What Katy Did - on a weekend retreat

KATY EVANS experienced her first meditation retreat in the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

Sometimes you just want to run and hide from the world, which is exactly what I did last weekend on my first meditation retreat, organised through the Colchester and Ipswich Buddhist Centres.

I first started meditating last summer when I joined a level one beginners' course in Ipswich. That lead on to doing level two but I have not since done another course, instead choosing to meditate (or not, as the case has been more recently) at home. The idea of a retreat did appeal - time to immerse myself in meditation, learn more about the Dhama (the name for the teachings of the Buddha) and just get some peace and quite from my normally pretty hectic life.

I was tempted by a week-long retreat at a place in Wales but when I heard about the East Anglian Women's Retreat in Suffolk it sounded like a good place to start off.

Work colleagues will attest to my apprehension in the days running up to the retreat. I remember telling them how I was dreading going as I thought I would not only be bored, but be surrounded by 'weird' people. I was getting more and more agitated as I had to arrange picking up three other people, none of whom I had met before, and felt as if there were more important things I should be doing with my weekend.

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But as soon as I arrived I felt glad to be there as everyone was very friendly and not at all 'weird'.

The centre is a beautiful old house in the middle of the countryside near Walsham-le-Willows. The theme for the weekend was Awakening, which I thought was beneficial as I could do with coming out of my busy, constantly thinking state of mind. Part of awakening is being more mindful - of our actions, our speech - which I definitely need to do more of as I often don't pay full attention to what I'm doing.

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And although I've lived alone now for almost a year, I didn't find it strange sharing a room with three other people; what I wasn't so keen on was the early starts. The bell sounded at 7am every day but I never heard it, due to my earplugs, so always woke up about 10 minutes before the first meditation and had to rush, bleary-eyed and yawning, to the shrine room.

The shrine room itself is round, with a wall made of hay coated in plaster, and has under-floor heating and no windows, making it very cosy and somewhat womb-like.

Some of the sessions involved chanting, which was a first for me. At times I could imagine my friends and family seeing me and thinking 'what on earth is she doing?' but once I got going it was easy to lose my inhibitions and just go with it, even if though I didn't know the meaning of the Sanskrit words I was singing.

One of the best parts of the weekend was the meals (unsurprisingly). I love my food and although I am not a vegetarian (yet?!) I enjoyed all of the meat-free dishes, especially the sweet-potato and red pepper soup. I even managed to resist the chocolate mini eggs that were handed around (impressive hey?).

I felt sad to have to leave on Sunday afternoon and come back to the 'real' world. I could have stayed there a week as there was such a lovely sense of community and caring. And not having any men around meant everyone could just slob out. I wore not a scrap of make-up the whole time dressed in baggy jogging bottoms and sweatshirts.

I enjoyed all aspects of the weekend, but especially liked one of the poems read aloud; it basically said that being a human is like being a guest house to a variety of emotions; every day we might be visited by sadness, happiness, anger, fear, frustration, joy etc, but that whatever comes we must welcome them all with open arms for they are sent to teach us something. And it was good to be reminded of the truth that 'now' is all there is. The future is history, the past just an idea.

I left there looking forward to returning for another retreat. Turns out I'll be going back sooner than I thought as I managed to leave behind my coat, hat and scarf! Seems I have a lot more to learn about being mindful.

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