to give up craving and aversion would dramatically reduce mental fabrication, leading to a refreshingly simple way of being with our experience. Imagine having no mental proliferation! We are told that our experience would be infused with generosity and the joy of selflessness.

Thirdly we can approach simplicity from the standpoint of wisdom. Through practicing the Dharma we can have a life free from the entanglements of confusion and ignorance, a life dedicated to the liberation of all beings.

One way to approach these three aspects, to embrace simplicity, is to serve. This is training in the compassionate side of wisdom, the altruistic aspect of enlightenment. At Buddhafield we try to set up conditions for people to practice the Dharma and free themselves from the torments of greed, hatred and delusion. We dedicate our lives to this. This means we must live simply, frugally even, and yet with this simplicity, with this apparent ‘giving up’ what is left is a sense of abundance and joy. The simplicity embraced at Buddhafield is very rich, involving service to the Three Jewels, community living, right livelihood, regular meditation and devotion, friendship and the invitation for the world to hear the Buddha’s teaching that points to liberation.

Buddhafield Festival 2012 photographer Mim Saxl

Dana or generosity is the aspect of practice found within the Buddha’s teaching that, I think, best encapsulates this idea of service and at the same time leads us through the three stages of simplicity I’ve outlined above. Dana is a practice that is prone to underestimation, however it is present throughout the Buddhist tradition and exists on many levels. Firstly we can develop the spirit of open-handedness through practicing the second precept “With open-handed generosity I purify my body”. Dana is also the first perfection of the Paramitas (Perfections of Wisdom), setting up conditions for ethics, patience, energy, concentration and wisdom to emerge. This is the practice of a Bodhisattva, where generosity is conjoined with wisdom. It is also one of the four Sangharavastus, which are concerned with the creation, development and strengthening of the spiritual community. Through these Dana practices we embrace simplicity by giving up unskillfulness which causes us suffering and distress, complicating our lives and we move towards wisdom, while also benefiting others.

So Dana is about non-attachment to I, me, mine. With true generosity there is no sense of gift, giver or recipient. It is where wisdom and compassion fuse into one path. Dana it could be said is both a cause and a fruit of embracing simplicity, it is the open road to wisdom and compassion, it is the awakening of the heart. The Triratna Community at its best is not just on this path but is this path. If we take care of our personal practice through embracing a simpler lifestyle and allowing space for the truth of the Dharma to flower and giving up craving and ignorance; and our collective practice of serving the Dharma, we can offer an alternative perspective to people. The world is burning with greed and hatred, fueled by fear and ignorance. People need, we all need, confidence in a perspective that comes from generosity, love and wisdom. We can each contribute to this revolution. By embracing and living the great renunciant’s teachings we can offer a perspective revolutionised by wisdom and compassion for all beings.

 

Working and practising at Broadhembury

Our forthcoming Broadhembury work week takes place between 19th and 25th February 2017, and is open to all to come help for a week, a day or somewhere in between!

Ruth Phillipson tells us about her experiences of working at Buddhafield’s Broadhembury site.

This last weekend I helped hold a work weekend at Broadhembury. Buddhafield owns this site, 28ish acres of woodland, on the side of a hill in the Blackdown Hills. It is a beautiful mythic site, but is also known to be quite a hard site. It’s down a muddy bumpy track, and kit must be wheelbarrowed over a bridge, and even got up a hill, to be set up. It’s worth the work though: it’s wet deciduous woodland, with secret paths and hidden epic trees. To get to the shrine tent you have to climb a hill and then walk along a track under mighty beeches, and past bright gorse, until you reach a clearing, with a great beech, nicknamed grandmother beech. Underneath its branches the big geodesic dome is set up. Years of practice has accumulated in that clearing and many rituals have taken place grouped round the big beech. When I arrived there last weekend and climbed the hill to greet her, I felt like I was greeting an old friend. Retreatants have lain along her limbs, whispered confessions and secrets into her mossy skin, and left offerings in the fork of her main branches.

