Vidyamala travels in the antipodes 2017 - instalment one - january

Lake Taupo

I've been in NZ for three weeks now and feel settled and at home. I have spent almost all this time in Wellington and Masterton with my two sisters - only arriving in Auckland a couple of days ago to spend time with Sangha. Of course one of the main focuses (foci?) was to visit my dear old Dad who is now 93 and spends almost all of this time asleep. But we got this pic of him awake which was precious.

and here he is with my two sisters and I: Lisa with the long curly hair and Pippa with the shorter curly hair. (I missed the curly hair gene which is clearly otherwise dominant in my family!)

We had his six month clinical review last week and his blood pressure is excellent and he's on the least medication of anyone in the unit. So it is very hard to know how much longer he will go on. He has clearly deteriorated a lot since I saw him a year ago and he didn't recognise me the first couple of days but then he seemed to sort of catch up and one day when I told him how much I loved him he said "and me too" in words that were just understandable, which was so precious. Most of the time he's unable to speak. He has vascular dementia and one day did some weird twitches that the nurse said would have been some kind of brain bleed, so it seems he will continue to decline cognitively and have such 'events', but they won't necessarily carry him away. He is now one of the long termers in the high level care ward he's on. As always it is sobering and oddly fascinating visiting the ward. It's like a whole universe of aging right there. People who are lovely, people who are cranky, people who shout and people who never open their eyes. I like it there except it is terrible for my back with the twisting and bending. But I love the vividness of it and the extraordinary kindness of the staff. I also went to the Wellington Buddhist Centre twice - I led a day on meditation teaching for the team and then we had a Women's evening. It was very integrating and inspiring to go to the Centre of my home town. I generally haven't done so the last few years with both my parents nearing the end. But with Mum now gone it has freed up some time and energy and I wanted to re-connect. It is astonishing how any Triratna Centre feels like 'home'.

on the train to the Pub

The Wairarapa: Lisa owns the Gladstone Inn which is a country pub on the banks of the Ruamahanga River. It is a gorgeous spot and Sona and I spent time there together, and then I came back for a few days on my own once he'd gone on the Men's GFR retreat at Sudarshanaloka. Here is the pub, the river, and Lisa's delightful dog Bess who as you can see is trying to decide what to do about the fact that she has a ball in her mouth and Sona is offering another one - the dilemmas of being a dog! Lisa and I had a really wonderful moonlit skinny dip one evening that is one of those experiences that gets seared into memory. Pretty awesome, or as they say over here: "sweet as..."

Wellington: Pippa lives here and it is a wild and windy place at the best of times - and a shaky too with earthquakes. The pic below captures something of the action. I love this shot - there is so much going on in the water balloon prep. I especially love the way Lexie's hair is completely blowing up hill!

We have had a 5.1 quake while I was there. Pippa and I were having lunch and we both froze while the earth shook. It was extraordinary the way we stared into one another's eyes seeking connection "is this going to be the BIG ONE that has been predicted for years?". The earth rolls and shakes and then it's hard to know when it ends because your awareness kind of keeps on shaking. So we watched the spoons hanging on the cutlery stand and they eventually became still. It wasn't the BIG ONE, but it was enough. As you'll know NZ had a whopping great 7.8 earthquake in Nov that cause 100,000 landslides and dramatically changed the coast line with 10m uplift in places. That earthquake was centred quite a way from Wellington but nonetheless it shook Wellington enough to make 14% of office space still un-inhabitable, the container port is still shut and my friend said when she went into work the next day all the desks were upside down! So, quite a bang in Wellington as well. People are all saying it was much the biggest of our life time and I took a 'grab bag' rucksack with my catheters etc wherever I went, in case a catastrophe happened while I was out. Generally people are becoming more blase about these shakes and the need for grab bags - the scientists say it is "the new normal" and with typical NZ spirit, life goes on. This is what happens when you live on small islands stuck between two ocean plates - NZ itself is the result of the plates grinding together.

