Why Go on Retreat ?
I went on my first retreat in 2007 with very little idea of what to expect. However, it was a wonderful experience. It was an opportunity to have a break from technology, deepen meditation practice and spend time with like-minded people, much of which was in silence. Since then I have been on retreat at least once per year. Each retreat has been different and I have always returned changed in some way. Every time learning something new about myself that I can take forward into my regular life.
Earlier this month I went on a six day silent retreat in Totnes in Devon. It was organised by a wonderful charity called Freely Given Retreats. Their ethos is that the benefits of going on retreat should be offered freely to all, regardless of their ability to pay, and that the generosity of those who can afford to pay can subsidise those who can’t. This is an ethos that we employ at Mindful Therapies as much as we can.
The retreat took place in a converted barn set in beautiful countryside and was a relatively small group of 18. Often when I tell people I am going on retreat, they assume it is a relaxing holiday and ask whether I will be getting massages. This is not, however, a health spa! In fact, we were woken at 5:30am each day to begin meditation at 6:15am! This is always a slight shock to the system as I am not really a morning person. However, the opportunity for approximately six hours a day of meditation has real benefits! The food was simple and wholesome and I took the daily chore of chopping vegetables. It was lovely to be part of feeding the whole group and to be part of a team – working together in silence.
The meditations themselves were slightly different to those that I normally practice and teach. There was more of an emphasis on ‘just sitting,’ meditating without a particular focus but observing our minds with curiosity and interest. Most importantly, there was a stress on non-striving. This is a key aspect of mindfulness. While I have been practising mindfulness for over a decade, and am fully aware cognitively of the concept of non-striving, practising without a goal or outcome in mind, it is a concept that is somewhat alien to us as human beings. We constantly strive and try and do. Sometimes that is really positive but sometimes this really gets in the way of our ability to just be, and our ability to really experience peace. The open meditations we practiced on retreat really helped me to experience non-striving in a deeper way.
After coming home I have found myself really putting this into practice. I feel more present in my relationships and in my meditation practice and I feel more engaged when working with others. I hope this will continue!
There are lots of organisations that offer retreats, (including Mindful Therapies!). It is important to do your research and make sure that the retreat is suitable for your level of experience. There are still a couple of places available on the Mindful Therapies weekend retreat in Lindisfarne. This is suitable for people who are new to retreats and you can book by visiting https://www.mindfultherapies.org.uk/lindisfarne-mindfulness-retreat/
Alternatively if you would like to experience a longer, more intensive retreat, like the one I have just enjoyed. You can find out more about Freely Given Retreats by visiting www.freelygivenretreats.org.