Although I have been on a three-month retreat at Uttaraloka since the middle of October it has seemed a little ragged to me (although not to my fellow retreatants). I’ve had quite a lot of administrative work to do including one trip to Valencia and a couple to Alicante. But the net effect of this is that I am now Brexit secure (after a year of sorting things out): I have Spanish residence; my car is registered in Spain; I have a Spanish driving license; and I have access to both the Spanish and UK National Healthcare systems. This is quite a relief.
Closer to home we have harvested the almonds (about 300Kgs) and olives (500Kgs) from Uttaraloka. The almonds are apparently of the best type – marcona – and so we were offered the best price and sold them, but we have kept all our own olive oil (170 litres) which – although I am no expert – is really delicious – and healthy. It was enjoyable going to the Olive press along with all the other local olive growers. There is, of course, a special pleasure in growing one’s own food but economically it is a disaster – I guess we earn a little over a euro an hour from the work we put into the almonds – but every toasted almond or piece of toast, soaked in olive oil and sprinkled with salt is worth every second tending the trees. And with fresh nisperos, plums, figs and persimmons dropping from the trees throughout the summer I could well be seduced into the life of a farmer. However I do get anxious about the care that the fruit trees and other plants that Vasubandhu is planting may demand of me in future. Thankfully we had a good dose of rain this week because it had otherwise been dry since last spring and we were running low on water. But, as ever, blue skies every day do lift the spirits.
I am very fortunate to be living at Uttaraloka – partly alone and partly on retreat with others. But what exactly is a retreat. I have been aware lately of the wide range of retreat styles that we have in our movement and of how there are opinions, sometimes quite strong, about what is a ‘real’ retreat. I tend to define a retreat simply as an period during which one leaves one’s normal world completely so as to be able to experience oneself and the dharma more deeply; others have told me that they fear this lack of structure is not enough to provide the satisfying sense of having done something useful that can be found in a particular teaching or through the inspiration of a particular teacher; for others retreats needs to be solitary or at least very quiet; and again it can seem absolutely necessary that the people on retreat act together. And, of course, there is the whole range of new ‘virtual’ retreats conducted through the internet in the comfort of one’s own home and lifestyle. I am continuously thinking about what it is that I am doing here at Uttaraloka – and what it is that I can offer others. I sort of know intuitively but it is not always easy to put into words. Each of the six three-months retreats that we have had at Uttaraloka have been different in flavour – they are so dependent on who is here. The distinct character, qualities and interests of the visitors are so clearly visible under these conditions that it is impossible to ignore them and present an abstractly ‘normal’ retreat.
I think this retreat has gone well so far for everyone, even though the fact that they have all arrived, and are leaving, at different times – because of COVID restrictions – has contributed to the raggedness I mentioned.
My inner life has been somewhat muted, but yesterday I had a particularly brilliant image of Vajrayogini appear in meditation. I think this must have been influenced by a photo that Aloka sent me of the new painting he has done for the Padmaloka shrine room – she is incredibly energetic and that glistening image has somehow stepped into my mind. Thank you Aloka.
I am also waiting for Vajrayogini to appear in material form – I recently passed on the Presidency of the Bristol Centre to Dhammadassin. There was an enjoyable passing on ceremony (by Zoom of course) a week or so ago and the Centre generously gave me a Vajrayogini rupa which should be arriving in a couple of days. I’ve enjoyed my ten years as president of the Bristol centre mainly because of the good friends I’ve made there but also because I’ve been able to give some support to Jvalamalini, Bhadra and the rest of the centre teams over a period during which they have made some very positive changes and developments at the Centre. The governance, financial base, and teaching style and program have all changed along with growth in the strength of the community – especially perhaps among the men.
A few days ago I celebrated my 47th Order Anniversary with Mangala, Hridaya, Subhuti, and Chintamani. It is encouraging that we are all still going strong and it was delightful to see and hear them all in our Zoom meeting. It was my fifth Zoom meeting, ever, but one of Subhuti’s five for the day! I wonder if I should use the internet more – am I too reliant on Indra’s net? With much love to all.