Science and Mysticism together
PHIL DYER, Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre
Stories from the Mountain:
As most of you know in October I moved from Oxford-Cust
Anglican Parish to take
up a voluntary position with the Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre, and hour and
a half SW of Nelson. It is with some surprise that I realise I have been here now for
three months. I know some of you have send cards and emails, and as a way of
replying in part to those, and to make contact with others of you, I thought I would write
down a few observations about my time so far in this remove area of the Nelson-Buller region.
At present we are in the middle of a Feldenkrais Retreat
taken by a Nelson Feldenkrais
Practitioner, Leander Kane. For those of you who have never heard of Feldenkrais – nor
had I before coming to Wangapeka - Feldenkrais began by an Israeli man who mid last
century devised a series of body movements to assist people regain some of their lost
movement and generally improve people’s health. The movements are often done lying
down and involve manipulating the body with small stretching movements followed by
periods of rest, then walking and noting how the body feels following the movements.
On the surface they may seem rather fussy and pointless. I was aware that early
December I attended a week long Feldenkrais retreat here and found my body ached
and complained every time I tried another movement, and so was rather skeptical about
the value of the whole process. 6 weeks later I find I can do all the movements with no
pain whatsoever, and have a lot more freedom in moving my body, which is great especially
in the back and neck areas. We have in this group an American visitor who has a frozen
ankle. Within a day he is able to move it with a new degree of flexibility. To hear his
wonder and appreciation is sufficient testimony in itself to the value of this programme.
Leander takes about half a dozen retreats a year and little wonder the two she has held
since I have been here have both full.
In a way that is not a bad place to begin about talking
about Wangapeka, because some
of you may have heard "Buddhist" associated with the retreat centre and wonder how
Christians fit into the centre. True, the centre was established by a Canadian Buddhist
Teacher, Namgyal Rinpoche, but his major concern was to explore and discover the
mystery and complexity of our world and universe. He was much more into natural
science than into teaching traditional religion per se, and encouraged his students to
explore themselves and the world around them using all their senses. His hope was to
develop an inquiring mind. Leander, is one of his students and provides one aspect of the
breadth of retreat work run at the Wangapeka.
Another example is James who lives a short distance away
and was one of the first caretakers
here and who planted about 15,000 trees which have transformed the landscape from the
original bare wind swept hillside. He owns a 6 inch reflector telescope. I have been to visit
him two nights so far. To study the craters on the moon or see the rings around Saturn,
or to view the nebulae in Orion’s sword and know that you are looking at a nursery for new
stars, or gaze into the two Magellanic clouds near the Southern Cross and realise that you
are looking at two galleries around 170,000 light years away - the larger having something
like 10,000 million stars, and both galaxies once travelled through our galaxy, again is quite
Tarchin, the resident teacher here, is bring back a special
filter for his telescope which
makes it possible to study the sun spots. That will be another first for me. It was interesting
that sunspots were first seen by Galileo, and perhaps his seeing them was the final straw
in his conflict with what he was discovering through his telescope and the church who, i
n this case, denied the possibility of the sun having spots since it was an analogy for the
divine and so would be perfect.
All this has given opportunity for me to develop an interest
in astronomy. Wangapeka being
a long way from the city has a brilliant night sky (when there are no clouds) and I am
gradually becoming familiar with some of the star groups although it is far easier identifying
them in a book than in the sky, and have ordered a book that tells the legends associated
with the major consolations. The other trouble I find is staying awake to see them!
Our day here begins around 6am. We meet each morning before
breakfast for three quarter
of an hours "quiet time" in the meditation hall. Shortly after 8 work begins until lunch around
1-1.30pm. A snooze seems a good way to fill in the next hour or so during the heat of the
afternoon, followed by a couple of hours more work before the evening meditation, then bed
comes often sooner than later. So the days – and weeks - slip away quite quickly.
The first two months I was working in the office doing
the administration work for the
centre - first learning it from Christine who was leaving, then after Christmas passing
on what I had learnt to Sue, an Aussie Social Worker, who was taking over as Office
Caretaker. It all felt rather like running a Parish Office – with some differences - and I
was looking forward to getting out doors which is where I have been working since 10th Jan.
My day now has mainly been clearing trails, splitting wood and developing a new track
along the stream to a small waterfall and pool which looks rather idyllic. Living on a steep
hillside means that it is exercise wherever you go, and I am beginning to find that easier.
We have had 6 retreats since I have been here. The first
was an outside group, a Zen Mountains
& Rivers Group who booked the centre, then 2 Feldenkrais retreats, a Meditation Weekend
for whoever would like to come, and a family retreat after Christmas to which Barbra and
Destiny also came. This is the only retreat we have children and with 18 children and 18
extra adults it all gave quite a different feel to the place. It is interesting to note the change
in energies as groups come and go. We also have regular Wwoofers (Willing workers on
organic farms) who exchange (hard) labour for board. There is no shortage of work, and
while some of you are in drought conditions we still growing grass, bracken and brambles.
The "Wwoofers" have come from a variety of overseas countries – we have had several
from Germany. The last group were two from Austria, an English woman and two from
Australia. It is easy way to do armchair travelling, and many interesting discussions
have resulted, including when they discover I’m an ordained Anglican Priest. Most
have had past church contact, usually not an encouraging experience. Hopefully our
conversations gives them pause for thought. I have my two books on sale and have sold a few.
At present I am working on two written pieces. In 1981
Namgyal Rinpoche took a group
of people on a cargo freighter from Canada to Wales via the Mediterranean, circumnavigating
Africa in the process. The trip took 5 months during which time he gave three classes a day.
One of his students, Cecilie Kwait who is now a teacher in her own right, kept notes and
wrote them up and they were published. It is now out of print and the publisher doesn’t want
to reprint so I am slowly scanning the 460 paged book and have a quote from the publisher
I use for printing it.
The second piece is a reflection on the Book of Psalms
– "Echoes of Wisdom". I hope
to publish that illustrated with black and white photos. It is an interesting exercise, and
a good way to become familiar with the Psalms and the mindset and faith of the writers.
Some of the Psalms pose quite a challenge – and having just spent time on Psalm 68,
where God wanders the heavens creating death and disaster – I am reminded of the
comments on astronomy and here is a draft sample:
When I contemplate the awesome power of nature,
its full fury released
in lightening or storm,
volcano or earthquake,
creating and destroying
birthing and reclaiming,
how weak are human efforts in comparison.
Or when I contemplate the vast distances of space;
the fearful power that gave birth to our galaxy;
nebulae and supernova
black holes and quasars,
who are we and of what importance are our petty concerns?
Yet the power that holds all these things together
is present in the sick,
and the destitute,
carrying their burdens day after day.
May we who have journeyed safely thus far,
who have known the guidance and protection of others
and drunk from the cup of creation’s generosity,
tell out our story with praise and thanksgiving.
And from this day forth
dedicate all our life’s energies
to the welfare of all beings.
Sarva Mangalam - All is Blessing
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