Mandarava Retreat in Stormy Times

by Dorothea Franck

Like every year since quite a while, Dzamling Gar offered the Mandarava retreat at Losar time in the beautiful new Gönpa. It turned into a truly special one.

Group photo

It had a stormy beginning. The day before Losar a devastating Calima sandstorm hit the Canary islands. The air turned into a dense yellowish fog of fine Sahara sand, wind gusts with up to 140 km per hour or more were bending the palm trees and made it impossible to leave the house. Arrivals of some practitioners were delayed because many flights were cancelled – Dzamling Gar had to call off all celebrations of the day before Losar and Losar itself.

The damage in the Gar seemed considerable. Everything covered with sand, in all corners heaps of dirt, leaves, small branches everywhere, fallen trees, the normally clear turquoise swimming pool now a boggy brownish pond full of leaves and other litter, – and more dramatically: the former Gönpa-tent was seriously torn and damaged. It was just as amazing to see how quickly the Dzamling Gar team and many helpers managed to clean up the most urgent clutter and continued during the whole retreat to bring everything back into a perfect state.

Preparing the Chogur
Photo by M Supe

But what I found most striking: during a presentation of the yellow Gakyil halfway of the retreat we were told that all the more serious damages only concerned things that were on their way to go anyway. The temporary concession of the big tent having already expired, was to be dismantled in the near future. And the two trees that came down were trees about which Alix, our unremitting expert gardener, had her doubts since a while. It seems very much the action style of Protectors: to turn seemingly unfavorable circumstances into favorable ones.

The second “obstacle”, which proved more persistent, was the worldwide spread of the corona virus. Much less people than usual had arrived, many Italians chose or were obliged to stay home. The Gakyil reacted in a highly responsible way to reduce the risk of contagion to a minimum. At the entrance of the Gönpa temperature was taken daily of every participant, disinfectant liquid generously distributed, repeatedly advices given, and in addition

Tibetan Antiviral Medicine
Photo by M Supe

Dr. Phuntsog provided a liquid special anti-viral medicine for everyone every day. Since people with any kind of symptoms of sickness, cold or flu were strongly advised to stay at home, much less coughs and sneezes were heard in the Gönpa than at any former retreat. Since the space of new Gönpa is huge and much less people attended than usual, there was no need to sit too close, everybody could have ample space around. In fact, as Nina remarked at the end, this retreat seemed the healthiest of all retreats we ever had, regretting that in the past we did not take such good care not to spread our germs and suggesting that we should continue this precaution in all future events.

Photo by N Zeitz

Webcast team and translator
Photo by N Zeitz

Fabio Andrico, Sebastien Remy, and Nina Robinson leading the practice and tsalungs
Photo by N Zeitz

Elio Guarisco teaching the afternoon tsalung and short Mandarava practice session
Photo by N Zeitz


As so many times before, Nina Robinson was heading the practices in her inimitable personal wisdom way. Her short daily instructions, perfect in all practice details, inexhaustible in additional advice and anecdotes from personal experiences with Rinpoche, and ever fresh and witty in her spontaneous comments on the given situation were an enriching bonus moment every day. She was assisted in leading the practices in turn by Naomi and Sebastian, it was a pleasure to hear them sing with their canorous voices.

In the afternoon we had the luxury of Sogthig and Tsalung instructions and practice by both Elio and Fabio, taking turns and sometimes teaching both together.

We had a successful international auction, a lottery and other fundraising activities. In spite of all obstacles, I experienced a particularly joyful, well organized, relaxed retreat; infinite thanks to the Gakyil, also to Dr. Phuntsog, Ilaria and other translators, and the many other devoted helpers. I felt the Dzogchen Community Sangha manifested beautifully in collaboration, intelligence and joy.

Lottery winner!
Photo by M Supe

The weather soon turned nice and warm, the DzamlingBar at the center of the Gar was ever a cozy and relaxing place to be, providing delicious meals and drinks, hosting daily breakfast and lunch time as well as birthday parties and a wonderful hangout space for all. On the last day, a beautiful new Khaita dance that had been prepared for Losar got a second chance. All is well that ends well. But in fact this retreat was a gift from the beginning to the very end.







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