Although it wasn’t why I planned my trip for this time, once the sangha in England knew I was coming, I was asked if I could assist Ingen (who was shuso at my first Tassajara practice period, and who now has his own place in Ireland) with a shukke tokudo for Devin, who I knew from previous times in Glastonbury. It was an honour to be able to help, even if it meant bringing my robes over (being still determined to travel with just my carry-on back pack, I packed fewer other clothes; since it has been chilly so far, I have been wearing one of my two combinations of warm layers all at the same time).
Saturday was as grey as Friday, with more passing rain as I headed down to Gaia House. The major roads soon turned into narrow lanes lined with tall hedges, which I am familiar with from Cornwall, but haven’t tried to drive along for a few years. Thankfully the only people I came across were on foot, just by the driveway to Gaia House.
I had been taken there for a visit on one of my early teaching trips to Totnes, so just about knew what to expect. That the first person I saw inside was Chris, who I knew from Tassajara, was unexpected; he and Kathleen were helping keep things ticking along, having just moved there a week ago.
The silence was comforting, as were the grounds. After breakfast on Sunday, not having got up to sit, I walked around in the low sun, with a chorus of doves, nesting crows, blackbirds and who knows what else chirping away. Blossoms were out, the majestic old trees glowed in the light, and everything felt alive.
One of the things I had been asked to do was shave Devin’s head, which is never the easiest thing – the only other time I did this, at Zen Center, the combination of thick hair, albeit already buzzed, and a disposable razor, meant that I had felt I was inflicting misery on my dharma brother. Thankfully Devin sat still and didn’t seem to mind as I got to work this time.
Ingen held the space for the ceremony beautifully; apart from some recalcitrant charcoal, everything went smoothly, with many people having helped gather all the necessary elements. I had panicked a little as I couldn’t remember the exact path for the jundo I was leading Devin around before he joined the ceremony, but he was able to steer me right. My other responsibility was to help him put on his okesa, which went without mishap.
Once we had taken all the photos at the end, I took off my robes and followed another car to Devin and Nickie’s house in the next village for cake and sandwiches. And then I bade my farewells and drove over the moor, on a road I had taken once before, when I had been heading from Totnes to my dad’s house.
It was as beautiful as ever, with flowering gorse, sheep and ponies wandering freely, and the late sun illuminating the hills and valleys. The hotel I had booked was old and quaint, with a surprisingly tasty dinner – I ate more than I should have considering the earlier party food – and a four-poster bed in my room.
In the morning I set off for a hike I had planned, alongside the Dart, to Wistman’s Wood, then up to the tors, and back along the crown of the hills. It felt magical to be out in land that was familiar (even if I hadn’t spent time in this particular stretch of moorland), with no-one else in sight, taking in the infinite nuances of light, the rocks and trees, and the long views (I will post more photos on my Patreon page).
Reluctantly I got back in the car to drive back to Bristol, along the road I used to ride when I went to visit my dad, cautiously through the narrow villages, and finally back on the major roads, passing through a heavy rain storm on the M5. It’s all trains for the rest of my trip, which is way more relaxing, though I had a couple of cold waits on platforms on my way up to Hereford to spend a few days with my declining mother.