When we received amazing written feedback about our silent meditation retreat from Leah Burton we knew she not only had wonderful insight but also had a flair for words.
So we reached out and asked Leah if she wouldn’t mind guest blogging all about her Journey into Stillness retreat experience.
And this is her candid and beautiful account…
The Stillness of the Mind
Just under two hours drive west of Sydney you will find, overlooking a valley at Wentworth Falls, a place of peace and sanctuary. This is Happy Buddha Retreats.
Earlier in the year, I was finding that my mind was constantly harrowed by anxiety. Every waking moment seemed to be filled with worry and sorrow for everyone around me going through heartache and the state of the world in which we find ourselves living. The clashing of symbols in my head was a constant and I got to the stage where it seemed I wanted to run away from it all; to still the cacophony of symbols that drowned every thought that plagued my being. And in the dead of night, not being able to sleep for the worry and anxiety, I longed for peace, but that peace eluded me and I didn’t know how to find it.
My daughter was going through a very difficult time and I started thinking about seeking out something that we could both benefit from. I really didn’t hold out much hope for myself but I would try anything for her. I had heard of retreats before and never thought they could be my thing.
So when looking online I came across Happy Buddha Retreats. The Silent Retreat was exactly what we needed. It sounded perfect. I had slight trepidation and wondered whether I would be capable of not speaking for an entire weekend! My friends and family were doubtful when I announced that I was going to go on a silent retreat. ‘No talking? You? How will you survive?’ They all asked of me and had a bit of a laugh. I was wondering about this myself but I booked it for a weekend at the end of April. A few days out and I was having my doubts. My daughter told me not to worry, we could talk when the lights were out, however, when reading the itinerary I read “Total Silence” after 9.30. I imagined myself and my daughter sitting on the bed, passing notes to each other and stifling our laughter.
What actually happened could not be further removed from that scenario.
We drove up on a Friday, a little nervous, and then very anxious as we had a flat tyre on the way along the freeway. Good thing I had watched my husband change a tyre in years gone by. By the time we got going again, it was getting dark and we were running late for the official welcome. Along a dark and windy road, we finally came across the sign lit with bright lights, “Happy Buddha Retreats”. We had arrived, and as I turned into the driveway I felt a wave of peace come over me. This was something exciting and new and, although I had my doubts as to how I would fare, I felt the promise of something hopeful.
Joining the welcome group we sat for introductions and each expressed what we hoped to achieve by coming to the retreat. I felt calm energy in the room and in turn, I felt calm, although when it came time to introduce myself I felt this emotion instantly well up and overflow.
Our instructor was Peter. Quite unlike what I had imagined. Quietly spoken. Soothing in voice and demeanour. He radiated calmness and I could feel myself grounding.
After dinner, which was amazing and plentiful, we had a brief conversation (as our silence was yet to be started) and then found our way to the meditation room, surrounded by windows and overlooking the bush and the valley beyond. The fire blazing. It was warm and inviting and we sat and spoke for the last time that weekend. Our phones were handed over and suddenly I felt the outside world that caused me such angst disappear and it was only myself at that moment. Peter led us into meditation, spoke quietly and calmly, and I could feel this retreat working its magic immediately.
We had no need for time. Peter would gently tap the singing bowl when we needed to go to meditation and I began to go with the rhythm of time according to the sound of the bowl. It was all we needed. It was all I needed. I was already feeling that slow state taking over my body and mind and it felt good. I wasn’t thinking of anything. I was within my own space. My daughter was within hers. It wasn’t a weekend away for us together as I had thought, it was for us, as individuals. Seeking our own journey. Taking meals in a companionable silence that didn’t feel awkward and was welcoming in its simplicity with the other guests. No need for chatter or polite conversation. My mind was clear.
Looking through a glossy book on “the best” yoga retreats the next morning in the cosy nook beneath the stairs in a library of sorts, whilst eating a wonderful breakfast of fruit and chia and all things good, I looked at the amazing places you could go to for an inflated cost, and I looked around at my surroundings. Humble, not pretentious as they were in the book, cosy, comfortable, inviting.
Who could need more than what we had in this retreat at the edge of the valley?
The new day brought us to a sensory and nature meditation in the morning after breakfast and it was then that I experienced something quite profound and spiritual. Peter had us take off our shoes and slowly, slowly make our way outside in the grass, taking in the nature around us. It was as if I was in another dimension, everything came into clear focus and I could see so clearly, that which I saw on a daily basis in my own neck of the woods, on the edge of the Royal National Park, but had never really seen before. It had been raining and the air was clean and nature was washed and glistening. It made me think of “the Spirit Tree” that I run past whilst training through the Royal. I lay my hand on her as I pass her by and say “hello Spirit Tree” but I never stop. I never stop to wonder how long she has been standing there and take in her beauty but this morning I was drawn to another tree that called to my newly awakened spiritual side. She appeared to be dead, but halfway down, there was life, springing forth. So beautiful and I became emotional once again; thinking life goes on, and when the stress and worries of our everyday lives are washed away with this amazing experience, nature helps us to see clearly again. It was truly a beautiful moment.
In the afternoon more meditation and gentle yoga which was easily followed with Peter giving simple clear instructions – the movements were slow in their simplicity and I felt that I was floating in a bubble of peace and calm.
Dinner was again amazing. The young people who were volunteers piled our plates high with food that was plentiful, delicious and healthy. These young people have discovered what it has taken me 63 years to find.
The next morning was our last. I savoured and breathed in the meditation for the last time. The weekend came to a close too soon. I never wanted it to end. This experience, one that I was so full of trepidation in being able to do, came easily, the silence of non-speech so encompassing. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t feel the need to. I came with the thought that I may find peace, that my mind may still, and I found that and so much more.
Turning to me as we were leaving, my daughter said, “Mum, that was the best birthday present ever” and I knew we had experienced something truly special, separately, albeit together.
Three weeks later and I sit, and I remember, and I breathe, and I listen, as Peter instructed, to the sounds around me, to the sounds of my body and my mind is clear and my mind is still.
Leah has done an incredible job painting the picture of what it’s like to experience a silent meditation retreat. If this has piqued your curiosity, take a look at the Journey into Stillness retreat offering. And the bonus is, we’re now offering the opportunity to retreat midweek (Wednesday to Friday) along with our weekend (Friday to Sunday) availability. Namaste!
I’m in my 60’s and am a mother of 3. My children are my life. I am very happily married to a wonderfully supportive man and we have been life partners for 40 years. I grew up all over Australia, and have lived in every state in the country. I love to travel. My husband and I are very active, and love the outdoors, cycling and running and skiing together. I now live in a little enclave of Sydney, which sits on the edge of the Royal National Park.