Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Artist's Retreats at the TRC

I stayed at the Tara Retreat Centre for a month in April 2017 to focus on creative work, and I am happy to vouch for the wonderful environment that TRC offers artists. I was delighted to get to stay in Brown House, with its view out onto the green hill and the flowers; the cattle slowly grazing their way across the hill, and the butterflies nectar-grazing their way across the garden patch, provided a wonderful interlude to reading and writing.

It was of great benefit to get to spend time without the noise of the city and emails going ‘ping.’ While I was able to get cell phone data reception on one hill, there was no reception on most of the TRC’s grounds; I was able to make contact with my family and friends every few days, but wasn’t interrupted in my living and working environment. Rather than spending spare time online, I took advantage of the many marked trails on the TRC’s grounds, and especially enjoyed the route across farmers’ fields that ends at a waterfall. The environment was so clean with comparison to the city that I noticed my eye whites getting whiter after I’d been in residence for a few days. Even if I didn’t like to hike, it would have been worth going just to breathe.

The meals were delicious. I’ve got a pretty robust appetite, so the homemade muesli and yogurt helped me get my engine started in the mornings, and the gorgeous offerings at lunch and supper kept me going nicely. I had to buy myself a TRC cookbook so I could try to recreate some of what I ate at the centre at home. The lentil lasagne was probably my favourite. Sitting down to lunch provided a great break from work, and the people I sat down with were a delight. The kitchen staff and the volunteers at the TRC are great fun, and their friendliness as well as their hard work help make the centre a calm and convivial environment.

Stephanie Yorke, from Nova Scotia, Canada

Friday, 3 March 2017

Congo CANgo! The Incredible SisterAct.

Dynamic sisters, Brenda Burrell and Pam Sheehan, just cycled 82km to raise money for the Lubumbashi Samye Dzong. They have almost met their target....

Thanks to the dedicated work of Akong Rinpoche, often referred to as the "African Lama", and Rob Nairn, Buddhism has found a home in southern Africa. We have thriving Kagyu Samye Dzong Centres in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These centres have been given a truly magnificent opportunity of a one week retreat in September 2017 in South Africa under the guidance of Tibetan Buddhist lamas Drupon Rinpoche and Kating Lama. Typically practitioners would have to travel to Nepal, India or the UK to study with Tibetan Buddhist teachers of this calibre. In August last year 200 of the Lubumbashi sangha took refuge with Minyak Rinpoche on a rare visit by a lama to their city. This centre would like to send 20 members to the Drupon Rinpoche retreat. However, most of these buddhists have meagre financial resources and will struggle to meet the travel, visa and retreat costs.

Pam Sheehan and Brenda Burrell, two sisters from Harare, Zimbabwe and both active members of the Harare Buddhist Centre wanted to help them get there! Our sangha have had a long term relationship with KSD Lubumbashi and helped raise funds for the construction of their shrine room in 2016.

After hard training hard they completed an 80 km bike ride on Thursday March 2 to help the DRCongo sangha raise funds to attend the retreat in September 2017.

The sisters have promised to shave off their hair, if they meet the target... Would you like to make sure this happens? Click here:

TRC will be delighted to welcome the 20 sangha members from the DRC to the retreat. Details will be posted here as soon as they are confirmed:

Monday, 27 February 2017

Retreat Manager position up for grabs!

The wonderful Megan Bisschoff will be leaving the Retreat Manager position at the end of February, in order to support the rapid expansion of the Tikologo Permaculture Project. We will all miss her on the main site, but know that she is much needed by Coen to get the Permaculture Design Courses up and running.

Ideally, we try to fill all the vacant positions at the retreat centre with practitioner-volunteers (i.e. people who have a regular meditation practice, and would benefit from time at the Centre, while contributing to the running of the Centre). This helps to keep the costs down for our retreat participants. So... if you feel you can step into Megan's shoes, here is all the information you might need to make the decision:

Retreat Manager Role
The tasks have been divided in four stages:
  • Prior retreat (usually activities that need to be undertaken on Wednesday and Thursday since most retreats start on Friday, however in case the retreat starts on Thursday these activities shift a day and have to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday)
  • Start retreat (the first day of the retreat, most of the times Fridays)
  • During retreat (the second and following days of the retreat, most of the times Saturdays and Sundays)
  • Post retreat (the day after the final day of the retreat)
Now let’s get started!

