I really questioned whether I should write about something as private as a meditation retreat in such a public forum, particularly one billed as a photography blog. After all, it's not called 'What Helen did next...' However, after pondering, I realised that I am not some corporation. My business is me, that's all I have to offer and the more I develop who I am; through travel, literature, art, film, people and spiritually, the more I bring to my photography and those who experience it. So here goes...
In my second year of university my best friend Emma and I signed up for a one day meditation course on the outskirts of York. We hated it. Hard as we tried to absorb and understand we were bored and felt out of place. Fast forward ten years and the appeal of meditation still clung. I knew there had to be something in it. A few friends of mine had been on Vipassana courses and come back enthused about it, but for two years I sat back and made excuses why I didn't have the time or the money to attend. Through a friend I attended a wonderful yoga retreat in Morocco in January and we practiced some meditation as part of the course and so finally I committed to attend one of the courses run by meditation teacher Burgs (a disrobed Western monk), at a course run by the Art of Meditation.
Jax (my yoga teacher) and I arrived flustered after a long journey taking much longer than expected and finishing in the dark, reversing into a hedge and stumbling in the darkness into the house where the other attendees were serenely supping their evening soup. I looked every inch a blonde city girl in need of spiritual salvation.
The house itself, Poulstone Court, is tucked away in the Herefordshire hills. A beautiful part of the country only 15 miles from Wales. The red brick mansion house is home to numerous spiritually based retreats from Shamanic Healing to writers retreats - clearly catering for a range of tastes.
After an introduction on the evening of arrival, allocation of bedrooms (I was sharing with three other women) we took our vow of 'noble silence' which would hold (other than to ask questions during teaching discourses) for the next 6 days. I found it wonderfully liberating to be able to truly meet myself away from the usual day to day distractions. We ate our food (some recipes here) in a contemplative silence, enjoying and savouring each mouthful. The days were gently regulated with the tinkling of a bell which woke us at 6am and sounded for the final discourse after supper each day.
I was surprised to find that at least half of the 32 attendees were returning for their second, fifth, twelfth time. Having been expecting to walk away from my first time retreat 'fixed' I soon realised that I had taken what is in fact a very small step on a journey that will last a lifetime. Initially I found the sessions daunting. We started with sitting for 20 minutes, cross legged on our cushions, at a time and worked up to 45 minute 'sits'. The discomfit my body gradually lessened and the deeper I fell into the rhythm of my body the less I felt in pain. The twice daily practice of Chi gung helped to realign the body after the sessions, with it's combination of rhythmic breathing and mindful movements.
A blog entry is in no way sufficient (without outstaying my welcome) to convey the experiences I went through or the fascinating teachings that I had the privilege to have the opportunity to learn from Burgs. He is a teacher of great skill, presence, depth and humour. A rare combination and an inspiring one. We literally hung on his every word, drinking up the simple suggestions for a more peaceful and happy life. I look forward to the next retreat in six months.
“If you can quieten the mind enough to begin to listen to the heart, you will find that you already have the answers you seek.”