Retreats / About Retreats

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.

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.

retreat experience: Catherine Ward

Sacred Landscape: A Walking Retreat

"The Yatra Retreat is a pilgrimage of silent mindful walking along the ancient Ridgeway Path from Goring to Stonehenge. We camped, meditated and performed ceremonies inspired by Buddhism and the Land. What attracted me to the Yatra was the sense of the whole retreat being a journey. I wanted to reflect back on the journey I had already embarked upon, and for the end of the retreat to signify a change in myself. I wasn't sure how to prepare myself for the retreat. Mindfully I would think about my emotional journey since I started meditating, and physically I would go on some long walks near where I live.

"The Norwich Younger Sangha retreat I attended a month before was very important to me. I was finding the discussion groups very difficult. At one point I couldn't physically talk. I was flow writing after the retreat and what was coming out was some of the pains from school. Being bullied, feeling left out, being laughed at, not fitting in. All feelings I thought I had dealt with. These feelings resurfaced when I was at my old job and not being in a very nice atmosphere. I always felt like I had to be positive and happy so I tried to ignore all the negative feelings from my job. After the Norwich retreat I started to recognise these feelings and try to face and deal with them properly. To feel more balanced and acknowledge all my feelings I started to imagine an old fashioned weighing scale.

The first day of the retreat I was very excited and started to explore my reflections, mindful breathing and metta bhavna in my walking. Physically it was quite easy but my mind kept wandering.We had good weather, two of the days being sunny and the rest milder grey days; the only rain we had was at night. Waking up to freezing mornings and being exposed to all the elements I found as quite a shock and it made the week very hard for me.The first night’s camp was very hard, being cold and uncomfortable and not getting a lot of sleep. By the third day I had blisters and was feeling pretty miserable. I felt very ungrateful sometimes for all the hard work the crew were putting into the retreat, and it was easy to forget why I was there and why I wanted to be there. Every step was getting more painful, that was all I could think about, I definitely was in the moment! At one point it felt like the journey was becoming a physical acknowledgement of my emotional pain. I was feeling very unbalanced and so reminded myself of the weighing scales and was trying to search for some happiness and pleasure in the walk, for example seeing all the beautiful scenery, but mostly focussing on the pleasure of lifting my feet off the floor with every step, and to feel more grateful because there was a part of me that was really proud and happy to be there. I loved being in a community and feeling more connected with the land, our ancestors and having more respect for nature.

We would start and end the walk within a circle and bow to each other. There was a lot of nice energy and support within the circle and walking line because we were all doing it together. I felt very safe as well as I was a little concerned about feeling self-conscious from other people’s reactions who weren't on the retreat. But when I was there I realised what an amazing thing we were doing and was proud to be a part of it. We had a few strange looks and whispers which made me laugh but most people were very friendly and intrigued with what we were doing and where we were going.

There were some lovely Pagan meets Buddhism ceremonies. Two that stood out to me were on Dragon Hill, introducing the ancestral gods to Padmasambhava, on one of the really sunny days and the day I was thinking of the Norwich Younger Sangha. The second was an evening Puja style ceremony at Barbury Castle. It really helped me to feel connected to my emotions again.

Through all the struggling and the pain came the most amazing moment when we could see Stonehenge on our way to the last camp. We stopped in our circle and cheered, it was very overwhelming and felt such a huge sense of achievement for myself and the group, I had a little cry and could remember why I was there.

The walk to Stonehenge on the last day was very emotional and special with seeing the sunrise. When I got inside the stones I was really happy and had a lot of fun in the ceremony.

When we got back to camp and was packing away I had a rush of reality hit me as I started to think about my journey home. We had a last sit together and all went round saying a few words about how we felt. I could feel myself getting frustrated with how long it was taking. I really wanted to get going. It wasn't that I wanted to leave the retreat, but just that I knew it was going to take six hours getting home and I wanted to start this journey as soon as possible. I actually missed the train I had booked, so got another and I bumped into one of my co-retreaters. We sat together on the train back to London. He was one of the Order member’s on the retreat who is living in a LBC community and is originally from Norwich. It was really nice sitting with him because I felt like I was crashing back to reality too quickly and needed to be slower and see the journey rather than an annoyance.

Despite how hard I found it, this has been a very worthwhile experience and will stay with me for a long time."

Catherine Ward started coming along to the Norwich Buddhist Centre in mid 2011, and is a regular attendee of the Norwich Younger Sangha. She is an artist who who displays her work around Norwich and is taking part in Norwich Open Studios 2012. You can view her work here: www.catherinelauraward.com.

retreat experience: Caroline Barratt

Retreats as Precious Opportunities

"Retreats are an aspect of my life that I truly cherish. A retreat offers a window of opportunity to turn off my phone and laptop, to go inward and open my heart more fully in a nurturing and supportive environment. I particularly love being on retreat at New Year. It feels like an authentic way for me to say goodbye to the old and welcome in the new. To be really in touch with that deeper aspect of myself as the New Year starts and I orientate myself for what lies ahead.

