….but we are all fabulous.
A few weeks ago I spent 48 hours at a women only Buddhist retreat centre. It was an interesting experience…
The Taraloka Buddhist Retreat Centre in Whitchurch (http://www.taraloka.org.uk/) came recommended by various online sources such as The Good Retreat Guide as well as by the daughter of a friend and another friend who have been and benefited. In the information sent when you sign up we were asked not to bring books, mobile phones, devices etc. just paper and pens if we felt we wanted to.
Immediately before the retreat, I started to feel rather nervous. I wasn’t worried about meeting new people or about meditating – I have completed an 8 week course and have been meditating on and off for several years now. I was nervous about sharing a room (I don’t like sleeping with windows open at all and was concerned in case others insisted) and whether I’d be hungry (the food was vegan except for cow’s milk) and really just what it would be like.
So, what was it like?
Well firstly, I was given a room to myself so that assuaged one of my fears. The centre was light and airy with a large dining room where there were tea and coffee and biscuits available 24/7. There was a lovely large sitting room with sofas and chairs and a separate shrine room which again was spacious and light and very peaceful. It was in the middle of fields and had gorgeous grounds with cottage flowers and a pond around the centre and walks through trees and fields with hidden statues slightly beyond the centre. There was a rota of chores and we all signed up to do something – I was on dinner washing up duty, others chopped vegetables for meals, set the tables and so on.
The dining room, shrine room and sitting room at Taraloka
As well as completing our chores, we had several sessions of meditation each day, talks, free time, walks, and from 9pm Saturday evening after evening meditation until 9am Sunday after morning body movement and meditation we had a taste of being in silence for 12 hours.
The main focus of the weekend’s activities was an introduction to the loving kindness or metta bhavana meditation.
For those not familiar with this meditation, there are several stages to it – firstly you send love to yourself, then to a friend, then to an acquaintance or person you barely know such as the postman, then to a person in your life who is difficult and then to all humans/beings.
Unlike breathing meditation in which you focus on the breath by counting or saying a mantra or simply by attending to it, this meditation encourages you to open your heart. Imagine the warmth you feel for a dog or cat or new born baby or that friend who has known you forever and who loves you warts and all. You start by sending that feeling to yourself then gradually expanding the focus of that feeling to others.
Over time the meditation soothes away judgement of oneself and of others, enabling us to recognise that ultimately, however difficult or unpleasant a person may seem, we all want to be free from suffering. That we may be flawed but that we are all flawed and if we could avoid judging we could focus on what we have in common and be open to others.
So far so good and it all sounds lovely. Turns out it’s hard! I have a tendency to be a bit judgmental of others and I hate myself for it but I am recognising that it stems from judging myself. I judge myself for not being as good as others in terms of career, not being a mother, not being slim enough, not being fit enough, not always being patient with my mother whom I love dearly and who always has time for me, to name just a few. So when you sit and access that feeling of tenderness you reserve for other humans or animals who you know won’t hurt you and apply it to yourself, it turns out it’s a pretty emotional experience. Doing that in the company of 23 other women on retreat and 5 very compassionate Buddhist women only heightens that.
I came away wishing it had been longer and also wanting to spend some time alone. I got home, burst into cleansing tears and then curled up on the sofa and slept.
The venue was beautiful, the other women lovely, eating vegan was less hard than I thought (although I had a detox headache on the last day and craved bacon afterwards, which I don’t usually do) and time simultaneously dragged and flew by. Was it relaxing – not exactly, but was it worth it – definitely!