 

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Though it is a site that takes a lot of work to set up, it also gets under your skin: you fall in love with it, with the trees, and the mud, and the ever rushing of water always playing along in the background. One day you can live life in a literal cloud, and then the next bask in bright sunshine. On the work weekend we experienced both!

The epic mission started on Friday morning, when Beth and I met at the Buddhafield community just outside Crediton, and drove to the few different places Buddhafield uses for storage. We filled her van with a dome, first aid kit, blankets, cushions, flooring and myriads of useful bits and pieces that weren’t on either of our lists, and set off down the A30. Already it felt like a mythic journey! I left Buddhafield a couple of years ago and went to live in Scotland at Dhanakosa, this event would be the first one I had done since then, and it felt really good to be working in a group, with another woman. We stopped in Honiton for food shopping and a few last bits and pieces, and then braved the bumpy track. It was a bit hairy, but we got up to the hard standing, a concreted place, which we have traditionally used for live-in vehicles.

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We were greeted by a building site. Satyajit has been at Broadhembury for a couple of weeks already, using a mini digger and dump truck to create a flat terrace which we can use for a car park, and also to dig out ditches beside the track, and do some base work on the track itself. The plan is to put stone along most of the track to make it usable for cars to get up, we arrived right in the middle of that, before the stone, but after the digging out, so it was pretty muddy!

 

This is the view from the hardstanding, with Satyajit’s big blue van on the left, and a track heading into what will be the car park in the middle.

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Beth and I left Satyajit to his digger, and carried onto the field next to the hard standing. We put up a shrine/sleeping dome and, just as we finished it, more people arrived: other community members, a friend of theirs and later on another ex-Buddhafielder, Leif. We had dinner together in Satyajit’s bus, which was to be our main base for eating, cooking, and generally hanging out, and did a dedication ceremony, heading to bed excited about the weekend, about working together, and about making this bit of land easier to access.

 

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We woke to a beautiful clear sunrise, pink edging along the horizon, and a cold chill to the air. It was so quiet, apart from the sound of water. We gathered sleepily in the shrine to start our day, and after breakfast and a check-in, Satyajit took us on a walk around the land. It was so good to see the extent of our land, to see little bits that I hadn’t seen before, and to hear some of the history behind what has been done to different parts. There have been many plans for Broadhembury: from growing vegetables and willow to having a forest garden. Currently, the main focus is to make it easy to hold a retreat there, easy for people to access this wonderous corner of the world.

 

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The rest of that day, and also Sunday, was spent focusing on the track. Undergrowth grows thickly along the sides of the track, brambles, and honeysuckle, rhododendron and hazel, all grow along the fence on one side and the ditch bank on the other. The ditch is sometimes almost covered over with years worth of fallen branches and leaves. Our aim was to clear away some of this, making the track more passable. Saturday afternoon was an experience of Broadhembury at its best. The sun shone brightly, and we all stripped layers off and turned towards the light, enjoying the heat. We slowly worked our way up the track, digging out bramble roots with cries of satisfaction, snipping back honeysuckle and gathering all the cuttings into the van to be burnt. As it grew dim we headed back to the van, for dinner, and then a puja.

 

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Later that night it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. Sunday was a day of wet work, of eating biscuits endlessly, and wet clothes and raincoats hanging everywhere in the van, of getting covered in mud and smiling, and of leaning into just letting the elements be. Here is where practice comes. It is so easy to smile and be generous and happy when the sun is out, but when it starts raining, and there is still work to be done, and your feet are wet, and there are 7 of you squeezed into a small van, that is where practice starts, and continues. I definitely had a few momentary meltdowns, but generally, I think being in a group, working closely together helped us cope with the rain. We were able to find joy and laughter in what we were doing.

