Godinne : YES !
Since 1996, sesshins in Belgium and ABZE summer camps are organized at the College St Benoît at the Abbey of Maredsous. In order to be up to date with fire security standards, the college undertook some works since last summer and which are going to last for quite a while, easily as far as February 2013. Last summer the summer camp took place at the College Belle Vue in Dinant, but both AZB and ABZE had to find another location for the mid-terms sesshins from November 2012 on, as well as for the 2013 summer camp. A special team was set up to explore new locations and Marie Laure was the person in charge of the team. Researches were launched right after the November sesshin. Hope, dispair, up and downs, determination… and finally, not very far from Maredsous, on the other banks of the Meuse river, we got a Yes !
So, where shall I start ? There must be somewhere some place in Belgium that will be the perfect spot for us. I do some brainstorming with friends, I jot down few charming Wallonian names : Ermeton sur Biert, Floreffe… and my list gets longer. I pick up my phone and from one conversation to another, my list extends and I can start a second page. Contacts are friendly, it is quite easy to bring up the point, all it takes is to say « Zen retreat » « In Maredsous ever since 10 years… », and I can ear on the other end curiosity aroused and a positive encouragement to proceed
Unfortunately, things get complicated pretty quickly :
- « Yes, but what kind of number of people are we talking about ? » « Did I get it right, you mean up to 200 in the summer ? »
- « You want to cook yourselves ? I am afraid that won’t be possible, we have our own staff, that will be quite hard to arrange. »
- « Well we do have about 30 beds, if you squeeze, lay some mattresses in the classrooms, and bring some washing buckets… as the Scouts do.» At that point I must admit I am tempted to consider the point, aren’t we all somewhere in our heart a bit of a scout ? But I quickly put myself back together: « No forget it ! No way, José ! »
And then eventually when there are enough bedrooms :
-« Yes we do have such accommodation capacity, but the Scouts (them again !), language schools, national choirs… and tutti quanti, have been here for so many years. School holidays are fully booked since ages … »
And the final knockout :
-« …and what about half-terms holidays ? »
-« No it is impossible to make the students’bedrooms available during the half-terms holidays, parents will never let us ! »
Last try :
- « Well, then you might be able to recommend another place that would meet our requests ». At that point I haven’t even ventured to mention the budget !
- « What about St Roch Ferrières, have you tried them ? It used to be a large boarding school and now they rent the rooms. » Good luck !
And we leave each other in a good spirit, with a new tip, my list gets longer…
Now I became quite taken with it, there must be a spot somewhere, all it takes is to find it and I am determined not give up !
Great I got my first appointement at St Roch Ferrières in the Ardennes, (now for the story behind the story, it happens that my dear neighbour, who bakes the bread for our sesshins in Maredsous, spent her childhood there, her father was the director of the school ! It is a small world. Anayway I take it as a promising sign..)
After a long drive through the country side, passing through the popular touristic spot of Durbuy, resting from the summer crowds, I finally got there. The place is huge and the guided tour starts … So it is very good, I can already see many potentials and how we could make use of the place … but there is a major, no two major « buts » : the place is booked for the whole summer and the use of the kitchen is a sensitive issue, which needs to be negotiated very gently… No answer before Easter.
I drive back home with mixed feelings, not too bad, not a failure, not a success either…
Now and then I can hear a sneaky malicious voice whispering to myself « Now what if we could’nt find a suitable place at all ? And then what if we can no longer organize sesshins in Belgium ? » « Well, be quiete ! I haven’t said my last word yet … go away ! »
On the side of the research team every one is busy getting ever more contacts, in the North, Jan and Joke are raking the flat land and seaside of the Flanders, Marie-Laure and Gisou are busy exploring Brussels… and I hope I haven’t forgot anyone. The board of directors is fully supporting us, thanks to Anne and Ann for considering an eventual budget raise, Thierry for his useful advice and to every body else. A strong determination binds and welds us together.
A major offensive is launched and letters are sent to boarding schools, and on the French speaking side, both Gembloux and Chimay give us a favorable answer. As far as I am concerned I still have Godinnes ticked on my list, I am put on hold till the end of the sick leave of the person in charge.
