ECOTHERAPY INTENSIVE 2015: Ian Finlay writes

BUDDHIST ECO_RETREAT IN THE RHEIDOL FOREST   28JULY 2AUGUST
Ian Finlay

Last week the yearly Ten Directions eco-therapy intensive took place in the Rheidol valley near Aberystwyth.
In the end there were only five people on the retreat including myself and Caroline Brazier who ably led the event.
This year there was a more overtly Buddhist theme, great importance having been put on forest retreats throughout the history of Buddhism, and we looked at some of the early sutras such as the Bhaya- bherava sutra in which Buddha discusses the difficulties of isolated forest retreats and the fear and terror that can arise if the mind is not purified.
I would not say that I experienced terror, but there were fears and difficulties a plenty. Some were purely practical, had I prepared the site properly, was there enough dry firewood, drinking water etc? We had also chosen (not deliberately) the wettest and coldest week of the summer so there were real physical problems but despite this we all managed to stay warm and dry most of the time and cook all our meals on the campfire outside.
Much of the time was spent observing nature closely, realising impermanence as the weather constantly changed, rainclouds racing across the sky in much the same way as thoughts and feelings race across the empty space of the mind. Buzzards and kites wheeled overhead, foxgloves and honeysuckle bloomed and faded, further symbols of impermanence. transient and fragile. Working with nature in this way we could see the impermanence of all things, how the mightiest trees would eventually fall, and decaying give their bodies to the fungi and other organisms, subject to the same forces of change as ourselves. We also meditated on the elements,earth, water, fire and air realising that nothing is as solid as it appears and all is interconnected.
By the fourth day I was feeling very clear, very present and confident, then came the solitary where we all went off to different places with sleeping bags, hammocks and tarpaulins in late afternoon to spend from then until the following morning alone.I had looked forward to it, feeling I would enjoy the solitude and I soon found a good place and set up camp quickly and efficiently. I then started to feel slightly uncomfortable, still four hours of daylight and what was I to do? Sitting in meditation and walking up and down past my site filled my time, but why was I so anxious to 'fill' it, does time need filling? I became acutely aware of my neuroses, my evasions and need for distractions.
As darkness fell I climbed into my hammock and felt a sharp pain in my back, the start of sciatica, a condition I have suffered from before. I am not used to hammocks and found it uncomfortable and difficult to move in with my increasing back pain. I lay as still as I could and listened to the owls. Late in the night it started to rain. Hard. I worried I would get wet but the tarp held and I was at least dry. I worried about the others, but after a sleepless night I stumbled out of my hammock and made my way back to camp. The others appeared , all had kept dry and were in good spirits.
My sciatica worsened and I experienced acute pain all down my right leg. My earlier feelings of confidence and clarity evaporated. I inwardly cursed God and the universe for the unkind fate that had dealt me such a blow.
A week later and my sciatica is easing and I see things differently again, as a great gift. The four noble truths, suffering and the way out of suffering. A practical demonstration of suffering which I could not let go of. I failed to find the way out, though I had been so wise earlier talking about the space beyond body and mind, the unborn and uncreated. I cannot remember it exactly but there is a poem by William Blake about how easy it is to praise God when your harvest is in and your belly is full but it is a very different thing when it is not. And I thought of Christ, the real message of the resurrection seems to me to be about overcoming suffering and death, not by rising again on the third day but by a total acceptance of it. 'If this is my cup shall I not drink it?'  Can we say 'yes' to life, gladly accept all that it can throw at us?
The answer, I fear, is 'no' in my case. But I can practice with what I have now, the life and death of every moment, the sun, the clouds, the friends I have, and those moments where self is dropped and everything just is.
And all with a little more humility, I hope.
All in all, a wonderful if challenging experience and one which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone.

Photo of Ian 'entering the stream' to launch a symbolic 'raft' made by the group.

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OBITUARY- PERRY ISODORE IGOE

Friends, family and loved ones: greetings, and thank you for joining us for this celebration of the life of Perry Isadore Igoe.

Though we gather here today, bound by sorrow and loss, we share a precious gift. We were all privileged to live a life that has been touched by Perry. He possessed a number of extraordinary gifts, which he shared with us freely. None of these gifts, however, are more remarkable than his capacity for love in its purest, most sincere, and honest form. Love for his adored wife, his beloved daughters, his precious friends, and for nature that surrounds us all, especially the life breathed into us by the trees.

Perry was born August 1st 1963 and was very premature so spent the first six weeks of his life in an incubator where he captured the hearts of the nurses and midwives with his cuteness. The trademark infectious Perry smile is well known by all his friends and family so without a doubt, even as a baby he could melt hearts.

Growing up, he went to school in Braintree in Essex, where he lived with his mum Carol, his younger sister Tracey, and older brother Wayne.

