Silent retreat

I could be rushing back home, it’s Sunday lunch time, and the ironing pile is calling me, or the garden could do with a weeding session, oh then there’s the dress I started making last week… of course there’s also my husband & sons, but what would I have learned for the past 2 days if I rushed back now?

Instead, I’ve chosen to sit with the dragon flies & bumble bees beside the pond and write about the meditation retreat I’ve just completed with Sian Griffiths at a rural grange near Frome Somerset.

Sian has been meditating seriously for several years and I met her last month when she visited my Women Mean Business networking group as a guest speaker. Her 20 minute talk had all 20 of us deeply relaxed after a mere 2 minute guided meditation and so when she mentioned her retreat I knew I wanted to be on it!

I arrived at The Grange just after 5 pm on Friday and was instantly in love with the slightly wild gardens scented with rises and mock orange.

As the other ladies arrived we all greeted each other and went straight into a gentle yoga session in the gardens. Madeline is a teacher with Great and varied experience in many forms of yoga but was treating us to calming breathing & gentle stretches. With the grass underfoot & Bees & birdsong above we all soon forgot our stressful week and journeys here. Michelle was our chef for the weekend and her vegan gluten-free dishes were both inspired and delicious! After dinner our first session with Siân was discussing our hopes for the course and the last chance to talk before going into silence.

Sian led us with three short meditations using different methods to unwind and remain focussed. The last meditation Madeline talked us through awareness and releasing tension from significant points around our bodies. By 10.30 we were done, it was still light outside but I was ready for bed! We were in twin rooms and my room mate wasn’t arriving until Saturday so I enjoyed the freedom of choosing my bed and using the ensuite wondering about housekeeping arrangements in silence when I meet the lady I’ll be sharing with!

We’d all committed to silence and no phones or internet, I hadn’t brought my watch and so I was completely handing myself over to nature and Sian’s Tibetan bells. Our pre breakfast yoga was in a discreet rose garden at 8am. We were blessed with fabulous warm sunny weather and it was a delight to be breathing into our lungs the fresh rose scented air as Madeline stretched and rotated our various body parts. Not a word was uttered amongst us all through the session,or as we walked mindfully back for our delious breakfast.

A private terrace was perfect for us to eat our meals at in the sunshine.

Most of us were used to rushing our meal times or at least them being noisy. Now every mouthful was chewed considerably aware that now we had both the time and space to mindfully eat & digest such delicious morsels!

Sian had reminded us that during a silent retreat we didn’t need to make any friends, it was so refreshing to be in our own worlds, no small talk or fascinating discussions to distract us from being here and present.

The importance of focusing on ‘now’ was one of our morning meditations as we learned of Dr Richard Moss Who devised an exercise where we become aware of our thoughts, are they totally present or coming from our past or future? The added dimensions of thoughts being about ‘me’ or ‘you’ also helped us to have clarity on issues we may be worrying about and then the tools to get back to being present in the ‘now’ which is almost always better than our mind likes us to believe!

We had a few hours off in the afternoon to practice our own meditations or just relax. We were still being blessed with perfect weather so after a wander around a meadow & overgrown polytunnel frames ( full of bees on brambles) I decided to walk the riverside path to nearby Nunney. I was alone with the woodland birds & insects and babbling river until I reached a meadow near the town.

I was surprised to suddenly come across a group of young families, looking idillic with picnics and fishing nets. I walked invisibly past glad that I didn’t have to break my silence. Then a second smaller group on the opposite river bank caught my eye and a surge of love but also pain engulfed me. It all was so perfect and I felt joy for all those there but sadness at my own children now grown up and all those missed years when I was unable to do such things. Remembering the mornings exercises I thought about where my thoughts were coming from, the past, and the false ideas of being a bad mother. I consoled myself with memories of the actual family picnics I had shared with my boys, and then with my own parents and realised that we only need a handful of such ‘perfect days’ to last us a lifetime. Then I smiled as I thought about the reality of such ‘perfect’ outings- tired children hungry or thirsty, too tired to walk or help carry anything, lack of public loos when nature calls, forgetting the key part of picnics!! I’d glimpsed a snapshot of reality at the moment before going home and after the stresses of setting out.

I was back in my present, walking through woodlands on a beautiful sunny day without a care in the world!

Returning in time for tea and more meditations using skills from earlier sessions walking outside and using phrases to keep our mind focussed on being present.

Before dinner an excercise using the ‘Circles’ idea by Kerry Armstrong had us contemplating our relationships with others.

Most people would admit that relationships often can be the cause of great stresses and ‘dis-ease’ as we negotiate spreading our time and energy amongst others.

The circles exercise was enlightening as we drew 7 circles inside each other and placed our friends & families in the right band. We’d place ourselves in the centre as someone we completely trust and can be ourselves with. We were blessed if we could add anyone else in that space with us. The second circle is for close friends & family, people we feel good with and who support us.

Each circle had a description of who should go in it ending with the seventh ( separated by a thicker line) which we could put anyone who’d hurt us but still needs to be in our lives. It surprised us all in how easy it was, and a relief to place such individuals there, often family members that have to remain in our lives but certainly don’t make us feel strong!

Many of us found this exercise revelationary and at the end of our weekend it came up as one of the best exercises to help us remove guilt from not making time for members of the seventh band!

My room mate had arrived for the early morning yoga and despite spending most of the day together we’d still not spoken so I really knew nothing about her, other than she had know Sian for almost 40 years. She reminded me of a neighbour who’d made it quite close to my inner circle so I trusted all would be well sharing a room and bathroom with her! Of course it was! It turned out that she had Bees in her garden tended by a local beekeeper!

After another delicious dinner, we watched the film ‘ in pursuit of silence’, a meditative act in itself, many of us were feeling a sense of achievement for 1) not falling asleep and 2) not ironing whilst watching it!

The evening was closed with another body scan meditation from Madeline.

Another post 10 pm bed time and I slept deep and undisturbed.

I was up early and able to walk the grounds before yoga. I found a walled vegetable garden with a lone hen. Hen and I stared at each other. Neither moved and slowly I closed the gate and returned to my meditative walk.

Despite not talking, our group had a strong connection and we shared the mornings meditations, both inside and out, walking and seated with self meditation session included wherever we felt inclined to rest.

We closed with a 30 minute silent meditation and the opportunity to talk about how we found the weekend met with our expectations.

We each had our own revelations, taking wisdom from different aspects of the course, and completely understanding each other’s needs for meditation and leading more mindfulness in our everyday lives.

Silent slow meal times was unanimously enjoyed and we all came away understanding the importance of protecting and valuing our time and space. This weekend wasn’t about ‘getting away’ it was about ‘going within’. Listening to our own wisdom and ensuring that to maintain our strength and peace in our everyday lives, we have the tools to restore our energy and the strength to insist on time and space to nurture ourselves.

Without these moments of calm we so easily get swept of course and feel overwhelmed, guilty and exhausted.

So was this retreat worth it? Absolutely!

During my busiest time with Bees swarming, garden overgrowing and ironing pile souring, a deep connection with nature and my self, reminding me of what I live for, and who I want to spend my precious time with was both reassuring and enlightening.

Yes I missed a party or two, my family and a couple of swarms, but I was instead alone with birds and bees and the peace I needed to hear and organise my thoughts!

Now I’m ready to return, refreshed and hopefully calmer so no matter what I return to, all will be well!

Sian Griffith is a reflexologist and meditation facilitator based in Bath.

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