Monday, 7 March 2016

Ruminations on Retreat Part 2

Writing on the wall at Corrymeela

So the week continues. I am amazed how far some folk have travelled for this, New Zealand, Greece, Spain , all over the UK and Ireland . A large percentage of the  course participants were woman,  and came  from  diverse backgrounds, large numbers from the medical field, academia and therapy also featured . Just the one yoga teacher not hard to  guess who that was? Average age I guess was 45+ There were a few younger folk there but not many. Every day started with a practise of  mindfulness with accompanying  mindful movement, followed by breakfast, a bit of course teaching by the leaders this generally ended with a period of reflection and journaling. After lunch we had teaching practise in small groups . Dinner then another evening practise. Overnight silence during which we were strongly encouraged not to use our phones, not to bring any extra reading material, just to be present with ourselves alone.  We had one period of  24 hours of unbroken silence, other times we had meals in silence or parts of days in silence most evenings there was silence after 9pm.

The programme was intense and sustained encouraging us to enquire deeply into our inner selves. As it was experiential learning it  encouraged us to embody mindfulness meditation practise into our daily lives. I guess the best way to explain this is, say for example there was a farmer who grew potatoes and knew everything about  potatoes, he knew the taste, texture and flavour of potatoes , knew what they smelt like, what they felt like, how to grow them and so on, in fact knew everything possible about growing and eating potatoes. Then imagine you have an academic who has spent a life time studying the potato and also  knows  everything there is to know about the potato but has never tasted, touched or felt  a potato. Who would you say had the deeper knowledge about potatoes? Mindfulness is a bit like this , unless you have a felt sense of it in your body it would be pretty pointless trying to teach mindfulness. Hence the need for  deep experiential learning .....if that makes sense.

I did not find the periods of silence particularly difficult. I did not find the long periods of meditation too difficult either. I did find it difficult to sit and do nothing just be with myself right here, right now. I  didn't know what to do with myself . I felt a bit unstrung by it and ended up taking long walks which were allowed. It seemed a bit of a relief to be able to get away from Corrymeela every now  albeit just down the road to the sea.I could not figure out if I was simply resisting the process or even if it was a good, bad or neutral experience. I just decided to go with the flow and see what came out of it. Trying to let go of the need to analyse and draw conclusions . Just to notice what showed up for me.

It sure gave me plenty of time to study my other colleagues and my teachers.....but more about that tomorrow .

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Ruminations On Retreat Part 1

People keep asking me how was it? And I do not know how to answer. Yes I was away on a retreat yet at the same time it was a teacher training for mindfulness. Do I say I had a good time? Yes,  I did ...I think, but that just doesn't quite describe it . It does not come anywhere near describing walking into a room full of folk that you have never met before, knowing that you are going to spend a whole week with them and that a lot of that time would be in silence.

To set the scene the event took place in Corrymeala a well known centre just outside Ballycastle on the North Antrim Coast. The location is superb and the room we were in had sweeping views of the sea on three sides. The stunning vista mixed with the ever-changing weather sweeping in from the sea on a particularly stormy week was some back drop to a week inner contemplation . Howling wind and gunshot hail mixed  with the brightest of sunshine and blue skies. The background scenery changing every few moments giving an unspeakable  depth, veracity and tone to our day to day activities.

Sitting in the room getting to know people, inwardly sizing them up, taking stock trying not to listen to the inner critic. Instantly forgetting names as they spoke, desperately trying to retain any fact at all about them. Wondering how long would I be able to sit? Would I be able to sit at all in meditation? Wondering about the leaders, noticing different accents from around the world. Wanting to be anywhere except where I was, asking myself  when would tea be ? Mindful .......not much.

7am next  day we get straight into it,  feet on the floor,  notice how I am feeling, what am I thinking? Feeling tense and anxious, thinking about everything ...from the colour of the carpet, to wondering had I turned off the light in my bedroom.  What are my emotions? That’s easy, only one answer in turmoil.   Turning my attention to the breath, allowing my awareness to expand to the edges of my body and the space beyond. Returning continually to the breath every time I lose the run of myself in my thoughts  .  Repeating this small ritual  again and again and again and again was to continue all week.  Somewhere in the room someone evidently has a heavy cold, as the noises one makes when one has a cold seem to be amplified in the silence. Faintly I think I hear someone snoring and congratulate myself that at least it is not me as I had slept badly the night before. Immediately notice that I am away off thinking about not sleeping and drag my reluctant ass back into the game of staying present. The minutes tick by following the led meditation, finally the bells went and we were able to go to breakfast. Eating in silence and  doing all the things that one has to do to prepare breakfast tends to concentrate the mind. Everything seems louder than usual from the person beside you eating, to the screech of chairs being pushed back on a hard surface.

Again I notice that I do not want to be here, so I get up and leave the table needing some space between myself and others, this was to be a pattern I would repeat all week until pretty much the latter end of the week. I seemed to need to be away from folk not wanting to engage in any way and anyhow there was little point as we could not speak. Later on that day after lunch I get out for a walk enjoying mightily the views and the  raw wildness  of the early March weather.  Walking up the road the sun momentarily breaks the cloud and the country is bathed in the kindness of a gentle light, blue patches of sky between the navy ragged grey of the storm clouds. To be continued.

Coastal walk near Corrymeala