 

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Image from a previous retreat in 2011

 

On Monday morning we gathered ourselves, wet trousers and jumpers, tents and blankets and, after the transference of merit, we all headed off to our homes, and onto other adventures. The ground has been prepared for the next work retreat (19th to 25th February 2017) when we will be working on the hearth area.

 

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Images by Kirsty Porter and Vidaydasi

Could you meditate for a month?

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Every year, Buddhafield holds the Total Immersion retreat, a month of silent meditation in nature, with the option to stay for only two weeks. It’s one of the most beloved events on the calendar. There is meditation teaching, ritual, silence and wood-fired hot tubs, and everything takes place under canvas or the open sky.

 

For most people, the idea of sitting quietly in a lush meadow as birds chirrup in the trees, is a pleasant one. Something you could easily spend a day doing, but the notion of doing that for a month, in silence, can be daunting.

 

The silence at Total Immersion is deep, but not cold or restrictive, there are other ways to communicate and the wonder which unfolds as your vocal chords, and then your mind, quiet down can be astonishing. Thoughts become clearer; things and people often become more beautiful; you may notice sounds you wouldn’t have, like the timbre of a stream as it chuckles over rocks. The silence can become a quiet contentment and warm appreciation that you share openly with others.

 

Laura came on the retreat last year, for the first time and said, “I was initially anxious about going into silence, but I actually found it took away a weight of anxiety around speech. I felt far more connected with myself, with those around me and with nature. It certainly also gave space for difficult emotions to surface, which needed to happen.”

Total Immersion

It is true that, given some space, the emotions we prefer to avoid will probably take their chance and emerge but this doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. The team are highly experienced in creating supportive, joyful events with real spiritual depth and many people find being in nature to be instinctively supportive; for our bodies it can feel like coming home. This, along with the positive, welcoming atmosphere, helps create a safe place for any pain or sadness to arise, without being too overwhelming. It often flips and can be greatly freeing, growing into an expansive feeling of love. There are also regular meditation reviews which offer guidance, support and more personalised teaching.

 

Arthabandhu, who has been on the retreat many times, said, “I love all the elements of the Total Immersion Retreat: one whole month of practice out in the open air, silence, community, and rituals in the midst of nature. By the end of the month I feel wonderfully refreshed, enlivened and inspired. The whole thing puts me in touch with something magical that helps me go back to day-to-day life with a greater sense of purpose and meaning.”

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This year, the theme of the retreat is Mindfulness: Bridge to the Beyond, based around one of the Buddha’s primary teachings on the subject, the Satipatthana Sutta. Both meditation teachers have decades of experience on the subject. Vajradevi has been meditating for 31 years, and studying this particular teaching for 15 years – much of her practice is based around cultivating mindfulness. Kamalashila has been teaching meditation for over 40 years and led the very first Buddhafield Total Immersion retreat 10 years ago.

 

Mindfulness may appear simple but has incredible richness, particularly when practising in nature. Moksatara, from Sheffield, said, “The simplicity and freshness of being outdoors and camping was so revitalising and grounding, and very much informed the meditative states and quality of awareness that I was looking to tune into.

 

“Bathing in the brook (post-hot-tub!) and watching the steam rise up from the water whilst the sunlight streamed down; meditating under a tree by the Buddha and seeing a kestrel hopping about the grass just metres away are just some of the moments I’ll never forget.”

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Are you tempted? This retreat is open to all experienced meditators, all you need to do is book. First-timer Laura’s advice is: “Bring layers! I’d encourage any meditator with Triratna to go for it.”

 

Total Immersion runs from Saturday 6 May-Friday 2 June, with the option to attend 6th-19th May. Book here.
New to meditation? Find other Buddhafield retreats and events here.

