I recently did something quite out of the ordinary. I packed my bags and went off to stay in a Monastery to experience two days of silence! It was a weekend of Mindful Meditation at Ampleforth Monastery in North Yorkshire.
‘Two days of silence, why would you want to do that..?’ some of my friends asked me, quite bemused at the idea. ‘…because i can feel my head going on overdrive!’
A few year ago I took up Mindfulness Meditation in an attempt to be more present in my life, less anxious, to come out of auto-pilot and have more control over how I respond and react to things and basically to help manage my depression at the time. It helped. However my practice had since lapsed, and like many of us who have learnt to spot the early warning signs of a dip, I knew it was time to do something about this. The retreat came at a time when I needed it. It provided a chance for a change of scenery, a break from my usual routine, an adventure and some meditation – hopefully these things would help give me the lift I was looking for.
When I arrived I was taken aback at the beauty of the Monastery and its surrounding grounds. The monastery filled me with awe as it has such presence. It grandly overlooks a valley, which contains rugby grounds, trees, nice walks and green hills in the distance. Rumour has it that ‘Hogwarts,’ the castle in Harry Potter was inspired by Ampleforth, which is also a public school as well as a monastery. After having a quick look around I felt absolutely giddy with excitement that this would be my home for the next few days.
The retreat was both relaxing and challenging. My mind wandered to places I really didn’t want it to! But hey, that’s what minds do – right? Part of the practice involves noticing this and bringing the attention back to the focus of the meditation. I tried to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, observing them without getting too attached to them, like clouds passing through the sky. The theory is that this then becomes easier in daily life, and it does help me.
I experienced some beautiful moments whilst at the retreat. In the evening I would look up at the sky and see so many stars twinkling back down at me. I marvelled at the constellation of Orion, which I rarely see from my home in Leeds. The starry sky was so clear and bright and reminded me of stargazing in India which I had done many years previously when I felt much more carefree. It was a nice reminder.
The monks were very hospitable and welcomed us to drop into their worship, which is open to members of the public and I highly recommend! Their singing is enchanting, mesmerizing and moving. It was like being on the front row of a free concert!
…and while I was there I felt time stand still just for a little while…a pause
Anyone can visit Ampleforth Monastery (As long as it’s not a special day.) Members of the public can eat at the tearooms, stroll around the grounds, observe and take part in the worship (you don’t have to be religious – I’m not! ) and buy nice gifts at the shop – it’s a beautiful place to go!