I’ve been attending Newcastle Buddhist Centre for their meditation and Dharma sessions for a while now. The benefits of this have been phenomenal but I’ll save those details for another post!
An opportunity arose for me to attend their Summer Retreat and I didn’t hesitate to sign up. To be honest I thought it would simply be a nice weekend away and a break from the norm.
It turned out to be so much more than that in ways I’m still struggling to get my head around.
Friday came around and my first panic was about what to pack. I needed a sleeping bag which is something i’ve never owned. Did I need to bring a towel? What do you wear? Is it frowned upon to wear makeup? Will there be an iron?
Would anyone actually care if my jumper was creased or I had no makeup on? No.
So I quickly got over myself.
As the day went on I was increasingly nervous. This was what ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’ actually felt like. I new I’d be safe, be amongst friends and have a good time so what was my problem? Was it the darker side of me getting restless knowing that it was about to be confronted and tamed?
Later that day armed with my new sleeping bag and far too much stuff, I met up with some folks from the centre to get the mini bus. Others were making their own way or had headed up in advance to get the place ready.
We arrived just after 7pm to a very warm welcome and the delightful aroma of curry. Lynn had been cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
I was shown to where the ladies would be sleeping. It was separate to the main building along a small grassy path. Inside were 2 bunk beds, a table, small kitchenette and a very rustic shower and toilet block. It felt comfortable though. Safe.
Top bunk was mine. Another first for me!
We then all congregated in the main building around the table for dinner. There was 15 of us in total. Included in that were two order members, meaning that they’d been ordained into the Buddhist Community.
The atmosphere was filled with excitement, trepidation and chatter. I felt at home. This was going to be OK.
After dinner we all helped with dishes and clearing away before going up to the shrine room for our 1st meditation.
The sun was setting, reds and golds were streaming in through the windows. Coupled with the candles already lit, the light would bounce around the room like an excitable force spreading peace to everything it touched.
Akuppa (Order Member) took the meditation and informed us we’d be going into silence until 9am the next morning.
I didn’t find this as difficult as most of you would think!
After the meditation we walked in silence up to the Mandala which was a beautiful space within the grounds to sit whilst we chanted a mantra to bless the area we were going to be using over the weekend.
The last of the sunlight was being squeezed out of the sky but moonlight was soon to help us on our way back to the main building.
I then retired to bed for the evening with the other ladies and it wasn’t long until I was asleep.
My night was disturbed with terrifying dreams of being chased by someone with a knife and I woke myself up at one point banging my ankle off the side of the bed due to kicking and thrashing about!
6.30am arrived with the sound of the bell for us all to wake. Our 1st meditation was at 7am until 7.45am then a 5 minute break then another meditation from 7:50am until 8.30am.
Breakfast was at 0900 and the period of silence was over.
Later that morning we had a few hours of learning and discussion around judgment of others and ourselves. Very interesting indeed.
It was during this session that I started to feel peculiar. Like I was in a dream. Like i was experiencing things and people for the 1st time. I even felt a bit paranoid and very spaced out. My head wobbled and it unnerved me.
I grabbed Lynn for a chat before lunch and shared with her how I was feeling.
Apparently what I was feeling was reality. Actual reality! <cue my head being blown off>
What does this mean?
This was the moment I realised what going ‘on retreat’ actually meant.
No distractions, silence and meditation make for the perfect conditions to find out how we are truly feeling, who we really are, clarity is given on situations in our life and therefore find ourselves in reality.
This wasn’t a reality I am comfortable with which my conscious creates for daily protection, not a reality I form due to the pressures of conformity but a reality in which I see things for what they are and this can make for very uncomfortable viewing indeed.
This is not for the faint hearted.
This is where fight or flight kicks in.
I’ve ran all my life, so I stay. I accept this for where I am and how I am feeling right now. I’ve never felt so present in my entire life.
I sit with these feelings for a while with Lynne before we head back to join the others for lunch.
There is a break after lunch of 3 hours before we reconvene for meditation and the evening activity. I have the best intentions of going for a walk and socialising but I head for a lie down and sleep for the entire time!
Dinner is fabulous and we some of us mingle in the kitchen chatting, laughing and discussing the meaning of life! I’m feeling a lot better now.
We go into silence again from the evening meditation through to the next morning.
I wake up the next morning having had a better sleep, however I do recall dreaming that I am being chased again. This time I’m running away from being shot.
It would seem my subconscious has gone into crisis!
I find the morning meditations hard. I have terrible racing brain and feelings of discomfort but I roll with it and try to calm myself through different breathing techniques.
We spend the remainder of the morning doing activities and walking around the area. I take this time to get the camera out and capture what I can.
I return to the main building and help prepare lunch. I like the feeling of community, it is very different for me as i’ve always lived alone in the past.
After lunch we need to pack up and everyone has a specific job to do which means it is quick and easy and everyone mucks in equally.
We were a mixed bag of people from all walks of life but the fact was, that none of that mattered. We were human beings having a shared experience , with a common purpose of wishing each other, ourselves and the world well.
Would I do it again?