Well it'll be a while until our 2015 brochure is out in the world but in the meantime here's a preview of our programme:
A blog written by the team at Taraloka
Taraloka runs regular work retreats. In this blog Liz Kiff tells us about the work retreat that was held in January....
Amoghasiddhi – Fearlessness
Coppicing in the woodland, clearing the bog, new lights and fantastic food – the work retreat
It is always exciting on the first night of a work retreat, when Ginny introduces the theme for the week, Amoghasiddhi, the green Buddha of the northern realms, associated with unobstructed success and fearlessness. When I first started coming on these retreats, two years ago, I was definitely more interested and at home with the work agenda, than the Dharma. But that has subtly changed, in that while still feeling more at home with the work; I’m increasingly interested and drawn by the teachings. It felt that we were entering Amoghasiddhi’s green realm as we headed off on the first evening, in to the torch-lit dark of Taraloka’s wet grounds. Fearlessness developed a cloak around us, as we squelched our way along, the night seemingly soft and welcoming as we visited each of the work sites. I began to feel as at home in this out of doors area of Taraloka, as within the solid walls. We were weaving a web of connection between ourselves, individuals arriving from very different lives, and Taraloka, our home for the week, our spiritual home.
Here I am, back at Taraloka after a two-week absence: visiting family, attending a two-day meeting on mindfulness at Adhisthana, and attending a meditation retreat at Rivendell. All these events were enjoyable and productive, but throughout I was very conscious of the fact that whilst I was away Ratnasuri was leaving Taraloka and beginning a new life in Wrexham – living alone for almost the first time in her 91 years.
Ratnasuri first moved to Taraloka in 1985 as one of the founder members – along with Sanghadevi, and two mitras that became Karunasri and Kulanandi. So she has lived at Taraloka for the last 29 years. You might know her as a poet (a book of her poetry was published in celebration of her ninetieth birthday last year); or as an artist of wood-cuts (particularly of Tara and Vajrayogini); or as a photographer that gave slide-shows in silence on retreat (beautiful heart-opening images); or as the first women’s Public Preceptor (travelling to India to conduct the first Ordinations of women by women); or as a dynamic to-the-point friend and Preceptor; or as an adventurous, creative spirit that continued to expand; or as an old woman, struggling with her increasing blindness and the physical complications of old-age.
Written by Gem Millar
I first went to Taraloka 4 years ago on an Introduction to Mindfulness weekend. Then as soon as I got back I booked the next one. Taraloka has always has a special place in my heart, right from that first weekend retreat. It was where I first discovered Triratna (or the FWBO back then) and where I discovered the magic of the Dharma. I have met just some of the most amazing inspiring women there – from leaders, organisers, and other fellow retreatants. I have also had loads of great personal moments of realisation, overwhelming metta and clarity.
A couple years ago my finances weren’t very stable and I was invited on a work retreat. I jumped at the opportunity - as it was free, not even a booking fee. I didn’t realise until I went on it that it was so much more than that. I realised what I was giving to Taraloka. I think I went initially for selfish reasons – I hadn’t been for a bit, and needed to ‘go home’ to be reminded of what’s important and this seemed like a good idea. What I actually felt was a real sense of generosity. I was being a part of the many, many hands that made Taraloka, Taraloka.
Last year I went on the summer work retreat, and my reasoning for going on it was that ‘I am much better at working than meditation’ which to some degree is still true. However, that’s not just why I go either. The 2012 summer work retreat had the theme of Ratnasambhava and all the qualities he has, things like abundance, and generosity. And it really became clear what my place in the work retreats was. For me, work retreat mean helping Ginny keep the maintenance going (as she says, she IS the maintenance team). It is making sure Taraloka is there for people who might not have discovered it yet- just like me before 4 years ago. And it is giving to the magic of Taraloka itself.
To give you an idea of what ‘work’ looks like, I have helped paint the outside of the community house - where Ginny and the other residents of Taraloka live – including Ratnasuri – who was one of the founding members of Taraloka, and has lived there longer than I’ve been alive! She offered me a Jaffa Cake last time I was there, while I was out painting the wall outside her room! I have also stained or painted many of the numerous benches at Taraloka to keep them going for longer. And I know others have planted many, many little trees towards the canal, and on the other side of the canal, as well as landscaping a path through the woods. (Gem has now also painted the main toilets in the retreat centre Editor).I have also oiled the outside and painted the inside of the Tara Cabin. I did this chanting the Tara mantra most days, which leads me onto the Buddhist side of the retreats. Ginny is excellent at leading us smoothly from ritual dedicating the space we will be working on, to meditation to work. It all feels very smooth and seamless, and there is always good grub to keep our strengths up thanks to the wonderful cooks too!
