A World of Difference

Before I get down to a few moving-related tasks today, such as notifying various official bodies of my upcoming change of address and packing a few more things, I want to write about something that came to mind a few days ago: there is a world of difference for me in whether I approach a situation by sitting still and asking what is being called for from me, than if I approach it with an attitude of something is wrong and it must be fixed.

The former way, of listening for what I am being called to do in response to the situation, is far more likely to keep me open to any possibility and it is more probable that I will think and behave compassionately.

If, however, I look at the particular circumstances as being wrong, I am immediately in a judging, blaming, closed-down state of mind with very limited possibilities available to me. And what is wrong, after all? We generally use this word to describe something we don’t like, don’t want, didn’t expect, is causing harm to me or others or that we judge to be unethical or incorrect. Something perhaps that arouses fear or disquiet in us. But labeling the situation as wrong feeds into the mind of aversion and I am then mostly concerned with rectifying the situation so that I can feel at peace again (though I might not see that at the time). In other words it is all about me.

It is hard to let go of blame, but I see more and more that it doesn’t help things. And I’m not denying that we sometimes have to deal with circumstances that are a cause for deep concern. Recognising and accepting our own fear and distress is a necessary step in becoming still. Allowing skillful action to be called forth from us, it is more likely that we will do what is of most benefit to all beings, and that, of course, includes ourselves.

Sitting Buddha Hermitage

I am naming this new place of Buddhist practice Sitting Buddha Hermitage. The community at Throssel are making a very appropriate gift of this outside sitting Buddha statue – thank you all so much!


I plan to place it on the wall around the lake, just in front of the building, with a bowl for incense offerings. I have decided not to burn incense or candles inside the building so that those who have allergies to smoke and perfumes will not be troubled, and also to help keep the building clean and fresh. Fortunately there are many good looking electric candles available for inside use – I saw one I liked at Ikea recently, but didn’t buy it in case I found something I liked better, but now I wish I’d bought it!

And instead of incense indoors, I particularly like the water offering that I saw at Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple in Ventura, California. Rev. Master Phoebe had a beautiful glass decanter and bowl on the altar, and an offering is made by pouring water from the decanter into the bowl. There is much teaching in Buddhism around water and it is often used in iconography as a potent symbol for compassion.

The Bodhisattva Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is particularly associated with water, usually being depicted sitting on a rock by a river and holding a vessel from which she pours out the water of compassion to suffering beings. I think the summer house would be an excellent place to put a shrine to Kanzeon, don’t you think? 

Moving Date – 25th February

Thank you so much for all the congratulations and messages of support for the new property in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. Thank you also for asking what items will be needed to furnish and equip it: I have put up a list in the Alms Bowl and have already been offered some of the things needed. I am really so grateful to everyone for helping to make this possible.

The moving date has been fixed for 25th of February. I am hiring a transit van, which Rev. Mugo has kindly offered to drive as she has plenty of experience of driving such vehicles. I will be very glad to have her along with me on the moving day.

I’ve done a little checking into public transport and was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is an hourly bus from the end of the road, going to Matlock and Derby, so it will be very possible for people to get here by train and bus, as well as by car.

And I will be giving this place a temple name. I have something in mind but can’t reveal it just yet!

A Property Found!

Great news – and the reason why this post is later than usual – Rev. Mugo and I went to view a property on Saturday and I have decided to rent it.

The property is on the edge of the town of Wirksworth in Derbyshire, just south of Matlock, with fields behind it and yes, the small lake is included. There is a large room, looking out on the lake, which is a lounge/diner/kitchen – pictures below (you can click to enlarge them).


There are two bedrooms, bathroom and a utility room, and space to park a retreat caravan. And there is a summerhouse which would make a very pleasant little shrine/meditation room:

We both had a very good feeling about the place – I think it will make a wonderful place of retreat. There are still a few formalities to complete, but if all goes well I am hoping to move in at the end of February. I still can’t quite believe that we have found such a delightful and suitable property so easily! I’ll publish more details in future posts.

