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Summer Fun at Gampo Abbey

Monk at Bat, photo by Scott Munn (Instagram @photomunn)Gampo Abbey Monastics Play Ball, Release Lobsters and Visit Kalapa Valley

article by Ani Lodro Dechen

Like the seasons surrounding us, life at the Abbey is very different in the summer than in the winter. In contrast to the period of deep retreat we engage in during the winter (“Yarne”, the traditional annual monastic retreat led by Gampo Acharya Pema Chodron), the summer comes with a buzz of activities, visitors, and enjoyment of the beautiful land and sea surrounding us.

Who would think, when living through a wild, icy, windy winter in a deserted Cape Breton, that the summer would be so lush, warm, and heavenly? The island is populated again as summer residents occupy their seaside cottages and tourists fill the scenic Cabot Trail. Wild roses fill the air with their delicate perfume, and Gampo Abbey opens its doors to the invitation of summer.

Every year on Canada Day (July 1st), the Abbey residents play a softball game against the volunteer firefighters of Pleasant Bay, the local community we are part of. The whole village, along with the Abbey residents and a few curious tourists, have a day of celebration together.

Strolling around Kalapa Valley, photo by Daniel Jean

Strolling around Kalapa Valley, photo by Daniel Jean

We begin by meeting up at the general store, where kids and adults alike are all decked out in white and red colors. There is a parade (in this remote area, “parade” means we all walk down together, and no one is watching!) down to the harbor, and kids are judged for the best “float” – their bicycle, cart, or scooter lavishly decorated in the Canadian flag’s colors. We then enjoy some food and conversation together, after which there are a variety of games.

Then comes the big game — softball! The tradition is that the monks and nuns play in their robes, while the firefighters wear their boots. However, we have noticed that the firefighters have been getting lax on their end of the deal…perhaps they feel slightly threatened as they sense an increase in our skill with the years? Even if that were true, somehow we always end up losing! This year the score was 17-3. It sounds bad, but it was a lot of fun! As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche puts it: “Success and failure are your journey.”

Ani Chodron at Kalapa Valley, photo by Lodro Kalsang

Ani Chodron at Kalapa Valley, photo by Lodro Kalsang

Around the same time, we engage in another yearly tradition called the lobster release. Releasing live animals is a common practice in Buddhist cultures, and it was suggested to us by our Abbot, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, that we release lobsters, as this is the main creature that is fished in Pleasant Bay. So every year, at the end of the last day of the fishing season, we buy the day’s catch from our good friend Captain Mark, a local fisherman.

We all pile into the boat, along with some 140 lobsters in crates, and sail out to sea, amazed by the rugged and beautiful coastline we live on, but rarely see. Captain Mark kindly sails all the way to where we get a good view of the Abbey, and after a chant and blessing, we proceed to releasing the lobsters back in the water, tail first, and gently. “Don’t go back in the trap!” we tell them!

Another beautiful place we have had the fortune to visit in Cape Breton is Kalapa Valley, the “sacred center of Shambhala,” as proclaimed by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Living so close to such a powerful and beautiful place, Abbey residents love to find excuses to go for a visit every now and then.

Group photo at Kalapa Valley by Zaida Rigpa Belendez

Group photo at Kalapa Valley by Zaida Rigpa Belendez

This summer, we decided to celebrate Ani Pema’s birthday, on July 14th, at this sacred park. Taking a day off from our regular schedule, we packed picnic lunches in our backpacks and set off for the East coast of Cape Breton Island, driving around the north. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm, without too many bugs.

Arriving at Kalapa Valley, we settled down in the shade of a big birch tree and enjoyed our picnic together. We then invoked the dralas with a lhasang, offering strands of local juniper, which grows abundantly on the cliffs near the Abbey. Wishing our teacher Ani Pema a cheerful birthday and a long life, we chanted the warrior’s cry and sung the Shambhala Anthem with gusto! We enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon hiking around and visiting the different parts of the valley, some people even taking a swim under the waterfalls.

May the summer bring us many more opportunities to meet with the good people, gentle animals, and awake dralas of this beautiful place!

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2 responses to “ Summer Fun at Gampo Abbey ”
  1. Gee, I wish someone had told me where the waterfalls are….I hope the mosquitoes were less this year than last when I was devoured by the creatures. Happy Summer all you maroon beings!

  2. Zane de Noncourt
    Jul 31, 2015

    Thank you so much for the sweet narrative and photos about summer energy at Gampo Abbey. I especially delighted in the description of the “parade” … “Just do it like nobody’s watching!!! Great metaphor for life!

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