Buddhafield Mitra Study 2013

We have planned a Mitra study event for March 2013 which we very much hope you will be able to attend. Whether you can come for the whole week or just the family weekend, it would be lovely to see you and a great opportunity to meet as the Buddhafield Mitra Sangha, study and practise together in beautiful surroundings, and enjoy the unfolding of Spring. The dates are:

  • Women’s study, Saturday 9th (arriving for supper) to Friday 15th
  • Family weekend, Friday 15th (arriving for supper) to Sunday 17th
  • Men’s study, Sunday 17th (arriving for supper) to Saturday 23rd

The Venue

We’ll be staying at the Yarner Trust at Welcombe Barton, Welcombe, a mediaeval farmhouse and barns a mile from a stunning bit of the North Devon coast. We have also booked the camping field and roundhouse so that we could have a big celebratory weekend together, with partners and children welcome too. There are warm dry spaces, big sofas and woodburners, and a good well-equipped catering kitchen for communal eating. There are a few beds in the house, and sleeping spaces in the barn plus plenty of space to camp.

The Study

We will be studying the “four mind turning reflections” from the Triratna Buddhist Community Dharma Training Course for Mitras. This is Module 3 from Year Two, Turning the Mind to the Dharma, based on five talks given by Dhammadinna, Ratnadharini,Vajradarshini and Maitreyi. Download the text of the module, available as a PDF file from Free Buddhist Audio, from where the original talks are also available: we can listen to these during the week, but you might want to check them out before coming.

The Cost

By Dana, meaning you pay what you can afford, with a rough guide of £22 — £28 per night to include all food. Children could be half that. If you can afford to be more generous that would help others to come who would otherwise struggle. The more people we can encourage to come, the cheaper it will be.  (We really must at least break even on this event to make it sustainable.)

Looking forward to studying and hanging out together! To book a place visit the event page on the main website. Please pass the word on to any mitras you think might be interested in joining us.

Women’s Retreat

I’ve just spent the last few days recovering from what must have been the most intense 12 days of my life.

A few months ago I realised that the Women’s Retreat, which happened the 14th – 21st September, didn’t have a facilitator or a site organiser, and so, in my tireless enthusiasm (it was the beginning of the season, after all) I volunteered myself. Cue, 2 months later, me realising just what I had let myself in for.

The epic mental journey started on the 7th September as I joined a team of Buddhafieldites to tat-down the massive Big Fat Buddha site at Frog Mill, in order to move our retreat head quarters onto our other piece of land at Broadhembury. I had to make sure that all the structures, cushions, blankets, pots, pans and rupas were stowed away in the right vans to get to Broad Hembury to set up the next retreat. I’d never taken on a leading role in this area so I arrived on site armed with a note book, which became my bible, and a pen, which I frequently lost. I also had Sean, who is our usual site co-ordinator/facilitator, who answered my every question with utmost patience and supported me amazingly. After 3 days of deconstruction, scratching my head and writing millions and millions of lists, at about 6pm on Sunday evening, we threw the last of the vegetables into a van, made a last neat tat pile against the hedge to come back for later, and stood in a circle, joined hands and transferred our merit. It is always an intense moment, leaving site. However long I have been there, whether it is just for the few days of a festival, the three weeks of Buddhafield Festival, or a site that I have come and gone from over a longer time, there is always something momentous about driving out of an empty field, with everything you need to create your home in the vans following you in convoy. It really brings home to me again and again the truth of impermanence and non-attachment, and then I forget it so easily, and have to remember that I know it. I feel as if, with Buddhism, I am constantly learning something, realising it a little bit, then falling back into old patterns, and then coming back to remembering what I’ve learnt, only each time it’s a little easier, feels a little more natural.

