A Quiet Knowing
On my week at Poplar Grove with the Dharma Demolition Gang
“What is the truth of your life?”
“Here”, I said sincerely.
Antony peered curiously at me with his gentle yet piercing artic blue eyes.
His mouth slowly concaved into a mischievous, warm smile—
followed by a slight chuckle.
“Well, let us take a look ‘here’ then.
What is here?”
And so unfolded my first conversation with the Zen Buddhist teacher, Antony Osler, during a recent meditation and movement retreat at Poplar Grove—a small farm tucked away in the middle of the wild Karoo, where Antony lives with his lovely wife Margie, surrounded by a thriving orchestra of fauna and flora singing in happy harmony.
It’s truly the most wonderful place.
The scenery and setting cry out for stillness and suck you into the profound simplicity of boundless presence, whether you like it or not.
The power of drala, alive and evident.
A secret force of nature revealed.
Real magic manifest.
The lightness. The warmth. The fullness. The peace. The enoughness of it all.
But also the dedication, discipline and devotion to daily practice.
To do what needs to be done.
Complete surrender in service of the space.
THE DHARMA DEMOLITION GANG
I was at Poplar Grove on retreat with a group of six others, which Antony humorously labelled the Dharma Demolition Gang—both a subtle side jab and a deeply direct lesson rolled into one. A form of wit that Antony had a knack for pulling off.
The leader of our gang and creator of the retreat programme was David Gardner, supported closely by his partner Eve. Besides their extraordinary presence and impressive facilitation, they brought with them a treasure chest of movement practices, which interweaved so beautifully with Antony’s sitting sessions and Dharma talks over the course of the week.
A Typical Day at Poplar Grove:
6:30 am Wake up: Called out of bed by the rising sun, boiled water on the gas stove for a quick cup of tea before the gong sounds for the morning sit.
7:00 am Morning Sit: Chanting followed by two silent sitting sessions bridged together with a walking meditation around the inside edges of the Poplar Grove Zendo.
8:30 am Breakfast: Silent breakfast, listening to birds, amphibians and insects as they go about their morning business.
9:30 am Dharma Talk & Interviews: A short Dharma talk given by Antony inside the Zendo, followed by a silent walking meditation outside, service and support around the farm and one-on-one conversations with Antony.
11:00 am Rest, Lunch, Reflect: After the one-on-one conversations, we had time for food and rest. Swimming in the reservoir was also a popular possibility during this time.
2:00 pm Movement: The afternoon started with a movement, stretching and dance session facilitated by David Gardner and interwoven with lots of laughter, joy and tiger balm.
5:30 pm Evening Sit: Two silent sitting sessions again with a walking meditation around the inside edges of the Poplar Grove Zendo.
7:00 pm Dinner: The dinner arrangements varied throughout the week. We ate in pods or as a collective. We sang songs around a fire and went for night walks through the grove guided by the light of a full orange moon.
That was our rhythm. Our daily dance for just under a week.
There is so much I am took away from the week at Poplar Grove.
So much I am now carrying with me. So much to share.
Out of all of it, though, the most precious jewel for me is a simple sense of gratitude.
Gratitude for the opportunity to spend a week with Antony, Margie, their daughters and six incredible beings who are walking along similar paths beside me.
Gratitude for this life. For the opportunity to just be present in this crazy, chaotic and complex world. To be intimately intertwined with its ever-unfolding nature. To be able to play some role.
‘To be a note in the exact chord that animates creation’, as Deena Metzger so beautifully said.
What a ridiculously incredible honor it is.