On this page you can read the experience of participants from a variety of the activities and retreats that have been organised by SanghaSeva since 2004. If you have been on one of our retreats we would love to hear from you again please share your experience with us
I have just returned from the 2016 Sanghaseva retreat at Dharmalaya full of gratitude and awe. Nathan and Zohar were the most caring and wise teachers, thoughtful and organised facilitators, whilst always mucking in being part of the team of volunteers carrying out various tasks including stomping around in mud and cow poo! I found their open kindness and humbleness inspirational, and could see first hand the incredible benefits of embodying the teachings whilst living in a close community. Something I am aspiring too! The recipe of silence, simplicity, Dharma talks, living in nature, being vegan, Chi Gong, voluntary work and learning about permaculture and sustainability, is one that can not fail to bring fulfillment and joy. So a million thank you’s dear Zohar and Nathan, I can’t wait to come again! x
What seeds should I plant in this perfect moment?
When the future is the present unfolding.
What question should I ask in this perfect moment?
When the answer is the heart opening.
Who am I in this perfect moment?
When the present moment lasts forever.
When you’ve flown across the world to cut toe nails in your free time you might be excused for expecting a sign of gratitude, probably shown by those familiar two words “thank you”. But that’s not how it’s done in Anandwan. Not every culture has adopted that little courtesy phrase, and that turns out to offer a real opportunity for insight. It’s not that there is some sense of expectation or demand for one side to do all the work, or all the giving. The atmosphere is actually one of love, connection and sharing.
Rather than some version of thank you filling the air, occupying the relational dynamic space between us as it would in finalising some trade, there was space for something else. That meant that a shared smile alone could rejoice in the pleasure of an absent nail. Some of these nails were really big, not just long but fat and wide also, I don’t know why that was. So anyway, seeing them gone was a real empathetic pleasure for me also. No need for expressions of gratitude; I’m already happy.
But sometimes, in fact many times, one of us would say; “Namaste” and hold our hands in prayer position, the other would mirror this posture and repeat “Namaste”. It felt good to do this, so I would do it frequently. Slowly it dawned on me the deeper meaning of namaste replacing thank you. Although etymologically meaning “bowing to you” there is a more spiritual interpretation of namaste: What is it within me that can bow to you? And what is it in you that I am bowing to? Hinduism would offer that it is the manifestation of God within you that I bow to, and it is the God within me that realises that quality in you. As we Namaste each other we are bringing that deeper quality to the fore. Our shared smile becoming divine.
Over 50 years ago the first outcast leprosy-affected people of this community decided to call a desolate, uninhabited, fiery-hot wasteland “Anandwan”; the Forest of Bliss. Now it is a wooded land within which human beings are living in community with love. I offer a deep Namaste to the wisdom of those wise foresightful souls. And one more to all those who live there now for offering such teachings of transformation, connection, and joy.
I'm still processing my time in the West Bank and feeling very tired but rested some how.
It is hard to believe how Palestinians can still laugh and joke and be so very warm and friendly and generous while living in utter misery, an open prison if you like; surrounded by crazy Israelis (settlers) that took their lands by force and threaten them daily not even letting them gather their own olives in peace! We were witness to a hell of a lot and worked alongside lovely Palestinian families for six days picking olives with them and being treated like "kings" with constant teas, coffee, and great foods like olives, humus pitta and salads!!! They told us countless stories and we also saw it for ourselves the awful settlers and their guns and the army and their constant fight to reach their own lands.
I would love to continue going there every year to help them pick their olives as our presence there was so important and helpful.
I would love to talk more with you about it...it is hard to write about still but being there made me realise just how much our Governments around the globe have f*cked their lives!!
We also went on a tour with an ex soldier who is part of a group called " Breaking the Silence" and that was so heart breaking and powerful. There are countless people trying to change things there and help improve Palestinian lives; ex soldiers, ordinary Israelis and many foreigners.
It is hard so see people suffering on a daily basis but they are so amazing and friendly; it's unbelievable!
I also spent two days in Tel Aviv with a friend and went to the beach and to a great party and got dancing all night so it wasn't all work and sadness. Even in Palestine we laughed and joked and had some of the best meditation ever; great wonderful organic food cooked by ourselves ( we were ten people) and went to the desert to visit a community where Palestinians and Israelis meet and live together ( only a few live there) but many go to visit and stay for talks and friendship. This community is at a crossroads where Palestinians can still go without much hassle as with many places even in Palestine they are not allowed to walk freely!!
4 days ago the 9th SanghaSeva Being Peace retreat in Israel and Palestine ended. The experience continues to resonate within me, it feels important to share it with you, so I wish to give voice to some of what unfolded.
