Every year, Buddhafield holds the Total Immersion retreat, a month of silent meditation in nature, with the option to stay for only two weeks. It’s one of the most beloved events on the calendar. There is meditation teaching, ritual, silence and wood-fired hot tubs, and everything takes place under canvas or the open sky.
For most people, the idea of sitting quietly in a lush meadow as birds chirrup in the trees, is a pleasant one. Something you could easily spend a day doing, but the notion of doing that for a month, in silence, can be daunting.
The silence at Total Immersion is deep, but not cold or restrictive, there are other ways to communicate and the wonder which unfolds as your vocal chords, and then your mind, quiet down can be astonishing. Thoughts become clearer; things and people often become more beautiful; you may notice sounds you wouldn’t have, like the timbre of a stream as it chuckles over rocks. The silence can become a quiet contentment and warm appreciation that you share openly with others.
Laura came on the retreat last year, for the first time and said, “I was initially anxious about going into silence, but I actually found it took away a weight of anxiety around speech. I felt far more connected with myself, with those around me and with nature. It certainly also gave space for difficult emotions to surface, which needed to happen.”
It is true that, given some space, the emotions we prefer to avoid will probably take their chance and emerge but this doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. The team are highly experienced in creating supportive, joyful events with real spiritual depth and many people find being in nature to be instinctively supportive; for our bodies it can feel like coming home. This, along with the positive, welcoming atmosphere, helps create a safe place for any pain or sadness to arise, without being too overwhelming. It often flips and can be greatly freeing, growing into an expansive feeling of love. There are also regular meditation reviews which offer guidance, support and more personalised teaching.
Arthabandhu, who has been on the retreat many times, said, “I love all the elements of the Total Immersion Retreat: one whole month of practice out in the open air, silence, community, and rituals in the midst of nature. By the end of the month I feel wonderfully refreshed, enlivened and inspired. The whole thing puts me in touch with something magical that helps me go back to day-to-day life with a greater sense of purpose and meaning.”
This year, the theme of the retreat is Mindfulness: Bridge to the Beyond, based around one of the Buddha’s primary teachings on the subject, the Satipatthana Sutta. Both meditation teachers have decades of experience on the subject. Vajradevi has been meditating for 31 years, and studying this particular teaching for 15 years – much of her practice is based around cultivating mindfulness. Kamalashila has been teaching meditation for over 40 years and led the very first Buddhafield Total Immersion retreat 10 years ago.
Mindfulness may appear simple but has incredible richness, particularly when practising in nature. Moksatara, from Sheffield, said, “The simplicity and freshness of being outdoors and camping was so revitalising and grounding, and very much informed the meditative states and quality of awareness that I was looking to tune into.
“Bathing in the brook (post-hot-tub!) and watching the steam rise up from the water whilst the sunlight streamed down; meditating under a tree by the Buddha and seeing a kestrel hopping about the grass just metres away are just some of the moments I’ll never forget.”
Are you tempted? This retreat is open to all experienced meditators, all you need to do is book. First-timer Laura’s advice is: “Bring layers! I’d encourage any meditator with Triratna to go for it.”
Words: Sarah Ryan, with thanks to Arthabandhu, Laura Harrison, and Moksatara
Images: Saccavicaya and Padmapani
Poster: Liz Verde