Mindfulness Retreat: a day well spent
I’ve mentioned before over on my Instagram page that, in my day job, I’m a ‘mindfulness champion’ and that gives me the opportunity to have some wonderful experiences, such as attending retreats. Last week I attended a day-long silent retreat and I wanted to share it with you…
You may have read my blog post last year following my day of silence at the EY Mindfulness network’s retreat – if not, you can read it here.
There were quite a few differences from last year’s retreat – notably the location being in Birmingham so only a ten minute drive away rather than the long journey I had last time and we had a different facilitator. Jake Dartington led the day for us this year.
I’d been looking forward to the day all week but annoyingly I woke up on the morning of the retreat feeling quite groggy with a headache which isn’t ideal when you’re about to spend six hours alone with your thoughts. I’d had a full-on day the day before and had way too much screen time. A familiar story for many of us I’m sure!
Jake talked us through the day and explained that, like last year, the day was going to be in silence. If we needed (or wanted) to speak or use our phones we could step outside. The room we were in was our little sanctuary for the day. After absolutely loving the silent nature of last year’s retreat I was very much on board with a day of no speaking and no technology, in fact I was very excited about the prospect!
The venue for the day was perfect. We had a room at the Fazeley Studios in Digbeth and the room we were in was quite plain and white with just a few chairs in a circle for us each to sit on. Jake explained that the space was ideal. Had the room being brightly coloured with artwork on the walls it would have provided a bit too much stimuli. I loved the simplicity and sense of calm in the room.
Before we got started Jake gave a good analogy about meditation which has stuck in my head. I think people often have a preconception of meditation that it is ‘shutting off our thoughts’ and having an ’empty mind.’ We are never going to completely stop our thoughts. All manor of thoughts will pop in throughout the course of a meditation, particularly when it’s a full day of meditating.
The analogy Jake used was imagining images being projected onto a plain white wall (like the wall in the room we were in). The simplicity of the wall would allow us to see what’s projected very clearly. This is just like in meditation, as the silence and stillness gives us a far better chance of clearly seeing our thoughts.
We’re always ‘doing’ and often going about life at a million miles an hour. Jake explained that if there was something being projected onto another part of the wall, which had a coat rack in front of it, we’d not be able to clearly see what was being projected. I really like this analogy. It’s so true as it’s sometimes not until I get into my favourite meditation spot that I can identify how I’m feeling. We don’t often give ourselves the luxury of this stillness and that’s why the whole day was such a dreamy prospect.
In the first meditation I felt very aware of sensations in my body. The headache had eased a bit at this point but there was still a hint of fogginess and discomfort. The sensation I noticed most clearly was a tight feeling in my chest. My coaching tutor used to encourage us to use imagery to explain sensations in the body which is something I often do. In this case, it was like I had a rope all knotted up in the centre of my chest.
I’m not sure what was causing this feeling. Perhaps it was the shift to meditating with a group of other people when I’m used to doing it on my own. Maybe I was a bit apprehensive about what may come up for me throughout the course of the day. Being alone with our thoughts can be quite scary especially at the end of a busy week when perhaps I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to really check in with how I was feeling, particularly with some challenges I have going on at the moment.
Given the above it almost felt like a bit of a relief to get up and do a walking meditation. I felt the urge to move (which is quite rare for me!)
The walking meditations we did last year experimented with moving at different paces and all over the room in different directions. This one was far more simple, which I think I prefer. We did it in the morning and in the afternoon. All we did was start walking round in a circle. From an outsider looking in it would probably look rather comical but I found it really powerful. Who knew something so simple could have such an impact?
Walking meditation isn’t something I often do so it gave me a new technique to take away. We were encouraged to really pay attention to the sensations of our feet on the floor and the feelings experienced in our bodies. I’m a very fast walker usually so slowly walking, with purpose and attention was very different for me. At the end of the day I was speaking to another lady in the group who said she found it really hard (a fellow fast walker). She said she was getting frustrated with the pace and found it hard to resist the temptation to rush. I guess it’s such a contrast to how we live our lives.
What was funny was that when I found thoughts drifting, which they inevitably did, I would find myself losing balance. This sounds ridiculous I know as I manage to walk about in a straight line in ‘normal life’ even when my mind is flitting between various things. At one point I really lost my balance and felt a bit silly! It just goes to show the importance of giving attention and gentle awareness to what we are doing.
At lunch some of the group needed to check phones and stepped outside for this. I knew that if I did that I’d be sent back into that realm of ‘doing’ and the temptation to make judgments. Judgments about how many ‘likes’ my social media post had got that morning, judgments about text messages I’d received. No way did I want to get into all that so once I had collected my food I sat on the floor with my back against the wall eating my lunch. Some of the group had a little snooze and I found that I just wanted to bow my head and close my eyes. It’s so strange when I think about it but again, the simplicity of it was wonderful and I was listening to my body and what felt good for me in that moment. Something we don’t often give ourselves the luxury of doing.
We did a movement meditation after lunch which was cleverly timed so we didn’t all go to sleep. The body scan meditation had happened in the morning. It felt good to move my body and do some stretches. Really honing in on those sensations gave a good focus and something to come back to when the mind wandered.
Come the end of the day we did a simple sitting meditation, much like the one we started on, and it was a totally different experience for me. That knot had untied and I felt an ease in my body. Throughout the day I’d noticed some ideas pop into my head which often happens to me when I get quiet. I used to find that meditation brought up a lot of difficult and challenging thoughts and feelings which I think some of the group experienced. I wondered if I didn’t get as much of that as I now have a very regular meditation practice. Perhaps this acts as a daily cleanse almost and means I’m more aware of my thoughts and feelings on a regular basis.
Meditation has done fantastic things for my wellbeing, and my life as a whole, and having a day like this to truly embrace it was amazing. I felt like I floated out the room at the end of the day and could have happily stayed in silence until I went to bed but sadly that’s not very compatible with normal life!
If you’re thinking of trying meditation, even if it’s new to you, a day like this is so enlightening. I can’t recommend Jake enough. The simplicity of the day and of each meditation was really effective. You can find out more about Jake and his retreats here.
And if meditation is something you’ve never tried and you’re not sure how to start then have a watch of my YouTube video which is targeted at newbies to meditation.
Big thanks to Jake and the EY Mindfulness Network for putting on a wonderful day!