Words: Sarah Ryan, with thanks to Arthabandhu, Laura Harrison, and Moksatara
Images: Saccavicaya and Padmapani
Poster: Liz Verde

Best of Buddhafield 2016: Jayaraja’s review

Buddhafield Chair, Jayaraja, gives a review of his 2016 Buddhafield season


18 December 2016

The trees bare except for a solitary leaf, perhaps reluctant to let go, the rest fallen and turning to mulch, I sit in an oak wood in the border lands of England and Wales. It is three days until the solstice and I have some time alone, to be still, to reflect and to wonder. More vivid than many, the seasons this year have been rich and colourful.

 

Winter

Visit to Frog Mill
On a Buddhafield men’s study week we take a day out to visit Frog Mill where we are joined by Mike, Rupadarshin and Beth. The flooding had washed the bank away, the river now strewn with fallen trees. Fortunately, the bridge, which had been lifted from its site was wedged close by. Working together we heaved the bridge back into place. We cleared some areas of the wood, dragged the carcasses of substantial tree trunks out of the water and stacked them to dry, ready to heat the hot tubs and showers in the summer.

Work week
Sleet blew fiercely as a small crew worked in a dilapidated old barn mending canvases, and preparing new ones. The wind was whistling under the tin roof and rattling the huge barn door wedge closed with heavy rocks. I felt a tad guilty as the hardy team got on with their work I was passing through on my way to a planning meeting. Though a few weeks later I was in the fields by the barn as we setup a make shift camp for the winter work week. I was impressed by the number of volunteers who ventured from the warmth of their homes or vans to join us, cleaning kit, waterproofing tents, painting vans, and repairing the horsebox sauna our mobile hot water unit.

 

Team Retreat
The team retreat at Frog Mill, with ice still on the tents in the morning, was a mix of training, planning, land work and just gathering the clan, as well as welcoming new crew, to prepare for the months ahead. We built up the banks by the bridge, weaving willow into them for strength and to hopefully avoid losing the bridge in future floods. More wood was fetched, cut and stacked, repairs to the domes and training in how to put them up. We had a day’s training on food hygiene and safety, our professional trainer excited to be in a field, having spent 20+ years in the military, more commonly he was in restaurants and corporate settings.

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Team Retreat at the start of 2016

 

Spring

Yatra sacred landscape walking retreat
We met by Southampton train station, loaded our bags into the freshly painted (though frankly still quite battered) van affectionately known as Peggy. We walked down to the harbour and caught a ferry over the estuary to Hythe, and began our walk through the New Forest. Each day we would walk between 10 and 16 miles. Meantime the team drove ahead with our kit and set up a kitchen and toilet facilities. On the first day of walking the forest was still in its bare winter guise. Each day as we progressed, the buds on the trees and the bluebells opened a little more. We walked in silence stopping every hour or so where we formally ended the session and sat enjoying conversation, quiet reflection or the beauty of the land. After a few days, I noticed my relation to the land changed and I felt more a part of it, part of life on earth, not separate from it and a kinship with our ancestors who have walked this planet and heard in their hearts a sense of mystery and awe. I felt connected to the refugees walking to escape the horrors of war. I felt a sweet sadness imagining them with children and the elderly and little of the comforts we enjoyed, like suitable clothes, footwear and warm food waiting for them. We walked the ancient paths to Stonehenge and then on to Avebury stones. By now the buds had become fresh green leaves. On the final morning, as we gathered in our traditional circle amid the stones to check out, two buzzards soared above and were soon replaced with a paraglider who came to land right next to us.

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Silent walking on the Sacred Landscape Yatra, under majestic trees


Total Immersion
There was a short break after the Yatra as we set up for the Total Immersion retreat, a month-long silent retreat and one of the highlights of the Buddhafield season. In amongst the trees at Easterbrook we sat in meditation, or sat in silence watching the trees and stars. We held rituals in the woods. The teaching from Kamalashila and his team was excellent. It is hard to find words for the beauty and richness of quiet mind.