One of the things I LOVE about Ginny’s work retreats is she is very specific and clear about she would like to be done (so there is no room for me to do something wrong). She also has cool rules – like the ‘No Resentment Rule’ – so if you don’t want to do something you can just say, and the ‘Compulsory Tea Breaks Rule’ to make sure we all rest now and then.
SO! If you have been touched by the magic residing in Tara’s Realm and wish to give a little something back, and have the motivation and energy and are able, why not come on a work retreat?
Work retreats are Intermediate Level retreats, meaning those coming need to be already familiar with puja and the two meditation practices taught in the Triratna Community. Those coming on a work retreat also need to be in good mental and physical health.
In December Taraloka bought 13 new beds and mattresses, and gave away to a local charity its 13 old beds and mattresses.
Singhamati heard about the Olympic Games selling everything off after the big event, instantly thought of Taraloka and bought 13 mattresses. So the mattress you sleep on next time you come could have been slept on by Jessica Ennis! Not that that’s why we bought them of course – they were quality mattresses at very good value!
The old beds dated from when Taraloka first began in the 1980’s. Back then, they had been handmade by some women volunteers to provide basic furnishing so that retreats could run. 27 years later, they were getting rickety and squeaked when you turned over in bed at night. The new bedsteads don’t do this, I’m pleased to say, and the new mattresses don’t sag in the middle!
I was also delighted that we managed to find the old beds a good home. New2u is a Wrexham based not-for-profit organisation which supplies donated furniture to those in need. Many women leaving women’s refuges to begin new lives, often with children, come to New2u for help with furniture. Bed bases, they told us, are very much in demand.
So when you come on retreat, hopefully you will have a more comfortable night’s sleep, and some families who wouldn’t have had beds to sleep on now do.
May you all have a happy and fruitful New Year!
Piccies to follow...
7am – Time to wake up. Where am I? Ah, Taraloka! And a smile spreads across my face. Throw on some clothes and head to the kitchen to make a cuppa. Step outside in the early morning sun to do some Qigong. The geese fly over my head…
7.30am – Community shrine room for meditation. The sound is amazing when we all salute the shrine together – such strength in our voices. I feel grateful for this opportunity to be here with these amazing women. We chant the refuges and precepts before meditating – our own practice in our own time.
8.15 – 8.30am – I leave the shrine room and get properly dressed for the working day.
8.30am – Breakfast in the Community kitchen – I make porridge for 2, 3 or 4 of us, depending on who is there at the time. Some mornings it is already made for me, which feels such a treat! I check that Ratnasuri has all she needs out on the table, and read the message book. Someone needs picking up from the station – I could do this! I love getting out in the car…
9am – anyone ‘9 o-clocking’? Time to gather in the lounge for our morning ‘check-in’. Could be just 2 of us, or up to 4 or 5 people. When it’s nearly my turn my heart begins to race and my palms sweat… I don’t like speaking in groups much.
9.30am onwards… time to start work, but not before clearing the breakfast dishes. I open the dishwasher to find it full – do I empty it or leave it? A perpetual question in the Community kitchen…
I look at my list of jobs and / or check-in with Ginny re work for the day. I don boiler suit and rigger boots (thanks Des!), and off I go, relishing the chance to do some practical work. My work as a volunteer was varied and involved a mixture of maintenance and grounds work, interspersed with time in the Retreat Centre kitchen chopping veg and cooking. I’m glad I wasn’t in the office (sorry Jo!).
11am – “Shall we stop for a cuppa, Ginny?” Ratnasuri is in the middle of her morning coffee ritual as I make myself a cup of tea. Shall I have one or two bagels today? All this physical work makes me hungry! A quick chat with Saddhanandi, then back to work… hanging out a load of wet towels on the washing line outside on the way.
there is so much land to look after at Taraloka…
1pm – time for lunch back in the Community. I collect a loaf of bread from the Retreat Centre freezer on the way, and more toilet rolls! Mealtimes are rarely solitary and I enjoy this. A chance to find out what others are doing, and if anyone needs help with anything. I find a note from Singhamati asking if I can unload the laundry from the car and put away in Retreat Centre. I check the current retreat timetable and find a slot when I can do this unseen (i.e. during a shrine room activity). I wash up and leave the kitchen tidy for others.
