Dance Practice Week was a delight again this August. Every year, many of the old hand dancers gather with newcomers to practise all of the Vajra Dances that Rinpoche has taught us in the delightful surroundings of Kunselling.
The families of the dancers are welcome and something I particularly enjoy is seeing the children. I have seen them grow up from little girls (unfortunately no petit pawos in this cohort) who delighted in putting on plays and doing finger painting to sophisticated young females with whom one can discuss the latest short haircuts and TV shows. I usually only meet them once a year so the changes are really marked for me, whereas their parents probably only see a sort of seamless development and wake up one day to find they have flown the nest!
We were quite a big group with over twenty people at some points and I was trying to combine a dance retreat with practicing dream yoga which requires setting some wake up alarms in the early hours, so I repaired to the Tump in a tent so as not to disturb any sleepers sharing a room with me in the house. The weather forecast was dry and I had three duvets and an airbed so I thought I would be safe. It then rained for three nights in a row but I remained reasonably snug and dry and managed to get this wonderful photograph of the sun rising in the East over the Black Mountains from my tent…
The Tump is a lovely place to camp (thank you Lol Kane), although I was alarmed by Penny’s reports of multiple rat holes in the bank. I decided to believe that the Tump’s wildlife was not rats but big mice or giant voles instead, and after that slept more soundly.
We have a new Dome in which to dance and it was causing some problems as it arrived from America via some obscure Heathrow warehouse and then turned out to be a very slightly different size from that expected which caused unforeseen consequences around the Mandala space. Luckily, the most practical of all members seem to gather on this retreat and Mark, Robin, Rowan and Peter all put their heads together and brainstormed solutions. Our dancing was never interrupted.
Cindy, one of our two UK Vajra Dance instructors, was not formally teaching on this retreat but she is always available to answer questions and correct errors. Just watching her dance and following her on the Mandala always clears up a lot of fuzzy areas for me. It is always a joy to dance on a full Mandala when every Pawo and Pamo dancers’ places are occupied. There are twelve in all. This is quite a rare event in the UK Community year and quite a different experience. When there are not enough spaces for all the candidates, we swap in and out at suitable points so that everyone has a chance to dance.
This year we had the Dome up most of the time as the weather was a little uncertain. There were lots of sunny periods however and walks on the tops and sitting in the sunshine was possible.
Rose was implementing and improving the new Health and Safety protocols for the house, especially the kitchen and, along with our organiser Stephanie, raised the standards of cleanliness and order prevailing by many, many degrees. The improvement in standards was really noticeable. Newcomers to Kunselling are sometimes, I think, surprised by the communal effort that is necessary to clean up and provide for twenty people, all day, every day and we are all volunteers. There are no paid staff whatsoever to provide the back up you would find in a B and B or a hotel and no paid staff to cook. On the whole though, the systems put in place to galvanise the participants to put in enough Karma Yoga to keep us afloat worked pretty well. As one who has organised many retreats in Kunselling over the years, I know how hard it is to keep the show on the road and the participants working as a team when we all have strong ideas about how things should be done, but I think Stephanie did a great job and would like to thank her for it. Every retreat organiser has a different style and I take my hat off to Steph’s kind heart and supportive nature – in comparison I feel like a very stroppy and impatient mare indeed! We all look for the perfect cooking system but never find it – I have decided that the fact that we all eat and the kitchen is in reasonable shape at the end of a week is a good outcome and one for which we should all be thankful. No one left the premises in a strop and no one died and the organiser did not have a nervy B. That is good going.
I should report that someone did die but not on the premises. Ruth Sparks was a dancer for many years and attended this retreat many times. We were all very fond of her and were always thinking of her on this retreat. She had been suffering from Motor Neurone disease for some time and was now living in a nursing home. Anna as usual was circulating a card for us all to sign and send to her and Peter and I were discussing his upcoming visit to her and if we could offer any more Dzogchen style support to her in a difficult situation, when the news came through on Thursday morning that Ruth had died at 8.30 am. Anna and Mark had also been remembering her that morning and we were all very sad. How fortunate however, that we were all able to practise Xitro for her that evening in the Gonpa at Kunselling where she spent so many practice hours herself. Rowan led this beautiful practice and we all made our best efforts on Ruth’s behalf. She was such a lively, wise and powerful woman. I remember her asserting her presence forcefully in the kitchen when someone threatened to mix something novel into her signature vinaigrette dressing which was an art form in itself and brooked no deviation whatsoever from Ruth’s timeless recipe. Hers was just the best and she knew it. A funny memory of her to stick in my mind, but that is how it was… she was brave and forthright and always very clear.
The retreat came to an end and we all went our separate ways but with lots of happy memories which will come back again and again whenever or wherever we are practising the Vajra Dance. After the last dance session, we were all sitting around on the Mandala feeling a bit tired and sad and suddenly someone set up a kind of Mexican wave where we all joined hands and spontaneously sounded AAHHH. Faces lit up and smiles on every face. Indescribable in words, so here is the event captured :