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The Buddha rupa in the field at Total Immersion 2016

 

Summer

Glastonbury Festival
I had never been to Glastonbury festival before. Much as I love the Buddhafield festival I didn’t imagine Glastonbury was my kind of thing. Two hundred thousand people in muddy fields: yes it was muddy, the worst on record some say. I was going as it is part of Buddhafield’s main activities. We have been there for over twenty years, teaching mediation and serving vegan food. It did make me think our modest festival of 3,500 is a small undertaking. Whilst there, deprived of sleep, we managed to serve around a thousand meals a day and taught some four to five hundred people to meditate in our cramped space. I recall seeing people with tears in their eyes after meditating and expressing their gratitude.

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Buddhafield Cafe at a muddy Glastonbury 2016

 

Buddhafield Festival
From Glastonbury we drove to our own festival site, green fields and a good night’s sleep. In the morning, having packed the tents away wet we had to immediately get them up again to dry. Two weeks before the Buddhafield festival we were a dozen people most recovering from the challenges of Glastonbury. Gradually more crew and volunteers arrived. Each evening we would have an activity, a couple of short talks on the values that had brought people to these fields, perhaps meditation or a ritual or sitting around the fire singing and talking. This year’s festival was one of my favourites, the site looked fabulous, the music was great and I loved having so many people come to my workshops both Mindful Communication and Skilful Flirting, I look forward to 2017.

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Jayaraja (and Ellis, aged 7 and a half) leading a Mindful Communication workshop at Buddhafield Festival

 

Autumn

Green Earth Awakening
I was away in August, so missed the Village retreats and the Summer Open. I returned for the Green Earth Awakening Camp. It was magnificent to once again be in a field with a team of people creating something of significance and beauty. Feeling the wind and hearing the trees standing beneath the stars. Wow, what an event! I was responsible for the rituals and was supported by Ruth who helped create a magical central shrine. The Green Earth Awakening is all my favourite bits from the festival brought together. Lots of spontaneous and interesting conversations, brilliant workshops, play, singing, dancing, discussion, idealism and crafts. If I had to pick a moment from the year, it was doing the main ritual on the Friday night, in a large circle, we danced, we chanted mantra, made offerings and we watched in awe as a beautiful full moon rose through the trees. Once again I felt a kinship with the ancestors as we try and rekindle a sense of the sacred, a deep sense of connection and reverence for life.

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Shrine at Green Earth Awakening Camp

 

***********************

After three years of wandering I have now moved into a house, a modest rented place in Devon, to help establish a new Buddhafield community. The vision is to create a strong base to enable us to do more and to also go deeper in our own work and transformation, to live more fully with respect for each other, and the planet.

2016 may not go down as a great year for humanity or the planet, the loss of great artists and performers, atrocities in Syria and further afield, the election of a demagogue in America and continuing exploitation of the earth’s resources. I am reminded of lines from Auden’s poem September 1939:

 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 

May your life be blessed with friendship, meaning and love. May you heart unfold to its great potential. May I see you in a field in 2017, and may we cultivate the roots and buds of transformation both of ourselves and this suffering world.

Metta

Jayaraja

 

Buddhafield Retreats and Green Earth Awakening Camp are open for booking for 2017 

Best of Buddhafield 2016: Green Earth Awakening

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2016’s Green Earth Awakening Camp was a huge success. We had fantastic talks from Mac Macartney, Satish Kumar, the Ecodharma team, Kamalamani and Mindfulness4Change to name just a few, some of which were recorded for you to enjoy again.

Members of Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement joined us and here is what they had to say

“Following a very generous invitation to be part of this annual convergence of engaged Buddhism we had four precious days of exchange and exploration. This was an amazing opportunity to share our work, to make new connections, network and hatch new plans.”

The atmosphere was perfect with sunny days, cosy nights and fire side dancing to a full moon. We had Hedgespoken provide their unique traveling theatre stage with story-telling and beautiful music.

