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TARALOKA OPEN AFTERNOON - JUNE 2017 Written by Trish Sykes
Sunday 11th June dawned with strong winds and dark, forbidding clouds. This ensured that, at every available moment, several community members headed to their computers to check the weather forecast. Some sound bites of the conversations that morning were:”40% chance of rain at 1300 hours”; “Oh - my search said no rain until 1400”; “Noooo! That’s just in time for my Tai Chi session on the lawn!”; “My search said rain all afternoon”; “But if it rains at 1500, who’s going to want to come on my guided tour of the landscape?”. So why did the community have such a strong obsession with the weather that day (even allowing for the fact that we are in Wales)? The answer lies with all the baking of vegan cakes, vegan sourdough bread, the writing of talks, the preparation of meditation and Tai Chi sessions, as well many hundreds of leaflets, posters and road signs that had been distributed and displayed around the locality, advertising Taraloka’s bi-annual Open Afternoon.
This year, we had the ‘luxury’ of an empty retreat centre for a few days beforehand, which meant that much of the preparation (e.g. deep cleaning, repairing floorboards, setting up the bookshop area, etc.) could be attended to freely, without the added tension of trying to remain invisible/ unobtrusive. We also had a great deal of help in the form of volunteers - with Catherine, our six-month ‘temporary community member’ and some of our local and not-so-local ‘frequent flyers’ (Rebecca, Stella, Caroline, Biddy, Ros, Pen, Karen, Mary) helping out in so many ways - including baking, picking elderflowers for home-made cordial, leafleting, composing and printing easy-to-understand sourdough bread recipes, running the plant stall in the absence of Suchitta, and painting stones with the younger visitors.
So why do we go to so much trouble to open our doors to the wider community? The reasons are many and varied. It is not only a very hands-on approach to advertising our existence, it is also a way of de-bunking any myths that might be flying around - both those of which we are aware, and those ‘hidden’ in the local rumour mill. It is a friendly, welcoming gesture to show our neighbours (as well as those who come from further afield) that we are not nuns, that we can do ‘what we want’ (?!) and that we choose, of our own free will, to live and work here! It is also a very gentle, brief, open-to-all way of introducing what Buddhism is ‘about’, what meditation is (and isn’t!), how vegan food doesn’t have to taste of sawdust…. Besides this, through conversations on the day and the brilliant noticeboard display so well crafted by Maitridevi and Catherine, it is a way of communicating how Taraloka is actively trying to effect change in the world, as evidenced by the eye-catching reduction in our carbon footprint in the last six years (down to 1.89 tonnes per person per year when the UK average is 7.86).
So – back to the weather on the day. At 13.40 (with the Open Afternoon starting at 1400), the clouds burst and we had a veritable downpour but, thankfully, it was brief and after about 15 minutes it dried up and the sun came out. It was reminiscent of two years ago, when the same thing happened – maybe Tara herself plays a part in that? At a rough estimate, we had 200 people through our doors and it was lovely to witness their interest and, indeed, their delight – as indicated by some lovely feedback on Taraloka’s FaceBook page (“What a beautiful afternoon at Taraloka. Thank you to all the wonderful women I spoke to and spent some time with. I felt instantly at home and peaceful. You have created a very special place xx”).
I think my favourite moment of the afternoon (being fairly static as I was looking after the bookshop) was looking through the lounge patio doors and seeing a young girl of, perhaps, seven years old, joining in very enthusiastically with Hridayagita’s Tai Chi session on the front lawn. She was, at times, following the smooth and measured movements very accurately – at other times, it looked as though we might be missing strobe lighting and a disco ball!
All in all, I think the extra leafleting that we undertook this year has ‘paid dividends’, with several of the visitors expressing an interest in attending a retreat here and, whether or not that happens, I believe that a great deal of ‘communication’ took place – verbal or otherwise – all of which, hopefully, imparted a little of the efforts we make at Taraloka to bring a positive change to our world.