By Anton Krueger, Jan 2020

An intrepid group of five from Grahamstown (Makhanda) completed their three-year Tara Rokpa Therapy “Back to Beginnings” process with a Birth Retreat from 3-9 January. TRT was developed by Akong Rinpoche for those, as he put it, who did not necessarily “have a feeling for religion”, but who still wanted to benefit from the great wisdom techniques cultivated by Tibetan Buddhism during the past 1000 years. By means of visualisation, painting, writing, massage, and various other practices, TRT carefully guides participants through a compassionate self-reflection of their lives, helping them to find balance, clarifying expectations and resentments, and leading to greater understanding of themselves and their environment.

The Grahamstown group was privileged to have two outstanding Tara Rokpa therapists facilitating their process of revisiting the earliest years of their lives – Trish Swift from Zimbabwe and Stephen Storm from Germany. The therapists were supported by two highly skilled helpers (Pippa Cope and Bev Taylor) who held the space with grace and kindness, offering excellent support for the “birthing” process. Over a period of five days, the therapists guided retreatants through a series of relaxations and visualisations, encouraging them via artmaking and creative expression to explore their formative connections with the world.

One of the aspects of the TRT process involves reflecting on one’s life backwards – from the present until the moment of birth – and then forwards and backwards once more. Most participants do this in writing, though it’s also possible to use painting and other forms. In this way, one is able to gain an insight into causality, noticing patterns which have emerged over time. At a Birth Retreat, the process culminates in a final review before paintings and writings are joyously burnt in a cleansing fire, releasing one from attachment to repeated patterns and habits which have held us back, freeing one from the burden of the past which so many of us continue to carry with us.

Tara Rokpa groups are self-organising. The process relies on deep internal processes carefully working with the skilful tools developed by Akong Rinpoche, so that we, in effect, “become our own therapists.” Much of the work involves balancing different aspects within oneself, rather than setting up binaries of what is “good” or “bad.” The focus is also on allowing space for personal inner reflection, rather than on the content of one’s past. So, although group members support each other in their individual journeys, none of the sessions are confessional.

Another Birth Retreat will be held at TRC with a Back to Beginnings group from Cape Town a bit later in the year. Since this is a closed process, new participants would not be able to join at this stage; however, anybody is welcome to create their own TRT group and make a start with this extraordinarily rich process. TRT groups are self-governing, requiring regular meetings, and input from trained guest therapists who hold three-weekend workshops per year with groups. If anybody is interested in starting their own Back to Beginnings group, please contact one of the following Tara Rokpa therapists for guidance: Trish Swift (trishrokpa@zol.co.zw), Jayne Pilossof (jaynepilossof@gmail.com), Stephen Storm (stormtrt@gmx.net).