Caravan Fund

Sitting Buddha HermitageYesterday was a beautiful day so I got out my camera and took some new shots of Sitting Buddha Hermitage. To the left of the building you can see the space where the retreat caravan will go. Two generous donations to the caravan fund have been made so far, totalling £1,500, which are both Gift Aided adding another £375. I reckon that I should be able to find a decent second hand caravan for £4,000, so we are almost half way there. If you can help with a donation please go to the Appeal for Funds page where you’ll find details of how you can make your donation.

Back in December Rev. Wilfrid and I visited a caravan dealer in Newcastle and we saw a 4 berth caravan with a fixed bed at the end. I liked this layout because you don’t have to convert the seating to a bed at night and then convert it back in the morning.


(You can click on a photo to see a larger version.)

If you are wondering what happened to the idea of getting an ecopod or a shepherd hut, I am still very keen on them and am holding them in mind for the future when we may possibly be able to buy our own property with more land. For now, on this rental property, it will need to be a caravan. And a caravan is considerably cheaper! I have started looking online for used caravans in the Derbyshire area and a kind Sangha friend has offered to tow it here. Just need to find a good one…

Building not Shed

Rev. Alicia and 'pod'.

Rev. Alicia and ‘pod’.

Rev. Alicia and I met in the Southern Lake District on Tuesday. We enjoyed lunch together – a treat of egg, beans, chips and then visited a two-man enterprise making camping pods. Their workshop was deep in the folds of the lowland Lakes – UK Hideaways Ltd. We were given a royal welcome and our every question answered in detail. The two men, obviously enjoying working together, seemed to have all the time in the world for us. We were impressed. Impressed by the attention to detail in the build, the thorough consideration of materials they were using. Most inspiring for me was their obvious committment to what they make not only while they are building but after they have left the workshop. Oh yes we visit our pods after they are on site to make sure everything is as it should be. Finding people who love what they do for a living is indeed inspiring.

If these pods were to be what Rev. Alicia chooses for the hermitages I think they will be great little, and not so little actually, spaces to sit within. Clearly they are not just ‘sheds’. They are buildings, secure, well-built, weather proof and long-lasting. They are guaranteed for 30 years of serviceable life.

After visiting the workshop one chap escorted us to a commercial campsite some distance away where around twelve pods were rowed up waiting for spring to come and to be filled up with jolly campers. It was clear on getting inside finished buildings that these would be ideal hermitages. And reflecting on why I thought this I came to see how the attitude of the men who put their hands to constructing them made a very positive contribution. A contribution which would have an impact on anybody sitting silently within them.

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!

May we within the temple of our own hearts dwell….

A field shelter in Eastern Cumbria - for sheep.

A field shelter in Eastern Cumbria – for sheep.

Our new logo has had me thinking about shelter and how small spaces are very attractive, drawing one into them. I discovered a set of photographs of bus shelters
by American photographer Chris Mottalini which I hope you enjoy looking at as much as I do. These shelters, large enough for one or two children, have a striking resemblance to our logo. A small confined space, shelter from the elements. As the artist says they are representative of the universal impulse of to care. If I were a child in Buffalo I’d long for the bus to not come! I’d then sit in the shelter all day – in solitude. Here is the artist’s statement about his work.

‘The Mistake by the Lake’ is a photographic record of the assortment of (school) bus shelters to be found scattered across the landscape of greater Buffalo, New York. These sentry-like structures are built by parents in order to protect their children from the brutal Buffalo winters. The sheer variety in design is astounding, with many of the shelters being built in a similar style to the family home. They will often match, mimic or complement the owners’ houses like bizarre architectural offspring. These structures are representative of the universal impulse of care, which undercuts the narrative of neglect and abandonment that the mention of Buffalo (the photographer’s hometown) usually invokes. The heart of the work for me is capturing the material products of human concern and emotion that have, in many cases, fallen into disuse.

Chris Mottalini
To view the photographs click on the link above. Then when in the site click on the word photographs. A list will appear, click on The Mistake by the Lake. A photograph will appear to the left. Wait for all the pictures to load and then you can scroll through them clicking on the tiny arrow (looks a bit like this >). You can find the arrow by moving your cursor around towards the bottom right hand edge of the photographs. Drop me a note if you need help. It would be welcome contact with those of you reading here.

I believe there is something in all of us that we knew as children. That’s, given the time and opportunity, to withdraw within and dwell in solitude. Even amidst rush and bustle. Being in a confined physical space, a hut, can help remind us of what we already know about. That our temple is within our own hearts, where we can dwell always.

A hat tip to the daughter of a regular reader whose university work referenced these photographs. Thank you so much.

