You may be pondering how mindfulness helps anxiety, how mindfulness helps mental health, how mindfulness helps sleep and how mindfulness can change your life?
In this blog I share my retreat experience which is part of my Mindfulness practice of which has helped with all these things.
To have deeper and more prolonged practices is part of me being a Mindfulness teacher so I can truly practice what I preach and bring the retreat learning and experiences back to you.
My latest retreat involved a cottage in Essex, silence and a day trip to a ‘retreat day’ in London. I hope my experiences and learning will help you, I would love to know what you think!
As usual I try and make the most of the journey to my retreat by putting a nourishing podcast on in the car I can learn from. I am curious about what the retreat will bring up for me. There is usually a whole load of learning and reflections, having time alone, time with my thoughts, time to just be.
I arrive to a very misty town, I’m early to check in so I decide to park up on the narrow street and go for a wander. It seems there is no one about, it’s a very eerie feeling, almost like something from a Dickins book, almost smoggy. I buzz with anticipation at what this mystery town will bring. I can smell chimney smoke mixing in with the fog and salt air from the estuary but its deadly quiet…a bit like one of those rare days we get when there is snow in the UK and the sound is almost completely blanketed by a layer!
In all honesty I start to worry a little about what I am doing alone in this town! But I decide to persevere and sure there is a learning in here somewhere!
I arrive at the cottage and its cosy and comfortable with everything I need. A sitting room with ornamental fireplace and practical kitchen, upstairs to the bedrooms one of which has a beautiful antique writing desk.
As I arrive I can hear beeping, I trace the noise and find it’s the carbon monoxide alarm in the upstairs bedroom where the boiler is! Great…okay so I need to head out again to get a battery! I start to feel a bit triggered about whether I am safe (if you have read my HSP blog you will know why!) but I calm myself and take a few deep breaths before heading out again to the local little shop to buy a battery.
This I find challenging as the shop are friendly and I’m conscious that I am on a silent retreat, however I decide it would be strange to ask for the battery in some weird half made up sign language so I overcome that quickly!
I settle in eventually after some trouble getting the heating working and my mind starts to wander onto Saturday. On the Saturday (I arrived Thursday) I am going into London for the day as my good friend runs day retreats in London, and I decided to go there for a day with my silent retreat around it ‘sandwiching’ it.
However I notice it, notice how London makes me feel (sometimes anxious) and I let it going bringing myself back to the present moment. This is how the majority of my meditation goes over the next day or so, wandering to London…trains of thought (literally about about trains sometimes) and then wandering back! Trying not to judge the experience and also trying not to judge what a ‘retreat’ should be like.
London day comes and after a whole load of transport, car, train, walking…I arrive at the Light Centre for the Self Care Bank day retreat with my friend Henny. We have lots of discussion about self-care in the group and we actually make a bank of self-care! Everyone putting ideas of self-care into a jar! We had various things go in there such as massage, walking, time in nature, meditation, travel to name a few. We also did some meditation and a wonderful yoga nidra led by Henny at the end. There was a long discussion about self-care and what is actually nourishing and what is just indulgence which really set off a chain of thoughts in my brain!
On the way home I felt exhausted, burnt out after spending time in London but I’d enjoyed the day and had some good ideas for self-care and I think the idea about what is actual self-care and nourishing and what is just indulgence was in my mind.
I was also in two minds because I had loved the day but I found the travelling and the hustle and bustle of London not very ‘retreat like’ (which I’m conscious is also a judgement in itself!) so I was pondering whether I should have gone but decided it was great learning and I would focus on meditation and self-care (genuine self-care) when I returned to the cottage.
Its was also strange because I started to veer into indulgence territory and felt like as I had put my body through London I would eat lots of food that evening! I caught myself having the thought and firstly that I felt I needed self-care after a self-care retreat (the irony of that!) and then lastly that it was just indulgence! There was no justified reason for needing more food to comfort myself after London!
This was further amplified for me when I went to grab a chopping board to chop up some vegetables and noticed the wall was burning hot, so hot I couldn’t touch it! Noticing my thoughts, feelings and emotions occurring with this were very interesting. I could not see any genuine reason the wall would be hot, I couldn’t see any pipes, radiators etc. all I could see was it was near to next doors fire place (the cottage was a terrace).
After my initial safety triggers about the carbon monoxide alarm on my retreat arrival, I began to panic. Thinking I’m going to have to go and speak to the neighbours (breaking my silence AGAIN) and panicking about whether there was a fire.
After speaking to the owners over the AirBnB app who were very lovely and reassured me there are water pipes in the wall with no insulation so it feels really hot, I was able to breathe and meditate and calm myself back down! I have come a long way as about 4-5 year ago I would have headed to the car and driven home as I would have felt unsafe and panicked and unable to stay there but I was able to regulate my body and help myself feel ‘safe’ again.
I also caught myself looking at the TV in the cottage and the DVD collection longingly and thinking well I’ve had a couple of days of meditation maybe this could be self-care now too? Again, noticing my thoughts and how it wasn’t actually self-care at all it was pure distraction, trying to distract myself from feeling how I had felt going to London and after my hot wall panic! I settled for a cup of tea and some meditation.
I think this is also when group retreats are beneficial as you get the discipline and less likely to wander into this territory, but I also think a solo retreat brought me more learning.
Also trying not to beat myself up about these thoughts, its ok for me to notice that I wanted to distract myself, its okay to be afraid, no one is perfect and its ok to have thoughts about indulgence. However I’m able to take a step back and see it for what it is, observe the thought and then move forward with deciding what to do next and making the right choice.
This is why Mindfulness is a super power (and also why Mindfulness is better than chocolate in my opinion!) and is something I have come to learn by practising this skill is that you can apply this to any situation. Stop, notice, breathe and respond accordingly! Mindfulness is not just about having a clear mind or being calm all the time or just noticing. Its about how you respond and the action step that follows.
For me I’ve learned not to try and juggle London transport again as part of a ‘retreat’ but this is about me knowing myself and my body and taking each of these experiences as a learning. Noticing that my mind wanders and I want to distract myself or indulge myself but be able to be stepped back from it enough to respond, to treat it with curiosity and to treat myself with the same kindness I would a good friend.
I’m definitely going to be stopping to ask myself ‘is this self-care or just distraction/indulgence?’ going forwards.
How many things do you do that you label ‘self care’ things like watching Netflix and eating rubbish?
When I went live about this in my Facebook group someone said actually Netflix could be self-care and you could be eating healthy food and watching something soul nourishing so again its about reflecting on these activities, learning, tweaking, continuously improving and not beating yourself up about it! Yes we all love a good Netflix binge and that’s okay!
What could you do practice more self-care? What do you currently label as self-care but is pure indulgence or distraction? What could you do to take a step back and notice!
Would love to know your thoughts!
Gemma Sandwell – Mindfulness Teacher and Silent Retreat Extraordinaire!