The retreat began during a time of violence and fear both in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. There was a potent sense of uncertainty, and of risk. Although we knew the area in the West Bank we were planning to be in was calm, there were no guarantees that it would remain so.
Both our hosts and our potential participants were feeling this heightened risk. But we were all open to
question what is really happening inwardly when we meet this outer "reality". And from there trying to
What is the wisest response to fear, violence and danger?
Is fear always an accurate indicator of risk?
Is our physical safety the only thing at risk in such a situation?
How much weight do we give fear?
What other factors are there worth attending to?
Going forth from the safety of our homes and into the unknown of the West Bank, fear had many faces:
The fear Israelis were feeling within Israel was mirrored in the fear Palestinians were feeling in the
West Bank and Jerusalem. Ultimately it is the same sense of unpredictability, of danger, of
vulnerability. In 9 years of joining the olive harvest in Palestine, I had never seen the farmers so
afraid to go to their lands.
Feeling into the atmosphere, the fear was palpable: Palestinians afraid of soldiers and settlers, Israelis afraid of Palestinians, activists afraid of settlers, settlers afraid of everyone. Fear, fear, fear, fear, and violence...
In our region fear has become the seed of hatred, of violence, of despair and of inaction. It is worth paying attention to.
Fear is a human condition. It is what we feel when we are confronted by the fragility and uncertainty of life. Yet so much of the time it throws us into a state of panic and emergency. As Dharma practitioners, fear offers us the opportunity to practice. It is not the end of the road, but the entry point to a deepening practice. One person in our group began working with her fear weeks before she boarded the plane to Tel Aviv. She would practice breathing in with the fear, then out. Feeling the body sensations and watching them arise and pass. Again and again. Coming back to the knowing that this is simply fear. It is not who we are. It does not need to define our choices and actions. By meeting her fear she was able to make her flight and by continuing to open to the fear response was able to deeply meet the reality of the situation and not just react to her fear.
The Buddha offered Dharma practitioners an antidote to fear; Metta, translated as loving kindness or
unconditional friendliness. We can simply refer to it as an attitude of friendship.
What happens when we prioritise friendship? What changes when we bring this attitude to the centre of our being? What becomes when we let friendship inform our choices and actions?
Metta begins with an attitude of kindness towards the experience and the experiencer of fear. Yet it can widen into an attitude of friendship towards all beings. Furthermore it can open into acting from friendship and for friendship.
In the 6 years of our relationship with the village friendship has been a pillar. And in these challenging times it has grown even stronger.
The more fear there is the more friendship is needed and appreciated.
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Many people have asked me before, during, and since the retreat if I was not afraid as an Israeli to sleep
in a Palestinian village.
Of course I was. But three things supported me; knowing that fear isn't necessarily true, knowing that fear limits me from living fully, and knowing that an act of friendship and solidarity matters more than giving in to the fear.
Facing the fear rather than being led by it allowed me to experience reality instead of the ideas the fear was creating.
So what was the reality I experienced? One of generosity, openness and kindness.
On the first day we arrived, I went to buy some household items that were missing from the house we were
offered to use as a base by one of the families in the village. The owner of the shop would not let me pay
but insisted that this was his gift to us.
A few days later, Nathan and I were walking down the street when a car pulled over next to us. A man we
didn't know leaned over and said to us: "I know your faces, you were here last year and the year before and
the year before that. Thank you for coming to our village, this is your home, you are very welcome."
Another time I was walking in a different part of the town when a tractor and cart drove by. A young man called out from the cart: "Zohar, you helped my family harvest olives two years ago, thank you so much!" His face was beaming.
Every evening people from the village came to visit the group in our house. Again and again people told us: if you need anything or have any problem let me know. The sense of friendship and care touched us deeply.
This is what happens when metta meets fear; love blooms. As an Israeli in a Palestinian village my direct experience was of care and safety.
Other Israelis also felt the need to be in the village during this time. There was an unprecedented number joining us for short periods during the retreat, as well as joining Engaged Dharma's harvesting day events. Many reported this felt as the most sane and authentic response to the atmosphere of hatred and chaos around them.
One night just before bed we heard loud sounds that I recognised as light flares the Israeli army
uses. Looking out from our verandah I could see the night illuminated. The next day we heard the
army had come to the village entrance. On two other occasions settlers came to the village in the
night, but they were chased away by villagers.
These experiences were unsettling. Yet we had chosen to come to Palestine to experience first hand the reality of people's lives. This was it. As I lay in my bed listening to the flares shooting up into the sky, I connected to the practice of friendship; of staying steady with what was unfolding as an expression of connection.
