My Highlight of 2012: a 5-day Silent Retreat at Bodhi Khaya

I was fortunate enough to secure a last-minute space on the long-weekend silent retreat that Sue Cooper facilitated at the beautiful Bodhi Khaya in the run-up to Christmas, and it has got to rank up there as my number one experience of last year.

2012 was a year of huge change and upheaval for me, on many different levels, what with moving house twice, the loss of my very precious Granny, and a number of other personal challenges. So when I read about this retreat, entitled ‘Finding Balance in the Midst of Change’, I leapt at the opportunity to attend – even though it was just a week before it was due to run. Sue very gently let me know that it had been booked out for months already, but assured me that she’d get in touch if there was a cancellation. I can’t recall the last time I put as much energy into willing this to happen as I did that week, and with just days to go, I got the beautiful phone call to tell me that there had indeed been a cancellation, and I’d better pack my bags.

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I’ve attended a semi-silent retreat before, with Cheryl Lancellas of SA Yoga Safaris at the Blue Butterfly Resort in Tulbagh (with my yoga besties, Nicole Shea and Leli Hoch) but never anything as intense as this promised to be, so there was an element of apprehension as the time drew closer, however this was replaced by a huge sense of relief, gratitude and curiosity as the day dawned. As I took the turn-off to Bodhi Khaya, between Gansbaai and Stanford, it struck me that this was exactly the road on which our very special family friends, the Harrods, used to own a farm called Grootbos (next door to what is now a game reserve by the same name), and as I drove into the actual gates of Bodhi Khaya, I realised that this was, indeed, the farm that the Harrods had owned a number of years back. It was an emotional realisation and led to an overwhelming feeling of coming home, of belonging, of being safe, and of being exactly where I was supposed to be. The last time I’d been on the farm was around 1998 or 1999, just before I left to go to London, and yet it felt like yesterday. At the time, I was in the process of getting over a very painful breakup, and I remember how the peace, quiet and beauty of the farm and its surrounds were like a balm to my raw emotions. And here I was again, feeling decidedly delicate, and once again almost felt that my breath was taken away by the natural beauty of the place.

The retreat was the most amazing, uplifting, healing and enlightening experience that I have ever had. The silence was simultaneously challenging and beautiful, and I honestly have never been in a place that appealed to my senses on so many levels and in such an intense manner. The crisp white bed linen, the green of the trees, the flavours and textures of the exquisite food that we were presented with each day, the blue of the sky, the silky feeling of the water in the two mountain ponds, the pinks of the water lilies, the breeze on my skin as we did Chi Kung under the swaying trees, the smell of the incense as we sat down to each of the many meditation sessions that took place each day, the sensation of the grass crunching underfoot as I walked to the horses’ paddock and the roughness of the path as I walked the labyrinth, the feeling of my yoga mat underfoot as I practiced every day, the sound of the chickens clucking as I lay on my back looking up at the clouds in the day and the sound of the night jars as I lay on my back looking up at the stars at night.. perhaps it was the silence that seemed to enhance everything about the long weekend. Whatever the reason, it was a tonic and a privilege to experience.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course – being alone with one’s self for such an extended period of time, and without all the usual distractions, means that you have no choice but to sit down with all the different emotions and issues that may arise, look them squarely in the eye, and figure out how it is that you are going to move forward embracing these things rather than trying to push them out of the way or pretend that they don’t exist. It was a safe and nurturing environment in which to do this, and I came away from it with a deep sense of peace and acceptance, as well as forgiveness – for others that I may have been harbouring anger and resentment towards for a long time, but specifically forgiveness for myself, for all the ‘wrong’ decisions and actions that I may have made and done in the past, and that I’m no doubt still going to make and do in the future. The theme may have been ‘finding balance in the midst of change’ but one of the biggest things that I got out of it was a rediscovery of what it feels like to be kind and compassionate towards myself. Sue, wonderful Sue, refers to ‘holding oneself in an embrace of compassionate awareness’, and this is something that I have carried with me every day since I got back.

On the last day, when we were permitted to talk again, I found that I just wasn’t ready for it. The chat seemed so noisy, so superficial, so intrusive. It took me a number of hours before I felt that I was ready to re-enter the ‘normal’ world, and to leave the magical playground of Bodhi Khaya / Grootbos behind, but of course life doesn’t stop – even though it did feel like a period of suspended reality – and now the on-going challenge is to attempt to maintain the same level of awareness, consciousness and mindfulness as I walk through my regular life. I have already signed up to go to Sue’s next silent retreat in the run-up to Christmas this year, and I cannot wait!

by Nicci Cloete

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Cycles and celebrations

It is such a cliché, I know, but it truly feels like yesterday that I arrived at Bodhi Khaya in my old beat-up Mercedes affectionately known as Bertha. I moved into Honeysuckle next to the office exactly a year ago.