After one last night in the warmth and comfort of the van, we, a team of 5 women and 1 man, set off for Broadhembury, as usual, running late. The site is a beautiful boggy woodland, which, fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you view it, hadn’t been visited or had any upkeep done, all summer. This meant that at the bottom of the main track we had to stop and 3 of our team had to cut back brambles and bracken so we could get the vans down there. Once parked up, we had to do more bramble fighting and grass wading to make our way into the main hearth area of the retreat site. I stood at the end of the board walk and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The rain this summer, though bad for us, has been amazing for the land. The grass was lush and almost waist height in places, a big line of bracken has sprouted up, dividing the field, its wide, deep green, unmistakeable leaves providing some different textures from the yellowing ripening grass heads. The gravel paths which we spent so many hours digging, lining and filling in December were totally obscured by greenery, and I wasn’t sure if we would ever find them again. Ripe blackberries dangled from every plant, and even after just a few minutes of being on site my fingers were purple and my mouth full of dark sweetness. After a while of the team wandering around, re-introducing themselves to the land, we came back together and as it was starting to get dark, decided that all we could do would be to make a cup of tea and go to bed, to start early and freshly in the morning.

The next few days were a whirlwind of action. Each morning we would meditate, have breakfast outside round the hearth fire, check in, have a work meeting and then, after another few cups of tea, spring into action. Over the days the team grew until we were a group of 10 strong women (with Sean still helping for the first few days), each bringing something special to the group. We built a kitchen and tea tent, put domes up, cut grass back, built showers and shower cubicles and put the hot tub together without problems. Though I was running the site, and led the work meetings each morning, it always felt very much like we were all running it, we were all creating the space. In a very short time we felt like a community, and I knew I could rely on each of these women to do each thing to the best of her ability. The honesty within the group about what was going on for us personally, and the way in which those gifts of speech were received was awe inspiring, I have to say that I have never been on such a harmonious set up before. It was a nuturing space where we were able to take the time we needed to be in touch with ourselves, while also working really hard to do what we were there to do. Our morning meetings were long, full of laughter and joy, and yet also able to hold the sadness and grief that also came, which is an intrinsic part of our experience as living creatures.

By Friday lunch time we were all exhausted, and yet the retreat was only just about to begin! As some of us tended the hearth fire and put the kettle on, others trundled wheel barrows down to the car park to meet the new members of our community. I found myself helping people put their tents up, guiding them up and down the hill, pointing out the amazing sweet track, where I’d found the sweetest black berries, and of course, the all important question of where the toilet was. As it grew dark, we had our first meal as a full women’s community and headed off up to the shrine tent under the old grandmother oak at the top of the site, to welcome each other and perform the dedication ceremony.

We very quickly settled into an even rhythm, morning walking meditations from Vidyadasi, followed by an open sit, porriage for breakfast before a usually late work circle, through into a morning activity, lunch, free time, then another activity, then dinner, shrine and hot tubs and bed. Though I had volunteered to be both site manager and retreat facilitator, in the rush of the season, I hadn’t thought very much about the latter role, and shocked myself when I realised what I’d let myself in for. Speaking in front of groups, directing people I don’t know, being the person at the end of the chain of responsibility; these are all things I would not happily choose to do, I think I must have managed to blank out that those would be part of my role when I volunteered for it! I struggled a bit at the beginning, especially with calling the work circle and having to make the final decision on things, but by the end of the retreat I was really enjoying gathering people and holding the space, and I found a real sense of letting go of the doubts that I have about my abilities, and an incredibly deep sense of empowerment.

As a result of the powerful experience of setting up, combined with other recent happenings, I had my mitra ceremony on Wednesday night of the retreat. I first thought that I wanted to be a mitra when I was on the Young Women’s Retreat in January at Tara Loka, and since then I have been dancing round the idea, sometimes pushing it far away and thinking, ‘Never!!’ sometimes coming close to it and feeling into it. More recently with the end of the season I have had more time to connect with what I feel and where I want my life to go, and have been sitting with the thought of becoming a Mitra and making that commitment. I hadn’t come to a concrete decision yet, I had tentative plans to have it at the Team Retreat which is coming up next week, but when Mumukshu suggested that it would be good to have it during the retreat, something clicked and it felt like the right thing to do. Alix, another woman on the team also wanted to have hers then, so we combined our ceremonies, and it was the most intense amazing deepest joyful experience of my life.

