The Phiroz Mehta Trust Summer School 2007
By Ron Kett and Carolyn Martin
Once again the year between Summer Schools appeared to have gone so quickly. Last time it was our first visit to Sayers Common. This year saw our second gathering at the beautiful Priory of Our Lady of Good Counsel, surrounded by the serenity of nature, with the sound of chapel bells calling the nuns to prayer several times a day.
The long drive from the road up to the convent entrance, the anticipation of meeting such very good friends again. None more special than others, all special. Each to be greeted with delight. “Who’s here already?” we ask.
And then Sister ‘C’ happily joining the gathering throng. Into the house old memories revitalised, and once we were settled, out into the gardens to commune with it all.
Before long came the get-together when we talked about our thoughts on this year’s Summer School. Our theme this year was to be ‘Mindfulness’.
The absolute essential according to Phiroz, the ‘being awake’ of the Buddha, the ‘watch and pray’ of Christ, involving the unadulterated present so fundamental to the revelation of Truth. The relinquishment of distortion. And this tranquil setting gave us the opportunity to go deeply into what it means to be mindful, aware, awake. Silence at meal times gave us the added opportunity to put this mindfulness into practice.
Phiroz was once asked if he could simplify the teachings — his answer was one word —’Mindfulness’ — and the importance of this was brought out in all the talks. Although each talk was different, at the heart of all was this key to transforming our mode of awareness of existence — from self-centred awareness to being aware in terms of wholeness. Most of the talks were given in the 1970’s and the strength of Phiroz’s voice and message so easily bridged the 30 years which had intervened, its relevance totally undiminished by time.
Supper, then the first talk. The anchoring which always comes when the talks start. Words revealing with such beauty the enclosure of one’s usual psychological state wherein the power of the ‘me’ struggles to exert itself. Here perhaps the challenge. To what extent could we sense the still door to Transcendence, ‘the peace which passeth all understanding’? To what extent could honesty grow, and any hints of self serving be laid bare?
The morning readings that group members brought from ‘Mindfulness’ in The Heart of Religion deepened our understanding of that chapter and led to genuine dialogue, even if we did not always manage to follow Phiroz’s guidance in the art of conversation. In the evenings many beautiful readings from other sources widened the understanding and led to more exchanges. And it sometimes seemed that Phiroz was with us. Often a question or problem would arise — in the dialogues or in the mind — and, in the very next talk, the answer would be there.
Much of each day was spent by all in the lovely grounds. Either singly or in small groups, there was the opportunity for meditative walking (sometimes with the sound of the nuns singing in prayer drifting from the chapel), the practice of Chi Kung, or just sitting quietly under a tree enjoying the peace of it all.
Both rain and sunshine generously kept us company, but we were not dependent on the weather. A long, wide sweep of mown grass patterned with tiny blue flowers and random small trees led across to a vast field of corn which seemingly filled the space to the hills beyond. Such was the setting for the five fruitful days of our visit.
We experienced silence and dialogue, laughter and tears, learning and insights, all within the security and strength of a group of friends, and many of us came away realising how much more there is to do before we can truly live mindfully.
A description of this Summer School could in no way be adequate without mention of the nuns of the Priory of Our Lady who had received us so readily into their home. Their quietness and perfect manners. Their clear eyes and open smiles. Their careful deportment and the simplicity of their gathering in the chapel, with its tall conical glass topped roof, light flooding down from high above. This gentle place of so many services, such communion, the Mass.
Our hosts will be needing to move soon to an as yet unknown destination. One imagines for this small group a certain vulnerability, until one remembers to whom and what they are dedicated. This retreat centre is reported on an internet site as being ‘Open to all of good faith, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Jew’. Where is the vulnerability here?
So, thank you, nuns of the Priory of Our Lady, Sayers Common. We appreciate you so kindly allowing us to travel with you. Perhaps we will meet again one day. The goodness of your acceptance of us and your example lives on within us. May your move be a very happy one.