For the following visits I join my friend Marie-Laure, she is a « pro » : a large multi-coloured excell chart : one head line of about 20 criteria, crossed with 70 prospects, (each of them have an ID number). A proper map with all the mails sorted and filed, the Wallonian, Flemish ones. I feel like keeping my « notes » with its coloured underlinings and exclamation marks, hidden in the bottom of my bag … We have a good laugh and a good time, and forget a little bit about our main worry.
Her little car goes up and down the hills, Chimay, Gembloux, and last but not least : Godinne !
The contact on the phone had been already promising and friendly, there was some kind of a smooth and easy way of dealing with our request, and I was so pleased to hear from Ms Dricot, our contact person, about the use of the student rooms :
-« Oh well about the rooms during half terms holidays, the director told me that we’ll find a way for the students … »
And the rest went on as easily and simply, kind of : « All you need is there, just ask for it and we get it for you ! » 250 comfortable rooms, quite large, (in comparison with what we are used to), rooms all over the place, a nice and quiete location, at a two minutes walking distance from woods, meadows, a nice alley for the morning walk, a small railway station at 5 minutes walk, a university hospital (just in case), a doctor across the road, a futur supermarket Colruyt, presently under construction, at 10 km distance, a housekeeper living on the spot.
-« A small storage room ? »
-« Yes of course » … (and even ratless !)
Well we got all what we were looking for, we can’t believe it ! Then we’ll have to wait another four LONG weeks, Christmas holidays, General Meeting of the school, postponed a week later … I can’t hold it any longer, I call, « Wait till next Tuesday, I let you know as soon as I can. » Well on Wednesday – afternoon - I finally got THE ever son long expected mail : green light ! YES ! I want to sing and dance despites the rain outside. I feel like my aura is expanding, releasing all the pressure… News is spread, mails are going in all directions, it seems like the computer itself breathes a sigh of release !
Now what do I gather from such adventure ?
I enjoyed working hard with the others, we sticked together and I really appreciated the follow up and support of Marie-Laure and of the other members of the AZB/ABZE Board. Also, how kind and nice were all the people I was in contact with, I still can hear the sparkling and joyful voice of the little nun from the convent of Ermenton, the school keeper of Burnot College who actually recommended Godinne to me (and I imagine he had already a word before I called Godinne), the ever so kind hospitality of the colleges of Chimay and Gembloux. They would have pushed the walls to accomodate us ! Of course they have an economic interest underneath, all those places have to face such huge heating and maintenance bills. Even though we could really feel a genuine desire to cooperate and to be of help and even some kind of interest in zen. Also, the sorrows of M.Close from St Roch upon receiving my mail telling that we had found an arrangement at Godinne, it really moved me.
When I was last in Maredsous in November, I walked through the place and felt such a feeling of gratitude, all we have got there that we take for granted : a large dining room, the kitchen, the dojo, and even the bedrooms, that in my mind, as the time went by and the researches got fruitless, seemed more and more like three stars hotel rooms ! We can really value something when we are about to have to do without it !
Also, whenever I was visiting a place I was wondering : « What are they going to think about it, what will they say ? » « Will they like it ? » « The architecture is a little bit austere.. » We can’t help comparing all the time. Then I would tell to my self in order to get some courage : « Any place is a good place to practise. »
I also want to take my hat off to all the ones who have been through the same process either to organise large or regional sesshins, I can well imagine that they had to deal with the same kind of questioning and difficulties. Without all that effort and goodwill our sangha wouldn’t have grown as it did. Gassho to you.
So welcome to all of you to Godinne, from November 2012 on, for a few sesshins and even for the 2013 ABZE summer camp. The College of Godinne is located in the Meuse valley, at about 10 km as the crows flies from Maredsous, on the other river bank.
… but the exact same copy of Maredsous doesn’t exist, we’ll have to adapt and even adapt our calendar for the summer camp that will move to the second half of July 2013. But, as one says « Each day is a good day to practise. »
So lets « Godinne » together, I hope we will be many since there is plenty of room(s),
See you , Gassho, Danielle