Feast and Famine

hut When short in years we feast on life and all that comes. A single fallen petal or a full bunch of flowers hold similar delight. The concept of abundance has not really reached our consciousness. As we grow longer in years we count and imperceptibly, feast gradually transforms to scarcity, limits and limitations. When once we counted our blessings as years grow on us the tendency is to innumerate the curses; the pains and irritations, disease and disappointment. In a certain way of looking at the arc of living we go from feast to famine.

A long time unemployed friend told me today that he had two interviews for jobs this week. During these past years even getting to interview has been a rare occurrence for him. So now having done well in both interviews there might even be a choice between which job to take. But it is early days. Not a good idea to count those chickens, it only leads to disappointments. But getting out of that feast/famine mind for just a moment it is good to remember that abundance and scarcity are constant companions throughout life.

And so to the rustic hut. The one above with a hole in the roof and the battered walls is no longer there nestling in the Black Forest, Germany. It must have fallen down. The decaying structure had limitations in terms of being a shelter. I doubt if anybody had been in it for years. But it was attractive enough for me to take a photograph. And I am wondering why. Perhaps a metaphor for the aging process, a romantic ruin? A natural folly. A structure with questionable value yet redolent with Truth? Perhaps the sad-beauty of decay. An emblem of impermanence.

Now as I think about it I imagine the sparking of interest was to do with this bringing together of feast and famine. Which is discovered, with accompanying joys/sorrows, in the living of a reflective life. And well, OK then, the picture is published here because of the significant place small spaces have in nurturing that life and how, with this Field of Merit project, we intend to nurture reflective living.

A Simplified Life

A Simplified Life is the title of a book by Verena Schiller, a Christian nun who spent over 25 years as a hermit in a cabin on the Llyn Penninsula in North Wales. I am in no doubt that times of silence and solitude are of great spiritual benefit to all, regardless of a person’s faith, or lack of it. Many of us, including me, who read or hear about such lives feel drawn to examine our own for opportunities to simplify. We do not need to make a grand gesture, it can be as simple as

  • pausing now and paying attention to three breaths
  • switching the car radio off
  • taking a walk on one’s own or in companionable silence
  • tidying your room
  • cooking and eating a simple meal of rice and fresh vegetables
  • switching your phone and computer off for an hour – or a day!
  • making the time and space for a daily meditation practice
  • taking a few unnecessary items to a charity shop
  • putting your shoes straight

And there are times when we feel called to make a bigger change. Reducing the number of hours we work, or changing to a less-demanding job might mean lower income and less status but a huge improvement in the quality of life that really matters to us. Sometimes we are so caught up in what has become the norm for us and those around us that we don’t realise how drained and scattered we have become until we allow ourselves to experience a different way.

And ultimately, a simplified life is a state of mind, an approach to life that lets go of the pull to fill every moment with activity, of the need to do everything on schedule and perfectly, to be all things to all people other than ourselves. It is a life that pays heed to the inner call and has the courage to follow it.

As Great Master Dogen says in the Kyojukaimon

To do something by ourselves, without copying others, is to become an example to the world and the merit of doing such a thing becomes the source of all wisdom……..


The Kanzeon Retreat

This is the Kanzeon Retreat at Throssel. It is on the edge of a copse in the field beyond Myrtlebank. Both Rev. Mugo and I have spent time alone on retreat here. Inside the hut is a table, chair and bed and a small gas stove and sink reclaimed from a caravan. Both the stove and the heater run off a calor gas bottle. In a separate little room off the porch there is a chemical loo.

When someone is on retreat here they fly four pennants from flag poles placed at the four corners of the hut – a yellow flag in the north, red in the east, blue in the south and white in the west, representing the qualities of mindfulness, diligence, meditation and faith. The flags let people know that there is someone on retreat who is not to be disturbed. There are also three stupas and an outside altar at four points around the hut creating a sense of sacred space within them. When I start a retreat here I put up the flags, offer incense at the altar inside the hut, then circumambulate the hut three times offering incense at each of the stupas and the outside altar. At some point I will recite The Scripture of Avalokiteshwara Bodhisattva. Then I go inside and start the first meditation period of my retreat. Performing this ceremony helps to direct my mind to my intention to put aside my usual activities and concerns and simplify my life, allowing the silence and solitude to do their work on me.

When I imagine the hermitages that our project aims to build, I imagine them surrounded by similar flags and bunting. In fact we are delighted that friends of ours in Malaysia have very kindly offered to send us some Buddhist bunting and one or two Buddhist flags. When we eventually purchase property we will hold a ground-blessing ceremony at which we will hang out all the bunting and fly the flags. Early days yet – we have some serious fund-raising to do first. But a little bit of imagining certainly helps!