Looking back at the year that has passed, I am amazed at all the experiences that have made up this cycle. Living in this magical valley, so close to nature, one is especially aware of the changing seasons and how each time of the year has its own charm. At the moment it is all cosy fires and delicious soups, beanies and dashing woollen scarves when we venture out together as a team to Stanford for a treat.

Just the other day, it was summer and we swam in the dams surrounded by water lilies, chased by the odd turtle and chorused by frogs. Which conjures up the lovely Paul McCartney song, “We all stand together”. It reminds me of how to live in community – a lesson which has been a big part of the past year – and how to be a chosen family in a real and authentic sense. We get to know one another, giving and receiving compassion, both in our own small band and also in the broader circle of groups who visit us.

It is wonderful to recognize and connect with our regular guests as they return to us again and again. It certainly feels as if they are also part of our spiritual family. I sometimes catch myself saying , “Welcome home” when a familiar face greets me as the participants on a weekend retreat arrive in the parking lot. Each new group that arrives begins a new cycle of getting to know the energy and flow that makes them unique. Followed by a welcoming, when they return. As we greet them when they leave, there is often a sense that we will meet again – that they will, almost certainly, find their way back here at some point.

 

It is often through the eyes of the returning visitors that we are reminded of growth, expansion and many reasons to celebrate. Our little shop, now a year old, has grown and flourished under Chantel’s loving care and creativity. It is no longer so little… It has become a bright and bustling space with many beautiful and colourful items ranging from clothes, books, CDs to candles, Zen chairs and other meditation accessories just to name a few. We often find delight in each new item as it arrives, but it is when guests remark on how the shop has grown and changed or how beautiful this or that at Bodhi Khaya is looking that we become aware again that the only constant in life is change. Exciting! Challenging at times, never boring, and with just enough repetition in the cycles to help us find our way and keep our balance.

Perdita Van Dijk Du Bois

Bliss is the balance

Eating breakfast at the Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay this morning, I saw a whale breaching and waves of delicious pleasure rippled through my body. Is this my usual response to the magical delight of a breaching whale?  Only when my heart is open and I am dropped deeply into my undefended self does my body respond with such spontaneous receptivity to the ecstatic energy of the “fathomless body” of a whale.  A weekend of dancing “The bliss-filled body” at Bodhi Khaya, has left me energized, exhilarated, exhausted, elastic, engaged and brimful with Eros.

Seventeen beautiful dancers brought the totality of their beings onto the dance floor.  The music facilitated a deep dropping into presence where the potential held in each precious moment could be fully explored.  I danced into both my agony and my ecstasy, opening to the richness of what was there and feeling it fully in the cells of my body. In the spaces between the cells: relishing my body’s capacity to feel everything – pain, loss, grief, anger, joy, laugher, love & peace.  Touching the face of my desire.  Giving myself permission to follow my bliss.  Exploring the risky edges of intimacy, shaking, shaking, shaking myself to its core – I arrive in the aliveness of this body, this matter that merges with spirit, this drop that is in the ocean and is also the ocean.

On Saturday morning our two and a half dance is in honour of our ancestors.  As I dialogue with my lineage, dancing both the gifts and the wounds I have inherited, I process what no longer serves me well.  I shed my rigid skin and step out of my psychic structure into a more expansive space.  In deep appreciation of those that have gone before me, I and my father become one.

We danced four sessions of varying intensity. Slices of fast & slow; tender and rough, intimacy & aloneness, passion & playfulness, movement & stillness, fullness & emptiness.  Gently reminded that “Bliss is the balance that happens when we fully embrace both our shadow and our light and come to rest in love.”

Dancer - Courtesy of Hendrik

With gratitude to Shakti for her fierce wisdom, for a fabulous & funky playlist and for the limitless possibilities created and contained by her skillful facilitation.

With gratitude to David, Perdita and Chantel for their quiet and gentle but efficient presences.

With gratitude to Nina for taste sensations that explode in your mouth.

With gratitude to Bodhi Khaya for its beauty and for the energy of the place.

With gratitude to the other dancers for daring to be both powerful & vulnerable.

Rhianne Van Der Linde