Last week I had the opportunity to go on a 4 day retreat very similar to the one I spent in Plum Village for just over 3 months.
This retreat was entitled “Happy Teachers Change the World: Mindfulness Retreat for Educators”. It was led by 3 Monastics from Plum Village in Doneraile, Cork, Ireland. Although a retreat aimed at educators and teachers, it was open to anyone and
I was drawn to wanting to immerse
myself in a mindful, community environment again.
Sitting in the back seat of a friends car on the drive down from Dublin, staring out the window, I was content to be going on an adventure.
However, on the first day or two I found it difficult to get out of my head, relax and totally immerse myself as I had wanted to. The thoughts of “Dammit, I can’t even be here and relax” crossed my blinkered mind.
In general, I love retreats… I love the space they allow, the like-minded people, the sense of community, the sense of holding, the nourishing environment that consistently reminds me to appreciate the nourishing elements around us including the food made with love, the breeze of the fresh air, the warmth of the sun, the awe of nature, the smile of another person.
On the second full day, I awoke and walked to the hall for sitting meditation with conviction to not allowing my mind to take over my day again. As I sat, I focused solely on my in and out breath, all the way into the depths of my belly, all the way out to the tip of my nose… the calming effect on my body… allowing the endless flow of thoughts to do just that, flow…
to not take hold of me… to not take over me.
This simple practice in meditation can sometimes be a very difficult practice… especially when I’m experiencing depression and anxiety. Sitting in a room fill of other people, nowhere to go, nothing to do, but sit together, I put all my effort and concentration into my practice and feeling the support.
One major feature in my experience of depression is the sense of loneliness and lack of connection.
Plum Village and their retreats has definitely helped in lessening the impact of this feature. I’ve made many connections over the years and coming to this type of retreat and seeing old and new friends always reminds me of this.
Upon meeting some old friends I was able to share and be open about how it has been for me since returning from the 3 month Plum Village Winter Retreat… and the struggles I have endured in my transistion. Their comforting responses were ones of total understanding and empathy.
It feels good to be heard.
A general idea of what this retreat schedule looked like:
6:00 Wake Up
6:30 Sitting Meditation – Guided by a monastic along with the grounding sounds of a large bell.
7:15 Exercise – Led by one of the monastics in a Qigong type style.
8:00 Breakfast – We serve and eat in noble silence.
9:30 Talk / Workshop – Generally given by a senior monastic on an interesting relevant topic.
11:30 Walking meditation – We walk as a group/community, led by the monastics… super slow, super in the present moment.
14:00 Total relaxation – This is totally nourishing. We get to all lie down together in the hall and get all cozy with blankets. A guided body relaxation scan is then given for almost an hour.
15:30-17:00 Circle Sharing – An important and powerful practice in the Plum Village tradition where we sit in a confidential circle and share thoughts and feelings about our practice, a particular topic, or anything else that needs to be released into the holding environment of the circle.
20:00 Sitting Meditation / Slow Walk / Presentation
21:30 Noble Silence (until after Breakfast following day) – Noble Silence Plum Village style is pretty loose. In general it’s a respectful practice within the community to allow for personal stillness and reflective time.
22:00 Lights out