Buddhist retreats are wonderful places for everyone to learn the art of stillness, says Caroline Sylger Jones
Most yoga retreats and an increasing number of evening courses, health spas and wellbeing retreats offer secular meditation sessions, but a Buddhist retreat is still a great place to immerse yourself in the art of meditation, to learn it from scratch or develop an existing practice.
Most Buddhist retreats promote a way of living, rather than a religion to follow. They are open to everyone regardless of beliefs or background, and to beginners with a genuine interest in meditation as well as experienced practitioners. Most charge a very affordable fee for food and accommodation, with teachers paid by ‘dana’ or donation.
They’re not the place to come to indulge. Accommodation is usually basic but always clean and nicely simple, the sexes are segregated, food is simple vegetarian and stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are not allowed. Bedrooms are usually shared unless you have a medical reason why you need a room alone.
A Vipassana silent meditation retreat is especially beneficial, when without daily chit chat and petty concerns your mind is freer to learn to meditate. It can be a challenge however, so it’s best to book onto one if you are self-sufficient rather than needy, and in a stable emotional state.
My favourite Buddhist retreat in the UK is Gaia House in Devon near where I live. The London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, East London, is the main London base of the Triratna Buddhist Community, formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, and it runs regular, accessible retreats at Vajrasana retreat in Suffolk.
Sociologists have measured the silences in conversations between English speakers and concluded that we cannot bear a pause of longer than four seconds. So why not give yourself a break?