Personally, my theme of the retreat, as well as the official one of ‘doorways to freedom’, was, in my mind, ‘keeping it silly and joyful’. I think it is very easy to be overly serious about the spiritual path, and to take yourself too seriously. In my experience bringing joy and laughter to everything you do, from meditation to work, can have a really profound effect. So, Alix and I agreed to have a fancy dress mitra ceremony. I must have sub-consciously been planning this or something as we’d brought two big bags of fancy dress clothes with us, and so over Wednesday women would disapear into the dome, we’d hear laughs and giggles and shouts of joy, and then smiling women would emerge, clutching piles of fabric bundled up, telling us they couldn’t wait to reveal the outrageous outfit they had decided upon.

Later that night, sitting at the front of the dome, right next to the shrine, I looked around and was filled with such pure joy I felt like water. It was so clear to me that I was doing the right thing, that this was the path I was meant to be on. As I looked round the dome I could see old friends, new friends and women I had hardly spoken to, all united, each full of joy and beauty. Each had thrown herself wholeheartedly into the community, into practising and learning, and I felt honoured to share my experience with them, and honoured that they shared their experiences with me. Part of me wishes that I could or would share more of my experience of this with you reading this, but at the same time, I know that no words are deep enough, no sentence that I could construct would really tell the reality of what I felt and thought during those few hours, and so I won’t try, I’ll just say, I have no words, it is something that has profoundly affected me in many way, most of which, I’m sure, I don’t know or haven’t seen yet.

After this pinnacle, the rest of the retreat seemed to flow as smoothly as water does downhill, one thing seamlessly blending into the next, meditation into work, into deepening friendships and trying to work through old ones. I felt full of a deep calmness, and like, to use the word again, joy was just bubbling through me. Before I could comprehend it, it was Friday again, and tents were being taken down, I had a last minute scramble to make sure everyone got to their trains and buses on time, hugs were given and a massive email list drawn up so we could all keep in touch. Our little community of heroines disbanded, and we dispersed, carrying stillness, simplicity and contentment in our hearts.

Big Fat Buddha Meets Danceitation!

Danceitation’s first week long retreat this August! Calling all dancers, meditators and musicians! A few weeks ago Jayagita was asked if she’d like to make Danceitation the central theme of The Big Fat Buddha retreat with the Buddhafield team. Of course she said “Yes!” so make room in your diary from August 31st to September 7th 2012! We call it a retreat, but it has a real mini-festival feel about it with around 100 to 150 people. Held in the beautiful Dartmoor countryside we’ll all be camping with opportunity to meditate in the more formal sense and of course lots of Danceitation with at least 3 DJ’d sets and two sets of live improvised music with all the musicians that attend the retreat. Do let your friends know, musicians and dancers alike and hopefully see you there. It’s very reasonably priced, but if you are short of funds please get in touch with Buddhafield Team and talk it through with them. Book now through the Buddhafield website.

If you like Danceitation do like it on Facebook and share with friends if you wish, the more the merrier. Dates this year include:
25th May, Doors open 7.45pm for 8pm start at St Thomas Church Hall, Earlham Rd.
26th May, Doors open 7pm for 7.30pm start at The Cambridge Buddhist Centre.
8th June, Doors open 7pm for 7.30pm start at The Brighton Buddhist Centre.
Buddhafield Festival
11—15th July 2012 Danceitation will be at this wonderful festival again — chill out, rev up, eat, sleep and be merry! The best drug free festival in the world!

Visit Jayagita’s Danceitation website

2012 Triratna International Retreat

On the 2012 Triratna International Retreat at Taraloka, Buddhafield will again be providing many of the outdoor structures — including a huge dinning tent! — and cooking for the whole event.

The retreat will be focusing on making the Buddha more alive, real, and vivid in our imaginations — reflecting on the impressive qualities of the Buddha, contemplating the mystery of Enlightenment. Some of our most dedicated and inspired practitioners will be there to share their ideas and experience, and to help us connect with the Buddha. You’ll be able to choose from a number of different ways of imagining the Buddha — through study and reflection on the traditional texts, or through chanting and singing, or through meditation and recollection of the Buddha, or through writing and storytelling.

