Patricia tells Warren what exactly happens on a “retreat” and describes two different types of mindfulness.
Warren: Patricia, you recently went on a weekend retreat. What gave you the idea?
Patricia: I wanted to indulge in a holistic spiritual experience. I wanted to encounter happiness, freedom and inner peace all in a couple of days. And I did!
What sort of activities (or INACTIVITIES) did you engage in?
P: I encountered the “yoga experience”, a creative drumming circle, swimming and mindfulness all in the one activity, a mindfulness hike and a free flowing activity during a unique meditation talk. Getting up at 4:30am to watch the sunrise on the last day was a highlight for me. Laughter was welcome at this retreat.
Where was it set?
P: A safe, authentic bushland setting. I went to the retreat solo and shared a room with a complete stranger who happened to be a lovely person.
What sort of food was provided?
P: Super healthy vegetarian food. There were vegan options as well. Our friendly chef also catered for food intolerances and allergies.
What was your daily routine?
P: Opening my eyes to peace and tranquility early in the morning for a 7am yoga class. Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided an opportunity for sharing in conversation with fellow retreaters and friendly staff. After undertaking all of the activities I’ve already mentioned, I’d go to bed around 10:30pm, feeling rejuvenated.
Have you practiced mindfulness?
P: Yes. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced the benefits of mindfulness. Sometimes I practice intentional mindfulness, and sometimes spontaneous mindfulness.
What’s the difference between those two types of mindfulness, and how do you do them?
P: With spontaneous mindfulness I will focus on certain senses for a few moments at a time. For example, if I am traveling on a train then I’ll focus on the varying shades of light coming through the window, then close my eyes and listen to the sounds around me. I’ll feel the soles of my feet on the floor, or feel my abdomen rising and falling, and focus on my breath. If I include taste and smell into my practice I can then indulge in an all-five-senses mindfulness exercise. I particularly love practicing mindfulness during a thunderstorm in a safe place, preferably indoors or under shelter.
P: With intentional mindfulness I will sit still with my eyes closed for up to 20 minutes at a time and focus on my breathing, then listen to the sounds around me.
What benefits does mindfulness bring?
P: Sometimes it brings on episodic feelings of serenity (experienced intermittently throughout the day) if practiced daily for up to 20 minutes.
Dan at Queanbeyan says he uses music. Did you use music on retreat? It sounds to me like something that would be very distracting. What do you think?
P: We did have music playing during retreat activities and it provided a point of focus for me. Everyone’s mindfulness experience is unique so it’s okay to experiment with a variety of mindfulness practices.
I did a mindfulness exercise called “Leaves On A Stream” and found that my mind was full of extremely disturbing ideas that I could not easily let go of. Do you think it is something that requires practice?
P: I know what you mean. We can remain focused on a persistent thought, idea or image during a mindfulness exercise. Allowing our minds to wander is part of the practice. Imagine your thoughts as breezes, or gusts of wind. Sometimes there is that gentle breeze that drifts by, or occasionally a cold gust of wind gets our attention and distracts us. It’s okay to have reoccurring thoughts and images appear while practicing mindfulness. With regular practice these thoughts and images may feel like just another cold gust of wind.
It sounds as though Dan from Queanbeyan (see page 28) has incorporated inclusive mindfulness practices in his group, as well as in day to day life. What a great way to promote wellbeing!
P: Focusing on the heartbeat as suggested in Dan’s article (a couple of pages back) is something I haven’t yet included in my practice. It provides a valuable insight and will be very helpful for those who haven’t yet experienced the practice of mindfulness before.