Prior retreat:

- Work with the office admin staff to plan for each retreat and or casual bookings (this includes a accommodation plan, guest list including contact numbers and diet requirements)
- Supervision of catering and needed shopping
- The staff is aware of the events and a system of staff coverage will be in place
- A catering plan will be in place which can be followed by the catering staff. This plan is drawn up with staff in conjunction where needed with a volunteer catering manager/centre manager for retreats and between retreat times
- A proposed menu will be in place on the day before shopping trips to Zeerust, retreat menu day before shopping (take into account gluten free diets (no gluten free bread is available in Zeerust, vegan diets and any other dietary requests)
- Double check accommodation after housekeeping has taken place
- Light sprinkling of the rented out accommodation because of all the dust

Start retreat:

- At the first evening meal gathering a welcome and introductory talk must be held
- Needed accommodation and public areas are prepared for events
- At the Octagon the mediation cushions are laid out for the appropriate amount of participants (and teacher)

During retreat:

- Supervising catering staff
- Attend to any reported maintenance issues in the rooms
- Make sure the beverage and snack station is well stocked
- Heat a prepared soup for the guests at night and clear up afterwards
- Write the lunch on the menu board
- Switch on the lights in the communal area at night and arrange for a participant to switch them off at around nine o’clock
- On the last day of the retreat empty the dana cash boxes, so no cash is left lying around. Dana and tips will be distributed to the appropriate people (this may involve changing SA Rand to any foreign currency for people from abroad)

Post retreat:

- Supervision of all the accommodation and public areas to be used
- Organising housekeeping and catering staff
- Check accommodation houses for maintenance issues such as leaking tabs etc. James is responsible for fixing this
- Sort out leftover food of the prepared dishes (freezer, use for lunch or throw out when necessary). Kitchen staff usually does this by themselves
- When visitors have left, food and electronic catering equipment will be stored in the kitchen area and all accommodation will be locked up with the lights, electricity and gas switched off
- Clean out all rented accommodation by housekeeping (wash bedding, replace bar of soap if necessary)

Current staff:
James : maintenance
Trish : kitchen
Mainini : kitchen
Kerileng : housekeeping
Temp : if necessary

TRC would like to thank Megan so much for the incredible work she has done. We look forward to seeing the growth at the Tikologo site, and are very happy that she is still part of the TRC family.

For more information about volunteering at TRC:
To apply for the position, please email

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Yoga with Intention

Article originally published in Dutch, in Yoga International magazine, Netherlands (January 2017)
by Lucy Draper-Clarke

I spent much of my childhood upside down; headstands, handstands, cartwheels, flips. It felt liberating to defy gravity, wave my legs in the air and see the world from a different perspective. Could this be why I moved south, from England to Botswana, and now South Africa? This is a part of the world where things feel upside down more often than not, and no day is ever predictable. Perhaps it was inevitable too that I would teach yoga and mindfulness, and help people navigate the uncertainty of living a human life.

Although I run regular classes, my favourite way to offer what I love is to lead retreats. People arrive in one mind state, hyped up and anxious from life in the urban centres, and depart in another, having touched on the tranquillity, clarity and contentedness that is our true nature. They feel different somehow, without their external world having changed at all.

Time on retreat is a wonderful opportunity to enter a transitional space consciously. We can recharge before heading back into the normal cycles of life, and it may help us to prioritize daily activities, or to clarify the intentions behind them so that we can make subtle shifts of realignment. These shifts may come in a number of forms:
·      Shifts in priority: making a commitment to spend more time on certain activities, particularly those that nourish us, and less time on those that we find depleting.
·      Shifts in attitude towards daily life activities: Once we learn to imbue daily chores with meaning, they can shift from feeling dull and dreary, to having significance and value. We find that the tasks we do to help others can also bring benefit to us.
·      Opportunities for healing: particularly from sickness, situations of trauma, or from addictive tendencies that keep us trapped in constant grasping or aversion.
·      Shifts in habit patterns: Once we learn to refine our awareness, the habits that others see so clearly, which we are often blind to, can be revealed and transformed into more skillful behaviours.

For the last eight years, I have led a New Year Intentions and Yoga Retreat at a beautiful haven, known as the Tara Rokpa Centre ( It is located in a wooded valley, surrounded by streams, with unpolluted air and a fantastic night sky, half way between Johannesburg and Gaborone (Botswana). 

The retreat content and process has changed as I have evolved, and has become a way to witness my own unfolding, and the alignment of my inner world with my outer activities. It has become an annual opportunity for the yoga community to set their own intentions, to reconnect with what brings them joy, and to get a sense of how they might best contribute to the world around them. We combine asana and mindfulness practices, with an intentions setting process, so that we create a life of meaning and purpose, given our unique talents and interests.

