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The Buddhist Retreat Centre
|SANGHA SUPPORT: Letters from lockdown - 4 June 2020|
Dear BRC Friends,
Online Programme June and July
Having a community to tap into and feel connected to is a huge gift. Our online initiative comes as a result of your encouragement, our teachers’ generosity and with love and kindness. Please support our Online Programme below which is published on our website with all the links. Your donations are helping enormously to keep the Centre going while we are in lockdown limbo.
Image: Angela Buckland
Be Here Now
I am sure that there were many of you who had planned to be on retreat before the impending doom of Covid 19. Some retreatants make a retreat mandatory in their annual schedule to get back to ground, to make an ‘appointment with themselves’. I suppose we can all regard this time of enforced seclusion as a time of retreating rather than an inconvenience imposed on us. We really don’t need to make a special time or place to retreat to - we can retreat in our homes - breathing as we do anyway, hearing the sounds that are there. We should treat this period of retreating as an unsolicited gift - an opportunity to turn inward, to be more introspective, to be more in the moment and to really feel what it is like to be mindfully present to what is spontaneously given in our daily lives - whether it is making a cup of tea, or brushing your teeth or the cat. So when you eat, you really taste; when you are walking, you feel the sensation in your legs.
Concentrate on quietening the inner chatter and constant rumination that can make up a lot of our negative thought patterns and which create an alternative, fake reality. So often our internal dialogue makes things worse than they are. Practise Right Speech not only with others, but also with yourself: the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Be gentle, supportive and compassionate always. Be selective about dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Focus on the present, however stressful it may be. Remain optimistic while not minimizing the seriousness of this virus.
Under level 3 lockdown, the BRC is not able to offer retreats, but we remain positive and look forward to welcoming our dear friends back to Ixopo.
Thank you again to all those supporters and teachers who are helping to ensure the continuity of the BRC with your donations, PUY contributions, your monthly Sangha donations, for supporting our online programme, purchasing our books and booking for retreats ahead. Although we have not been able to celebrate our 40th anniversary, we can look forward to our 41st milestone - with your help.
A special vote of thanks must go to BrilliantWeb for their technical and web support and counsel, and of course to Lien and the BRC Team for all they are doing to keep the Centre steady and ready for opening our doors again.
Stay safe and protected.
Louis and Chrisi
And from Ixopo…
I walked to the Stupa just before lunch and whilst sitting there I said a prayer and it was as though heaven was whispering to me ... all is not lost - it just makes the wait a little bit more rewarding when we do finally open. The silence here at the BRC is full of messages if you quieten your mind.
Annie and the BRC Team
|Image: Chantelle Flores|
Professor Kriben Pillay teaches at the Graduate School of Business and Leadership, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and has been associated with the BRC for many years
The Power Of Presence
In the Graduate School of Business and Leadership at UKZN, I specialise in teaching and researching an awareness-based experiential model of personal and collective transformation called Theory U. An internet search will yield much by way of reading and visual materials.
However, this sharing is not meant to be an academic, scholarly, exploration, but rather a self-reflection in the spirit of the journey that one takes in Theory U. It’s a simple journey; be mindful of our limiting and distorting stories (called mental models in Theory U) of self and the world – stories that are largely the result of our socio-cultural conditioning, including our education – through a process of being both mindfully aware and engaging in rigorous critical thinking. This facilitates entering into a field of spaciousness, both outwardly and inwardly, through letting go and arriving at Presence. Presence is simply the state of being both present and sensing with all one’s faculties, not just thinking, so that we are open to the unfolding of new possibilities without the hindrance of fear and anxiety
The intent here in this self-reflective piece is to show you how mindful self-inquiry can lead to a place of deep peace amidst an unprecedented crisis.
However, this is not about magical thinking; that all one’s practical problems are resolved, or that feelings like grief or a deep concern for a loved one’s well-being will not arise. What this is about, which most of humanity has avoided through incessant mindless activity, is engaging fully with the present – dealing with what needs to be done now (sweep the floors, wash the dishes, attend to emails, etc.) – rather than being lost in thoughts of the past or future. If you pay close, mindful, attention to your experience, you will see that worry, anxiety, fear and stress always arise from the thoughts of the past or our projections about the future. In the present, without the habitual patterns of thinking, there is just full engagement with what’s arising now. This is a very different quality; it is that of Presence.
What I’ve described above is a journey that begins when we are willing to suspend our mental models of past and future (this does not mean not planning the practical details for the future – what to cook, when to schedule an appointment, etc.).
|Image: Fanele Dube|
In my journey with COVID-19, I was initially overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion from all the narratives and counter-narratives surrounding the pandemic. For those of you who have not been exposed to them, here is a short, generalised list:
• The Coronavirus is a natural mutation arising within bats. From a bat it spread to animals that were sold for human consumption in a wet market in Wuhan, and then spread to humans (this is still the dominant scientific narrative).
