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Nov 20
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A Weethun at Casa Werma
Shrine Room

Shrine Room

By Brus Westby

Jean and I have just returned to our home in Bucerias in Nayarit, Mexico, from a magical tour of San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, and Patzcuaro, in Michoacan. First we were invited to give talks at the Shambhala Center in San Miguel by the director, Marg Sander and her husband, John Perkins. After wending through the confusing and narrow cobbled streets of San Miguel, we finally located the Shambhala Center, just an hour before our first talk! Fortunately, we quickly settled into the lovely, spacious apartment upstairs in the center. The two talks over the next three evenings on shamatha practice and contemplation was received well by the attendees, 25 in all.

San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful mountain pueblo. “El Centro,” where the Shambhala Center is located, is composed of colonial houses, restaurants and shops surrounding the “jardin” or garden plaza, which is overlooked by the impressive “Parroquia,” or parish, of San Miguel. As we walked the charming labyrinth of streets we noticed almost as many “gringos” from the States, Canada and Europe as Mexicans. Everyone seemed friendly and the drivers considerate. They had to be. It would be foolhardy to drive faster than 10 mph on those narrow lanes with their “topes,” or speed bumps, and intersections with no lights or signs! During our short stay, we just touched in on the many attractions of that town. Highlights, however, were a visit with Marg to nearby “La Gruta,” a hot springs grotto, and a tour of the ancient church of Atotonilco, a national landmark with its walls and ceiling frescos under restoration. Our final night was spent with Marg and John in their comfortable home in “Los Frailes,” about 15 minutes outside El Centro, and taking a tour of an authentic reproduction of an 18th century San Miguel centre courtyard colonial house that John built and is for sale (to view this amazing house go to http://www.dralapad.com.) Throughout our stay there, Marg and John were gracious hosts.

Werma Feast

Werma Feast

Our next invitation was to lead a weekthun at Casa Werma in Patzcuaro, about three hours south of San Miguel. At 7500 feet, Patzcuaro is overlooked by a massive basilica and is famous for its Day of the Dead celebrations. Casa Werma, with its four buildings and five beautiful acres of gardens and woods, is just a few blocks from the central Plaza Grande. It is renowned in our community as the site of the writing of the Werma Sadhana by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche in 1981. (I wrote last spring about Acharya Lyon’s Werma Sadhana retreat there, so the reader can refer to that report for further descriptions of Casa Werma and Patzcuaro.)

Shrine Room at Casa Werma

Shrine Room at Casa Werma

Caretakers and our old friends, Eve Halpern and her partner, Cristina Sandoval, greeted us. At eight months pregnant, Eve was healthy and robust. We had a day to catch up on our lives before the students arrived. Eight students participated in all, one from a small town outside of Toronto, one from Mexico City, one from Cuernavaca, and the rest from San Miguel de Allende. Except for one student, all had done some sitting before and several had done at least through Level 2 of Shambhala Training.

Our daily schedule varied little: breakfast at 8:30; first session: 9:30-11:30; “Refrigerio,” or snack: 11:30-12:00; second session: 12:00-2:00; “Comida,” or lunch (always a delicious offering of authentic area dishes cooked on an open fire by cook Angelina) cleanup and rest: 2:00-4:00; third session, 4:00-6:00; and the evening session reserved for reading and exploring the town. During the practice sessions, we would mix sitting meditation with walking meditation and “aimless wandering,” and eventually add contemplation exercises and tonglen practice. After the first hour of the third session, we would give a talk or play a video or audio of Sakyong Mipham, Rinpoche or Pema Chodren, and then have discussion. For reading we’d assign chapters of the Sakyong’s book, Turning The Mind Into An Ally. Everyone seemed to respond well to this schedule. Jean and I conducted individual meditation interviews on the second and fifth days, and were heartened by the students’ developing insights, flexibility and humor.

On one of the last days, we all took a tour of nearby Tzintzuntzan, or “Place of the Hummingbirds” in the Pur’hepacha Indian language. This is the site of ancient round and flat-topped pyramids (that I reported on earlier,) and also of ancient olive trees on the extensive Catholic Church grounds, planted by the conquistadors in the early 16th century and among the oldest-and strangest looking-trees in the Americas. On another evening, Eve and Cristina, gave a slide presentation of the work being done at Casa Werma. It was phenomenal, to say the least, to see the “before and after” pictures of the land and houses since Eve and Cristina arrived 18 months before. Cristina in particular, an accomplished contractor, worked 12 hour days along with workers, Jorge and Alvaro, to clear land, renovate buildings, build bathrooms and create a beautiful shrine room. Eve, meanwhile, had been working hard to establish legal status for Casa Werma as a Bed and Breakfast when not a practice retreat. Both women acknowledged that, whereas much had been accomplished, there was still a lot of work ahead. In response, that small group of relatively new practitioners raised over $1500. For new furniture and operating expenses!

For information about Casa Werma and upcoming group retreats, visit: [email protected]

Casa Werma Weethun Students

Casa Werma Weethun Students

Every beginning has an end, and so it was time for all of us to depart, our mutual vow to continue to practice until we’d meet again, and with great good wishes for the birth of Eve’s and Cristina’s baby in November. For Jean and me, our journey to San Miguel de Allende and Patzcuaro was warmly received, and everyone was more than helpful and appreciative. In a word, it was magical. We recommend to the reader that you consider these pueblos an important part of your future Shambhala Buddhist pilgrimage to Mexico.

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