Online Donations

Just thought I’d let you all know that I have added an online donation facility to the website. It is on the Appeal for Funds page and it looks like this (you can click on this one too):

I chose MyDonate because they don’t take any commission – most other online donation services do.

Holding the Space

This tree at Mount Grace Priory holds space beautifully

This tree at Mount Grace Priory holds space beautifully

Recently I was talking with a friend and she used the term holding the space. I have heard it before, but this time it really struck me because it so closely expresses what I see as my role when Field of Merit is established as an actual place of retreat. My understanding is that holding the space means to create a space, a safe environment, both physically and spiritually, for another person, or oneself, to be fully present with whatever is arising in the moment.

It is about being present without judgment, giving your complete attention to the situation you are in, or the person you are with. You are in the mode of listening deeply and accepting all that appears in front of you. You are not trying to change or fix anything.

Holding the space requires one to embrace the silence, to drop from the head to the heart and know that there is something greater at work that you can trust to move you towards a more profound understanding and wise and appropriate action.

I very much look forward to creating and taking care of a place that will give people the safety and the space to fully enter into the experience of silent retreat in a quiet and natural environment where one can meditate, contemplate and reflect and deepen one’s practice.

Improving the Website

This morning Rev. Mugo, Rev. Wilfrid and I had a meeting of the Field of Merit Trustees. One of the items on the agenda was to agree to register with the online donation service provided by MyDonate, which is operated by British Telecom. This will enable us to put a Donate Now button on the website. One of the reasons that we chose MyDonate was because they do not take any commission, unlike other services such as PayPal.

Rev. Mugo and I are also (slowly) making other improvements to the website. You have probably noticed that we have moved this blog from the front page and created a front page that hopefully sends the message that this site is more than the blog.

We added some text at the top of the Appeal for Funds page, which says “All donations are received as offerings to the Buddhadharma and are accepted with deepest gratitude.” At the heart of generosity is the unconditional nature of the gift. It is given because one wishes to bring benefit to all beings.

Work still to be done includes taking down the Transfer of Merit page – it seems to have run its course and to no longer be meeting a need. And I think we can put some more specific details on the About the Project page, and keep that more up-to-date as the project moves towards taking actual physical form in 2014.

So please do let us know if you have any thoughts about improving the website: Is there more information you’d like? Can you find what you are looking for? Anything about the look or feel of the site that doesn’t hit the spot for you? We always like to get feedback!

Caravans – and a Car

Gypsy Caravan CardThis card was given to me by someone who knows my interest in hermitages. It is not quite what I have in mind for the Field of Merit hermitages, but it is in the right spirit and I enjoy looking at it and am inspired by it.

Last week Rev. Wilfrid (a fellow trustee of this charity) and I visited United British Caravans, on Sandy Lane in Newcastle, to get an idea of what modern touring caravans look like and if they would be suitable as hermitages. I must admit that a caravan would not be my first choice as they are, understandably, not constructed with environmental considerations as a high priority, though they are better insulated nowadays and generally have double-glazing. On the plus side, a caravan contains all the facilities you need in a compact space, and it is movable.

This one that we looked at has a fixed bed at one end, which can be screened off, a toilet and a shower, cooker, fridge & sink, and a gas heater (click on a photo to enlarge it, or click here to go to the details on the UBC website). I would probably remove the fixed seating to make room for a table and chair and a meditation place. This caravan is a second-hand 4-berth Elddis Odyssey in very good condition for sale at £8,284. If you go for something a little older and more worn you can still get a good van for half that price or less. Given that there is very little money in the kitty, and we have to start somewhere, I think the first hermitage is likely to be a caravan, so If anyone out there has any advice about buying caravans please get in touch with me, I’d be very grateful.

I also want to say a big THANK YOU to the trustees of Reading Buddhist Priory, who have so kindly lent the Priory car, a 1999 Nissan Micra, to Field of Merit for so long as it is not needed at Reading, which will be at least a few months and possibly longer. This is such a helpful offering!

