Namgyal Memorial Weekend by Graham Price and Marty Stratton

Namgyal Rinpoche Celebration Weekend. Oct 20-23.2023
Graham Price & Marty Stratton.

What an opportunity. A reflection with friends dating back to the 80’s on the cherished memory of Namgyal Rinpoche and his legacy. Terry and Mala also coming! I thought a great opportunity to share my spiritual home with my partner Marty who hadn’t yet had opportunity to socialise in this space. (thanks to Catrin & Rupert who minded the 3 blind furbabies that allowed us to be here together). Was it really only 3 days? So much transformative energy present, alongside the sombre news of ongoing strife in Palestine affecting some present at the family level. I’ve invited Marty as first time visitor to Wangapeka, to intersperse his diary reflections ( in italics ) to my somewhat prosaic account.

What should I wear? I’m to be cleft from my 4G phone umbilical. Needn’t have worried, there is no phone signal! I awake to a series of strange loud high pitched chirpy noises outside cabin 9 and there is a strange glow in the half light. I’m told that this is dawn! “How am I?? –  Was that your question?”  Two days in I surprised myself with the answer that I hadn’t felt this good in years.

I have experienced spirituality in the past, my history with the church was rich and meaningful, that is until I panicked and ran from revealing my true identity at 21. Something about here; no traffic, pure birdsong, and this place being “set aside”. I am actually in a holy place, again? Thinking back, I am feeling 18 and hopeful, as I was at Bible College in the Derbyshire Countryside. I am reliving the feelings of my burnt out 30 year old party boy on a retreat for confused ex Christian gay men on the island of Iona, Scotland. Like Iona, this place feels like a “thin place”- where the divide between heaven and earth is a tissue thin breath. 

A weekend honouring “Namgyal Rinpoche”, 20 years after his passing and I still see the missing in people’s faces. I didn’t ever meet him, but It feels like I’m walking around a beautiful and huge emotional and spiritual historic meteor impact crater in the land. Namgyal has changed lives, I see only the after effects of his life. People here talk gently, laugh easily and have no interest in“draining or provoking me”. They all seem delightfully and joyfully at peace even when washing up. Ok so I fell asleep in the cabin from exhaustion during the welcome and sharing circle of memories of Namgyal; I would have felt like a shy wedding crasher anyway – there – I said it. 

Saturday morning after breakfast we head up to the Whare Wānanga for a group offering ably led by Dave Pooch. Cherished memories shared, a calm attentiveness and a poignant sense of presence and continuity. The spontaneous chirps of Chani’s young daughter echoing themes already present in the room.

Meditation. I have heard about it, but whenever I sat down to try it in a quiet space, it felt like being in a stuck lift with a mad chihuahua barking.  I was ready today though, and I knew I could do a great job , shooting down and then smothering any single errant thought which came across my super alert brain. I drank a lot of strong coffee first to make sure I was on ultra high alert. Later, a lot of quiet cursing led to the obvious question “What am I doing wrong?”  And I was told. Then I remembered I had been told that before, but thought they they were joking! It couldn’t be that easy, you surely have to sweat for enlightenment? Something about hearing the advice for the first time. It changed everything for me.

Terry and Mala led a movement session down on the grassy quadrangle outside the dining hall. A sturdy canopy providing welcome shade from the intense Spring sunshine. We were invited to explore silent movement at our own pace on welcoming grass There were some whose movement seemed like their first language and others wholeheartedly embracing the opportunity to explore an introduction to Amerta movement.

A group activity! People have always assumed I’m an extrovert. Terry and Mala led a form of  free movement expression … but I’m British. My heart thumped until I saw that I could begin small, and there was no performance aspect to it; in fact everyone else was doing their own thing on the grass without vodka or muscle relaxants. I saw this as encouragement to quietly have a go. An offered invitation to adopt a position of ‘safety’, and my eyes welled up. … (probably just winding down from a stressful job week, I thought stoically) I don’t know why I assumed the earthquake position, maybe I was being a smart ass, but I held my head and neck tightly and made a ball of my form. I soon realised that this was a space of safety and also being seen.  I think I began movement stiffly, was it too avant garde to do robotics? Why not, it’s what seemed to be surfacing- then a great and slow unlocking, like the Tin Man being oiled by Judy Garland , which I thought was ironic. Skillful support from Mala and Terry, quiet safety, and the feeling of being gently overseen and given permission to follow where ever my body seemed to want to go. Turns out my body had a lot to say and wouldn’t shut up! Its ok. I don’t have to pretend to be rigid perfection here. In the space of a few hours our teachers invited us to go deeper and express more.  The final part was team work, groups of 5 people moving together. I hid from this behind a flower arrangement. I nearly ran, but facing fears seemed to be part of the theme, and I didn’t want be the only one not to engage with the emotional bungee jump. All I truly remember as I fearfully unfolded is that I didn’t get laughed at.

Thanks to care taking Simon and Wangapeka teamwork the warm Spring days meant the centre was looking in top condition. Dana to the land became attending to those places that called… the tangled wind blown branches on the vegie garden for me. These moments of gifting attention often brings surprises. I remember once, nearly tripping over Warwick Broadhead as he was on all fours scraping out all weeds in the paving around the dining hall. He was softly weeping in a private ritual accepted by all. It takes great trust and courage to follow our prayerful impulse here, but the land invites this.

Dana to the land, I was confidently doing some battery powered trimming of grass around a rustic toilet that had been designed to look like a forest loo. I was breathing and remembering. Happy memories. I then had a strong vision of a loved one’s apology left on the soft grass for me. I had stubbornly chosen never to fully accept their offering. At the time, the hurt felt more real and i clung to it. Like green tissue wrapping, here it was again and I hungrily tore open their request for forgiveness and rubbed this balm all over my soul. Nothing is ever lost!

Terry and Mala led a beautiful ritual smoke puja outside the where. A large box of cypress leaves and a seated circle.around a fire. I noted the last available seats facing the fire were also down wind. Consequently Marty & I were triply blessed and later quips established a smoked kipper theme.
However, within the context of ritual we were earnestly releasing all, both joys and pains, for those energies to be released and carried to where they could most benefit beings. As people moved forward, actively releasing with the gesture and fragrance of dropped cypress leaves, smiles, tears, names and memories flowed. Nothing is ever wasted!

That night as we sat in a group, in a meditative space, my traumas one by one, gently placed in the fire, sweet cypress smoke rising and burning like tissue falling into the sun. The love of my dear ones, the smoke rising as fragrant offerings.There was flow and yet at the same time a stillness to my being. I felt connected to all my past memories within this, my current body. Turns out that mindful breaths can be deeply calming. The ring ring of my childhood pink bicycle bell, a joyfully moving memory- oh and I can feel movement in this bit of my back that I’m told was once flexible!I work with people intensely all day and am often very private in my own time. So this secret introvert began to learn to be around the gentle people here, inhabiting my actual quiet real self! This was a most unusual and welcomely healing shared space. 

After some further Amerta explorations the next morning both inside the dining hall and out again on the quadrangle we found ourselves fully in our bodies, searching for some small object to interact with. As a group we moved rhythmically up to the Namgyal memorial wall. The path had been beautifully swept and in the dance space that unfolded, students profoundly offered their movement prayers in silent witness.

The Namgyal memorial wall; I see the missing in peoples faces and wont speak of that which was a private matter, deeply meaningful in every way to participate in and witness. Things will not be the same again for me. I am in awe of the power of the Wangapeka space, its protectors and community. I have so much to learn here and am very grateful to be able to return to continue this journey with my own spiritual reclaiming in such good company.