First Annual Friends Retreat

From 30 May until 1 June, we held the first annual retreat for registered Friends of Brockwood Park at the Krishnamurti Centre (for more info on how to register, go here). It turned out to be a very inspiring weekend full of meaningful connections.

Group Meeting
Participants received an in-depth introduction to all four Brockwood departments from the Heads of those departments, with the goal of showing all the work we do. We also watched two extraordinary DVDs from Saanen 1978 (3rd and 4th talk; go here) and there was an opportunity to participate in dialogues to go deeper into the issues raised.

On Saturday afternoon Trustee Mary Cadogan held her audience spellbound while reading from her upcoming memoir on working with Krishnamurti. She painted a vivid portrait of what it was like to work with and be so close to Krishnamurti. In the evening students and staff put on a wonderful concert featuring classical music and songs from the choir.

Participants loved the opportunity to get to know Brockwood from an insider’s point of view and savoured the chance to meet with like-minded others. Based on their feedback and encouragement we have started thinking about the next Friends of Brockwood Park retreat. To facilitate staying in touch and to enhance a sense of community, we are now working on creating an online forum for all registered Friends. We hope to launch it in late August. To be continued...

Participants’ feedback:

“I really felt the care that was taken in arranging the weekend.” (Nicholas)

“This was indeed a very special weekend, I think for all of us.” (David)

“Many thanks for the wonderful meeting and the smooth organization" (Emmy)

“Thank you very much to all the people at Brockwood who helped with the organisation and I am not a little envious of all you staff who live the teachings on a daily basis at such a marvellous place. Thank you also to all the Friends and let us hope we can help in some way to keep Brockwood going into the distant future.” (Peter)

“It was really a unique experience for me, being the first time in Krishnamurti dialogues, and sharing and participating helped in the journey of looking at oneself.” (Virender)

“A great weekend indeed. The highlights for me were -- too many to mention! This feels like the beginning of something.” (James)

“The Friends of Brockwood Park are now in their second year. The weekend of the 30th May 2014 was the first time that some of us had met at the Krishnamurti Centre to celebrate together the Friends' conception.

What struck me most was the warm welcome and attention that was extended by the staff to all of us Friends on arrival and throughout our stay.


The three-day events were carefully thought out and implemented under an extremely tight schedule, which included a variety of culinary treats. The highlight for me was the Saturday afternoon when Mary Cadogan gave a fascinating talk from her yet to be published memoir about working with Krishnamurti. What she shared was illuminating and moving, and something to reflect on throughout the stay and beyond.

This was followed by a classical concert by the students at Brockwood Park School, whose performance was a joy to be part of.

In between the events we were blessed with glorious May days and were able to walk through the grounds and into the Grove, which was a magic of colour.

All in all, the gathering was a delight and a privilege to be part of and to share together the teaching and dialogues with like-minded souls in a peaceful and sacred space.

I feel that a possible way forward for the Friends of Brockwood may be, if there were to be another gathering, for some members to invite a friend for the day, with intention that the guest could become a Friend in the future, if they so wished." (Judy)


James Turner wrote the following account:"