A Modification and a Next Step

News from Rev. Mugo
Rev. Alicia and I from the very start of the project 15 months ago intended to work side by side collaboratively and indeed that is what we have done up to now. As the project moved towards the next stage I gradually came to see that it would be good for me to step back and Rev. Alicia move into the lead role in taking the project forward and making it manifest. I had always imagined we would eventually be living at the temple and developing it together over the years into our dotage! This no long will happen, which brings a bit of sadness I must say. Life takes many twists and turns and I’d not anticipated a twist in the road of this import. It would be satisfying to be able to give well thought out reasons for coming to this however sometimes, it would seem, what comes up as good resists logical explanation! Even to oneself! At heart I feel this is a good move.

I will continue to support and help the project and I anticipate this being on the level of lifting and carrying rather than having a part in shaping future developments. Rev. Alicia and I continue to be good monastic friends and I bow to her patience and forbearance in the face of my change of mind.  I wish her well with taking the next step which is to rent property in the spring. In the future I’ll no doubt be signing up to spend some retreat time in a hut. Should there be a vacancy!  With bows, Mugo

News from Rev. Alicia: The Next Step – Renting a Property
For a while now I have been thinking that it would make a lot of sense to start this project at rented property. It might be a very long time until there is enough money to buy a place, and renting would enable the project to get started and offer the hermitage-style retreat facilities that are at the heart of this project. It would also provide experience that would be very helpful when choosing more permanent premises.

Over the last few weeks Rev. Mugo and I have consulted with many people, monks and lay supporters, as a result of which I have decided to look for a place to rent that I could move into in the spring, with the intention of being ready to open the doors to retreat guests by the summer.

The plan is to look for a bungalow or small house that stands on its own, not overlooked by neighbours, and with enough land to be able to site a couple of shepherd huts/trailers/yurts or other similar moveable structures to serve as the first guest hermitages. It would probably be somewhere in the Midlands. I don’t have anywhere in particular in mind, it just needs to be rural and reasonably accessible by road and public transport. If you live in the Midlands and would like to do some scouting around do let me know, I’d be very grateful for help in locating a suitable property.

From looking at rental property on the Rightmove website, £650 a month looks like it would get a reasonable property. Add to that Council Tax, gas and electricity, insurance, food, phone, car etc. and I think we are looking at a minimum monthly running cost of around £1,200 i.e. £14,400 a year.

There is currently around £6,000 in the bank, and £80 a month coming in via standing order donations so raising some more money to help get the project up and running would definitely be a good move – if you would like to help please visit the Appeal for Funds page of the website.

In the long term, I expect that donations from retreat guests will provide the major source of income though realistically it may be a year or two before that goal is realised, so I would like to reassure you that the means is in place to cover any deficit during that initial period (though it would be great if it wasn’t needed!)

So, that’s the outline plan, and there will be plenty more details to come as we start putting it into action. Rev. Mugo and I will keep you posted via this newsletter and the blog posts on the website. We’ll also be updating some of the pages on the website to reflect these new steps.

If you have any thoughts, comments, ideas or questions do please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!


A Shepherd Hut

I have been out this morning to meet Paul at The Northumberland Shepherd Hut Co. I have been looking at shepherd huts online and thinking what a fabulous hermitage one of these huts would make. Paul’s huts are particularly beautiful, made with reclaimed wood and very solid. I think these huts are at the top end of the market, but as the workshop is only a one-hour drive from Throssel it was well worth going for a look-see.

Hut in Construction

Shepherd Hut in Construction

There are other shepherd hut companies around, many of them in the south-west, such as Dorset Shepherd Huts who do a self-build option starting at £4,100 + VAT which may be nearer what we might afford. You would need to add on the cost of a woodstove, a sink and 2-ring gas hob and a composting loo plus delivery charge for the whole kit.

Here’s another company that does a self-build option: Blackdown Shepherd Huts in Somerset.

And there are probably some second-hand shepherd huts for sale somewhere – has anybody seen one?