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Buddha & Breakfast

Posted by Squiffy on July 10th, 2007

…the alternative B+B

I’m a planner. Always have been, always will be. Or so I thought, until my recent, and rather pleasant, encounter with Buddhism.

Our decision not to plan our travels in any detail is hard for a planner. What will I have to organise and worry about? What if this, what if that? Well, that’s where Buddha comes to the rescue.

Last weekend I attended a Buddist retreat in Sussex, with the hope that by learning the art of meditation I could learn to settle my over active mind planning mind. And what a lovely experience I had.

I arrived at the retreat on Friday evening, somewhat apprehensive and expecting to be greeted by orange clad monks with shaved heads all chanting ‘ohm’, and a group of hippies in search of enlightenment. Happily, my narrow mind was wrong and I was warmly welcomed by the retreat leaders (members of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order so no orange required), and 20 other non-hippie, down to earth individuals. Most reported that they were to escape from their busy lives for a while. Note: Many of them were fellow Londoners.

The retreat is set in a big old victorian house in beautiful grounds, where it was so quiet and peaceful. After introducing ourselves we had supper together and then went to the shrine room to learn the ‘mindfulness of breathing’ meditation. We soon learnt that posture is all important when meditating and I quickly decided that I was more comfortable sitting in a chair than on cushions on the floor, although the full lotus wasn’t a requirement. Many of my fellow retreatants persevered. The leader talked us through relaxing our bodies and concentrating on breathing, as we tried to let other thoughts just come and go. One of the main teachings of Buddhism is to ‘be in the present’, to experience living now, rather than in the past of the future. This struck a cord with many people, including myself; I am ‘happiest’ 2 weeks to a month in the future. Although I found the meditation extremely difficult, frequently wondering how long we had left and opening my eyes to see if others were finding it easier, it did help me to concentrate on the present and to stop planning and worrying about the next few weeks. I left the shrine room feeling tired but calmer and… I guess more peaceful.

On Saturday morning we were awoken at 7am by a tinkling bell and went straight to the shrine room for our pre-breakfast meditation. Still sleepy and worried that my tummy would rumble without food, it was hard to relax and at times I found it quite frustrating. However, I did again leave the room feeling what I would describe as clamer or quieter. Over a breakfast of delicious vegan porridge I learnt that most people were experiencing some difficulties with the meditation. In our busy world, we do not often sit for 25 mins in silence and it can be uncomfortable at first. After breakfast we met in small groups to discuss our experiences so far. We talked about our difficulties and frustrations but our group leader was so patient and calming we all felt better after sharing our thoughts. It was then time for lunch and an afternoon of free time.

To be continued tomorrow…

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