29 Apr 2024

By Vivien Eliades

Generosity, Mindful Birdwatching and Dharma Sharing in Cyprus

Members of Pebbles Sangha in Brighton, Vivien and Barry have recently been involved in organising a retreat in Cyprus – sharing Thay’s teachings with a group of youth workers from all over Europe. The event was part of the Erasmus Plus funded project called ‘Present Pulse’, with emphasis on mental health.

Barry and I spend half our time in a tiny rural village in Cyprus. Like many small communities, the aging population is becoming smaller and that of the expats is increasing. We were delighted last year to meet and befriend a group of young Latvians who are setting up a hub here for the European Erasmus Project. They were interested in our Zen practice and asked us to lead an event in April for 32 volunteer youth workers from various European countries. We invited dharma teacher Lesley Collington to join us, and she was happy to do so.

Because most of the attendees had never meditated or been to  Cyprus before, we decided to approach the event with a light touch. We drew up a timetable and had an opportunity on the first day to talk about our practice and what they could expect. The overall theme was ‘Generosity’ (Dana – one of the 6 Paramitas). We offered sit-walk-sit meditation practice, small dharma sharing groups, a video of one of Thay’s talks, an optional evening sit, and the film ‘Happy’. We went on a mindful birdwatching trip, with the Director of BirdLife Cyprus Martin Hellicar, an old friend of ours, and saw a great range of birds. We also took them on a beautiful walk in the local countryside. Lesley, a seasoned martial arts practitioner, offered Qigong and T’ai Chi. On the second day, Barry led the group in a creative afternoon doing collage with coloured tissue paper, which everyone enjoyed.

Meals were provided by a local taverna twice a day, and we ate lunch in our dharma groups, reading the 5 contemplations and had the first 10 minutes in silence.

On the last day, we visited a local animal shelter where we interacted with donkeys, horses, dogs and cats, and in the evening we were treated to a performance of fire dancing by some of the organisers.

There was some very deep sharing during the retreat, and by the last day, the energy of the communal meditation was very profound. There was some really lovely feedback and we’ve formed some lasting friendships. It’s a wonderful feeling to be spreading Thay’s teachings out into the world.