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There were powerful rituals such as building a life cairn memorial to extinct species and our closing ceremony. For this, we joined together in a vast circle to close the event while Oak Clan Forge blacksmith Simon Summers buried a sword forged from metal found on the land as a gratitude to past and future resources.

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Next year’s Green Earth Awakening will take place from 20th to 24th September 2017, with the theme ‘Embracing Simplicity’. Bookings are now open – see you there!

Text by Rosie Lancaster, GEA Coordinator
Photographs by Sagaravajra

Total Immersion Retreat – Interview with Kamalashila

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Image: Padmapani 2011

On 20th May 2016 Buddhafield are holding the annual Total Immersion month-long silent retreat, ending on 17th June. I caught up with Kamalashila to ask him a little more about what the retreat is all about.

How did Total Immersion retreats come into being?

The original Total immersion retreat was held at Dhanakosa [Retreat Centre in Scotland] led by myself, Vessantara and Viveka in around 2005. I thought it would work in Buddhafield and we started the following year. I have led them ever since.  Some years ago Paramananda got interested and we started alternating years. 

What are the benefits of retreats that are held in a natural setting?

If you live in nature, nature teaches you how to be natural.   We come out of a highly artificial world into retreat. There are few straight lines and flat surfaces in nature, and it is not designed for convenience.  This means we have to be much more aware even to live a simple life.  There is an element of freshness and spontaneity that is unique.  All these things generate the very best conditions for meditation reflection and generous behaviour – with the right teaching setup I think retreats in nature can even be better than a dedicated retreat centre. 

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What effect does spending such a long time in silence have?

There will still be verbal teaching, questions and ritual chanting, so the silence is not absolute.  But… Peace. Clarity. Confidence. Love.  Silence doesn’t mean we don’t communicate or look at one another.  We get to know one another deeply by relaxing in each other’s company. 

Are there teaching elements to these retreats? How do the retreat leaders support people’s own self-reflection process?

There’s a main daily teaching and question-answer session, as well as smaller, more off the cuff teachings throughout the day — plus of course one-to-one practice reviews for everyone. 

 

Do you have any advice for people who are considering coming on the retreat but haven’t done a silent retreat before or haven’t spent such a long time on retreat before?

For most practitioners, longer retreats are easier, simply because there is more time to settle in and to relax with everyone in the community.  But it’s also possible to come for just the first two weeks.  

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Image: Seán Quigley

What surprises you the most about the Total Immersion retreat?

That every year, Padmapani manages to upgrade even further his already incredible Naga Shrine. When we first started it was a little booth on a plank next to the stream. Last time I was there it was big enough for the entire retreat to do a puja right in the river itself – and the shrine itself was extraordinary. Perhaps not actually surprising (I know Padma very well) but definitely amazing.  

Even after all this time leading these retreats, and with so much meditation experience, do you still benefit yourself from the Total Immersion retreat?

I always learn new and deep things about the Dharma from being in a fully natural environment over time.  Nature is humbling and grounding as well as being incredibly beautiful, and this shifts your whole perspective — first on the elusive ‘self’, and then on the nature of existence. Getting to that takes time though. You need to be living in one place long enough to be part of the environment — then you start to understand.  Usually we are external observers and that doesn’t teach us much that’s useful. What one learns is not information – which we already have plenty of – but about what we are and what our place is. 

You’ve said a little about the difference between Buddhafield retreats and retreats at Centres – can you say any more? i.e. What does Buddhafield do differently and why is it worth people engaging with this different approach?

I think the previous answer applies here too. It is about being immersed in nature to the point where you realise you are part of it. And Buddhafield crews know from long deep experience of living on the land how to support everyone to do that. Their expertise and ingenuity is very impressive.

What do people tend to experience moving from the Total Immersion retreat back into daily life? What benefit does an extended period of meditation such as this have on people’s day-to-day life in the modern world?

People will vary but most will experience a lasting boost to their clarity and confidence. Leaving the beauty of retreat may be a bit challenging for some, but even that is educative and in the long term will make our lives more authentic, natural and real. 