You can book through the retreat website … but it’s filling up fast!

The Silence of Walking

“The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.”

For someone who enjoys silence and solitude I jumped at the chance to be apart of this year Sacred Landscape Yatra. Buddahfield’s Yatra is a walking retreat where the walking is done in single file and in silence. This year the retreatants walked from Goring-on-Thames to Stonehenge across the Rigdway before leaving this ancient trackway to walk across the plains to our destination. We passed through hillforts, places of mythic significance, through Avebury before ending with private access to the stones just as the sun broke clear of the horizon at Stonehenge. I was on the team so I joined the retreatants in walking every other day.

The Yatra was wonderful, so simple in its transience, toucing the ancient and the present as I passed though it, deep and resonating. The first bluebells bursting out to greet the growing days, leaves breaking free from their winter homes, expanding and lifting to the sunlight. The myths, dragon hill where St George slayed the dragon and where the dragon’s blood fell no grass grows again. The ancestors and gods, goddesses that we called on to follow us. There was no pressure on me to conform, to interact, to be any other way then what is me. A break from normal to experience in as close as way to nomadic life as the modern day can provide, following the white chalk trackways. Moving through landscapes, noticing the colours of the dawn and dusk sky, noticing and rejoicing in the raindrops falling on my head. Noticing how my body moves and sways with each new step. Not needing to think, just move and observe whatever caught my attention.

The juxtaposition of modern life against the peace of natural world present every step of the walk. Didcot power station central in the view from the rigdeway, smoke rising against the rolling hills of Oxfordshire. The light pollution from Swindon against the bright moonlight up on Barbury Castle, An ‘A’ road cutting in front and behind the ancient wonder of Stonehenge. Swallowhead spring in Avebury, bone dry, no river to feed, tree roots on the riverbank no longer drinking from water that no longer flows past, such saddness inside a special space. Good and bad is present in all moments in life, like the symbol of the vajra, notice each and find the place of purity that presides in the middle, rest there as often as it feels necessary.

The simplicity is what I am taking with me, the need to not attach my emotions and thoughts to the good or to the bad. The present moment as being the most important moment and to stay away from the problems that sit on my horizon waiting for attention, they are not in this moment so I will not attend to them. I will feed my imagination, I took my family, my ancestors to the stones as well. May my tears for the dragon heal the hill top where he was slain so new life, new dragons can rise from the chalk. May my water bring the spring to the surface once again. Tasty food nourishing my body, warm tea warming my hands and insides on cold frosty mornings, my foot hurts, I’ll look after my foot. I’ll tickle the Ash flowers and stones of Avebury with a pheasant feather and look with wonder at people’s talismans as they offered them in whatever way felt true to them. A staff of security for so many peoples treasures ceremoniously and lovingly carried across the country whilst an egg of new life in the form of a sprouting tendril of a hawthorn is carried in the other hand. A blade of grass is my talisman, forever present wherever I treat, grounding me, humbling me.

Dropping sweet nectar into my inspirations.

I will hold this retreat dearly in my heart of many years to come. Thank you to all that made it special.

A Review of the Buddhafield Yatra

The highlight of last month was, for me, the Buddhafield Yatra.  I thought it was totally great, it’s unlike everything else we do in Triratna and I would like to share an account of it with you – if anyone wanted to organize one themselves I’d be more than happy to advise.

In essence a Yatra is a walking retreat; over 7 days 30 of us walked 60 miles, from Reading train station (an easy place to get to for the start) to Avebury (a vast megalithic complex dominated by the great stone circle: a fine place to finish).  It’s a walk, but with a distinctive etiquette: we walk in silence, in single file, each hour of walking beginning and ending in a circle, with any words from the leader (or others, who might, for instance, have a poem to share) followed by everyone bowing to one another.  The leader then leads off in a spiral, walking around the outside of the circle with everyone following.  Behind the leader is a map-reader; at the rear is a backstop who ensures no-one gets left behind.  Two vehicles, a van and a run-around car, stay with the day’s team of about 4 people; they tat-down the previous night’s camp, do the shopping, go ahead with the luggage and set up the next night stop, cook dinner, and welcome the weary walkers as they arrive.  The car is available to pick up anyone who can’t walk the full distance.  The roles all swap around, everyone plays their part.  Morning and evening there’s time for meditation, Dharma talks, reporting-in and Puja or other rituals; the silent walking is of course mindful and an excellent way to practice Bhante’s ‘Four Levels of Awareness’.

