Retreats / About Retreats

Retreat experience: Jane Fagan

Retreats as Precious Opportunities

In November I had the opportunity to engage with the centre's first online retreat and I'm just so grateful I did. I've been on many weekend retreats at the windmill and Red Lion over the years so I'm well versed in retreat life and wanted to see how this would work in my home. For me being on retreat regularly is a way to embed and deepen my practice with a view to integrating it into life outside. I'm confident over the years that I have had made changes to reflect more of how I want to live, for instance living more simply and quietly, making more space for my practice and committing to study. However, sometimes my mundane life still seems to present many challenges and my practice can feel faraway, specifically my meditation practice. I'm also aware of my entrenched habits at home that hinder and distract me from my practice which can be a source of frustration and unhelpful thoughts.
So before the retreat I thought about how I would like my experience to be and what I could do during the breaks in the timetable. I knew I wanted to be on my own so my daughter spent the weekend with her dad and I informed family not to visit, call or message. I planned not to use my tablet and to do as little housework as possible so the day before I got some of this out of the way. During the breaks I thought I could walk the dog, read and cook a new dish. Once the retreat began it was then a matter of observing how this all went.
Friday evening we met for an hour as a way to introduce the retreat in this new format and each other with our home set up. This finished with a simple ritual which set the tone perfectly for the weekend ahead. Both Saturday and Sunday followed a typical retreat structure with meditations, talks, a workshop and small group discussions. As well as engaging with everything on offer it was interesting to see what was going on within me practicing in this way at home.
On the Saturday I noticed I was rigid and strict about keeping to my plan of wanting the weekend to be just like one at the windmill. There was a definite separation between being online and offline. However, on the Sunday there was a different feel about my experience emerging, perhaps because of my awareness of what was happening and the effects of the retreat itself. I started to want something different from my experience, I wanted the retreat to be part of my home life and not distinct and I wanted to do some chores but with more awareness.
Then on Sunday I naturally started to soften. I did put some washing on, after all I'm a mum with a child who needs clean uniform the next day. I did check my messages and I did reply to some. But this was all done with more awareness and thought about what I was doing and why. Was it necessary? Was it overly distracting? Was it mindlessness? I began to settle more and feel more confident about bringing my two worlds together.
I think we're incredibly fortunate to have a centre that is offering so much for our community online and if it wasn't for the current situation I may have never had a retreat experience at home. When we go away on retreat or do courses at the centre we have the conditions we need to be more present and when we go home it can be difficult to recreate this for whatever reason. But practicing this way with others has definitely deepened my connection to my practice and shown me how I can continue to bring the dharma alive in my home. I encourage you all to give it a try and just see what happens. This is a unique experience in a unique time.

Jane Fagan is a member of the Norwich Sangha

retreat information

am I well enough to be on retreat?

You may have concerns as to whether coming on a retreat would be suitable for you due to:

• General health issues
• Physical limitations and/or disabilities
• Emotional distress
• Mental Health issues

We hold retreats at two main locations: the Windmill and Castle Acre. Both locations have stairs without wheelchair access, so at the moment we are not able to accept people onto our retreats who cannot maneuveur stairs.

Retreats can be a supportive environment for people who are experiencing some difficulties and emotional distress but meditation may not be appropriate and can even be unhelpful for people with more acute mental health difficulties such as severe depression or psychosis.

On retreat you will be among other people quite intensively and participating in the retreat group program. Team members can of course give some support to individuals but retreats are not therapeutic counselling environments and team time and skills are limited.

Please note, having mental health difficulties does not necessarily mean that a retreat is not suitable for you. In order to try to ensure this would be a safe environment for you to be in we encourage you to contact the Centre if you have any concerns or queries regarding these issues.

What is a Retreat?

A Buddhist retreat gives you a chance to put aside the concerns and demands of your everyday routine. By getting away from the noise and clutter of the city or where ever you come from, you can begin to relax and open up.

Many people who go on Buddhist retreats feel more grounded, calmer and in touch with themselves. Those who go on retreat regularly find these qualities pervading the rest of their lives, and can live more and more from their human potential.

Going on retreat gives you the opportunity to share time, and inspiration with like-minded people from all walks of life. Many people find that a sense of community develops as a retreat progresses, and lasting friendships are born from their experience.

But retreats are not 'holidays'. They are an opportunity to deepen your awareness of yourself, other people, and the world around you. They give you space to clarify what is essential in your life. And as such, a retreat can be a challenging, life changing experience.

The daily programmes vary depending on what type of retreat you book. Most retreats include meditation, periods of silence, and other activities such as talks, workshops, study groups, and sometimes yoga. They also have short work activities and free time.