This is the third consecutive year that I have been on retreat with the Norwich Buddhist Centre at Castle Acre over the New Year.

The theme of this year’s retreat was ‘This Precious Opportunity’ which, for me, led to much reflection on impermanence. 

As someone highly resistant to change, a lover of routine and all things familiar and comfortable this seemed particularly ripe as a retreat focus! I particularly enjoyed developing a collage using images from old National Geographic magazines. The creative process of completing my collage shone a light on some of my deepest fears around truly accepting my life as ‘a precious opportunity’.  I have never perceived so clearly, not just intellectually but emotionally, the aspects of my life that I hope will never change.  This realisation has loosened the grip of those fears allowing them to be named, identified and therefore more effectively worked upon. Being in a retreat environment, with intuitive teachers guiding the process, I find that insights like this can arise in the most unexpected ways.

The setting of this retreat also adds to its magic.  Castle Acre is an ideal retreat setting - peaceful and isolated but with a strong sense of history and place. This year the ruins of the priory and castle acted as very prominent reminders of the retreat’s theme. The Red Lion and its beautiful shrine room with exposed brick walls, wooden floor and cosy log burner made a great home for the week. From the moment the mats were set out on the first evening for the first meditation the shrine room became, at least for me, the centre of the retreat. The combined energy of everyone’s effort and dedication on their path creates something that cannot be put into words. Something deep inside me responds to that sense of connection to each other and our own deeper spiritual aspect. The metta that develops through the week through shared practice, living as a community and generous helpings of heartfelt laughter creates an atmosphere in which one cannot help but be inspired. 

On returning home from the retreat this year I felt far more open, freer and braver. It is so hard to really express in words what happens on retreat or how it feels. I am getting emotional just thinking about it - so maybe this is good practice for me!  I just know that retreats allow space for something a little bit magic to happen. I guess you could say that retreats in themselves are very precious opportunities."

Caroline Barratt is a member of the Colchester Sangha and has come on the last three winter retreats with the Norwich Buddhist Centre. She is a burgeoning photographer, so look for some of her photos on these pages. 

retreat experience: Dan Champ

A Flash of Lightning in the Dark Night

"A retreat during the last few days of 2011, and continuing into the new year, offered a chance to turn inward and inquire what makes life truly meaningful. The retreat was oriented around the theme of Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara, the text from which the Triratna Buddhist movement draws the verses in the Seven-fold puja. Santideva draws our attention to the precious uniqueness of human life, asking: if the chance to develop is not taken now...then when will it be taken?

A series of talks by Padmavajra included a mention of the value of dharma discussions as a spiritual practice.

I was fortunate to be in a study group where the openness and honesty of the participants provided a strong foundation for an exploration of the powerful emotions expressed in the Bodhicaryavatara - as well as an exploration of our individual experiences as the retreat went on.

The presence of a new rupa at the heart of Padmaloka's shrine room helped to set the scene in anticipation of the 'New Year's party'. We had been provided with the opportunity to write a list of regrets for the old year - as well as positive resolutions for the new. These were collectively offered during an extended puja inspired by the Sutra of Golden Light. The Sutra dramatically narrates the path which leads towards the end of suffering and the attainment of Buddhahood for all beings. We also chanted the mantra of Vajrasattva, a Tibetan Buddhist figure symbolic of the original purity of all beings: a fitting way to leave any regrets from the old year behind, and move forward with positive intent.

Our offerings were burnt on a large bonfire to the soundtrack of the mantra of Ksitigarbha, the Bodhisattva of lost causes. We then headed inside to enjoy fruit punch (non-alcoholic, of course) and a range of tasty snacks. We then returned outside to circumnavigate the stupa, before meditating through to the close of the year. For the remainder of the retreat the schedule changed; the talks given by Padmavajra were exchanged for a Sunday work period and extended periods of meditation on Monday. This provided a much needed chance to absorb the powerful material expounded in the talks and discussion groups.

Santideva presents the spiritual life as an opportunity to move toward the ideal of achieving enlightenment for all beings. This is likely to seem distant for most of us when tied down by a concern for an array of likes and dislikes. However, the start of a new year represents a good time to reflect on the value of the opportunity inherent in our present circumstances, and consider what makes life truly meaningful for us, whatever that may be."

Dan was made mitra in 2010 and is an active member of the Norwich Younger Sangha. When he's not at the Buddhist Centre, you may find him performing at Cinema City or Olives as Orang-u-Dan.