All that alone would be great, but Yatras are much more too.  Five aspects especially struck me this time – the landscape, the elements, the rituals, the community, and the journey back in time.   The walk took us along the River Thames and up onto the Ridgeway, a 5000-year-old trackway across the high dry ground of the Wiltshire downs.  Water gave way to Earth, Fire warmed us at night, Air buffeted us as Consciousness walked though Space.  For me this was a delight, a week away from computers simply immersed in the present moment and our surroundings: big skies and big landscapes led effortlessly to ‘big mind’.  It wasn’t all easy: we were fully exposed to the elements, even by Buddhafield’s minimal standards.  At night, the only shelters were our tents and an awning hung off the side of the van.  While walking, the only refuge was to be mindful of (and hang loose to) our experience rather than resist it.  And we had weather in abundance – hot sun, strong wind, driving rain, blue skies, cold nights.  Happily none lasted too long – we could see for ourselves that all things passed, the Three Laksanas held true…

Almost every night we camped at one or another ancient monument or hillfort, giving a wonderful backdrop to a series of improvised rituals.  The first evening we started with the Dedication Ceremony, but thereafter took off into realms of creativity. Morning by the river, with rain threatening, saw a ‘baptism’ by Air and Water, based on a Biodanza exercise; that evening another by Fire and Earth – specifically, building and jumping a fire in the woods.  The next morning, finding ourselves next to Scutchamer Knob, an ancient collapsed burial mound, we surrounded it and one by one approached the shrine in the centre of the amphitheatre-like space holding a Vajra, shouting our names to the wind, declaring our intentions for the day’s walk – to “walk with confidence, sensitivity, etc”.  And off we went…  At Uffingdon, on Dragon’s Hill at sunset, in the howling wind, we recited the Ratana Sutta and met, tamed, and befriended our Demons, this time calling their names into the wind.  At Waylands Smithy, an ancient tomb in a beautiful beech-tree grove, we began what came to be several ceremonies connecting us with our Ancestors – those unknown people who first walked the Ridgeway and built (with stupendous labour) the many special places we were passing. 

We used verses and pujas by Dhiramati, to whom I’m profoundly grateful; he has such a gift with words and poetry.  We began with his verses ‘To the Ancestors’; that night, by a fire in a field under the starry sky, his beautiful puja to Tara and the Elements.  In the wide open space of Barbury Castle Akasaka led us in the Amoghasiddhi mantra and offering our intentions (symbolized by flower petals) to the wind.  By this time Reading train station seemed a million miles and several thousand years away!

Approaching Avebury, our destination, for two nights our only campsite and kitchen was the public car park and grass verge by the track: happily we were undisturbed.  We’d tried and failed to find a more orthodox campsite for this part of the walk; it was clear how we as Yatrikas had in a sense gone forth from the regular world and (rather like the Buddha and his followers) been forced to take our chances night by night. 

Soon after our arrival we embarked upon an all-night vigil inside West Kennett Long Barrow; some 25 of us crowding in with almost 20 staying till dawn. Akasaka and I had drafted a seven-round ritual, recapping and building on the many ceremonies already performed.  Each round had several stages, for instance the first, ‘Connecting with the Ancestors’ consisting of a welcome talk by Sean (a Druid as well as a Buddhist); entering the Barrow; creating a shrine and finding our places; Dhiramati’s ‘Verses to the Ancestors’ and ‘Spirit Song’; the Ratana Sutta and an offering of one sunflower seed each inside the chamber; and finally the Aksobhya mantra and earth-touching mudra. The other rounds were ‘Setting our intentions for the night’; ‘Evoking our potential’ (verses and mantras to Amoghasiddhi and Tara, ending with extinguishing all lights and holding hands in the total darkness); ‘Confession and Acknowledgement of Regrets and Limitations’; ‘Aspirations and Next Steps’; ‘Rebirth and Re-emergence’ (in the first light of dawn); a ‘Retreat Metta and Transference of Merits’ and finally the recitation of Kalidasa’s wonderful ‘Exhortation to the Dawn’ at sunrise at 5.06am.  Followed by the long walk back to our camp and sleep!  The next day saw us end the Yatra by walking the mile-long Avenue into Avebury and reporting-out among the stones – and meeting Terry Dobney, Arch-Druid of Avebury and Keeper of the Stones, for a formal welcome into and most fascinating tour of the site.

