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SILENT RETREAT: NEW YEAR 2023

I recently returned from 6 days silent retreat at Gaia House in Devon and felt very fortunate to spend the time there before the symbolic closing of the past year and the welcoming of 2023. In the past three years, partly because of the pandemic, I spent time in solitary retreats either in the outdoors on in Buddhist centres.

49 fellow participants joined the retreat and 109 people, from different parts of the world joined online. It was the first time that Gaia House offered a retreat entirely based on donation, an act of generosity on their part and generosity was the core theme of the retreat. I joined the retreat from a space of feeling tired due to work and with a semi-chronic pain in my lower back and hip, that allowed me to sit, stand and walk only for brief periods of time.

During our stay, we shared several sitting meditations in the conducive meditation hall, sometimes guided by the teachers or in silence, followed by walking meditations in the beautiful grounds of the house, working meditation and times for eating and for resting every day. The teacher and the staff were very encouraging and supportive, so that each day we could descend deeper into our practice. At first I had a lot of noise in my head, including being concerned about the constant pain. I almost doubted the choice of spending my time there ...


Gradually, the mindful practice took over as I began to integrate generosity towards myself and the companions sharing this mid-winter journey. Welcoming myself and the presence of the others sharing silence, the kindness of the teachers and the staff, the kindness of the ancestors who guided me here, the stillness of the dark rainy days and nights and the surrounding nature. All of these helped me to sense the texture of welcoming and feeling welcomed. And yes, the hidden limiting patterns that drive life, at present, arose in my body, mind & heart, as also did the questioning “what should I, or should I not, have done?”.
We continued sitting, standing, walking and working, while our hearts imbued by feelings of generosity, kindness, appreciative joy and gratitude guided from within.
Day by day, I noticed there was less of me doing, thinking or reflecting, and more of a feeling of flow. Life was happening as a flow. As the mind and the heart quietened and expanded, the body, in resonance, softened and began to release held-in tensions that it no longer needed.

A natural sense of openness and acceptance emerged towards my present condition, whether in joy or despair, in pain or in wellness. There was a feeling of interconnection and gratitude towards the group there, towards the larger community and the ancestors. A sense of responsibility, a call to action to offer something of value to the next generation and to nature.

As the dawn of the first of January spread its rays, I felt a kind of renewal had taken place inside and the pain I was experiencing was just a bundle of sensations reminding me I was still alive.

Thanks to the commitment to the Mindfulness practice during the retreat, the relating to my experience and to the world had shifted and a feeling of warmth and regeneration emerged. On the way, the pain also subsided and I am able to walk for longer and engage in longer stretches of work.

If you are a mindfulness practitioner or trainer, like I am, you may already know the benefits of taking part in retreats regularly. However, I feel this custom could benefit all sorts of people as a practice of wellbeing - especially for those who are living with physical or mental pain.

With many thanks to Gaia House, the teachers there, the mindfulness community at large and to those who have kindly given their attention to read this blog.
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