“To live in the fullness of time” ¹

Spanning almost two days, Ani Tsondru’s Wilderness Within retreat (Aug 31-Sept 2, 2018), was a container of spaciousness, nature walks, silent contemplation, poetry, and heart-centered discussions. The core modules are drawn from eco-philosopher and activist Joanna Macy’s pioneering Work that Reconnects. Having had the privilege to participate in two of Joanna’s workshops in the winter of 2014-2015 while staying in the Bay Area, I was excited to experience it through a Kagyu teacher, and was thrilled that TRC’s natural surrounding was fully integrated into the workshop.

In the first morning, Ani Tsondru led a silent walk through one of the trails behind the Octagon. We paused a couple of times to take in all the smells, sounds, and sights of the bush, hills, rocks, fragrant plants, birds, and insects, even the sound of radio from “die Stad” in the valley — while feeling the warmth of the sun and coolness of the wind. We noticed what our minds labeled as pleasant and unpleasant, and kept check on our habitual urge for mental and verbal chatter. Openness and gratitude effortlessly bubbled up as we returned again and again to each single precious moment.

In the afternoon, Ani Tsondru led us through a Council of All Beings. Prior to gathering, we spent time by ourselves on TRC grounds and allowed whatever beings wanted to speak through us. Ani Tsondru invited beings of all ten directions to gather, and then she sat in the middle our circle (to represent human beings) and listened to what the beings have to say about what is like to live on this earth. We heard from the flies, TRC’s ants, insects, water, cut wood, trophy animals, chickens, thorn trees, demi-gods, the Milky Way, etc. There were tears, wonder, and deep appreciation of all the beings as they are. During reflections afterwards, Kate remarked that none of the beings had any harsh words to say about humans despite how we have abused them to satisfy our egos and pleasures. Instead, all we heard were heartfelt wishes to simply exist.

What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

The Council of All Beings grounded us in deeper conviction of sharing our planet – the tiny blue dot of the solar system – with heart, joy, and compassion while facing our pain and grief for the ongoing ecological destruction and socio-political dysfunctions. In between meditations, Ani Tsondru read from ecologists, poets, spiritual elders, and Buddhist teachers. “Everything nature evokes in us is already right here within us,” she said.

As the group traded stories and jokes at the dinning table during breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner, we discovered our shared commitment as hands-on activists and change makers. During the last morning, Ani Tsondru explained the interconnected domains of activities we undertake for the sake of humanity and the planet – holding actions, systemic change, and spirituality. While we are familiar with the first two, spirituality is defined as a deep tuning into our subtle consciousness so we are in touch with truth. It is with the realization of this truth that we have the skillful means to act within our sphere of influence — beginning with our inner environment, our families, and beyond. In the last session, we went through a power analysis exercise where we compared what power is and what it was like when we have made a difference. The revelation was profound because we rarely turn the lens back onto ourselves to see how we exercise power and give up power in our lives through our body, speech, and mind.

Ani Tsondru wrapped up the workshop with a poignant loving-kindness meditation that begins with the white light within our heart centers, then extended to everyone in the room, then to all those we love, to those we have difficulties with, to all the beings on the planet, to the rest of the solar system, to the Milky Way, and to all the galaxies in the universe. In barely two days, we shared in the fullness of time and space, ready to go forth with new sense of inter-existence, and said farewell to our new human and doggie friends.

Irene Leung, TRC September 2018


[1] “To live in the fullness of time” is the title of one of Joanna Macy’s talks at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in February 2014. This reflection is my loose recollection of Tsunma Tsondru’s weekend workshop.