A Tribute to Lara Cusdin

What would we do without Course Managers? by Mira Riddiford

Course managers are Dharmic Angels who breathe retreats into being. They know their way around an excel spreadsheet and keep a laser focussed eye on costs and the dana to the centre board. It is a simple fact that retreats can’t happen without these kind hearted souls. So I give my many thanks (on behalf of hundreds of kids and adults) to Lara Cusdin and her daughter Jaia for helping the Garden of Mindfulness retreats function for ten years. What a wonderful gift to give the next generation, one that garners much merit and growth. In part because of this generosity there is another generation of young ones coming through who LOVE the Wangapeka and all that the name means.

Lara’s been an incredibly efficient, organised, thoughtful, caring, calm and generous course manager and dharma sister. I’m very grateful to have been able to run GoM together for so many years with such stability and consistency. I’m proud of the ways we’ve worked to make it an inclusive space for all kinds of families and to support adults and kids to come together in spiritual community. Last GoM Jaia, aged 16, was my meditation teacher assistant at her own suggestion and was faultless in her care. Lara, you’ll be greatly missed, hopefully Jaia will still join us. Lara stepping down means there is an opportunity for someone to step up into the GoM course manager role – please contact Mira if you’re interested.

What is the Garden of Mindfulness? 

Well it is the longest running annual retreat at the Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre. GoM was created and taught many moons ago by Tarchin Hearn and assisted by Mary Jenkins. GoM is an opportunity for adults and children to come and enjoy the centre and receive teachings. Stalwarts Karen and Glenn Harley experienced their first GoM in 1997 with their family, and went to 15, and helped run it as part of a steering committee as a community led retreat for 10 years. Kath Mitchell and Mark Schrader have been integral for holding GoM during these years. Kath was also the children’s programme co-ordinator for a long time in the earlier years. Many other members of community also helped kept GoM running, it has been a team effort.

How I know of the struggle of being a parent and not being able to go on retreat as much as I used to. But I also have the privilege of having two children who love me, and helped me become a better human through looking after them. The Garden of Mindfulness answers this quandary: come on retreat and bring your little ones, pre-teens and teens with you! Lara and I focussed on scheduling so solo parents, or just one of the parents attending could manage well. We also focussed on including Queer families, and Maori and PoC families feeling welcomed too. Hana Park helped with us understanding tikanga (Māori customary practices) for which we are very grateful. Those who have chosen, or were unable, to have children are invited as well. Family comes in a wide range of forms.

Normalise needing sacredness in your day

The Wangapeka main hall is rustic, and it can handle little dancing fingers toddlers with tiny twinkle toes wandering around the centre like they are in a bliss realm. It can handle the big feelings of kids. We have got the space for this. One of the greatest pleasures in my life has been observing my kids feel at home in the main hall while they sip a milo. It heartens me greatly to see families explore the forested walks, having fun playing games in the quad, slipping down the water slide and being icily refreshed through summer river swims. Exploring nature is deeply healing, it is part of what we are made for.

Indeed, the Wangapeka isn’t just a playground, it is a super concentrated energy field maintained by peace and goodwill. The kids pick up on this immediately. They are closer to this dance, not long from the womb and the great mother earthiness. They can hear the whispering of the butterflies calling them forward. They view the ever changing sky, understanding there is so much more to see. Let us let the kids be kids, let them fumble, let them stumble. Let them be part of something greater at their own speed. Let us keep building a place that accepts them, and nurtures their loving hearts. Because they are our future, and they need a future to belong to.


Luan and Tamati on the swings


Hana Park and kiddos in the Octagon


Guy and Lara in the kitchen