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POPLAR GROVE NEWSLETTER & RETREAT PROGRAMME - APRIL 2022

Dear friends

It feels like a long time since our last newsletter. This one is to bring you up to date with the news, to thank those who have been supporting us, to set out the retreat programme for the second half of 2022, and to share some practice thoughts with you.

DANA

As always, I need to begin by thanking all of you who support our work here, financially or in kind or by coming to Poplar Grove for Zen practice. As I say each time, we never take this support for granted. It has enabled Margie Tae Ja, Osho, to not only maintain our help for the karretjies-squatter families outside Colesberg but to also support a needy local old-age home and pre-school. Whenever people give thanks to her, she says the people to thank are the friends of Poplar Grove. And at home, our response to your generosity is to make this place available for you in the best way we can – to care for the rooms, Zendo and surroundings and to be a place of authentic Zen practice.

NEWS

General: It is already cold and frosted in the Karoo. The leaves in the grove are turning yellow. Winter underwear, warm bedding and gas heaters have been unpacked, wood is being cut for fires, the Aga is about to be lit, and the secondary glazing is being installed on the main house windows. Out in the veld beautiful white grass stretches to the horizon.

It has been an unusually wet summer this year – so fascinating to live in the midst of all the subtle and not-so-subtle changes here. Happily, the earth dams are full and water is running through the poplar grove again. The veld is well covered and there are grasses and birds that have not been seen here for a decade. Together with this, of course, are locusts, mosquitoes, internet breakdowns, leaking roofs and ruined farm roads. The Poplar Grove gang has been out with spades and shovels to fix the roughest parts of the Oorlogspoort road but the continual rains mock our efforts. And while those with splashable vehicles make an adventure of driving to the farm, others have had to leave their cars or motorbikes in town and be fetched.

My three books, Stoep Zen, Zen Dust and Mzansi Zen, have been selling well, both to visitors on retreat and through the mail. Sadly, Stoep Zen has run out of stock and I am exploring options to make it available again as the demand continues, even after the seventh re-print! As mentioned before, I had a great time recording audio readings of the books and we are waiting to hear when they will be available. One exciting outcome of the demise of Stoep Zen has been the plan to start work on a new book, so at some point I hope to be able to take time off to focus on that – perhaps next year……

Precepts: Since the last newsletter, we have received more preceptees into our PGZ family. In November 2021 we welcomed Lucy Antei Alexander, Alex Shunsho Johnson and Despina Seishi Forbes. In March 2022 Nick van der Hoven took precepts with the Dharma name Dokan. It is encouraging that so many people continue to come to Poplar Grove in order to do Zen practice and that they are keen to make this formal gesture of commitment and support.

Stoep Zen Podcasts: These podcasts are continuing to attract interest and a regular listenership both in South Africa and elsewhere and I must thank once more all those who volunteer their skill and enthusiasm for this project. The link for podcasts is https://anchor.fm/stoepzen-podcasts (though I am told there are also other links for this).

Monthly Zoom Practice continues to be hosted by Christine Butsukei Nachmann (link: cnachmann@gmail.com) on the first Sunday of each month - thank you Christine and Ryan. These practice meetings are attracting regular support and it is wonderful to see the growth of this monthly on-line community.

Retreats: With the relaxation of Covid lockdown restrictions, we are able to have more persons on retreat. So we are looking to adapt one or two more rooms; this can only happen as money becomes available, so it may take some time and we also need to ensure that Poplar Grove is structured in a way that allows practice to continue even if health restrictions are tightened again later. The basic style of practice remains essentially what it has been over the last two years, with a mixture of formal communal Zen practice and own-responsibility VeldZen practice.

Within this basic style, we continue to make adjustments. We have noticed that in each month a group has taken the initiative to do a more formal week-long retreat, while for the remainder of the time people have been content to practise less formally. As this is already happening anyway, we have decided to set a week’s formal retreat into the calendar for each month during the last half of 2022, leaving the rest of the time open for individual or small-group veld practice (with the daily support of our morning and evening Zendo). So for the second half of 2022 we will structure retreat times to reflect this pattern. Although the numbers may still be smaller, there will now be more formal retreats than there used to be, and Margie Tae Ja is exploring options for a communal midday meal with each such group. A pattern is developing of friends joining together to come on retreat so that they can share traveling costs and also make their own contributions to the retreat structure. And please note that cellphone/internet use during formal retreats will be more restricted than in the past. We will be closed in deep winter (Mid-June to end August) and in December, as usual.

POPLAR GROVE RETREAT PROGRAMME SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2022

The organic style of rolling retreat is working nicely but, as mentioned above, from the continuing demand for more traditional retreats (together with the relaxation of Covid restrictions), a week each month will be earmarked for formal Zen retreat. This programme, which is set out below, will also be posted on the stoepzen.co.za website. The accommodation available consists of five self-catering units; two single rooms and three that can take singles, couples or two singles sharing. For retreat enquiries the address is margie@stoepzen.co.za.

Formal Retreats                             

Dates:   17-24 September 2022
               8-15 October 2022
             26 November – 3 December 2022

Schedule: Sunrise Walk – Morning Zendo – Breakfast – Dharma Talk/Zazen/Interviews/Work – Lunch – Individual Veld practice – Zazen - Supper - Sunset Veld practice – Evening Zendo. Cellphone/internet usage on arrival and before departure.

Informal/Own Retreats

Dates: All times in September, October, November 2022 that are not taken up by formal retreats and subject to availability.

Schedule: Morning and evening communal Zendo Practice, the rest of the time as individual VeldZen practice – meetings with teacher on request. Cell phone usage by arrangement.

PRACTICE NOTE

This morning I looked at the long list of Poplar Grove Zendo preceptees – all 85! – and wonder where some of them have gone. I remember the enthusiasm that once spilled over for them here when they took their vows. And I want to encourage them to come and find that energy once more, that quiet current of aliveness that appears by itself on an in-person retreat, when the mind and body have a chance to be still and clear and connected. Of course, I am not only talking about those who took precepts, I am talking about us all.

Genuine retreat practice is not dependent on having any particular style, size or length of retreat; it is only dependent on the willingness to turn up and give ourselves to a setting that supports the deepening of our life. At PGZ we live in the veld far from town, we use candles for light and long drops for ablutions; so we do veld practice, candle practice, long drop practice. Then there is no problem.  Later, when we go back to the city, our practice goes with us; we do traffic practice and family practice and there is no problem there either. Our style is not based on like or dislike, right or wrong, hard or soft; it is based on finding our life wherever we are and whoever we are with. But retreats are a fundamental building block of this. 

This sounds simple – and it is – but we know it is not always easy. There are so many things pulling us away that the call to set aside time for retreat begins to fade; we find reasons to stay at home and we believe what we think. But it is my job to blow on the embers of your commitment. And it is with great appreciation that we welcome those who make regular retreat practice a part of their life.  

So, when we hesitate to get in the car for such a long journey to such a far place, we turn the key anyway and take to the road, because our direction is stronger than our hesitation. And when we come to do retreat in this way, our resolve is already deep. We find support in the teachings and in the friendships; in the blue sky and wide veld, in the grove and stream, in the silence, in the pots and pans and cushions, in the absence of internet and in the presence of others who value the same thing. Then we are simply – as Chuang Tzu put it – wandering boundless and free in the selfless unfolding of things. We look forward to seeing you here, dear friends!

                                                                                      - 0 -

With affection and gratitude to you all from the autumn of Poplar Grove,
Antony and Margie Osler (Dae Chong and Tae Ja Do, Oshos)
April 2022

 
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