As was unfortunately to be expected, after the summer there was a new exponential expansion of Covid-19 all over the world. Italy also went back into the storm, counting thousands of new cases every day and hundreds of deaths, closures and restrictions.
In this storm, on November 27 a friend left us, Elio Guarisco, a brother who had spent so much of his life for the Dzogchen Community. With his ability as a translator he allowed us and continues to allow us to read ancient texts from the Tibetan, giving us access to treasures expressed in a difficult language and for many of us almost inaccessible. With his experience as a practitioner he guided explanations and collective practices, leading each one of us to an increasingly concrete experience of the Teaching. With his careful and precise observations he contributed to evolving the sense of being a Dzogchen Community. With his joie de vivre in all circumstances he was always an example of how practice is not an abstract exercise.
We would like to remember him in the words of one of his latest messages:
Thanks for the concern you have shown for my health condition.
I am being treated in hospital and in one way or another
there is no reason to worry.
If you want to do practice, do for all beings not for me specifically.
After spending much of the summer at Merigar, where he guided retreats and courses, Elio returned to his home near Como in mid-September. From there a program of courses and retreats should have started again. Then came the closures and his departure was canceled due to the exponential increase in cases, which particularly affected his area. Elio was hospitalized in early November. His situation gradually worsened, intensive therapy was needed and unfortunately he left us on November 27th around 2.30pm.
At Merigar we will continue to practice Shitro every Friday at that time. We will miss him enormously.
Past and future events in Merigar
At Merigar the month of September closed with collective practices organized from 22 to 27 September, the date on which two years ago Master Chögyal Namkai Norbu left this earthly life. There was space for a limited number of participants on site for the practices of Guruyoga, Purification, Dance of the Vajra and Khaita, but the possibility for everyone to participate in webcast. September 27 was an extraordinary day. Mount Amiata awoke to the first, abundant snow of the year, a fairly rare event in September, while at dusk a wonderful double rainbow appeared in the sky.
In those days, the “Shapes and Sounds” exhibition was also organized in the Mandala Room (http://melong.com/sounds-spaces-art-exhibition-merigar/) and there was a meeting between practitioners who, in small groups, were able to exchange ideas and perspectives on the Community. The meeting was then repeated on November 1st.
From the end of September to October 3, the day in 2020 of the anniversary on which our beloved Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu left this earthly life according to the Tibetan calendar, there was an in-depth course on the Dance of the Song of the Vajra with Adriana Dal Borgo, which ended on October 3 with a Ganapuja and the invocation of Samantabhadra.
In October it was still possible to organize some face-to-face courses, including a Umed Tibetan calligraphy course with Kunga Tsering who with infinite kindness and patience guided the participants in this beautiful and artistic form of writing. We have planned a second weekend to learn Khyug cursive writing but this has been postponed until a later date. Also in October, the first of a series of Yantra Yoga weekends planned with Laura Evangelisti was possible, which will be resumed as soon as possible.
Online, on the other hand, Adriana Dal Borgo led several sessions of a Khaita course through Zoom. Given the restrictions and the difficulty of traveling, Prima Mai instead led an in-depth Vajra Dance course requested and followed by practitioners at Kunsangar North, Russia from the Mandala Hall at Merigar.
Health restrictions have increased since November, courses have been suspended and we have started an intensive webcast practice program in collaboration with Dzamling Gar. As per tradition, the days around November 1st were dedicated to Shitro. The rest of the month was devoted mainly to the practice of Tara and December is dedicated to the practice of Mandarava.
From December 26th we are planning an intensive practice retreat according to the instructions of our Master, compiled for the 1990 Easter retreat and held also this August at Merigar.
In the meantime, our dear Gekö Kostya Kostin and Laura Borel have left for Germany! We wish them well for their new adventure. The position of Gekö is vacant and we are organizing a temporary solution. If you are interested, here you can find a description of the tasks of the Gekö (https://www.merigar.it/en/dzogchen-community/geko-and-gakyil/). Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for information and applications.
Projects and works at Merigar
In recent months, various works have been undertaken, partly related to projects co-financed by the UBI (Italian Buddhist Union), namely “The Path of Awareness” and work at the Yellow House for improving areas open to the public. You can find details of these projects on the Merigar website (www.merigar.it) by clicking on Members area and then on Projects.
In brief, “The Path of Awareness” project foresees the realization of a meditative / naturalistic path, which crosses part of Merigar and connects with the network of hiking trails (path n. 13 of the Italian Alpine Club and the Parco Faunistico path). A part of this planned path was already pre-existing, enjoyed spontaneously by practitioners and occasional hikers and visitors; the project intends to redevelop, expand and enhance it. The initial project of the path drawn up for its construction dates back to 2018 but an in-depth analysis necessary for its execution revealed critical environmental issues, above all connected to hydro-geological issues and the land’s absorption of rainwater. What emerged from the ongoing maintenance of the woodland, from topographical surveys and from the first hydro-geological study, led to a rethinking of the path layout. Another significant aspect in this rethinking of the route was the need not to include the Great Stupa of Enlightenment and all its surrounding area in the general itinerary, as a means of communicating the indispensable respect for the sacredness of the place.
