Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Apprentice Retreat part I

The encampment.
I have just been on retreat for a week with our students.  This was our first camping retreat on the land in Shropshire belonging to one of our student's, Ngakpa Samten.  He is creating a forest permaculture on 2½ acres of land previously used for horse grazing.  His partner is converting the stables to grow exotic mushrooms.  An area of the land is being left as pasture for occasional camping and for one or two retreats a year.
The gazebo/motordome practice tent.

It was an international event as we have a highly international sangha.  Two came from Germany, two from Austria, one from France and the remainder from the UK.  Some of them are not too keen on camping and had been looking forward to this retreat with a degree of trepidation.  As the weather had been sunny and dry in the UK for around eight weeks, I felt pretty sure that we would have some wet weather at least.  I was not wrong.  The weather was extraordinary: high winds, rain ranging from gentle to torrential, thunder and lightening, amazing cloud formations and unusual sky phenomena.  We had it all and it was cold in the mornings and evenings.
The marquee kitchen/diner.
     A large yurt had been ordered for the event but unfortunately was not ready in time.  Consequently the combination of our motordome (aka Tharpa Ling) and a new gazebo had to function as our practice room.  This was mostly successful, though the join between the two could not be made secure enough to keep the rain out and it was not as snug as a yurt would have been.  It had been intended that the gazebo and motordome would be the kitchen/dining area.  The yurt makers had lent Ngakpa Samten a marquee as some recompense, but this was not big enough to use as a practice room, so this was used as a our kitchen/diner.  We had to add a tarpauline lean-to so that water could be boiled in storm kettles when it was raining without filling the marquee with smoke.  The kitchen/diner was most civilised with a table to eat at, bottled gas cooking and storage.
People slept in a number of tents and no one (except for a married couple) had to share a room.  Ngakpa Samten slept in his camper van, and we had a campervan/awning with bedroom combo.  Composting toilets were provided.  In all it was most comfortable.  The weather did not inconvenience us too much and sometimes being rather cold was the only problem.  We may move the retreat a couple of weeks nearer to summer next year, though it is unusually cold in the evenings in the UK at the moment.
Sun dogs and a circle round the sun.
Ngakpa Zhal'mèd led trulkhor practice.

 The format of the days was: morning practice 7 - 9, then breakfast; teachings after breakfast till lunch on Vajra Romance; after lunch (weather permitting) physical practice and craft work till dinner; after dinner more teachings and an empowerment one evening.  The Monday of the retreat was my birthday, so we went to a restaurant for a meal that night.
Lovely sunsets every evening.
An extraordinary rainbow around the sun.

On the last day of the retreat we practised tsog'khorlo (gana puja) in the morning and climbed Caer Caradog near Church Stretton in the afternoon.  More on this in the next post

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