As part of being an accredited Breathworks mindfulness teacher, and being registered with the UK Mindfulness Network, there are certain requirements that I must meet each year. In line with other professions, I have to attend continuous professional development events and participate in activities which support and promote my personal and professional development. One of the requirements is that I attend a teacher led retreat of the specified duration. So in December 2018, I returned to the beautiful Suffolk countryside and the Vajrasana Buddhist Centre for an eight day Breathworks silent retreat on the theme of lovingkindness and self-compassion.
Attending any Breathworks event or retreat feels very warm and welcoming… and there are usually familiar faces to greet. This particular retreat was no exception! The idea of being in silence for eight days may fill you with dread or worry. I often hear comments such as, “I’d never be able to be silent as I’m way too chatty” or “being in silence all that time must feel quite oppressive??” And I have to confess, that when I embarked upon this way of life many years ago, I also had those same fears and concerns. Now however, I deeply appreciate the silence and crave periods of silence and solitude in my everyday life. A week or eight day retreat in silence, does not feel long enough!
I attended a similarly titled retreat in 2017, at the same Buddhist centre and deliberately chose to return to the same centre and this particular retreat. During the year that I had been away, I had been introducing more compassion and kindness practices into my personal meditations, and also into my meditation group. My practice had also developed to be more based outside and in nature. They say that comparison leads to feelings of inadequacy, however when I compared how I felt this year compared to the previous year I found great differences which were heartening.
Traditionally in lovingkindness meditation is we wish kindly thoughts to various people including someone we find difficult/challenging/don’t like. During my year I had used the same individual: someone I was very resistant to feeling anything other than anger and contempt towards. And I noticed that over the course of the year my attitude, thoughts and behaviours softened around this particular person. And although I doubt we will ever be close, I could see that this particular individual has the capacity to show great kindness to others and is generous of her time and energy in helping them. And as a result of this, life was more pleasant for me… I was not experiencing the same levels of stress and anxiety in meeting with them, or even when talking about them. And this may be as good as it gets for us, however it is a much, much, better place than it has been and I am content with that.
I also noticed that I felt more grounded on this retreat. Usually I feel very playful and light, and my body will want to skip and turn cartwheels – it’s a wonderful way to feel and express one’s joy. Feeling grounded and connected to the earth brings a different sense of joy and contentment I noticed. And I put this down to moving a lot of my practices outside such as mindful walking and breathing and moving practices in nature.
And so I start 2019 in a very different space compared to 2018, with a sense of excitement for where my practice may grow and develop over this year.