Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Zen Buddhist Retreat

Last year my mother went on a retreat to a Zen Buddhist monastry and so on this most recent trip to England I signed up for Throssel Hole's introductory retreat. I arrived there early after a drive with my mam through some pretty dramatic scenery. I was greeted by one of the 4 monks who had been assigned the task of running the retreat for the weekend. The retreat was to be a silent retreat, although the monks is not a silent order.

The Abby is surrounded by well kept lawns which are full of rabbits grazing in the sun. It was a bit nippy (after all we are talking England in October), so my strolls outside were limited. That first evening we were given a presentation on how to meditate and set about the first of many meditations in the meditation hall. I really liked the feel in this hall. The big statue of Buddha dominated the room and during meditation the place was overtaken by silence. There were 9 people on the retreat and that night we all slept in the meditation hall. I was worried I would not sleep well but I actually slept like a baby. My bed was closest to the alter and there was something nice about sleeping under the big lit statue of Buddha. It felt like sitting under a giant Christmas tree and during the night monks would come and light incense under the Buddha - I guess I fould the smell relaxing.
I enjoyed the silent part of the weekend. The Abbey had been my first stop in England after New York and my head was buzzing with thoughts of BF, and experiences of the last few days. It was good to decompress. The schedule on the retreat was fairly strict. Morning meditation at 6.30am followed by service at 7am, breakfast at 8, a talk on some element of spiritual practice, a work duty (I got to carry wheelbarrow loads of rocks up and down a hill - it was good to be outdoors though and the body heat generated by the hard labor was welcome!). Then lunch, an other work duty, meditation, evening service and bed.
I did not love the rigid routine although I can see that for some it might be easier to meditate in a situation where everything around you is being taken care of. I enjoyed the silence but found it hard to be around people all of the time. I believe I am a bit of a loner in that it is very important for me to spend a few hours by myself every day. It is good for me in Cozumel that my BF works so many hours as I am left to my own devices for most of my day. I found that during the odd 15 mins of down time at the Abbey I would go off and find somewhere to sit alone.
I found the meditation easy the first few times. After a while my back started to hurt and I found myself longing to leave the Abbey and sit on a comfy chair, eat what I wanted when I wanted etc.
It was an interesting place though and I wonder how it would be to submit yourself to a regime of Zen meditation for a longer period like a week or a month. The Abbey would have been nicer in warmer weather too as the walk from the meditation hall to the common room was along a corridor which was almost outdoors with a flagstone floor which was very cold to walk on.
I prefer my meditations with Selene in Mexico, on the whole, although am certainly considering making the odd Zen meditation part of my weekly routine.
I would recommend the Abbey to anyone interested in Zen - but go in the summer and take a good pair of slippers!

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