“Curiouser and curiouser!”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I was apprehensive about my first mindfulness silent retreat. After weeks of being immersed in Brexit results and the shocking tragedies occurring in the world there was anticipation in switching off the strong pull of social media and constant news updates. Being away from family with no communication created a sense of unease and simmering panic. Five nights and six days of retreating, why would I do it?
As part of the commitment and support in training with Clear Mind Institute UK to become an authentic mindfulness teacher, it is recommended that teachers attend at least one annual silent retreat. With encouragement from my family and mindfulness community, I booked myself onto ‘The Wise and Loving Heart’ retreat at Gaia House, Devon. The opportunity to explore and deepen my practice, to nurture the qualities of wisdom and compassion, I decided to drive my car just in case I needed a quick getaway.
My training and guidance in mindfulness has always been from a place of taking care of oneself, to listen deeply and respond with kindness and gentleness. I went with the attitude of being curious to whatever arises and softening as best I can to what unfolds. These were the foundations of my experience and they served me beautifully.
On arrival, the staff and volunteers were friendly and understanding. We were taken into silence by the teachers in the meditation hall for the evening sit. 50+ people from all different walks of life quietening and withdrawing from external distractions. I felt safe, supported and at ease.
My day started early at 5:30am as I wanted to practice mindful yoga in the garden underneath a huge oak tree before the bell rang for the beginning of the daily schedule. I was joined by two rabbits and many friendly birds. Our first group practice started at 6:15 followed by breakfast and my work hour. I was given the task of washing up in the kitchen which became a valuable practice. Working in the kitchen and seeing how lovingly people were attending to their chores I felt the first sensations of deep appreciation and gratitude. Qualities that we’re going to deepen throughout the week. I also noticed my competitive edge surfacing, wanting to be the best and fastest at washing up!
The retreat is set so that there is a fluidity in practice. Sitting, walking, standing, eating are practiced in a continual stream of concentration and inquiry. Noticing how more wholesome qualities such as acceptance, openness, kindness and non judging are stronger for me in formal practices but how they seem to slip away when queuing for lunch. What if there isn’t enough food?Again, encouraged to be aware and interested in all the experiences, even the unpleasant ones.
I had moments of calm, moments of being with both physical and emotional discomfort, moments of boredom and moments of pure joy and elation. Feeling the quiet support of the group and soaking in nature whilst walking and standing. Resting underneath the oak tree in the midst of the comings and goings of the external and internal weather patterns. A sense of composure and tree-like qualities.
I felt a deep healing, forgiveness to myself and others and I felt forgiven. I felt a childlike amazement and a real embodied sense of curiosity walking through the vegetable garden. Mother Nature is so incredibly giving. The wildlife, flowers, weeds, fruits and vegetables. The complexity of how a raspberry turns red and the rotting of an apple, I woke up to how awe-inspiring these miraculous gifts are and that they are always here. I was able to draw upon this quality of curiosity in my seated practice when sensations and emotions became intense. Curiosity is a beautiful quality to cultivate, allowing things to be as they are and exploring with an open heart. “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is not cure for curiosity” – Dorothy Parker, civil rights activist and poet
On leaving, I had an overwhelming sense of appreciation for all things. I made a detour on the way home to visit my Dad and hugged him and expressed my love and gratitude. There is a freshness in the way I’m looking at the world and feel deeply grateful for this experience. My family missed me but these qualities of curiosity and appreciation are contagious and they too are feeling the affects of me deepening my meditation practice. I’m very much looking forward to my next retreat.
Tracey is a senior graduate from CMI, teaching a range of classes to individuals, in schools and in the workplace. You can find more information here traceycramond.co.uk
Tracey’s retreat was at Gaia House in Devon. You can find details of their retreats and other activities here gaiahouse.co.uk
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