The Pali word Samadhi is usually used in reference to meditative experience, describing the unification of mind that occurs. Some years ago Christopher told me that Samadhi literally means: "Coming together on the particular." And that "this capacity is not limited to meditation, but is available to us in any situation." When we are able to stay steady with what matters, and gather ourselves on the particular aspect of life that we are prioritising, we can cultivate friendship even when we're feeling fear.
In our experience when we prioritised this as individuals or as a group a soft strength was uncovered: The strength to be present, to witness and contain injustice, pain and difficulty. The capacity to hold confusion and anger without reacting or repressing. And the great privilege to offer friendship and support to those whose lives are affected by violence and injustice.
This is an insight which holds true whether we are meeting real danger or just a difficulty. At any
given moment and situation in our lives this is available to us. When we choose clarity over ignorance
and friendship over fear, we taste freedom. In the midst of life's challenges, unfairnesses and
difficulties we can find ourselves alive and present. What is asked from us is to continually turn our
attention towards what is.
Just as we practice coming back, again and again, to breath awareness or Metta practice on the cushion, we can bring our awareness back to our intention or the big picture of being present for ourselves and others. When we do this we bring ourselves back to what really matters: the deep wish within us that all beings live without fear, in friendship, peace and freedom.
We don't need to be anyone else then who we are right now in order to make that step. We only need to meet this one moment, take this one step. All we need is right here; can we just breathe, feel into our body, connect to what matters and act from there. The world needs us to cultivate this presence and centredness.The world needs us to prioritise friendship. Lets start now!
“Yesterday we heard, at the end of the day, that a violent agression has taken place near the village
Zohar and Nathan asked us whether we would want to go and harvest there, to show our support. The NGO Rabbis for Human Rights was organising for volunteers to go and help.
It was ok not to want to go, we could have some of us staying in Deir Istya to harvest.
We all said yes.”
Read more at SoniaAndPalestine.blogspot.com
“Hier on a entendu, à la fin de la journée, qu'une agression violente s'est passée près du village de Burin.
Zohar et Nathan nous ont demandé si nous voudrions y aller récolter des olives, pour montrer notre soutien.
L'ONG Rabbis for Human Rights était en train d'organiser
un groupe de volontaires pour aller aider.
C'était ok de ne pas vouloir y aller, on pourrait avoir certains d'entre nous qui resteraient à Deir Istya pour la récolte.
On a tous dit oui.”
Lire la suite sur SoniaAndPalestine.blogspot.com
The first day we went to help pick olives in Deir Istyia, the Palestinian village we were staying at
for a week, the person driving the car said he hadn’t started harvesting yet;
“I have been too scared”, he explained. He was referring to the situation whereby, when internationals are there during the harvesting – literally, alongside Palestinians - they feel safer as Israeli settlers are less likely to harass or attack them.
The simplicity of the phrase was what struck me. I didn’t know this man, a father of four who was taking holiday from his job in Ramallah to work on his aunt’s land. Yet his frankness, this realness of expression and being, was shared with me so openly, so generously, with such a fundamental truth.
It was this kind of communication and presence that characterised what I experienced over the nine days I spent in Deir Istiya. So many stories, so many words, so much complexity. And at the centre of all of this, a very deep suffering; but which at no point prevented anyone I was with from sharing fully their humour, warmth, sadness, anger and then yet more sadness, anger, humour and warmth.
When the Being Peace retreat started I remember saying to the group that I wasn’t sure why I was there. I was confused; it felt right to be there but I didn’t know why. As the days passed, I felt an increasing understanding – not really about the ongoing, overwhelmingly distressing and confusing situation between Israel and Palestine – but about what I might have come to learn there and take forward and communicate with others in the future.
The word ‘family’ can be casually used, a pebble of a word amongst many others to refer to a shared, felt sense of intimacy, support, trust. This word came up a few times while I was in Deir Istiya and each time I connected into a rich and full sense of family on multiple levels: the Being Peace group, made up of internationals and Israelis, for sure; and from this secure base, other, less expected families - those of the farmers we went to pick olives with and whose hearts and homes we were invited in to; that of the culture, country and land of Palestine itself; and that of the human interconnectedness that we’re all a part of, wherever we are, as we try to find and stay on our path to a better way of living and being in the world.
So I found out that I went to Palestine to experience, on a visceral level, the generosity, joy, depth and also lightness of family amidst so much pain and loss; and to feel and witness the power and significance of staying present - not closing down but remaining open and true to each moment - even when the wider context is dark.
When I returned to the UK, the wife of the man I picked olives with on the first day posted on Facebook, ‘Thank you for remembering us when you returned to your country, Clare’. The directness and simplicity of this wording struck me just as her husband’s had on the first day of harvesting: such clear, direct and full expression - in this case, of gratitude - a rich and deep sensation that has come up for me over and over again since the beginning of the Being Peace retreat.