Bookings are now open for our Total Immersion retreat for both two week and month-long options.
The retreat starts on 20th May 2016, with the two week option ending on 3rd June and the whole retreat ending on 17th June.

The Hearth-less.

Good Afternoon Buddhafielder’s!

I firstly would just like to apologise for not writing anything on this bog for such a long time. I have ideas and things to say but then find that I don’t prioritise it in the way that I do for so many other aspects of the work I do with Buddhafield. If I am completely honest I think that quite a lot of this is fear based as well. Putting myself up on the screen is somehow massively exposing but what do I write for if it isn’t to reach at least one person heart?

I intend to be a bit more involved with this blog and my invisible audience this year and I want to do this to create some kind of hearth, or heart to draw all the people of Buddhafield together; through my stories of the glories of working for Buddhafield and the miseries of working for Buddhafield. It is nothing like sitting around a real fire but the storytelling element is something so necessary at keeping the idea of a hearth alive. I feel the lack of a hearth in my life, especially over the winter so this is for the follow hearth-less out there!

I have thought a lot about fire over this winter and interestingly I stumbled into a talk given by two women last week in Totnes. The talk was about there adventures of living a stone age life for 6 months last year in America.The spoke so deeply and authentically of what that experience meant to them, of what is it to be human and how humanity is losing it’s tender touch. I don’t know if anyone out there has had the experience of hearing a story and knowing it to be true, knowing that you already know that thing you are being told. This talk was like that. These two women were talking to an ancestral part of me and the ancestral part of me was delighting in being given a space to hear, see and integrate into my modern life.

The talk started with fire. They said that all creatures move away from fire except for humans that walk towards it, gather around it, use it, control it for warmth, light, comfort, dramatic effect! Of course!! It made so much sense to me in that moment. We as a species thrive with fire.

I believe that this is one of the fundamental things that our culture lacks these days, a place to gather to tell stories, sing songs, recite poetry and to practise all these arts. It is in this telling of ancient wisdom that, in my experience, makes us not feel so alone. We all need to feel more connected to our ancestral ways, we all need a hearth to tell our stories around and we all need to know how to make and sustain fire. These simple acts makes for a more unified society, more unified communities. I talk from a place where I cannot easily make fire in the winter months and it is one of the things that I look forward to more then anything else when the summer and the Buddhafield circus rolls into the fields.

Gathering around fire was the best thing about last summer, the songs the spontaneously arose during the Green Earth Awakening during the long July nights and at the end of the summer laying beside a roaring fire, wrapped in blankets in early October, after a month of focused inquiry leading to blissful understanding, underneath the clearest of night skies. The sense of completeness was unparalleled. I felt deeply connected to the land and humanity.

Last Summer is all a memory now and the coming season is getting more and more present as everything starts to gather more energy. Sitting around fires has never been such a real thing for me and I offer it to all wish to deepen the warmth in there hearts.

Becoming one with hearth and not hearth-less.

 

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A Body Made Entirely of Emotions

In in the last few months I think I have felt into my emotions more deeply then I ever have before.

I am coming up to my second year of working with Buddhafield and feel as if the last two years of my life have taught me immense amounts about my capabilities, about trust and faith, about exploring my inner landscape. I feel both intensely vulnerable and mighty at the same time.

I have cried more then I coud ever think possible. Not just a few simple tears but sobs that have the full force of my body behind each, slow and deep. They have me clawing at my skin to try and escape the pain of it, I imagine trying to massage my heart to try to sooth it. Each sob has a complex story behind it, shed, and wiped away in a matter of seconds, resulting in a very wet face and what feels like new but also very old eyes. The energy in the aftermath that this provides me with, the utter sense of peace and resolve after such a consuming action is incredible. I have witnessed others in this same state and I have willingly waded into the mud with them to offer then a shoulder to cry on and a body to lean against. I am so thankful to be people that have provided this for me.

