Last week I attended the “Mindfulness to Buddhism” Retreat taught by Choden and Alan. It was such a treat for me to actually attend a retreat. I love being a tutor for the Mindfulness Association, but the amount of teaching has been quite intense lately and I was really ready for a break, from work and from life in general.
As the retreat approached, I started to become excited about it. 5 days of ‘doing nothing’ but practice, resting and silence. I could feel my body letting go already. As I literally had ‘nowhere to go’ to do the retreat, which should have been held at Samye Ling, I invested quite a bit of time making myself a nest in my attic. Luckily it is a great space for my practice and I often guide practices from there on courses. I invested in a few blankets and cushions to make myself comfy. Luckily, I have a little electric fire which throws out lights that pretend to be flames, that I took to the attic to add to feelings of warmth and cosiness. I also invested in some atmospheric lighting including a string of fairy lights that I lined the edge of the space with. Having learned from my Swedish friend about ‘Hygge’ – a sense of creating an atmosphere of relaxation and comfort with feelings of wellness and contentment – I realised that creating this space for myself was very important to immerse myself fully into the retreat.
The final touches were a mat to do some movement practice on (taking care not to bump my head on the low ceiling) and to lie down for a rest. I find it strange how sitting for such long periods of time over a few days can actually be very tiring. The great thing about online courses is that you can take a break, lie down and even snooze at any time you want, without anyone knowing. And this is an important part of being kind to yourself during this time of immersion into this online world. I also found a lovely cloth to cover the table on which my computer was to sit for the online sessions.
Finally, I made sure I had a good supply of good food and plenty of my favourite warm drinks to hand. The scene was set.
I chose to be silent throughout the retreat. I often find on retreat that speaking is a real effort and takes me sharply back into my mind as if it’s a shock, as I search for the right words or phrase to use. It causes an irritation in my body.
As the retreat progressed, I began to find myself less in my mind and more in my body and being. A place of stillness descended to the point that I found anything external to the retreat world in my attic dreamlike.
Oddly this was reinforced by an air of stillness when I visited a nearby beach during one of the lunch breaks where I went to stretch my legs and breath in some fresh sea air. I love the beach. I find the big skies and sea just fill me up, and nothing else seems to matter in those moments. It was strangely still, and the tide was out much further than I have ever known, probably due to the new moon. The roots of seaweed on the seabed were exposed, creating a forest like scene in the sand. There were dreamlike reflections in the tranquil pools left by the tide.
Feelings of peace descended as the retreat world mingled with the real world, even though the real world suddenly appeared to be dreamy and not how I usually see it.
Is everything always how we see things? I realised how it was possible to bring the practices and sense of wellbeing into normal life, but like having one foot in each space. Something to reflect on for sure.
Back to the retreat.
During some of the practices Choden encouraged us to just rest in the midst of everything, knowing that what we feel in our hearts is the true connection, despite how we can be tossed and turned by life around us. Ah yes, resting in the midst – one of my favourite practices from the Insight training.
One of the most profound things I experienced from this retreat was a sense of giving to myself – something I rarely do. But I recognised the importance of receiving.
Noticing that shift from giving to receiving created a space for allowing myself to soften and relax. To receive these amazing teachings from two very experienced tutors was an absolute gift. It put a smile on my face and created a warmth inside I will nurture in my heart for as long as possible.
Funnily enough, I didn’t want to leave my retreat space in the attic and find myself spending more and more time in that space. When I enter the space, I immediately feel my body softening with a sense of ease. The attic has become my safe space where I can retreat to anytime I wish.
Do you have a space that you can create into a retreat space that is for your wellbeing? Even if it is a favourite room or favourite chair, is it possible to allow that space to nurture you and be a space to rest in? How does it feel to imagine that space?
I welcome your thoughts and feedback so please do leave a comment after this post or email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
Choden and Heather are guiding another 5 day retreat in December – ‘From Mindfulness to Insight’. Anyone who has completed a mindfulness course can attend. I cannot recommend it enough – to take time out for yourself and receive, nurture and rest – wherever you are.
If you’d like to spend a weekend of nurturing on retreat join Kristine and Jacky for a weekend of fun, sharing and Nature and Mindfulness online as we offer the last chance to begin the Level 1 Mindfulness Training for 2020. Jacky will also be guiding a practice day on 30th December. Watch out for news of our new set of practice days coming up soon.
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.