I went to a retreat this weekend. This is something very new to me, and something I’ve always wanted to do. Why a retreat? And why go all Buddhist retreat to top it off?
Well…I’ve always liked the idea of something very simple, time away from home to reflect on life, on where you’re at, and what you want to achieve. I also came to a really big and exciting conclusion recently which I believe all this minimalism has helped lead me to. I want to teach mindfulness to others. It’s something that has changed my life beyond measure, and something I am incredibly passionate about and I want to help bring it to other people. I also believe mindfulness goes hand in hand with minimalism. In fact in my world the two are interlinked and could be called mindfulness or minimalism and still mean the same thing to me. Make it up as you go along I say!
Part of the ongoing good practice for teaching mindfulness is going on retreat. At this point there are no mindfulness teaching courses starting until later in the year and so I thought I would get ahead of myself. We’re also in the process of moving, which as anyone who has moved knows is about one of the most stressful life experiences after bereavement. So I am needing some pretty zen vibes right now. So I had a look at retreats and lo and behold quite near to where I live is a Buddhist centre which offers Learn to Meditate weekends. As a meditator who could definitely do with a kick up the bum to practice more often I thought this might also combine peace and quiet and reflection with something quite useful. Reasonably priced, and only 45 minutes from home it seemed a winner.
Cue Friday evening sitting in the car thinking ‘What have I done?’ I’m not a Buddhist, I have to share a bathroom with virtual strangers, there’s unlikely to be any caffeine all weekend, certainly no alcohol and I am going to have to sit in a room all day chanting ‘Om’. Why was this a good idea again? I was all set for turning round. Luckily I have a very persuasive and supportive wife who talked me up and pushed me out and off I went.
I couldn’t have got it more wrong…well there was no alcohol but I don’t drink much so that didn’t bother me. The welcome was incredibly warm, not a hippy in sight, just normal people who like me are looking for the peace and calm that comes from meditating. The centre is sent in grounds of green fields, woodland, with a beautiful walled garden and all you can hear is birds singing. It was just the kind of peace I needed.
I lucked in on the first night, connecting with three people who like me were scared stiff they might have entered some sort of cult and had no idea what to expect. They were great company, and we all had a chance to talk about how each session made us feel, what we might take of it and to ask for clarification bits we didn’t quite get.
I got a lovely single room and although I had to share a bathroom it was only with four other women and perfectly fine.
We meditated first on Friday evening after supper, and through four sessions on Saturday. Starting with a breathing meditation, a teaching on meditation and then a further meditation; a bit of chanting, a body scan, some breathing, all very mindful based. Contemplation and meditation on ‘virtuous objects’ was fairly Buddhist stuff and new to me, but actually something I am definitely going to try. The great thing about each meditation as well was the break of an hour in between…I got to walk through woodland, think about what I wanted to take from each session, how amazingly calm and relaxed I felt, and to plan how I would move forward.
The peace of being in this beautiful countryside coupled with a lot of positive, enquiring, like minded people made for a really treasured experience.
So…have I become a Buddhist? No. I love some of the Buddhist concepts but organised religion is not for me, but I love the thought that our mind is something we can develop into a calm space. My wife noticed a difference when she came to pick me up. Apparently I looked rested, and even talked more slowly!
I think giving myself those two nights away was like a gift to myself, and something i have never done before. Until recently I would be petrified of spending a weekend in the company of strangers. I took to it like a duck to water
So what have I come away with from this retreat? And would it benefit you to try one?
I’ve come away much calmer, and with more peace, and with the clear expectation that this has to be maintained by a daily meditation practice, not just a hope it will last.
I’ve come away with a plan to practice meditation daily, with the expectation I will do it, not just a vague intention as previously.
I have a respect for the Buddhist religion and teachers but an understanding that the mindfulness aspect is right for me, and an even greater desire to teach non-secular mindfulness to others.
I’ve come away knowing I will definitely retreat at least every 6 months. It’s like a gift to yourself, of time away from ‘reality’ to recharge, revive, reflect and see that ‘big’ problems are actually not.
I have also started minimising even more since I got home…witnessing the amazing volunteers, nuns and monks who live in the centre with so little, and realising that there are still so many things I don’t need, don’t want and that don’t serve me.
Most radically it’s made me realise how much we, and especially me allow the external world to influence us, and how much I want to turn that around and allow my mind to influence how I feel, not others, not a new car, not new clothes or even people.
I would highly recommend a trip to a retreat, technically I think you could get away with a spa weekend being called a retreat…but go on your own. As hard as it is to walk in alone and strike up that first conversation, being alone with yourself is a gift none of us get very often in this busy world.
If you’re interested on going on a Learn to Meditate weekend at the Madhyamaka Centre, you can check it out here