It’s Monday afternoon, and the world feels a slightly different place.
I’ve just returned from a week long silent retreat at Gaia House, where the focus was on mindfulness, and how it can lead to equanimity in life.
I’d never gone on a silent retreat before; never even considered that this might be something for me. I’d recently been introduced to meditation by a friend of mine, but the enquiry ended there. The week was tough, with a few home truths to swallow, but I can honestly say that, yes, my world has now changed a little.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into the details. In fact, mindfulness and meditation made me think quite hard about how best to write about the experience of retreating from the world for a week – no verbal communication, no reading, no mobile phones, no email.
In the end, I felt that the only way to best sum it all up was through poetry. I wrote this whilst out walking in the stillness of the Devonshire countryside; whilst sitting on the cushion instead of focusing on my breath (I couldn’t help it), and whilst sitting on a bench, with a cup of tea, looking at the huge trees in the grounds. One of them, a great sycamore that had felt more time pass than I could ever dream of, had a trunk shaped like a twisting torso, arms held out to its sides supporting the weight of its own life.
The poem began from this tree.
Deep in the limbs of vast trees
That the eye has to roll in its socket to see
Began the wind; from the brush
Of countless leaf with countless leaf
Drew up an endless breath.
The sun left the hills again.
Lawn lights pricked awake at the edges
Of grass, grass that human shuffles had swept
Not so long before. The two rabbits,
That bared without fear their flanks to the house,
Saw what the rabbits saw.
Did the Meditation Hall hear the wind?
Fifty souls, fifty shifting selves,
Lids shut tight on their infinities,
All felt different things.
Silence had sealed them in deep.
And when one mind strayed to the
Scent of handsoap when another
Shifted his seat and made to twist,
She curled her thought, again, to the refrain:
‘How is this breath? And this one? And this?’