A good two days I thought, and all the Friends I spoke to thought so too. And it was fun (it isn’t against the spirit of the teachings to have fun).
And it was inspiring. “Inspiration only lasts for a very short while,” said Krishnamurti in an interview[1]. But he was talking in relation to the teachings, and the purpose of the Retreat wasn’t to kick-start a radical transformation in us, but to bring some of the Friends of Brockwood together and introduce them to its various activities and departments. Of course the teachings are interwoven with everything that goes on at Brockwood. They are what draw people here. They are what drew me here to attend a couple of talks in the ’70s, to stay at the Centre in the late ’80s, to work for 6 months at the School (the library) and the garden in 1989-90, and, more recently, to stay a week at the Centre every year.
There’s something about Brockwood and its physical setting. And there is something about the teachings, they are unique and must be understood, the world needs them, they must be preserved and made available. And so as soon as I heard about Friends of Brockwood, I thought that’s for me, and for others who feel the way I do about the place and the teachings. And when I heard about the first Friends of Brockwood Reatreat, again I thought that’s for me. And so it turned out. And it was inspiring to be at Brockwood amongst such a group.
And it was informative. As a staff member I’d become somewhat familiar with the place of course, but that was over 20 years ago, so it was good to have my impressions refreshed and updated, for Brockwood is a living entity, moving, changing, people coming and going.
But it was hardly a Retreat. There was a full two-days’ programme, well thought-out, with sufficient flexibility to accommodate last-minute changes. I hope there will be more FOB Retreats, with full programmes like this one, beginning with supper, followed by a Welcome from Bill Taylor in the Centre sitting room, followed by a K video in the library, so that everyone, right at the start, shares in the atmosphere of the teachings, serious, uncompromising, facing without flinching the truth of life and humanity. This video—first of the series “The Real Revolution”, 1966—was one of the first ever made of K. We watched him speak to, and then being very intelligently interrogated by, boys at Thacher School, a private boarding school for boys (now co-ed)  in Ojai valley.
After breakfast on Saturday, Antonio, Centre Co-ordinator, gave an introductory talk about the Centre, a clear and concise summary of what it is and does, followed by questions. We learned that it is just about breaking even financially, thanks to donations, but that income from Centre guests makes a significant contribution.
Than came our second K video, “Impediments to Radical Transformation” (Saanen, 1976, 3rd talk of the series). This isn’t the place to discuss the content of it, which K delivered with great seriousness and emphasis. I’ll just note this self-interruption, which I don’t remember coming across before: “Just listen. I’m telling you something lovely.” I was feeling rather tired that day, and despite K’s intensity and the life-and-death importance of what we listening to, I have to admit that I found myself fighting off sleep during the video. “Something lovely...” You who were there and wide awake, please tell me, was I dreaming?
After a break, a Dialogue, for which we split into 2 groups, ours facilitated by Steve Smith. We sat on chairs in a circle, and taking our theme from the talk we’d just heard, we talked quite a lot about radical transformation and why we don’t or won’t do it. At one point, quite naturally and spontaneously, we all fell silent and stayed silent for a good while, I don’t know how long, a length of time that would not have been allowed in any normal sort of meeting. During the silence we listened to a collared dove on the roof repeating its phrase of music. Then we picked up the discussion again.
Then lunch. These breaks were generally filled with rather intense conversations, so weren’t always restful for everyone. Then a walk, let by Steve, to the Grove, the wheat field beyond, and along the ridge beside more fields and under some trees, towards Hinton Ampner. Again it was impossible to resist the temptation to talk, instead of looking around at the Hampshire landscape unrolling before us. On the way back, two of us, deep in discussion about a certain currently topical aspect of human cruelty, suddenly became aware of the sound of traffic ahead. We realised we were alone on a track heading towards the A272. A quick about-turn, followed soon by a sharp left, brought us back to the wheat field, in which we could make out distant Friends of Brockwood. We soon caught up.
At 5pm came one of the chief highlights of the Retreat. Mary Cadogan gave a talk in the sitting room, with two readings, about her forthcoming book Working with Krishnamurti. It was also a birthday celebration (she was 86 on Friday) and we all had a piece of excellent orange-flavoured chocolate cake. She spoke about her many years of working with K. A true working friendship it was. Listening to her, you got a vivid sense of what K was like as a human being. The first reading was about her first encounter with K in London. The second was about the last time she saw him, in Ojai, a few days before his death. He was weak from cancer, on morphine for the pain. She described how K took her hand, lifted it with great difficulty, pressed it against his face, then kissed it. She didn’t help him because she wanted to see what he would do. She managed to read this passage without faltering, which must have been hard. We found it intensely moving.
