My own initiation began at the Jhana Grove Retreat Centre in Serpentine, Western Australia.The secluded meditation retreat nestled among natural forest and rolling hills is bordered by the Bodhinyana Monastery. Dedicated monks reside here all year round, immersed in a practice I can only just fathom.
Accommodating up to 60 guests (each with their own room and ensuite) the retreat is free to attend and resembles a resort rather than a place to gain a new and better perspective.
The atmosphere and people here were beautiful, making my experience one of ultimate enjoyment.
I spent the weekend attempting to quiet the mind with minimal success. However, I was to find that aspects of the experience, other than the meditation itself, produced some interesting and beneficial insights. These are some of my thoughts:
Free to attend
Advocates believe so much in the positive effect of meditation to the degree that organisations will offer weekend and nine day long retreats to people in need, at no cost. The absolute certainty in this gesture speaks volumes for its validity.
A carpark filled with expensive vehicles
This scene, viewed superficially, can represent that money/success cannot provide all that is intuitively needed or desired. To achieve a mindset more spiritually aligned it’s necessary to let go of prior trappings of the current society. Problems cannot be fixed with the same mentality that created them.
Air conditioning in the meditation hall
To be comfortable during meditation is appreciated and, at first, may seem necessary. Even so, we should always seek to maintain composure in stressful and uncomfortable situations, to accept all of life’s scenarios and not see things in terms of ‘good’ and‘bad’. Personally, I value this component of meditation the most.
No mandatory structure
The ringing of bells used to indicate the beginning and end of meditation times. They are not used anymore; instead a list of times is offered as a suggestion to the type and frequency of meditation. Anybody could take advantage and vegetate in the comfy rooms provided, but in the end, only the individual would be negatively affected.
So the overall emphasis is on self regulation. You get out what you put in.
Lack of hierarchy
Regular evening talks by the resident monks or overseas guests are fun and insightful, overflowing with humorous wisdom. Afterwards, it is likely you’ll cross paths with the Ajahn (teacher). Being of a quiet nature and unsure of the protocol in that situation, I pass by without any recognition. I never felt like there were any obligations on my part or any expectation from the Ajahn regarding these interactions. We are all one at different stages of our journey.
Sitting for long periods is tiring and can be a barrier for the beginner. In normal life, finding time to be still, even for a short while, can be difficult. The idea of meditation that is focused on the movement of your own footsteps can be achieved anywhere and would potentially transition more fluidly into everyday existence.
The calming influence of silence
And, finally, the most enjoyable and beneficial experience was the commitment to silence for the duration of the retreat. When speech is restricted, interacting with other meditators is minimised to bare necessity. Mindless chit chat is laid to the side and co-operation during domestic duties only requires a nod or the pointing of a finger.
Living in silence became the most effective means by which to slow down my thoughts and calm the mind.
Too many platforms for conversation can actually restrict meaningful dialogue between people. They succeed only in clogging up the collective mind with more information than it can process, potentially filtering the valuable along with the waste.
At the end of the retreat, many new thoughts followed me home. One notion however, was to stand out amongst them:
With no words for expression, who knew that just a simple smile could convey so much?
Ian Reece is a contributor from Perth Western Australia