** DISCLAIMER – retreat was via Vitality Retreat and was fully paid for by me. I was not asked to write this blog post, its a genuine, unbiased and unsponsored opinion!**
I’ve been in real need of a boost recently, so when my Mindfulness teacher, Donna, offered me a place on a Zen Retreat Day, I jumped at the chance. It was something I had wanted to try anyway, but it really couldn’t have come at a better time. A whole day completely devoted to my own wellbeing was just what I needed.
The day started at 10am on a Saturday and is based in Donna’s stunning home and garden. A beautiful Victorian mansion that has the most wonderful calm and welcoming atmosphere, its the perfect place for meditation and mindfulness. There were five of us on the retreat, three of which had done it before. I’d spoken to two of them beforehand.
‘The hardest part is the silence,’ they both agreed. ‘Especially during lunch.’
As an introvert who hates small talk, six hours in a group with no obligation to talk should have been ideal, but even I wasn’t sure I’d manage it.
We settled in Donna’s cosy living room and began with an hour long meditation, which was hard and easy in equal measures. I love to meditate but I’ve never meditated for so long before! There was a five minute break at the half hour, which was great as it gave me a ‘reset’ and I was able to regain my focus. I love group meditations – not remotely awkward and very powerful – but they’re not something I get to participate in very often so it was a lovely way to start the day.
After our hour was up, we went outside for a mindful walk around the lovely wild garden. We walked in a silent line like monks, and we tried to remain mindful to our surroundings as we did so. A mindful walk is a great form of meditation in itself; instead of letting your thoughts wander, focus instead on what you hear, what you see, the sensation of each footfall, the wind/sun/rain on your skin, sounds, smells. I loved the mossy grass that felt so bouncy to walk on, the buds bursting out on the trees, and the flies skimming over the top of the pond.
Then we did some standing yoga stretches on the lawn. It was so cold when we started, and threatening rain, so I did wonder if it would turn out to be a pleasant experience, but it was wonderful and freeing. I’ve never done yoga outside before and I now wish I had a more secluded back garden! It was very invigorating, and we had added entertainment in the form of Donna’s cat, who is renowned for getting involved in the yoga sessions by doing figure eights round everyone’s legs.
Being back inside the cosy house was a wonderful feeling. My hands and face still tingled with cold, my body was pulsing with energy, yet I felt calm and relaxed. We spent the next hour in a working meditation, which involves choosing an activity and giving it your full attention. I chose to do some writing and I took some photographs in the garden, but anything that engages you is acceptable. Something crafty like knitting or cross stitch, or something practical like doing some weeding in the garden. It was lovely to sink into the big couch and write, paying attention not just to the words but to the sound of the pen as I wrote, and the feel of the paper under my fingers. I wrote slower and more deliberate than I normally would, and it was nice not to have any distractions at all. No TV on, no one talking to me, no pressing housework playing on my mind. I just wrote.
I took a quick wander round the garden with my camera, with the intention of capturing a couple of photographs of plants and flowers. I was accompanied for some of my walk by the cat, who refused to pose nicely for a photo.
Lunch was vegan, gluten-free and very tasty. A delicious noodle and tofu soup along with crackers, oatcakes, seaweed, hummus and tomatoes. As we gathered around the table I feared it would be awkward without conversation but instead it was very peaceful as we could focus completely on what we were eating. For me, someone who usually wolves down her lunch at her desk or in her van, and her dinner in front of the TV, this was a revelation. We followed lunch with some green tea and sweet oatcakes, then it was time for Yoga Nidra.
I’d never done Yoga Nidra before; basically its a sleeping form of yoga. We had to tell ourselves to remain awake before we started as folk are prone to fall asleep during it. I felt wide awake and was sure I would remain that way, but there were a couple of moments when I felt myself drift away from Donna’s words and enter that weird before-sleep trance. Pulling myself back was a struggle but I managed it and I felt strangely revived afterwards.
We had a ten minute break to shake off the sleepiness from the yoga, then it was another hour of meditation with a five minute break in the middle. A nice way to round off the day, and I was pleasantly surprised to know that I could commit to meditation for this length of time.
Overall it was a wonderful way to spend a day and I definitely intend to do it again. The whole day felt timeless – I can’t say it flew by but it didn’t drag either, It just was what it was. I was knackered that evening and tried to spend it calmly and quietly as a follow-on from the retreat. Funnily enough I achieved quite a lot with the rest of my day, and time continued to flow in that not fast, not slow way, for the rest of the day. It’s now been two days since, as I write this, and I still feel a strange sense of energy and transition. I’m getting on with nagging chores I’ve been putting off, I’ve started writing again, and I have ideas in my head for so many different things. Plus, ultimately, I’m coping just slightly better with other things that are going on in my life at the moment.
Have you ever done anything like this? Would you be interested in giving it a go?