Merigar East – Lockdown and Beyond

By Alexandru Anton

For those who haven’t been to Merigar East on the Black Sea in Romania or who don’t know much about it, it is pretty much in isolation here in the middle of the field and it relies quite a lot on the flow of practitioners and visitors brought by the enticing possibility of spending summer time on the Black Sea beach.

Surprisingly, precisely because of the lockdown, Merigar East had a greater number of residents at this time of the year! A practitioner couple came to spend their quarantine here, all by themselves in the multifun house, so Magda Ourecka and I were very happy we were not completely alone – which we would have experienced as a sort of “double” isolation. Apart from that, for us personally it was not much different than usual, except of course for the times we had to go shopping into the city and for the recent states of mind flowing in the space.

In any case, in the early spring we were quite busy here at the Gar with the gardening activities. Growing some seedlings in the Gönpa to ensure a minimum vegetable garden and then preparing the gardening space itself can take up a lot of time – but it is very beneficial as one can spend time in a relaxed and grounded way, observing the movements and time cycles of the natural world. Apart from that, we have a sort of test learning project which involves growing trees from seed and so far it has taught us many things – most of all patience and trust. Some tree seeds, for example, need to stay in a cold and humid atmosphere for around three months before they sprout – but when the time is right most seeds will synchronize and produce little roots. Others need to spend one year in certain conditions, or more, but then they will sprout. If you interrupt these conditions for even one week you have to start all over again, because they fall asleep. So I think it is a wonderful lesson about secondary causes. In the long term, the trees will contribute to the landscape of the Gar, making it more alive with more plants and diversity, something like a park or a garden where you can find great delight walking through it – whether you are in your real nature or not.

We have started a little Mediterranean garden between the Multifun House and the South fence. It is sheltered from the wind – this is a key point at our windy Gar if you want any young plants to thrive at least until they become well established – and it already hosts a few fig trees, a strawberry bed, grapevine and other fruity shrubs such as cranberry, blackberry, etc. This space will be a very accessible garden where especially practitioners staying in the Multifun can relax and, when the time is right, savor some freshly picked fruits.

In parallel with gardening and other chores, our practices in the Gonpa continued daily and many practitioners were able to connect through the Zoom online platform. Long before the lockdown we were attracted to this possibility by which practitioners can simply “click and practice together”. Before that there was always the nuisance that somebody connecting later would interrupt or would need special attention to be able to join and also the connection quality was quite poor. Now we realized the importance of keeping and creating connections, especially in the context of Merigar East, which is mostly a summer Gar. In this way, we can keep in touch with practitioners, talk to them and get to know them even outside the “season”. For us residing in the Gar this also motivates us to keep going, to stay connected to the Sangha “dimension” even if it is just the two of us here for months. It also helps us with the discipline – in this way we are sure to practice every day – as we made this commitment to offer these online practices from the Gonpa at the established time.

Now that we had this online possibility, inspired by the sudden excess of time and isolation available to most people, we asked ourselves “what takes a long time and is normally quite hard for most people to attend?”. Thus, a long-term online SMS Base course with Elias Capriles was born – with the intention to clarify the contents of the Precious Vase, do some practice sessions and also offer the possibility to brush up on our understanding through Q&A sessions. We hope that in this way, at least for some people, the relatively difficult circumstances of the pandemic period produced some fortunate fruits – we all know how skillfully we can postpone dedicating more of ourselves to the Teachings. We also hope that in this way more practitioners are tackling the precious Teachings of the SMS Base and not limiting themselves only to secondary practices.

Right now, as the lockdown has been slowly relaxing, we are hosting a number of volunteers currently helping us with the never-ending Gar maintenance works. Most of them don’t have transmission and although we would have liked them all to be Dzogchen practitioners, we are adapting to the circumstances and taking advantage of the possibilities. For them, the Gar is an oasis of nature and space – just like Rinpoche said: “Here there is only sky and earth”. Also, it happens that most of them are musicians, so they are also grateful that they can benefit from the beautiful acoustics of the Gönpa. Apart from that, they can relax, go to the beach, spend time far away from the turmoil of the city – especially the new type of agitation regarding restrictions and the challenges of a large group of people sharing the same space. Here we don’t have that challenge – there is enough space for everybody to feel safe and breathe clean fresh air.

As a result, now the camping area grass is all shaved and ready for the future tents to land on it, the toilets and the camping kitchen there are clean, up and running. Overall, the Gar is prepared to receive the first retreat that will be possible when circumstances allow it. For now we have had to cancel a few retreats and also postpone the stupa filling project until next year, as this will take a considerable amount of collaboration and we need everybody to be relaxed, in good condition and especially able to travel to the Gar.

The first on the list of possibilities is the much awaited Green Tara and 21 Praises retreat with Oliver Leick, which – if everything turns out well – will happen during the period 31st July –   6th August. Then it would be wonderful if we could continue with the two retreats with Elio Guarisco, on the Mandarava Tsalung (18th – 21 August) and the Definitive Way to Contemplation (22nd – 26th August).

In the meantime, the Merigar East silver gates are open, adorned laterally by newly hung lungta flags. There is a young patch of pine and birch forest, right as you go in, on the left.  The grass is growing taller, the insects are multiplying and this in turn attracts a lot of birds. Already well-established here is a couple of colorful and vocal pheasants. Most of all, we are confident that Rinpoche’s vision manifested through this beautiful place with all these sense experiences will attract practitioner bees, deer and lions and we are ready to welcome them, now with a fresh asphalt road coming very close to the Gar – this year again surrounded by sunflowers.

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