Probably not surprisingly, we were a pretty strong community by this time, even though we’d all spent many hours in silence, simply walking together.  Certainly we’d all lived though an adventure together, ably facilitated by the excellent Buddhafield team.  For me, it was a great combination of a simple and elemental life, a whacky adventure, and a serious contribution to our great shared enterprise of bringing Buddhism to the West, even, to re-imagining the Buddha.  I’m over my word count so can’t say more; but there’s photos of Yatra 2011 — Reading to Avebury on Flickr.


Retreat at TaraLoka: Self on the Page

>From the 19th to the 26th November I attended a writing retreat at the TaraLoka Women’s Retreat Centre near the north border of Wales, about an hour from Manchester. Having been on team retreats with Buddhafield, and a 10 day silent meditation course at the Vipassana Dharma Dhippa centre, experiences at either end of the spectrum – Team Retreats being quite relaxed, while Vipassana was very disciplined – I wasn’t sure what to expect. The retreat was led by Samantabhadhri, who lives at TaraLoka full time, Kavyasiddhi, a writer whose plays are often heard on Radio 4, and Mumukshu, who I live and work with in the Buddhafield Café. This review just scrapes the surface of my experience at TaraLoka, so many things happened which were truly wonderful, that there is no way I could write them all down. This is just an attempt to share my experience.

TaraLoka is a beautiful retreat centre on the Welsh/Shropshire boarder. In 1985, an old farm and its surrounding land was bought and gradually, a team of women converted it into the beautiful centre that is there today. There is a white community house  a way away from the retreat centre in which the retreat team live. The retreat centre itself consists of two buildings, one which contains the shrine room on the ground floor, and above that bedrooms, and the other contains the kitchen, dining room, living room, art room, more bedrooms and a solitary retreat suite. There is a sense of light and space throughout the centre, the room are painted bright colours, there are warm wooden floors and the kitchen is a delight! I wish we had one that size and that well equipped for Trevince! Retreatants all sit together to eat in the large dining room, and there are enough sofas for everyone in the cosy living room. There is a burner at one end which provides a really nice focal point, and we gathered round it every evening for different activities. The centre is surrounded by beautiful gardens which are seen through the windows that seem to be everywhere you look. I feel very privileged to have been there at the time I was, as over the week I was able to watch the change from autumn into winter – the first few days there was no frost, the sun was still really warm and I wandered around outside with no coat. On the third morning I woke to find the world white and silent, the grass was stiff under my feet as I walked to the Tara cabin for morning meditation, and my breath emerged as white smoke.