Perry was severely dyslexic, so, as a young man, in a very lean job market, he looked for a practical career. He joined the RAF at 16 and served with them for 17 years in Biggin Hill, Brize Norton, Germany, and the Falkland islands. Perry was a peace loving soul and had no desire to ever take up arms, harm, or kill anyone. Since however there had been no wars for a long time, it felt like a fairly safe career for a fit young man. It suited Perry who loved to be part of a team.

When he was 23, Perry managed to search for and finally find his father, Isadore Griffin, who was Black American, which led to several visits to his father in the USA.  Sadly his father also died at an early age a few years later. But Perry has continued to keep regularly in touch with the American side of his family – he was always telling Liz that one day soon they would go to visit, what he jokingly called, - ‘the dark side’!

Perry then worked in logistics and stores for the RAF and was promoted to corporal but, as the Cold War ended, promotions in the RAF were increasingly hard to come by. So after 17 years Perry took voluntary redundancy, left the RAF and went to work for Motorola in Swindon. He bought a house with his then wife, Carrie, and lived in it with his two daughters Sian & Kylie and rather a lot of strange pets. 

Perry was a great believer in investing in property and at one point when he found his work hours cut down, he took on two other jobs and bought a house in Avebury, which he rented out for a while. He later moved to Avebury with his wife Antoinette and ran a B&B there. 

Avebury was a spiritual home for Perry – he loved the standing stones and he enjoyed the succession of eccentric, visiting tourists interested in the stone circles as well as the many crop circles that pop up in Wiltshire fields in the spring and summer months. Whilst Perry was there he was a member of a Wiccan coven and later a shamanistic group.

In 2007 Perry decided to train as a counsellor with the Buddhist Organisation, the Amida Trust – now re-named - the Tariki Trust. This was where he met Liz and they became good friends.  In 2009 they both qualified as counsellors. In his usual ‘speedy’ fashion Perry had completed the course in record time – under 2 years. He went on to work for an organisation which helped educate young people with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Perry worked as a counsellor for several years before he finally fulfilled a life-long dream of buying a property ‘somewhere warm’.

In 2013 Perry moved again, lock stock and barrel, to the Serra De Estrella Mountains in Portugal where he quickly made a lot of friends among the ex-pats from the UK and Europe, all busy restoring old buildings and farming the land.

Perry and Liz met again accidentally in 2014 at the Buddhist House. They fell in love during a marathon 17.5 hour dinner and talked through the night and most of the following day. Since then Perry and Liz have been busy restoring their house in Portugal, affectionately named ‘The Ranch’ and have gone from having baths by candlelight in the goat shed, to a beautiful home with 3 bathrooms. Perry was never happier than when he was walking around the land working out watering systems and making sure the 150 trees he’d planted were growing well. Indicative of his altruistic personality and philosophy of sustainability, all the trees he planted at ‘The Ranch’ have been selected to provide for the next generations. A fan of tree nursing myself, I would often ask him about his trees and we would share videos and ideas for them. On a specific topic of his latest project, the Pecan trees, he mentioned how the earliest the small, 1-inch saplings would grow to bear fruit in 10 years, and it might be a good 20 before they reach maturity. “Perry,” I said, “that's ...a really long time.” To which he replied: “They aren't for me.”

And this is the type of person Perry was - always thinking of others first. Planning for the long term, working for a sustainable world, a world that works with nature, not against it. To paraphrase an ancient Greek proverb, “a wise man plants trees in whose shade he knows he will never sit.”

Perry had a great love of nature and the natural world, which he attributed to his Native American ancestors. His great love was trees, which he believed really spoke to him. So Perry returned to the Buddhist house to train in eco-therapy and shortly thereafter Perry and Liz started running eco-therapy and tree planting holidays in Portugal. Alongside his projects in Portugal, Perry joined several local eco-projects in Bristol.

On the 10th of July 2016, Perry and Liz married at Tortworth Court in Gloucestershire in a beautiful hand-fasting ceremony with over a 100 family and friends. Neither of them stopped smiling and laughing all day long, and Perry tore up the dance floor in what seemed like a union of John Travolta and Patrick Swayze. Since then they have spent six months of every year at the Ranch in Portugal and have welcomed many family and friends as visitors there.

Perry loved life – he just loved being here on this earth. Many people on this Earth believe in a higher power or greater purpose. Perry was content being himself, in this world, right now, enjoying the greatest and the smallest life has to offer. A true “Zen master”, as I like to describe him to my friends.

Perry was the most gentle and kindest of men – a true gentleman. Perry never had a bad word to say about anyone – not a criticism or judgement ever passed his lips. He didn’t swear, he didn’t argue, and he also didn’t drink alcohol, smoke, or even take tea or coffee. That is one reason why his death has been such a shock for all of us. Perry’s life was about love, acceptance, and working with others as part of a team, and he lived that out with every breath he took.

We have been lucky to know Perry in this life, we regret his passing on so soon, and so young, but his spirit and his legacy will remain among us – youthful, lively, fun, and full of love, and that oh-so-special smile.  We honour him.   

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