• The virus was biologically engineered by the Chinese government to effect its imperialistic agenda. A current version in the news is that the virus accidentally escaped from a biomedical research laboratory in Wuhan, but this was covered up by the Chinese government and made to look like the first scenario.
• The virus was created by a Bill Gates company so that his financial interests in pharmaceutical companies will rise astronomically. In particular, he wants to test a vaccine in Africa first because it is a lucrative economic market for the sale of vaccines.
• The pandemic is a ploy by the world’s wealthy elites to enslave the masses through fear and eventual control (through severe restriction of movement, and extreme surveillance as in China, the UK, the US, etc.).
• The virus is of extra-terrestrial origin (and there are numerous permutations of this story).
• Humanity is being taught a lesson by God/Mother Earth to right the wrongs of the past.
• The earth is an interconnected system, and the system is simply pushing back as a natural result of its sub-systems reaching tipping points.
I am sure that I am leaving out other theories, but I think you get the point. Of course, some of these perspectives may also mutually support others e.g. the virus did originate in a wet market in Wuhan, but its spread is the result of systemic factors i.e. density of population, unabated travel, etc. The difficulty in taking in all these perspectives, each with their own show of evidence (some dubious and some quite plausible), is that you can either be overwhelmed by total confusion and fear, or, in taking the journey from suspending mental models to mindful and critical seeing, you are turned inward. And you realise, at least for the time being, that you have to honestly acknowledge the following from what is observed: that you do not know what is absolutely true. Again, this unknowing is emphasised in the Theory U process; of letting go of old mental models in order to bring in the new through fearless Presencing.
And this unknowing is part of the deeper inward seeing, of finding the stillness beyond words; where we don’t necessarily know the facts, but we find ourselves acting more holistically. Not being driven by fear still means heeding the best medical advice about hygiene and social distancing, etc. In the language of Theory U, this is Performing.
|Image: Fanele Dube|
But in the spirit of Dialogue, I also engaged with other travellers on this path. My American friend and author, Steven Harrison, who has dedicated his life to self-inquiry and exploring mindful awareness, wrote the following:
The narrative of fear is the primary story being told, with a counter narrative that this is all a hoax or at least overblown. The point of origin narrative is always the other, not the self. I wonder if there could be a deep looking into the anxiety around death, the fear of not enough (breath, food, toilet paper), and the response to isolation not as a restriction, but rather as contact with an arising of change.
We can see in Steven’s response that he’s also talking about engaging with our fear; not analysing it, but mindfully not resisting it. This is a movement again of unknowing, of being in full contact with Life as it is felt in the body (when we feel unpleasant sensations like anxiety or fear, don’t we quickly move to distract ourselves with entertainment, food, addictions, excessive thinking, work, etc.?). The non-resistance, it is suggested, is a portal to something new in the moment. Later, it may become the old, but because we have activated our adaptive intelligence, we are fully open to the next journey of discovery. In this way we deeply touch living a creative life; which is not a life of denial, but a life that is moving from fact to fact, rather than from story to story. Again, referring to the exploration of Theory U, this Presencing – not feeling separate from the field of Life – begins to initiate the emergence of change. But this change may not be the mind’s idea of change. Like the present crisis, it may be very disruptive.
That’s why Theory U also warns us of:
• The Voice of Judgement
To allow oneself to take this journey – again and again if need be – one has to be mindful of these three voices. Their job is to keep us stuck in the old known (and thereby in fear), and this is why those who have engaged with Theory U or processes like this, may take to it at an intellectual level, but never really engage fully with the experiential dimensions of the process. Our current crisis, in its positive aspect, offers this opportunity. We can’t argue with Life anymore or run away (although we will instinctively try as a conditioned, reflex action); we have to embrace it. And in that embrace we may discover something profound.
|Image: Sean Laurenz|
Psychoneuroimmunology With Dr Ian Weinberg - In Your Home
Ian Weinberg, a neurosurgeon and pioneer in PNI, has led his renowned retreat “A neurosurgeon probes wellness and performance: Psychoneuroimmunology: PNI” for 12 years, twice a year, at the BRC. His retreats are hugely popular and always fully subscribed to.
In these uncomfortable times in which we are challenged at every level of our being - physical, psychological and emotional - Ian’s expertise and insights will provide one with practical tools to explore optimal, integrated wellness, and to understand how our thoughts inform our immune system - and how by reframing the way we react to the world around us, we can completely alter our health and quality of life.
Ian is offering to assist the BRC to raise funds to ensure its continuity. He has uploaded his full, comprehensive, PNI weekend retreat onto his website in 5 edited modules: See www.neuronostic.com under COURSES – ONLINE MENTORING COURSES. The programme includes slides in PDF format, an online diagnostic and workbook.
If you would like to support this fund-raising venture, please consider purchasing his online programme through the BRC at a significantly discounted price (R1,500) relative to the online listed price (R5,500). Proceeds will go to the BRC.
|Image: Angela Shaw|
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