Mary Cadogan quoted two questions that K put to her. One was in reply to a problem she had brought to him in the earlier days, about a person she felt was so demanding as to be impossible to work with. He said, “Why do you set a limit on what you do?” In this context, in this situation, this was right, just what she needed, though not what she’d been hoping for. She felt the problem drop away, and from somewhere, or nowhere, came the energy to carry on.[2]  The other question K asked her was, where did the teachings come from? This was, and is, something for all of us to ponder on (and not merely answer). She added that K would always refer to “the teachings”, never to “my teachings”.
After supper, a concert at the school given by music teacher Ulrich Eichenauer (violin, conductor) and students (cello, piano, singers). The standard throughout was remarkably high. Ulrich’s performance of 4 movements from J.S.Bach’s second Partita for Solo Violin had the tone, tuning, and technique of a professional. The whole evening was most enjoyable for its musicianship and sheer variety, from the seriousness of Bach, Faure (a beautiful song), William Byrd (a contrapuntal choral anthem), and Schubert (andante from his E flat Piano Trio), to the novelty and entertainment of “Geographical Fugue, for Speaking Chorus” by Ernst Toch (1887-1964) and “Green Grow the Rushes, Ho” (harmonised by Alan Rowlands, who taught piano and music at Brockwood from its inception for over 30 years). This well-known folk song has a “cumulative” structure, each of its 12 verses repeats the previous verse but with a new line added. You get to know the lines quite well. So that when we reached the silent verse (a brilliant Brockwood innovation, this), and watched the singers mouthing the words without uttering a sound, something strange happened. Not only did we understand and follow the words easily, but I swear I could actually hear the words, coming as though from another dimension. Of course what I heard was only sound images in my head created from recent memory, but it was a strange experience, while it lasted. Was I the only one to experience this? Only in a school founded by Krishnamurti could such an experiment have been cooked up!
On Sunday, after a short talk by Jerome about the Foundation’s work, the 3rd K video, “Can the Content of Consciousness Free itself?” (Saanen, 1976, 4th talk). Again what struck me and stuck in my mind was another self-interruption I don’t remember coming across before: “Why am I working so hard for you?” There were a few little laughs from the Saanen audience at this. And he was working hard, no doubt about that.
Then after a break, a second Dialogue, in the same two groups as before. Our group (with Steve Smith) again took its theme from the talk we’d just heard. Consciousness. There are two overlapping sets of difficulties or confusions or problems about this. There are different meanings of the word. And there are different views about the nature of the thing itself. I don’t know if we were able to dispel some of the confusion and get closer to the heart of it. Some of us perhaps. Or did we just think we did? No long silence this time, just a short one, in which a wood pigeon sang.
Then lunch. Then at 2pm an extra item: some of us went to visit Inwoods Small School. Started in 1966 as a meeting place for Brockwood children and their families, it is now a fully-fledged primary school. It is less than half a mile from the main Brockwood buildings and grounds. We were driven there and shown round by head teacher Mary-Ann Ridgway. It is a marvellous place with plenty of space, grass and trees, the classrooms in separate buildings. The children were absent of course, it being Sunday, but we could imagine them there, and we saw some of their art work in a succession of classrooms, starting with the youngest, each one a separate building.
Then a good Friends of Brockwood discussion in the sitting room, about its purpose, raising money and spreading the word and so on.
Then a visit to the School. We split into small groups, each assigned a student guide. We saw the vegetable garden, rose garden, library, meeting rooms, accommodation new (The Pavillion) and old, art room, dining room, tea room with tropical plants.... It was good to see these places, some of which I’d never seen, and some I hadn’t seen for over 20 years. Our excellent guide was interested in physical education, the gym was important to him in his life at Brockwood; he also knew something about the genetics of the vegetarian and the meat-eater in the human species. Lastly the groups collected in another meeting room with Co-Principal Adrian Sydenham, a teacher or two, and some students, and we asked some questions of the students and staff, and discussed a bit. There was an interesting exchange at one point between one of the Friends who had kept bees and knows a lot about it, and one of the students who keeps bees at Brockwood and is learning fast.
And then goodbyes—after last-minute exchanges of emails and phone numbers.
The Quiet Room is pivotal in architect Keith Critchlow’s design for the Centre. Krishnamurti, who never lived to see it, said it should be “the central flame...a furnace that heats the whole place.” During the Retreat I took the accompanying photo of the exterior of the Quiet Room floating on a sea of buttercups.
May this Friends of Brockwood Retreat be the first of many.
James Turner, July 2014


The Quiet Room floating on a sea of buttercups

[1] “I don’t believe in anything,” East West Journal, July 1963—there’s a copy in a ring-binder in the Centre sitting room.
[2] There is an account of this story in Mary Cadogan’s CD, “Working with Krishnamurti”, 1999.