Today was a good day. A long awaited visit to the Buddhist Retreat Centre was exactly what Damian and I both needed.
108km from Howick, I found our way via Pietermaritzburg, travelling through rural Kwazulu Natal – trees and valleys in abundance. For some distance we had a vehicle in front of us towing a trailer with a horse in it. The trailer was too wide for one horse, and the poor animal was struggling to stay on its feet on the winding and bumpy roads, tugging at Damian’s compassionate heart. He kept asking me to take it out.
I missed the turnoff initially, thinking it to be in Ixopo itself, not realising it was 4km before Ixopo. We arrived at the entrance, and driving down the tree-lined paths, immediately felt a sense of calm. First stop was reception where we met the staff on duty. Having been 8 years since my last visit, I needed a little reminding of where everything was. The retreat is not wheelchair friendly at all, which I was informed about before hand, so I managed by carrying Damian in the backpack for all the walking, and using his buggy during lunch in the dining hall.
Our first visit had to be the statue of the Buddha, which was an opportunity for me to explain to Damian that Buddha was a prince who, having never been outside of the palace walls, one day found himself out with the ordinary folk, exposed to suffering and poverty, and then leaving behind his life of luxury to go out and teach compassion and loving kindness.
Next we visited the zen garden, sitting a while in contemplation. Though the sand had been neatly raked and patterned, autumn had deposited leaves and debris. The comparison came to mind that the clear mind we hope to achieve in meditation is often ‘littered’ with the debris of our busy thoughts. Damian was restless and didn’t want to just sit here, so I got up and continued walking on a gentle stoned path through the trees, Damian relaxing and quietening as we went. I thought about other moms who can’t seem to find time for meditation, and realised that this form, walking, with our ‘babies’ on our backs, in arms, or prams, could be a way forward for busy moms to multi-task. Obviously it needs to be in a place of tranquility, not a busy park or suburban street.
By this time, it was 12h30 – lunchtime, so we made our way to the dining hall to join the other visitors for a hearty vegetarian lunch. Brown rice, a broccoli-based vegetable stew, roasted root vegetables, a garden salad with feta, and hot homemade brown bread. We engaged in some interesting conversation with the people from our table – some from Durban, others from Joburg, and one – the new member of staff who had just arrived the day before – a fellow Cape Townian.
After lunch we set out walking again, and after making our way down one pathway and back, we were delighted to come across the labyrinth. We set our intentions to walk towards the centre, mindfully to find our way to the heart of what we want for our lives going forward. This is in alignment with this part of our travels – finding a gentler way to live and the way forward. By the time we reached the centre, Damian and I had a consensus of what we want in our future, but still a little disagreement on ‘where’ we want to be based.
A quiet half hour cloaked in orange robes in the meditation hall with only the lovely sounds of the turtle doves, and I was amazed at the absence of Damian’s earlier restlessness and impressed with his ability to sit in silence and serenity.
Milo in front of a crackling fire in the meeting room next to the library, and a warmth seeing the inclusion of books from all religions on the shelves – a reminder that there are many paths and we need to respect others’ choice to choose theirs. This was followed by our final walk of the day – through the woods to the stupa and an amazing view of the valley below. I asked Damian if there was anywhere he wanted to go one last time and he asked to go to the Buddha statue again, waving and saying “Bye Buddha, see you next time” as we left.
Driving home was opportunity to explain how Buddhism differes from Christianity and other religions and an agreement that this would be a good subject to explore in our new homeschooling endeavours.
Back home at dinner, Damian was happy to have his wheelchair back, and chattered away about the retreat, obviously having been impressed. He told me he wants to sit on Buddha’s lap for a photo.