The tradition of encampments is seen in the nomadic lifestyles of the fourth to the ninth Karmapas, as they travelled through the peaks and valleys of the Tibetan landscape. Notably, it was not what the areas offered the travellers that would encourage them to set up camp for periods of time, but rather where, “the Great Encampment” saw this could be of potential benefit through the spreading of Dharma. Miraculously, centuries later, we too all travelled as well to gather for a few weeks in a Dharma Encampment of our own.

Although the heat of Southern Africa definitely differs to the icy regions of Tibet, we were all held by the structure and container of the retreat that Dónal Creedon supported. Dónal’s articulate guidance expressed a deep, tender devotion for the teachings, and with this powerful backdrop, all that was explored had a richness that penetrated our hearts. With a combination of a seriousness for what we were doing, the joy and gratitude to have the opportunity to explore these issues together, and of course Dónal’s cheeky slices of humour and questioning, the intention of changing humanity, through delving into our own minds, grew.

We began to awaken, even just a little, the lion in our hearts, as we encouraged ourselves to meet and explore the “darker” areas of the human mind, through our own experience. Together, we traversed down the dusty roads of the Rajgir hills of India to Vulture’s peak where we were exposed to the enormity and power of the words of the Heart Sutra. With reference to Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Dónal guided us through an outline of the middle way and mind -only views, which left a sense of awe at the depth and vastness of these teachings. We listened to Irish fables of the wasting illness of our world, and words from Zen masters, Shakespeare, T.S Elliot, and even Beethoven. All these shone like sparkles of a diamond that tells of something more in this life than the “single-minded efficiency” our hearts usually thud to.

The respect for the resilience and bravery of our fellow travellers created an atmosphere of care and affection between us. There was also such gratitude for all those that helped to run this, a beautiful and enriching retreat. It is not possible to stretch one’s own experience to assume that others feel the same, but I think it is safe to say that to have a teacher that is always so patient and encouraging of us to find our own truth means that Dónal’s presence and guidance was, as always, deeply cherished. So for me, I left our Dharma Encampment with a flame of magic in my heart (not in the sense of honey and cream), but rather the lion had begun to purr, and continues to encourage me to meet the darkness, to go through what I fear, and be open to what truth of humanity and life I may find there.

Sarah Sheehan, Dec 2019

Photos: Souad Hervé