Mindfulness Leighton Buzzard
Aren't Mindfulness Retreats all about hardship & suffering?
So I'm back from my fourth annual mindfulness retreat and it's really interesting to hear different people's responses to my time away. Questions tend to range from did you have a nice relaxing time to questions about hardship and suffering. Friends and family know I'm fairly unlikely to go for any hardship and suffering options however it isn't quite a relaxing spa break either - being mindful is actually pretty hard work.
I have only experienced mindfulness retreats that have been organised by Integrated Mindfulness and that take place at the scenic Trigonos venue in Snowdonia. According to some of the retreat "horror stories" shared at dinner of only eating porridge, or not allowing eye contact with others, I know that I have been very lucky, and so far have no intention of going anywhere else!
Starting with where I stayed, Trigonos is a really peaceful place to stay and feels very much like a second home now. The house and workshop rooms overlook the grounds and lake with a view of Snowdon when the weather allows. There are no shared chores, Trigonos look after you very well, rooms are simple and comfortable and the vegetarian food is tasty and plentiful. The one thing everyone talks about, (not just the vegetarians), is how amazing the food is - especially the cake at 4 pm each day!!
The retreat timetable is based around a weekend retreat and then an extended option for those of us who want to stay on and use it as part of our requirements under the good practice guidelines for those teaching mindfulness-based programmes. The structure allows for lots of mindfulness meditation obviously - around 5-7 hours a day so not for the faint-hearted, however, it is also perfectly acceptable to leave sessions early, do some mindful movement, walking or pastime of your own choice as well, (yes sometimes snoozing). There is also a break in the afternoon to use as you like. We do have a period of silence, including breakfast on Sunday, and the extended section of the retreat is mainly silent as well which I will describe separately. The main theme for the retreat is compassion, checking in to what is right for you, what you need, and acting accordingly which is surprisingly difficult as I'm certainly not used to only being responsible for myself. There is lots of laughter and chatter between meditation sessions when we aren't being silent - in fact, we've been told off for being too noisy in the past by another group.
I personally turn off all social media, email etc. etc. and with no TV either I enjoy the feeling of being in a bit of a bubble, escaping from the world and also the additional time in the day that it frees up. I find missing my family the hardest thing to deal with and so I message them every day just to check in and say Hi which helps. (Yes I know some retreats require you to have no contact at all but we've already established that isn't my sort of retreat).
So did I experience any hardship and suffering? No. I probably wouldn't go again if that was the case! I generally feel well looked after and nourished in terms of food and escaping modern-day working life. I come away reminded of why I practise mindfulness, normally with some funny, crazy insights about how my mind works and ideas about how to share that with others. Most importantly I have time to experience lots of longer meditation practices which is the biggest challenge for me in my own personal mindfulness practice.
My recommendation if you are considering attending a retreat yourself is to do your research first. Make sure that the retreat you are attending is going to suit you and your personality, if you aren't sure, see if you can get recommendations from others, and perhaps start with attending a day first to see if it is for you.