A part of this project also provides for the improvement of the areas open to the public at Merigar, optimizing some of the spaces on the ground floor and the external spaces of the Yellow House, with the extension of the large room towards the adjacent room currently used as storage and which will see the opening of two large windows on the south side.
Community life, which for years has seen a considerable number of visitors in the summer, will benefit by the re-organization of the outdoor space in front of the large room at the Yellow House making it a place to pause, rest and meet.
Visits were organized in this period with the landscape architect, the geologist, the engineer and the nurserymen involved in the projects to organize and plan the work on the path and the design of the work on the Yellow House.
The works for now have involved:
– The layout of the path, where the works are carried out with the use of excavators. Visits by the professionals involved allowed us to verify the work done so far.
– The lakes and the water management system. In particular, the upper lake has undergone various remodeling interventions. As soon as weather conditions permit it will be emptied to proceed with the waterproofing of the bottom and setting up its drainage. Other drainage will also be done to collect water in both lakes and allow the surrounding fields to dry out. At the Yellow House, all the drains and water pipes of the bathrooms and the kitchen have been checked. We will proceed with the reorganization of the drainage, improving and making water management more ecological through biofiltration.
– Around the Great Stupa of Enlightenment 1000 flower bulbs have been planted. Planting different species of flowers means that flowering will take place at different times for most of the year.
– A drainage system has been dug around the Cinerarium and good quality earth has been added around it to encourage the grass to grow.
The Maestro’s retreat house was made safe by protecting it mainly from water: the roof was fixed, a rain gutter was installed and the area above the house was cleared of stones and earth. In addition, a wall was built for the drainage of water.
Projects at Merigar and Beyond – Seeds of Awareness
Already in the 2019-2020 school year, thanks to the Journey through Self-Knowledge project made with the 8 per thousand tax contribution from UBI (Italian Buddhist Union), Yantra Yoga and Meditation experts from Merigar were involved in school programs for primary and secondary schools in Arcidosso and Roccalbegna and the Provincial Center for Adult Education (CPIA) of Arcidosso. The feedback was very positive and children, teens and adults were able to experiment with weekly Yantra Yoga experiential classes and a meditation session.
In a year as difficult as 2020, a reason for joy was the approval of the project “Seeds of Awareness: starting from self-knowledge to rediscover the deep bonds that exist between human beings and cultivate empathic relationships” presented by Merigar in partnership with ASIA, which has allowed us to continue bringing the experiences and activities that characterize us to schools.
Why Seeds of Awareness? To help create a more harmonious and inclusive society starting from a greater awareness of each one of us. As Chögyal Namkhai Norbu taught us, “If we need peace we need evolution and we must develop evolution, and not revolution, in the individual condition”.
And so we decided to start with children, the seeds of the future, with a series of activities in primary schools in Rome, Naples and the municipalities of Amiata, which favor contact with one’s inner world as a prerequisite for establishing empathic relationships and perceiving the interdependence that binds all living beings.
Despite the difficulties due to the pandemic, the project started in September. In the Amiata area, the meetings were led by Dina Priymak and concluded with success in various schools on Amiata. Most of the sessions took place outdoors, in schoolyards. The children were happy and had a lot of fun reproducing the sounds, movements and positions of Kumar Kumari Yantra Yoga, and relaxing at the end of the sessions. In Rome, with Constance Soehnlen and Laura Graci, the path of Yantra Yoga – Kumar Kumari had a rather irregular start: the lessons started with great enthusiasm on the part of the young students, teachers and school administrations, but unfortunately they were suspended throughout the month due to anti Covid19 restrictions and the obligation for children to wear masks during yoga hours. Now Laura and Constance hope to start over soon, trying to adapt the lessons to the circumstances and focusing the work on breathing, emotions and relaxation.
Another ongoing activity is a workshop of drawing and fairy tales from the world to introduce children to the principle of interdependence. Two people, Valerio Giacone and Kunga, lead the children in the exploration of the principle of interdependence starting from the story of the Tibetan fairy tale of the four harmonious brothers. At each meeting, the young students actively participate in the creation of the story by representing the various characters with manual and artistic work and the use of different techniques and materials: drawing, collage, play dough, paper and lots of creativity.
The third activity for primary schools will begin in February: paths of awareness and empathy to educate children to listen to themselves, their bodies and their emotions as a starting point for establishing empathic relationships, based on non-judgmental understanding of others.
And Seeds of Awareness will also be planted in civil society, with activities aimed at an adult audience. An exhibition of photographs by Enrico Dell’Angelo will be organized in Rome and Arcidosso and will narrate, through images and stories of spiritual masters and sacred places of Tibet, but also of common people, the treasures safeguarded by Tibetan culture that make Tibet and the its people an internationally recognized symbol of spirituality.
And to conclude, there will be a cycle of two workshops on the principles of Awareness and Interdependence, to introduce the theme of complete presence in the here and now, of the non-judgmental awareness of one’s own spiritual view as a way to establish a good relationship with oneself and with others, based on the knowledge of the infinite network of links that connect all living beings, for which nothing exists separate from all the rest.