Sussex Mindfulness Centre volunteer, Hannah Andrews, shares her experience of attending a retreat in Plum Village, and describes the impact it’s had for her.
Not long ago I was a total mindfulness novice. I was aware of its benefits: reduced stress, improved sleep, reduced anxiety etc. There are no side-effects, and it’s free! It seemed a no brainer.
I downloaded various apps and promised myself to meditate daily, but it never seemed to stick. I couldn’t get past meditating three days in a row before life would get in the way. I was well aware that I would need to meditate more than three times to notice a change in my stress levels, but it was hard to make this habit stick, especially as I was doing it alone.
This summer I went to the Buddhist monastery Plum Village with my family. Those five days in retreat provided me with so much insight and awareness that it has propelled me to start meditating every day… without it feeling like a chore.
I turned off my phone and immersed myself in the experience. Every day began with three chimes of a soft bell at 5am followed by and an hour of morning meditation in the main hall. And every day closed with half an hour of meditation at 9pm followed by more bell ringing, total silence, and lights out at 10:30pm. Mindfulness was not limited to sitting with legs crossed and eyes closed in the morning and evening, our days were infused with mindfulness. The sisters showed us how to eat mindfully at mealtimes, walk mindfully through the gardens, and speak and listen mindfully to each other.
The monastery was surrounded by rolling hills of sunflower fields, wild flower meadows, and orchards. The slow pace, peace, and beauty of the retreat made being mindful feel so easy, and by the end of the week I was moving through my day in practically a constant state of mindful awareness.
While I previously struggled to be mindful for even ten minutes a day, on retreat I felt I was being mindful for all but ten minutes a day. Finally, the benefits of mindfulness showed their pretty faces; I experienced dwelling in the present moment, free from worrying about the future and ruminating on the past.
One morning, while I was meditating in the hall, a spider the size of a golf ball descended from the ceiling and landed on my forehead, crawling its way down to my nose and mouth. I used to be seriously scared of spiders. However, thanks to the calm and mindful state I had been cultivating on retreat, I simply noticed the spider on my face, and gently placed it on the floor, before returning to the meditation.
I am also usually an anxious flyer and would always feel a huge sense of relief when the plane would finally land. However, on the flight back home from my week at Plum Village, I was totally anxiety-free, looking out of the windows the whole flight in awe of the breathtaking views from up high. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed a flight.
It’s been just over a month since my week on a mindful retreat, and I can say it’s completely changed my relationship to mindfulness. I have been meditating most days, and look forward to it. It has stopped feeling like one more thing on the to-do list, and is now the thing I’m most excited to do in the morning.
I have also found ways to bring mindfulness into my day, being truly present at mealtimes and savouring my food, or more present while walking in nature. Part of why I’ve found it easy to bring mindfulness back into the real world with me, is that I truly felt its benefits.
If you are struggling to make meditation or mindfulness stick, or have not yet experienced benefits, why not sign up for a mindfulness retreat. Retreats are not just a holiday, or an escape from the everyday as I had expected. Going on retreat kickstarted my mindfulness practice, for which I am so grateful.
Apart from going to Plum Village, in France, you can always find a range of retreats, from one-day to five, led by the Sussex Mindfulness Centre on this page.