A typical day on retreat was as follows:
7am. I am woken up by another of the retreatants, Chloe, ringing a bell, outside my door which is above the shrine room. It is still dark so I and the other occupants of my room, slowly and sleepily dress and bumble downstairs, across the walkway, stopping to marvel at the stars that are still out, and into the warm dining room. There I make a cup of tea and sit on a sofa , slowly becoming fully coherent, while other retreatants do the same. Apart from the first morning, we are in silence until the first activity at 11am. I enjoy it, it gives me space to start the day and slowly come back to myself, without feeling guilty for ignoring others.
7.30am Morning meditation. I join the beginners meditation, led by Mumukshu, in the Tara Cabin, a small wooden panelled cabin in the grounds of the retreat centre. There is a beautiful shrine, and full length windows that look out onto fields with sheep and woodland. It is so cold that I run and leap across from the house to the cabin in an attempt to preserve my warmth, my feet leaving darker patches in the frozen grass. The other beginners and I leave our shoes outside, exchanging glances that say ‘Isn’t it cold today!’. Once in, we start the session by doing a quick warm up, tapping our bodies all over and shaking ourselves out to get the blood flowing. We sit, and Mumukshu talks about the day’s meditation, we do Mindfulness of Breathing and Metta Bhavana on alternate days. After spending about 40 minutes meditating we each talk about how the meditation went for us, and Mumukshu offers advice and suggestions. It is really good to speak to other beginners about their experiences and realise that I am not the only one to have the problems I do in meditation! About 8.45 we stop, silence resumes and we go back over to the main house. The sun has fully risen by now, and I, full of energy and joy at my beautiful surroundings, cartwheel back over to the house, to the amusement of the people looking out of windows at the right moment.
9.15am. Breakfast! Porridge is made each morning by a retreatant. For the week that we are on retreat we live as a community, meaning each of us signs up for a job every day to help keep the centre running. There is a volunteer cook, Kathy, who makes lovely food all week, but other jobs like cleaning, setting tables, washing up and making breakfast are our responsibility. People take these tasks on with joy, I am offered toast in silence with wide smiles and glints of laughter, and from the washing up area after lunch and dinner peals of laughter ring out. We are in silence until 11am when the writing workshop starts. I love this hour of silence, when people wander from room to room, looking at books, writing, or just sitting. It is so peaceful.
11am. We all gather, pens and paper in hand, in the living room, where Kavyasiddhi sits on  a chair, ready to tease out of us gems of poems and stories that we didn’t know were hidden inside us. The workshops consist of a number of timed writing exercises, in response to a title or phrase given, a walk outside, or a picture or set of words we choose from a random selection provided by Kavyasiddhi. At first she says we aren’t going to share, which makes it a lot easier to write, I’ve never shared my writing with anyone before, and it was this aspect of the retreat that I was most worried about. Kavyasiddhi works us into it slowly, only asking for volunteers to share after a few preliminary exercises.  At the start only a few of us share, reading out in small voices, heads buried in our papers, but by the end of the week we are all sharing our work, heads up, smiling round at the group that has held us all through the experience. We write on a wide variety of different subjects, yet the thing that surprises me is that, even if while writing I don’t think I’m writing about myself, when I read it back, I see exploration and sometimes resolution, of issues or ideas or problems I have been thinking about. 
1.15pm. Lunch is served, and we sit round the dining tables discussing the writing session, our respective lives outside the centre and a myriad of things in between. Everyone is so open and honest, understanding and supportive. After lunch we have free time until group meetings later on. Now is when closer relationships within the group are formed. The writing sessions and the openness within them serve to cement us as a group, but it is the walks together round the site, the washing up sessions that take all afternoon, the cups of tea shared on a sofa, the secret discovery of biscuits in a tin in the cupboard, that create closer bonds of friendships that will last beyond this retreat.
4.30pm. We each have signed up for one of three groups, each led by a retreat leader. I am in Samantabhadhri’s group, along with Linda, Helen, Janine and Amitashuri. It is a mix of people I know and don‘t know: Amitrashuri was a shift co-ordinator in the pancake tent at Buddhafield Festival 2010, as was I, and Janine worked on my shift at my first Buddhafield festival in 2009. It was a surprise to see her here, we became close at Buddhafield 2009, and then I got off the train at Whitstable to find her in the same taxi as me – what a lovely surprise! It really brought home to me how much everything has changed for me – when I first met her I was very unhappy, working a job I didn’t like, full of worry, closed up and wanting to change but not knowing how. In contrast, in the year and a half since I met her I’ve completely transformed my life and myself and am happier that I ever thought I could be.
In our group we use the time to have an extended check in. A check in is where you sit in a circle, and, after a few minutes of silence, go round the circle, each person saying a little bit about how they are feeling, what has gone on for them that day, if they have any problems that they would like to express, or anything they would like to rejoice in. Each morning at Trevince we do this, and it is a really useful tool when living in a community, it helps you act more compassionately towards yourself and others, and brings you closer together as a group. I really enjoyed our group, it was smaller than the others and I felt this helped us have a really safe, held space. I felt truly listened to and understood.  I am really grateful for the people in the group, for their strength and willingness to listen and accept everything each of us said. It was a really powerful experience for me.
6.30pm. Dinner is served, and again, people sit around after chatting and laughing.
7.45pm. Each night is something different: a couple of sessions consist of us sharing inspiring poetry that we or other have written, and in other sessions each retreat leader speaks. Mumukshu introduces a poem by Charles Bukowski called bluebird, which is about creativity, and suggests that we all use the art room to make a bluebird to use in the closing ritual at the end of the week. Kavyasiddhi tells us how she got into writing, and speaks compellingly about ‘the thread’ that is the path that we follow, that might be unknown and scary but that we can’t help following because we know it’s right. This really resonates with me, I feel really strongly that Buddhafield and Buddhism is my thread, I’ve never felt a pull this strong towards anything, and it has been something I’ve thought a lot about this summer. It’s good to hear someone else talking about it. Samantabhadhri also talks about her relationship with words, speaking about her ambitions to be a writer and sharing some of her writing with us.
8.30pm. Puja time! Having been brought up a Jehovah‘s Witness, and being told from a very early age that worshipping an image and participating in ritual  is completely utterly wrong, and something which will stop you from living forever in paradise on earth, I’ve had quite a struggle to be able to join in puja’s and appreciate them. It’s something I still struggle with. I’ve done very few puja’s before now, and never a seven fold puja every night for a week! It’s a very emotional experience for me, especially when I watch people making offerings, and recite the admittance of faults. The shrine space is really striking, and I felt a connection with the rupa, which I really enjoyed and was grateful for. Something clicked in my head to make it all make sense to me. I realised that the image of the Buddha is not an idol, we are not worshipping the image itself, which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibit, but what it symbolises. It is symbolic of a state to aspire to. I look at the rupa and see someone to look up to, as I would look up to my parents, or a teacher, or someone I respect, I see someone who has set an example that I can strive to follow and be like. It’s so hard to put this all into words!
Hearing 30 or so women all chanting together, and listening to the Heart Sutra being recited was very moving and really affected me, each night it reduced me to tears. After the puja we went into silence over night. This was so good for me too, each puja had such an effect me that I wasn’t really capable of talking, I just needed to be alone with my thoughts, and feel the space inside me that the puja helped create.
On the last night as part of the closing ritual we all gave the blue birds we had made as offerings to the shrine, hanging them from a line draped across the shrine space. It was truly amazing to see this solid symbol of all our efforts to release our inner creativity and to use that in way to benefit ourselves and others.

