It begins on Friday afternoon at the airport, meeting long-time member David Pooch from Auckland. He is an interesting companion for the drive and one of our valued Board members who demonstrates that distance is no deterrent to fully participating in regular meetings through clever technology.
We enjoy the hourʼs drive of winding roads, hillsides glowing in late afternoon sun, the increasing hectares of hop vine poles, the Tadmore oaks in their naked winter beauty and now thankfully find the river road is recently graded. Our gate is open and inviting and the steep drive easy to negotiate after continuing work by Guy and helpers. We arrive just before dark and join others gathered around the wood stove, drinking cups of tea, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
On the white board we see a neatly written programme showing the considered planning that has gone into the weekend. Itʼs a relaxing evening as we enjoy excellent fare from the kitchen and bask in the welcoming atmosphere. Then some of us prepare for the rain and walk to the whare for a quiet sit together.
Then comes Saturday morning offering meditation in the whare for early risers followed by breakfast at 7 with time to prepare for the dayʼs programme to begin at 9. So here we are more or less on time gathered in the hall which has been cleared of dining tables. There are around two dozen of us with ages ranging from only a few years to approaching four score. I need to say here that all the younger generation are a delight, quiet if necessary but playful and helpful at other times.
We begin the session in a large, seated circle to prepare for focused listening and sharing throughout the day. Then the Board members and Caretakers, Guy and Faith, are asked to form an inner circle facing each other while the rest of us keep an outer circle of listeners. Throughout the morningʼs three sessions the inner circle members respond individually to some questions offered by Duncan, previous co-ordinator. There is a wonderful speakerʼs rock, a fossilised whaleʼs ear, which the first person ready to speak holds while talking for as long as they wish. Then it is passed to their lefthand neighbour as we continue attentive listening. This proves an excellent safe way for each of this Centre Circle to share their personal experiences, challenges and ideas within their group and to be heard by us too.
Then a sumptuous, colourful lunch appears from the kitchen where Ronnie from Britain is the creative chef-in-chief, a role she has volunteered over the past few months. Afterwards as itʼs crisp and sunny some take the free time to walk around and appreciate some of the recent outdoor work including the new bridge on the Waterfall track, large water pipes ready to be installed to safeguard the water supply, and maybe some find the new Yongdu hut.
At 3 oʼclock we reconvene in one large circle. The whale ear is ready on the table and now it is the chance for us from the outer circle to individually share our responses to what we received as listeners. Again this is a very valuable sharing. Later we share more delicious bread and soup and the evening unfolds as yesterday but our walk to the whare is lighted by the three quarter moon in a clear sky.
On Sunday morning we gather once more to be with two ʻEldersʼ, Keith Rowan and Bonni Ross as they sit up front for us to ʻeavesdropʼ their conversation. We are happy to hear some personal stories of their connections with Namgyal Rinpoche and the teaching which founded this Centre and brings them here now as Elders offering their opinion and support when asked. This brings about shared discussion about Wangapeka and the practice of buddha dharma. It feels like this time of discussion could continue all day but then itʼs time for the AGM which flows easily. Our financial state is currently healthy and meticulously detailed by Pierre – other reports are given and current Board members are re-elected unanimously as is Karen from Christchurch. She and partner Glen have been energetic and supportive members for a long time and now, though living far from Nelson like David and Mira, she will have some time and the technology to be fully involved in the ʻnuts and boltsʼ of Wangapeka life.
All is rounded off with another fine meal before packing up and being sure that all is as beautifully clean and tidy before we go our various ways. This is a sort of texted diary of my experience and there will be much more to hear from others about this weekend which I believe achieved a great deal. It gave each one of us the opportunity to listen, absorb, consider and then share from the heart. There was time and space, warmth, safety and lots of laughter along with a few tears.
The outcome for me is gratitude for a continuing refuge within the Wangapeka family and for all the dedicated time and effort given by our caretakers, trustees, other members and teachers for the benefit of all. This can be taken for granted by those who only visit occasionally so it was valuable to learn more about each other and the functioning and challenges of the Centre. It was generally agreed that good communication is vital so I trust that the ʻinner circleʼ will both inform, ask for and receive what is needed from the membership – AND we need more members to join us – more people who will contribute whatever they can in continuing support of this precious Retreat Centre built by voluntary labour, heartfelt passion, skills and donation. So now I give thanks for a stimulating, informative and happy weekend,