To cry in front of a room full of people is something that I would never have put myself through before coming to Buddhafield, I am like a cat taking itself off to die peacefully under a beautiful hedgerow that used to be such an exciting playground. I will take myself away to cry my unrestrained tears and the worst thing for me is to expose myself openly in front of others. I want to keep the depth at which I feel things secret, something I keep only for myself. The process feels so sacred to me. Sangha, though, takes me out of my comfort zone because of the ability that my sangha has to just simply see me. I have to admit this frustrates me beyond distraction but I also feel so honoured that people take the time to even notice a tiny detail.

I love the woodlands and someone that I barely know once asked me, whilst in a state of utter despair, ‘what was it like in the woods?’ Such a simple question bought this emotion to the surface even more. All I could answer was ‘peaceful’ and I still feel that peace today. The ability that this man had to notice something about me I find so comforting. Buddahfield is a massive sangha and it doesn’t seem to matter how new or old you are there is just an acceptance and a friendliness unrivalled by anything else. This extends to all the temporary communities I have come into contact with through the retreats that I have been on and the retreats that I work on. There is just a simple understanding that you are like me and that is something that I embrace however out of my body I may appear or seem. My smaller sangha within Buddhafield is beautiful, supportive, exposing and at times utterly uncomfortable. It feels like such a paradox but the fact that I live and work with a group that holds all kinds of extreme emotion with such tenderness amazes me still.

The teaching that all our lives are interconnected is something that I have been immersing myself in recently, how easy it is to forget someone or forget your own needs and how destroying it can be when you remember that thing you had forgotten. I have a strong identification with the idea that all of humanity are like mushrooms, connected by mycelium, tiny imperceptible threads and that within our own lungs, the patterns of the capilliaries can be seen in the branches of the trees, in lichen. So much of nature (including us) has repetitions of shape, form and texture.

It is so easy to see ourselves as separate and more important then anything and anyone else because we think ourselves as so but to see ourselves as connected to all of those around us, to all the trees, birds, fish, is a powerful reflection. Everything is worth considering for a while and life will become something different, something more precious, robust, mysterious, at times completely ridiculous.

Like the tears that come flooding out of tiny tear ducts, covering your face in water. It is essentially just water and a body in need to releasing something, to shed a skin to get to the core, to get to the essence of your particular existence at that point in time. Life is impermanent, the tears wont last, the despair, anger and joy wont last. Whatever is going on right now, that is your experience so why try to make it something it isn’t.

Just let the tears flow.

First Light in the Garden

As the darkness of winter started to lift and during the coldest week of the year, 40 hardy, wonderful people camped out at Broadhembury to help Buddhafield create our forest garden. This was a funded event by the National Lottery and a massive boost to the work involved at creating this garden. So much was achieve in this week, and all of us at Buddhafield (and there are a lot that have had some involvement in this project at one point or another) just want to say a massive thank you to all those who came and helped.

Here are some pictures:

Our temporary community at dusk.
Putting up the changing dome for the sauna – a perfect way to warm up and get clean on  cold muddy sites!
This site used to be a whetstone quarry and every-so-often  massive holes appear…
On the hill side looking out over the valley that used to be the sea bed!
Dear old oak tree supporting us in so many ways!
A captivated audience.
Prayer flags glowing with the sunset.
Teaching..
Carrying..
Searching..
Along with the actual forest garden work, Rupadarshin also needed help building his sweet track, a method of crossing bogs/marshland. It crosses a particularly boggy part of the woodland.  A stunning addition to the land here, it has opened up more of the sight for comtemplation. Walk across in the moonlight and feel the ancientness!!
Well earned lunch!

Our next event is the Scared Landscape Yatra, a 6 day walking meditation from Goring-on-Thames to Stonehenge along the Ridgeway. For more information on this have a look on this blog for the write up from last year. To book go here.

All photos by Kirsty Porter