Taupo: Last week I spent a few days at Lake Taupo with Pippa and her partner David - David owns a 'bach' there (NZ for holiday home). The weather has been "F******g S**t" as they say over here and it has indeed been a shocking summer so far. It was 16 degrees last week and we had the fire on. But we still went out in the boat in our woollies, got caught in a rain storm, the sun came out and then I had a freezing swim on the way in. Normally the Lake should be about 20 degrees but it's 17 at the moment. I felt so amazing when I got out! Then the weather got even worse but I made sure I had another swim the next day before getting on the bus to Auckland, where I arrived last Sunday. There was not a soul on the Lake and it was even colder. My chest started to feel like it might seize up altogether and I wondered what to do if I had a heart attack. Decided to ignore that and swam on and my body seemed to acclimatise. It was actually rather wonderful. We also went to the Tokaanu hot baths one day which was delicious. These hot pools are thermal and run by the local Maoris. Still completely the same as when we were kids and not at all commercialised. You can get your own private pool and lounge around for 25 mins. Bliss.

Auckland: I arrived here Sunday evening and was met by the lovely Maree. We are staying at the house that Taranatha donated to Triratna when he died. Amazingly generous and such a resource. Ratnavyuha and Muditanandi live here and it is for the use of visiting teachers. In the twin room I am staying in there is a bed made up for Nagabodhi who will stay here when he gets off the Men's GFR retreat this Saturday. I knew Muditanandi 30 years ago when we were both at the Auckland Centre - amazing to re-connect. She's a character all right, as we say out here.

Maree and Muditanandi

Yesterday Maree and I ran a mindfulness workshop for the team at the Refugee Resettlement Centre. This came about through my nephew's girl friend who works for Bob Jones, a much loathed property developer in NZ. (Think the Donald but not as bad). Rothany is a Cambodian refugee who was brought to NZ in the times of Pol Pot and it was uncertain if she would survive as she was so tiny and malnourished. She is now an utterly delightful young woman in her twenties. Anyway, Bob Jones can be persuaded to do charitable work and Rot suggested he fund a scholarship scheme to put refugee girls through University in NZ. He now makes substantial donations to do just that through RASNZ (Refugees as Survivors New Zealand) and this is the group we worked with yesterday. They are doing wonderful work and are a great team.

It was quite amazing to go to the main Refugee Resettlement Centre yesterday, which is where all refugees get housed for 6 weeks before they get integrated into the community. I think I'd probably rather be a refugee in NZ than the UK as it seems a good place with nice buildings and a really good atmosphere. After our workshop we were invited to a farewell lunch for someone who has been there 16 years and the speeches were so moving. This woman gives herself 24/7 to helping people and has set up things like a bike project: people donate old bikes, they get restored and then the refugees get given a bike so they can get around - and the kids get to play. She seems an exceptional person. Some of the refugee students funded by RASNZ were there and clearly she is like a mother to them. Last night I led a session on meditation teaching at the Buddhist Centre which I enjoyed. On Thursday Meera is hosting an afternoon tea for Mitras that I will attend. It is lovely to be here and Maree has very kindly offered to spend the week with me so we can hang out and she will also help me out practically. Hopefully today we might actually get into the sea - I can't quite believe I've been in NZ nearly a month and have not yet had a swim in the sea. It's an outrage.

our wee community for the week

So that's it for now. Generally it has been a good trip so far, if very intense at times. But I'm glad I've spent such a lot of time with my sisters and we have settled into a new 'post Mum' dynamic. It's been jolly fiery at times but that seems to be the way with my family. We have decided to inter her ashes in March and Sona and I will come back to NZ for this and to spend more time with Dad. My back has been OK and when I saw the osteopath in Wellington (I have one in every port!) she said it was so much better than a year ago. I know I am un-winding a lot of deep tension I held in relation to Mum, and the therapy I had last year also helped me let go of some deep holding patterns to do with fear. I am in the midst of coming off the opiates I've been on for 15 years and, so far, seem to be doing OK apart from some horrible nerve pain at nights which I hope will settle - I stopped the opiates altogether a week ago. And I'm feeling much more mentally clear with something resembling a memory returning. Honestly, Whatever next? I have been keeping on top of Breathworks work, and feel grateful and pleased that things seem to be going well in the business back in the UK. It's nice to get some perspective and to do some more broad brush thinking while out here and we have set up two days of teaching at Singapore Unis on the way back. I feel engaged with lots of different things, in a good way. So this comes with lots of love xxx

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