Retreat in Rockhampton

Flying into Rockhampton was a beautiful reminder of the splendour of the vast and rugged Australian landscape. The region was lush and green from the summer rains, with winding rivers and creeks sparkling like liquid gold in the late afternoon sunshine.

This was my second visit to Rockhampton to conduct a retreat at the invitation of the Rockhampton Insight Meditation group which is led by local resident nun Venerable Sama. Venerable does a great job connecting various communities for meditation activities. Her previous requests to me for more teachings and longer visits was a big part of the decision to set up Little Dust. On my last visit, when I met with people from the Rockhampton meditation community they told me directly how eager they were to learn more about the Dhamma but were lacking guidance and support. At that time I also met folks who weren’t Buddhists but who had a great interest in spirituality. I recognised that such people could benefit greatly from hearing the authentic Dhamma presented in a relatable way and that this had potential to greatly impact their lives. 

We were very fortunate to be hosted at the Ananda Buddhist Centre for our two day non-residential retreat. Thanks so much to Allan and all the team for stepping in to welcome us at the centre after our original idea for a residential retreat had to be abandoned for logistic reasons. In the end, having a two day meditation workshop was a good outcome because it allowed us to discuss meditation more freely and also develop spiritual friendships. The community of meditators were a diverse bunch of folks from different backgrounds, some with decades of practice and others just beginners. A few of the participants had travelled all the way from Mackay—over 360 km away—just to attend a meditation retreat, which was a powerful reminder of the need for more meditation in our remote regions! 

The theme for the weekend retreat was Wisdom from Stillness, chosen to invite the community to explore the potential for our meditation to go beyond approaches to meditation such as mere mindfulness, or just finding some calm amid the busy-ness of life, and instead, move towards seeing meditation as a powerful tool that gives rise to profound experiential knowledge

Over the two days retreat, we explored breath meditation as our main technique, along with walking meditation. We looked at how to develop a still, calm mind and examined the role of the five hindrances which disturb and agitate our meditation. We learnt how to prevent the hindrances from appearing in our mind by developing strong mindfulness and understanding their drawbacks so that they don’t overwhelm our meditation practice. I shared the Buddha’s series of similes from the Saṅgārava Sutta (SN 46.55) where the five hindrances are illustrated as different sorts of pollutants in a bowl of water, preventing the water (our mind) from being clear and pure. Participants commented how useful and memorable these similes were, saying that this sort of information was really useful in helping to give them more tools for their meditation practice. 

It wasn’t all hard work, though! Spiritual friendship is also a very important part of the path, afterall. I always incorporate a few opportunities for sharing in the group and in short workshops like this one, encourage conversations over lunch or in breaks. There were a lot of smiles as people connected and chatted over cups of tea, which is always nice to see. 

Whilst staying in Rockhampton, I was able to engage with other local spiritual practitioners in a variety of activities. This included daily meal offerings from various members of the community, which is a beautiful way for lay people and monastics to connect and engage, as has been the case since the time of the Buddha. I was also invited by Connie, a leader of the local Thai community, for lunch dana at her restaurant, Thai Taste,  which has been in Rockhampton for twenty years. This event was attended by about thirty people of all ages and was a very special day. 

One night after teaching at the retreat, I made an evening visit to the Sri Lankan Buddhist community centre, thanks to the invitation of one of the supporters, Punya. There I was happy to meet with young Sri Lankan Australians for some meditation and dhamma discussion about growing up Buddhist in a regional town. 

I was also delighted to be invited back to the Ananda Buddhist Centre to give a talk about Dealing with Difficult People, which was well attended and inspired a lot of interesting questions and conversations afterwards about the challenging people in our lives!

Throughout the short time I stayed at Rockhampton, I feel really blessed to have deepened my connection with the people I had already met before and to have made new friends from various communities. On this visit, I stayed just a week but that was longer than my last visit. I never want to burden a small community with looking after a monk for a long period; taking care of accommodation and food can be expensive and difficult for working people. However, I was delighted that on this occasion—just as on my last visit—the community invited me to return again soon and to stay even longer next time, which I think is a good sign. So perhaps I will be back in Rocky soon!

A big THANK YOU for Venerable Sama for all her hard work organising the trip and for connecting me with so many communities. Thanks also to Allan and the Ananda Buddhist Centre and to all those who attended the retreat and offered me food and other requisites during my stay. Sadhu anumodana!

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