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Jun 10
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Connecting with the Elements at the Spring Dathun

by Katherine Adams

Oryoki in progress

Oryoki in progress

Our first gathering in the shrine room was after dinner on April 2. We were about 30 people: participants, assistant directors, coordinator and director. We came from the west coast, Canada, urban and rural areas; and from all degrees of transitions, endings and beginnings. Oryoki instructions were given on the first day, complete with a video camera and monitor showing Director Henry Chapin’s hands opening and closing the set! Henry introduced lujong and shamatha yoga not long after that. A few days later came silence. Gradually we settled in.

Our morning dathun walks were down to the bridge, around the garden, to the overlook by the site of the future stupa or to the Purkong. First there were spots of snow on the northern hillsides, then only thinning ice shelves on the northern side of the brook were left. Into the second week we were having afternoon yoga outside. Each week Henry gave talks on one of the elements: earth, then water, fire, wind/air and space. Through exercises and contemplations we explored the physical qualities of the elements—in our bodies and in the environment. We also experienced the psychological, emotional and spiritual states associated with them. We became familiar with the stuckness of having too much earth element and the instability of having too little. We became familiar with its wisdom aspect: the relaxed strength of being in synch, the awake earth quality of protection.

Dathun participants on their daily walk

Dathun participants on their daily walk

Our dathun walks were in the late morning when it is said that the earth element is most energetic. The spring earth was moist under our feet. We also felt the water element manifesting in connections. In week two we noticed the flow and flexibility of the mind, continuously changing but unbroken. We were growing on each other and felt at home. When we felt alone we practiced gentleness. We heard the spring sound of the brook with its meltwater energy and contemplated the clarity of water. We experienced how, in our minds, that can sometimes turn into being overly analytical and then into frustration or aloofness. The neurotic aspect of this energy was turned into the wisdom aspect and back again many times—often manifesting during oryoki!

April 4 was the parinirvana of Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Karme Choling shrine room filled up to hear the Sakyong’s address. The rain was letting up that day.

We looked forward to the festive dinner before the free day, half way through the dathun! Puja tables were arranged in the shrine room. Participants stepped in to serve wine. Finally we could talk—and animatedly enjoyed each other without hand signals! Henry had read some haiku a couple of days earlier and suggested that offerings could be made during dinner. Henry offered this haiku:

an old log submerged
in the river for so long:

wood water
water wood


The warmth of insights, more connecting and fun-poking filled our haiku, toasts, conversations and clean-up.

In addition to Henry’s talks and instruction, his near-constant presence in the shrine room as a participant was a reminder of being awake and relaxing with things as they are. The meditation instructors were also asked to teach. Bozica Costigliola demonstrated and clarified working with bodhicitta. Ghislain Auger guided us through tonglen as we brought friends and enemies to mind. I spoke about the protector principle in several of its manifestations. David McKeel was a patient mountain in training nervous new oryoki servers. Coordinator David Fraioli could comfortably be at several different places at the same time to get things ready. Josephine Mackay, a first-week participant, transitioned out into a Vajrayogini program, and then came back to work with Henry and the participants as a meditation instructor for the last two weeks. During the second half of the dathun participants were ringing gongs and blowing conches. The red-winged blackbirds were calling to each other in early April. Towards the end of the month the peepers were peeping and the robins were caroling. There were many bird songs and calls by then. The earth’s changes were now less subtle.

Practicing with the elements

Practicing with the elements

Everyone worked with precision and many forms of gentleness. The participants were remarkable! They were inspiring: vigilant about recognizing their thoughts, brave and humorous about staying with their experience. They had a patient exertion. Each participant brought an energetic loyalty to the situation and the seasoning that was taking place. Everyone was touched by the time we spent together at Karme Choling.

The participants: Sandy Bussell, Mikke Giffune, Anne Marie Ketelsen, Eilen Kuckro, Lini Lieberman-Erich, Stephanie Simard, John Stott, Landis Tanger, Louise Billon, Ayten Birol, Penny Burke, Paula Butler, Leslie English, Corine Lemieux, Nancy Lewis, Barbara Lurie, Josephine Mackay, Peggie Martinez, Suzanne Rogers, Kathy Bither, Sheila Craig, Stephanie Graham, John Holden, Michael Hope, Jeffrey Israel, Brandon Jellison, Mala Kashyap, Micael Mindrum, James Reed, Kevin Strader, Karen Monahan, Jan Nathan, Kim Rasmussen, Michelle Rosewood.

Ki-Ki So-So!

Katherine Adams has been practicing since 1995. She lives in Brookline where she is appreciating her connection to the elements and the vivid mirror of unemployment.

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