It has been three weeks since I returned from Burgs’ 7-day silent meditation retreat and the only words I have shared about this experience have been in the form of poetry via my Instagram page. Anyone who has ever had such an experience will know that it can be difficult and even undesirable in some ways to put that experience into words. Language is limited, but I must try, so that those of you thinking about taking such a trip may be encouraged to go for it.
Before setting off on the train to Wales my main concerns were for my son who would be out of touch with me for a week. Having ensured that he would be well cared for both emotionally and physically I started my release into peace on the journey to Abergavenny. I chose train over car as I don’t enjoy driving much and didn’t think I’d want to drive back after such a deep immersion. During the retreat we were instructed not to read or write and I began this important part of the ‘fast’ on the train. I usually carry a pile of journals and books with me but this time I wanted to give myself the chance to just be.
I had a short gabber in the taxi from the station to Buckland Hall with some of my co-retreaters. Two of them had been offered places by their boss who is a strong believer in the healing power of meditation. He offers his employees the chance to attend a retreat without losing any of their holiday days, and paid for by him. I thought this was amazing! How many city employers would provide such a life-changing opportunity?
With the exception of the Friday evening of our arrival we kept silence throughout the retreat from Friday night until the following Thursday afternoon. Interaction with others was minimal and limited to the very practical. We didn’t even thank each other for holding the door open. Eye contact and smiles were not outlawed but on the whole we avoided them to keep into our own space and experience. The days consisted of an early morning meditation at 6am followed by chi gong, breakfast, a dhamma talk, meditation, qi gong or yoga, lunch, rest time, meditation, yoga or chi gong, meditation, soup (for tea), dhamma and meditation before bed. Each activity was punctuated by a break of about twenty minutes afterwards where we would rest, walk or sit quietly with as little thought as possible. The Hall had two sitting rooms filled with very comfortable sofas looking out over the surrounding countryside. Watching the weather unfurl itself before us day by day was quite something. One afternoon I sat outside on the covered pavilion with a chamomile tea and watched as the rain moved from the furthest hills across the lawn infront of us. One evening a fox came across the lawn on the other side of the sitting room window leaping and spiraling then running off into the topiary hedge. On the Tuesday or Wednesday night (I don’t remember which, I lost all track of the days) the sky was clear and several of us lay out under the stars and their incredible clarity away from the light pollution of the city.
The bell that was rung before every session and at meal times dictated our routine. It was a great relief not to cook for myself or worry about what needed to be done next. I let go of all that to focus my energy on learning to concentrate, first on the breath, and then on different areas of the body with startling results.
Having been recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (chronic pain disorder) I was concerned about the longer periods of sitting, despite my yogic practice. The pain I have daily can be grouped into what I call ‘ambient pain’ and acute pain or injury pain. The ambient pain is the pain sensation I feel throughout my entire body all the time. This varies in intensity. The acute pain is located in specific areas of my body where I may have experienced trauma such as injuries or inflammation in the past. It can occur at any time with any level of intensity. Throughout the practice certain chronic areas began to bring themselves to my attention. We were permitted to ask questions after the sessions and one of my 3 questions the whole week was about the pain in my injured left shoulder. Burgs looked at it with compassion and instructed me to allow the arms to hang out of the shoulder socket, and to leave the painful areas in my chest alone rather than rubbing them in between sessions, as this would aggravate it. He taught us that these areas of pain that arose specifically as a result of our meditation were areas where energy had become blocked. The more charge we put through the system with our connection to Source energy, the more these areas would show up. We went through a process of accepting these areas (or not!) and in some cases the sensation would dissolve.
By the Thursday when we broke our silence, my ambient pain had disappeared and the areas of chronic and acute pain had died down considerably. At times I could not feel them at all, at others, during meditation they would arise again. If I had to summarise some of the most important learning points I took away from this retreat they would be:
- The body is burdened daily and made ill by the weight of our unconstructive and unnecessary thinking and internal narration/storytelling.
- The web of electromagnetic energy that we have built around ourselves in the form of wifi etc is extremely stressful on our bodies and makes it very difficult for us to connect to divine energy.
- Nature is the restorative energy that we need to immerse ourselves in. We must therefore protect and cherish it as sacred.
- There is no freedom from suffering as long as we cling to our idea of ourselves as separate and individual.
- We in the west especially live very fortunate lives, even those of us on low incomes have all our needs provided for: food, shelter, and companionship. There are exceptions, but on the whole this is the case.
- We don’t need all those things we think we need. This moment can be enough if we really turn up for it.
The main question I have been left with is, “when can I go back?”
Writers note: This is not an exhaustive description of what happened on the retreat and my experiences. It is more of a snippet. If I were to go into more detail I would be writing a small book. I’d rather you experienced it for yourself! If you attend my classes and workshops, some of this will filter its way through to you during the practice. If you would like to try a retreat yourself, I highly recommend Burgs, The Art of Meditation and all his written works. The art of meditation website