A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a day-long meditation retreat with Southsea Sangha. It took place on Sunday 29th April at Portsmouth High School. The focus of the retreat was a visiting Buddhist Dharma teacher from the states, Lama Rod Owen. Daniel Sutton-Johanson, founder of Southsea Sangha, contacted Rod after reading his book (Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love & Liberation) and finding his conversations and contemplations so inspiring. He got in touch, suggested he came over to teach, and the rest is history. Daniel’s been with him on his ‘Talking Love and Liberation’ tour which was a whirlwind month delivering talks and meditations in Devon, London, Cardiff, Brighton, Sheffield and Bristol. Southsea was the last date on the itinerary before Rod headed home… and Daniel had a rest!
The day was all about practicing radical Dharma in the time of crisis. So what is Dharma? It was a new term for me but it’s a key concept in Buddhism, it’s basically the general teachings of the Buddha. I interpret it as a way of living in order to protect yourself; a set of rules, values and morals designed to improve our quality of life and find inner peace and happiness. If we find inner peace, outer peace will come naturally.
On arrival at the retreat we were able to help ourselves to fruit and herbal tea before settling on our mat (complete with cushions and blankets) that was to be our refuge for the day.
Before the retreat I was a bit worried it might all be a bit ‘deep’. The event description talked of violence, war, racism, hate etc and it all sounded rather harsh and political which isn’t really my bag. My fears were soon dispelled the minute Rod introduced himself; he was gentle, funny and calming. One of the things I’d read about him before the retreat was ‘he delivers his knowledge in a way that says ‘I’m just like you, no better and no worse’ and that really came across. His main message was that compassion lies at the heart of our effectiveness as change makers and he was teaching/encouraging us to define compassion in our own lives. I related to him as one human being to another despite living in different countries and having zero in common. I’m sure most people in the room felt that connection too.
In the first meditation, we looked at the seven steps to refuge which ended with a visualisation exercise. We were encouraged to find a state of not being too rigid or too relaxed by imagining pouring ourselves into a container; not a glass jar but perhaps a milk container that would allow the form to flow. Afterwards, there was time for questions before undertaking a walking meditation. We all walked around the venue and grounds; silent, heads down, slow pace. It was a brilliant opportunity to continue the visualisation practice, feel at one with nature and feel a physical release.
After lunch, there were more teachings and another Q&A session before a guided self-compassion meditation. We were encouraged to let our bodies soften through the breath before bringing to mind someone who has shown us unconditional love and acceptance, to imagine them as clearly as possible. Someone who knows you, who sees you, who knows
even the things you try to hide from others and yourself. They know all this and yet they accept you fully. We were guided to feel a shining light coming from our benefactor. This was such a powerful meditation for me. I could see the person so clearly, it made me cry.
The lessons I took from the day just reinforced how I live my life anyway but I found it especially poignant when we talked of others hurting us from their own pain as this is something I’ve definitely experienced. It’s all about forgiving, not forgetting but wanting people to be happy. Receiving advice from Rod about not taking on other people’s pain and suffering was so valuable to me. I know it’s not ours to deal with but as an empath, it’s something I personally struggle with.
What a day!
In my quest to find out the meaning of the word Dharma, I found out the meaning of the word Sangha (sorry if I’m teaching you how to suck eggs here). The Sangha means ‘the monastic community who provide guidance and support to followers of the Buddha’.
Southsea Sangha meditate every Sunday evening (6-7pm) at Portsmouth Yoga on Albert Road, it’s run on a ‘dana’ basis which means there’s no set fee but you pay what you can afford. They also meditate on the beach every Wednesday morning at 7am (if only my toddler was into meditating). They run retreats like this throughout the year (including a retreat with Noah Levine at the Sustainability Centre in August, it includes yoga practice which I love so I’m VERY tempted to book).
Check out the Southsea Sangha website for full information on their events and to book tickets. There is A LOT going on and plenty to get involved with.
By Helen Ruff