We all find our life purpose in different ways. A few… a tiny few… seem clear from the beginning. They know who they are and what they want to do, and this intention gives them the courage to stay on the scent, whatever barriers cross their path. These are not usually the people who come to the retreats! Most of us have to feel our way, listen for clues, or chase up a few blind alleys before we realise we were probably following the right route from the beginning. We sometimes don’t even need to change what we are doing, but rather change the way we do it, or the perception we have of our contribution. At one stage in my life, I felt that I was following multiple paths simultaneously and my attention and energy felt too scattered. Then I realised that they were all tributaries leading into the same river; a sense of meaning emerged, my body relaxed and my mind felt soothed. Sometimes we don’t need to change the external circumstances, we need only release the internal sense of struggle or striving.

So now, whenever I feel turned upside down by the unpredictability of daily life, I check back in with my intentions to see whether I am still aligned. I ask whether the feeling of discomfort can provide a place of creativity, so that something new and unexpected might emerge, or whether I need to stop what I am doing and just breathe. My yoga adventure has taken me from school-based teaching, to a mindfulness doctorate, into doula work, and now I am a celebrant for weddings and other rites of passage. The retreat process is a rite of passage in itself, and I am learning to hold space for others while they explore their authentic selves, in the same way I might support someone as they try a headstand for the first time. It can be so liberating to wave our legs in the air and see our life from a new perspective, as long as we feel a sense of being held by our inner world of intention.

The Retreat Process: 5 steps
1. Present Moment Awareness
Mindfulness and yoga practice forms the core of the retreat. In order to identify what is deeply important to us, and then to gauge whether we are living our intentions, we require a constant, present-moment checking in at the levels of the body, heart and mind. We need to be aware of the moment our body or heart contracts and tightens, or opens and feel spacious and energised, as well as the inner commentary that takes us forwards, or holds us back.

2. Passion
We then tune in and remind ourselves what we love doing. Many people find it hard to identify what their passion might be as they are not used to opening up emotionally. However, by looking back over the year, we can highlight the moments of greatest joy, inspiration or achievement; the times we felt fully alive and engaged, or maybe lost track of time; the moments when we felt deeply content or happy. It can be subtle shifts that bring alignment, just as we experience in a yoga practice.

3. Life Purpose
Fulfilling our own personal needs is a critical first stage, but after that, many of us feel the need for something more. Most spiritual traditions teach that by helping others, we bring great happiness to ourselves, as long as we are giving from a place of fullness. When our daily activities help us to move away from an ego-centric focus, and we help wherever help is needed, then each day has been a success. By knowing that the work we do contributes meaningfully to others also provides motivation at times of difficulty.

4. The Inevitable Roadblocks
By recognising our passion and mission, our life purpose might emerge from that small quiet place in between. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride though! Combined with our intention to keep moving toward that purpose, we galvanise motivation to get us over the hurdles. Linked with this is the support we get from others, our sangha, or spiritual community. We co-create our existence, even though we often feel we are doing things single-handedly. Remember all the people who have helped you get to this moment, and then allow that sense of community support to carry you onward.

5. Living Daily Life with Intention
We often use the retreat opportunity to plan for the big events, yet we need to give equal consideration to the daily activities that can bring us joy and contentment. When we commit to daily life activities that soothe us, nourish us, or keep our hearts open to possibilities, then we have the energy for other intentions that may require a greater commitment.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

An 'Unnecessary' Retreat

by Ruth Woudstra

“I don’t actually need to go on this retreat,” I told myself. “I am sorted in life.” I had recently started doing yoga teacher training and had just completed Reiki Level One, both of which had filled me with inspiration to carry me into the new year.
December Moon at TRC

Fortunately, the fact that I had already paid the balance for Lucy Draper-Clarke and Felicity Hart’s “Releasing the Year with Mindful Awareness” retreat gave my ego a go. And a few hours into the retreat I was humbled into discovering that it was something I, in actual fact, desperately needed.

Self-acceptance has been an ongoing theme in my life. The problem is that I have never really been aware of it; I have never really acknowledged it. Since being a teenager, I have been obsessed with the superficial issue of how I look, how much I weigh, how big my thighs are. The most obvious solutions: slimming diets and increased exercise dealt temporarily with the symptom, but never with the cause. Even attempts at psychotherapy, mind coaching and meditation were approached from the wrong angle: that of needing to lose weight in order to feel better.