2pm – Back to work… via the garage to break up a pile of cardboard boxes I’d spotted earlier.
Time to go to the station. I check if anyone needs anything while I’m out and I’m given a list for the supermarket.
A quick cuppa, then back to work…
5pm – finish work for the day, unless I am the cook for a Retreat or cooking for the Community. A chance to have a lie down or go for a walk, or check personal emails… and go and talk to Smokie bunny!
6pm – supper together in the Community. I love this part of the day, when we all come together around the kitchen table. We all clear up together (except for whoever cooked the meal), and go our separate ways…
7.30pm – time for Mitra Study (thank you Samantabhadri!) or GFR Group or Community Night. Other evenings were spent watching a DVD, going for a walk, talking on the ‘phone, or just hanging out. The wild geese fly overhead again, in the opposite direction from the morning….
10pm – time to think about going to bed, tired from another day at Taraloka, yet feeling content and nourished from being here. The evenings went really quickly, and I often didn’t get to bed before 11pm, but that’s another story… and not one for the blog!
If anyone reading this is thinking of being a volunteer at Taraloka, I say “do it!” Taraloka provides such positive conditions unlike anywhere else I know of. Yes, it was intense, and yes, it was hard work, but it was also very nourishing. I felt all my needs were being met and that I could really grow there… I wish in some ways that I had asked to stay longer. I loved the sense of sharing with others – work, meals, practice, life… and the joys and challenges that brings. I was continually impressed by the women living there and learnt quite a lot, both about myself and relating to others. And after 3 months of almost daily check-ins, sometimes twice in a day, I can now speak in a group with almost no anxiety!
A big heartfelt thank you to all the Taraloka Community for my 3 months living and working with you all. May you all continually grow and be inspired by the Dharma!
Hello it’s Singhamati at Taraloka here. This year for the first time I was given the pleasure and responsibility of putting together Taraloka’s retreat programme and I’m pleased to say it went to our printers this week. You should have a copy in the post to you soon, but for those of you keen to start 2012 planning, Jo has worked hard uploading the programme to our website this week; a job she has also done for the first time this year.
I would love to tell you at length about why I'm excited about every retreat, as I am really pleased that with the whole programme that we are running, but if I did we would be here a LONG time - so here's a small introduction to some of them.
In 2012 there is something for everyone with our usual range of retreats; including introductory weekends, open retreats and retreats for those of you already practising in the Triratna community.
For our open retreats there are new themes, including Surfing the Worldly Winds and The Space to Choose, as well as classic retreats, such as Awakening Loving Kindness and One Moment at a Time, which is now in it's 10th year!
I am really pleased to say that we are continuing the theme of longer meditations retreats with three 9 day retreats for women who have asked for Ordination and two 2 week intensive meditation retreats; one for Order Members and one for Mitras.
I am excited to be welcoming Dayanandi back to Taraloka to lead the 2 week Mitra meditation retreat, as she was chairwoman at Taraloka for many years, during which time she led numerous retreats here. More recently Dayanandi, as a Public preceptor, supported the 3 month Ordination course at Akashavana in 2009 and 2010 and so is well qualified to be leading this longer retreat!
The Order Meditation retreat, led by Vidyamala and Saddhanandi, is an opportunity for Dharmacharinis to practise together, focusing on the qualities of 'mindfulness' (Satipatthana Sutta) and of 'opening the heart' (Brahma Viharas). This retreat is an extension of the 2 week Mitra Intensive retreat that they led in 2011.
For those of you familiar with Triratna practices we are running some new themes as well as the old favourites, such as Brahma Viharas and our Spring and New Year Meditation retreats. After the success of 2011 we are repeating the Bodhicaryavatara retreat - a precious opportunity to study this challenging and inspiring text.
New themes in 2012 include Milarepa and the Lakshanas and Dance to Freedom, the opportunity to dance the system of meditation! I am also excited to be leading the Being with Buddha retreat and have the opportunity to share my love of and devotion to the Dhammapada and the Buddha, whilst helping you to explore and deepen your own connections.