The Magic Behind the WU Netherlands 2019 Retreat – David Viafora

Sitting in this pine carved cabin, watching the morning rays slowly light up a golden saffron autumn forest, a cup of pu erh tea steaming patiently at my side, a wood fire stove softly crackling and roasting in front of me, all while reflecting on the magic of our Wake Up Netherlands retreat this summer – this is a moment of happiness!

The Buddha as well as so many sages of the past and present encourage us not to drown in or cling onto our memories of the past. But reflecting on the past with bright awareness, to learn more deeply from our experiences, and allowing the seeds of joy we experienced to bloom yet again in our consciousness is a real gift to ourselves!

This was my second WU Netherlands summer retreat, and I was amazed to find that his year was even better than the first one! I don’t like to compare too much, but I love seeing how my happiness grows strong as the strength of my friendships and community connections also deepen. This is certainly the case for me with WU Netherlands. In fact, the August retreat was one of the happiest times of the whole year for me! I’m so grateful to all of you who were there and helped it to manifest, as well as to all those who helped it bloom in previous years: you are all now a big part of me, my growth, and my happiness.
The depth of practice felt palpable throughout the retreat, and especially during the question and response session, guided meditations, and dharma sharing groups. I also felt a powerful internal release take place within me during Wim’s guided meditation, even though it was in Dutch. Some of the most meaningful moments for me happened during the one on one exchanges I had during consultations, in which people shared so sincerely and profoundly; it was very moving and I learn so much when people
share like that. And of course, watching everyone run around playing ‘amoeba tag’ or ‘inverse hide and seek’, I knew that we were awakening the power and joy of our 5 year old child within!

Not all retreats feel like this for me. Sometimes I encounter more suffering during retreats and it’s my practice to honor and embrace the pain or fear that arises; this can be very powerful and meaningful too.
I’m curious how the retreat was for you. Not all retreats are the same, and not all Sanghas are the same. So when a retreat or a Sangha is really special, I often reflect on the question, “What helped to make that so darn good?!”

So I took this question on a walk with me this morning through the forest. The past few weeks, all the maple, beach, oak, and birch trees here at MorningSun and all over New England have been flaming with vibrant colors: from fluorescent yellow-green, to bright peachy orange, heart opening pink and crimson hues, to golden orange-brown bursting forth right now. At first glance, I think that it’s the colder weather that has brought this colorful spectacle to life. But when I think about it more deeply, I realize that the trees, sunshine, rain, soil bacteria, earthworms, and so many other organisms have been
working and collaborating all year round to help the trees grow up to this point in time. The trees have been at it all year in order to produce this rather short-lived and glamorous show!

This is also the hidden magic formula behind the retreat this summer. Why is the depth of intimacy, compassion, and celebration so vibrantly rich between us during the retreat? Because you all are opening your heart of practice and depth of connection to each other throughout the year! I really got to experience this firsthand after the retreat was over. I stayed a few weeks longer in Holland than I had originally planned, so I was inspired to visit many of the local Sanghas around the Netherlands… and it was awesome! I visited WU Sanghas in Njimegen, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Groningen, and Tilburg, and would love to share some of the joy and insights I experienced with them.

WU Tilburg has a core team of young, energized, and caring practitioners who put a lot of heart into their small growing community. They practice right in the middle of Tilburg University, offering an oasis of peace, authentic connections, and real friendships for the student population there. They have the most diverse group of any Sangha I have ever visited in the Netherlands, and I applaud them for the richness they embody together. Also, their meditation room looks a circular tubed spaceship that landed on their
college campus! Seriously, it’s worth checking out. I’m stoked to visit them again next time I’m in the neighborhood!

In Groningen, I learned that Marieke was introducing recess play into their Sangha which sounded amazing! In addition to their weekly Sangha night that embodies silence and transformational sharings, they went to a school playground to play games with each other! They raced in pairs, while carrying balloons between the backs or legs of each other, or some kind of awkward combination of the two. Then they enjoyed some deep belly balloon breathing, to calm down all that excess joy and laughter before they reentered normal society.

WU Nijmegen had over 40 people when I visited, including the “Golden Oldies” (those over 35, 40, and beyond) in order to celebrate their 10th anniversary! There is so much depth in the facilitation of this Sangha, and I’m excited to see how it keeps growing, especially as I hear that they have been recruiting and kidnapping seasoned practitioners from other Sanghas (just kidding).

WU Utrecht can barely contain their enthusiasm and inspiration for practice, as the 30 people that night could hardly fit in their meditation room. After visiting them, I could see how the maintained such a monopoly of organization over the retreat – they have too much Sangha inspiration to know what to do with! That evening, we went to a park after sunset to practice blindfolded walking meditation, holding hands in pairs while roaming slowly around the park. This close and intimate style of walking at night probably looked extremely romantic to bystanders nearby who were watching us.

And it seems that WU Amsterdam has found their groove again, as a newly established group of core practitioners are freshly inspired and dedicated to growing their beloved community. This core group of organizers and facilitators meets regularly outside of the Sangha in order to nurture their bonds of friendship and joy while brainstorming for the Sangha’s practice – this is so key!

If you haven’t yet visited some of the many other Wake Up Sanghas in your country, then I highly recommend it! We have so much wisdom, generosity, and skillfulness to learn from and share with each other. We truly grow high and strong not as individual trees, but as a rich forest.

There is so much more to share, but the space between us is also filled with silent joy. I’ll end with a poem by John Donohue, from “To Bless the Space Between Us”, that some Sangha friends generously offered to me recently.

For Friendship
May you be blessed with good friends,
And learn to be a good friend to yourself,
Journeying to that place in your soul where
There is love, warmth, and feeling.
May this change you.
May it transfigure what is negative, distant,
Or cold within your heart.
May you be brought into real passion, kindness,
And belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them, be there for them
And receive all the challenges, truth, and light you need.
May you never be isolated but know the embrace
Of your anam cara.

– David Viafora, October 2019
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