When Lucy asked us to state our intention on the first evening of the December 2nd retreat, I knew that it was finally time to deal with the root issue. The issue was self loathing, and a simple inability to accept myself as I am. To accept that the shell I have been gifted with on this earth was given to me with a purpose, and that it is not my place to question or reject it.
Retreat Facilitators: Felicity Hart and Lucy Draper-Clarke

My intention became that of self-acceptance – an intention that was repeated throughout the retreat thanks to Lucy’s quiet persistence. The combination of yoga, meditation and process work by both Lucy and Felicity, resulted in quite a dramatic change within me. It came in a way that was completely unexpected.

You see, I have always wanted to write for a magazine. Even as a trained journalist, I, with all my unrealistic expectations and tendencies to perfectionism, have struggled to ‘put myself out there’ because I have simply been too critical of anything that emanated from my pen.

However, the Sunday night after the retreat, I woke up at 01:30am with a burning need to write about my experience. Later that day, I typed it out, sent it to Lucy and Felicity, and within the same day, submitted it to a national women’s magazine. For the first time in my life, I was able to release a story that was still imperfect in many ways, and send it to a publication without fear of the editor's reaction. I was nervous – very nervous! But I did it. Or rather, as I realised afterwards, the Divine did it through me. 

And, apparently the Divine wanted the article to be published too. It was accepted by the magazine to be published in the new year. Of course, I will only believe it once I see it in print. But ultimately, the end result is irrelevant. The process was one in which I learned many invaluable lessons. Lessons about trust and faith and listening to your gut feeling. But most importantly, the lesson that I am never too “sorted” not to learn anything new, and not to relax and release through retreat activities that are beneficial – and vital – to my body and soul.
Releasing the Year with Mindful Awareness Retreat - left to right: Ruth (author), Rika, Felicity, Lucy, Merle and Melissa

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Group Mindfulness and Compassion Retreats with Annik and Olaf

Being a loner I was apprehensive about doing a group mindfulness retreat. But I am dedicated to Rob Nairn’s Psychology of Insight Training course and the group mindfulness was presented as a continuation of this work. As it most decidedly is – even if not directly intended to be so!

We were given enough theory to put the exercises we did in context. However, the theory did not prepare me for the profound discoveries I made about how I (dysfunctionally) function in groups. I was able to accept, explore and experience my new discoveries because I felt totally safe. Annik held the space with utter kindness, humility and non-judgement enabling us to share deep and difficult, and for me, previously never shared, experiences. In a few days, I gained a huge amount of compassionate insight into my group patterns and started on the path of being able to mindfully change how I function in groups. I understood that the group is a reflection of its members and the members each contain elements of the group. This was an important step in growing my understanding and compassion for others and understanding the interconnectedness of everything.

The compassion retreat, that followed, developed the learnings of the group mindfulness retreat. Again, I was hesitant about attending a compassion retreat as I’m not a “touchy feely” person. I also suspected I knew it all, anyhow. Well I didn’t and still don’t and probably never will (and that is perfect) but I developed my ability to hold myself in kindness and to really tune into other people while maintaining my own integrity. The visualisation practices presented me with my own incredible potential for good, that I have never really trusted or appreciated.

Compassion Retreat Group
Both retreats helped me deepen my self-awareness. Knowing, at deep levels, how I feel, brings the opportunity to make wise choices for myself and how I relate to others. I am further along the path of Not being at the mercy of subterranean, unacknowledged and merciless energies as a result of these two retreats and Rob’s course. The retreats, following on the first year of the Psychology of Insight Training course, have presented me with a Christmas stocking full of the most valuable gifts in the world that I can play with forever and that will never wear out, or break – as long as I keep practising.
Suddenly life is so much more fun.

Maxine Fine

Tuesday, 27 December 2016


We had a most wonderful Christmas miracle this year. After months of heat and drought, we were gifted 135 ml of rain! It came pouring down in a day - smashing all our streams wide open, quenching the ground's thirst and restoring balance to our land.

With dams full, streams flowing, happy animals and humans, all that was left to do was celebrate the festivities. We had an amazing feast of nut roast and lots of tasty veggies, followed by a display of various cakes baked at TRC & brought in by some of our generous retreatants.

We shared a table together and as our bellies filled, we connected further and further. Finding common humanity at a table of people from all walks of life is something that takes place every weekend at TRC. It's truly wonderful, and we do hope that in time, all of you reading this, will get to experience this with us. And on this note, we wish you all a wonderful New Year celebration - may all your greatest aspirations come to fruition in the years to come.

With love,
Tara Rokpa Centre

Here you can see a happy frog bouncing around at TRC during the rain, which reminds of the following quote by Chamgon Kentin Tai Situ Rinpoche:

"Every sentient being is equal to the Buddha"