“Retreats offer an opportunity to put one’s habitual concerns to one side for a period of time in order to engage in meditative practice in a supportive environment. A period of retreat time can shed a wide light on our lives and can allow fresh perspectives to emerge. It allows us to become more established in our meditation practice. We find that on retreat we are supported and sustained by the silent presence of other practitioners and the retreat centre environment.
Through sustained and sincere practice one can taste the freedom of an unburdened heart. The Thai Forest Master Ajahn Chah described meditation as a “holiday for the heart” and that is an apt description of the retreat experience”.
(A quote from the website sunyatacentre.org (Buddhist) in Co Clare, Ireland.)
Central to my recovery programme from M.E., meditation had become a key part of my daily routine. I was introduced to the practice through Yoga, which I started on the advice of my consultant immunologist. When he diagnosed me with M.E. back in 2012, he said “We don’t know what causes it and we don’t know what cures it, but I know my patients who do yoga, do better”. So it was a no-brainer for me.
I also had a close family friend with a significant birthday and I wanted to do something special for him. He has little interest in material things and is a very spiritual individual. Some quite time away to meditate and reflect in a supportive environment were the main ingredients for this Google search. And to my surprise the second item listed on Google was a weekend retreat at Sunyata, a few days after his birthday.
I had some misgivings, as I was a relative beginner at meditation and my friend was practicing for many years. But I was reassured by the Staff at Sunyata that I would be fine. I also checked with my own yoga teacher and once again she encouraged me to go. (Thanks Judi, I owe you one.)
A full spec. on all that you need to bring is highlighted on the web pages and the communications from the Centre is very good. The location, not far from Sixmilebridge in Co. Clare is remote and idyllic. Following a narrow road, you eventually arrive at Sunyata. It comprises a number of buildings in various states of development but more than sufficient for our needs. At the centre is the Temple, the place of worship.
We all gathered at 6.30 on Friday evening and to our surprise, there were 21 retreants in total. We were given our schedule for the weekend, our chores, and the basic rules. These included the fact that we were asked to observe a “noble silence” for the remainder of the weekend until we finished on Sunday at 3pm.
In simply terms we could ask for the salt at dinner but otherwise no talking, other than when invited to by our Monastic (the visiting monk who guided us through the weekend.)
After settling in to our shared accommodation, we began our practice and guidance at 8pm and finished at 9.30. Then it was off to bed in silence and rest until our morning call at 5.30am. Practice began at 6am and the day consisted of guided meditation some of which was indoors and some outdoors. (We were blessed with beautiful weather). Food consisted of breakfast at 7am and lunch at 1pm. No other food was taken until breakfast on Sunday morning. Once again we retired to bed at 9.30 and we were called again at 5.30am on Sunday. The retreat ended at 3pm on Sunday.
The atmosphere was quiet, yet supportive. Each of the 21 retreatants had a common purpose. Some were Buddhists and some were not; a mixture of many religions and beliefs. The practice of meditation was central to the day and our Monastic guided us on a journey of learning and relaxation. Throughout the two days he shared his wisdom over a wide range of subjects and on the many challenges we face. He also gave us a deeper understanding of Buddhism as a way of life.
As we finished on Sunday at 3pm it seemed strange that we could all comfortably speak to each other. We said hello and goodbye in a short space of time. We were a disparate group who had come together and on the previous Friday and worked in silence for a couple of days. But we had gotten to know each other through our practice and silence in an unusual way, in a quiet way. The parting words were those of friends, not strangers.
My friend and I chatted all the way home, discussing the learnings from the retreat and how we could and would apply them in our lives. For sure our meditation practice would be better and more frequent in future. On deepening our understanding of “the nature of experience”, which was a key element of the retreat, we had an opportunity to look at our own lives and allow fresh perspectives to emerge. It truly was a “holiday for the heart”