 Photo with much thanks to Amitashuri

On the last morning, we all meditated together in the shrine room, doing a group Metta Bhavana. This was possibly the most intense experience of the retreat for me. We sat and did the first stage, and then, in turn Samantabhadhri, who led the meditation side of the retreat, named us all in turn, and as each person was named we concentrated our Metta on them. Going into it I felt quite blasé about it, I didn’t think that I would feel much as I find Metta Bhavana the hardest practise, but I really did! I felt so much love and warmth from everyone in the room, it really moved me. Afterwards I felt like Tigger! I had so much energy and love that I literally had to bounce around and do cartwheels to express it. I was sorry to leave, and to see the group of women who I felt such a connection with disperse, but I guess it’s another lesson in being able to let things go, and understanding that I can’t hold onto things because they will always fade and change. I came away from the retreat feeling renewed and refreshed and even more sure that following this thread is what I must, and will continue to do.

I’d like to thank Buddhafield for this chance to go on retreat, there is no way I could have gone on it without their help. I’d also like to thank Abbie for pointing it out to me and persuading me to go after I saw that I’d have to share my writing and immediately ran away from it! I’d like to thank Rosie and Mumukshu  for being there with me and last but not least, I’d like to thank all the wonderful amazing women who were part of the retreat – big sardu to you all guys!!

Love Ruth