Last year I started a daily meditation ritual. I began with 7 minutes, and for a long time it was the longest 7 minutes of my day. My mind was like a washing machine, thoughts of what I had planned for that day, what I’d eat for breakfast, what I did the previous day, what I needed to do the coming week and a thousand other things spun around in my mind. It was as if I was living with a flatmate that wouldn’t shut up. It was a frustrating experience to sit in stillness and attempt to silence this ‘flatmate’, so I might have a few minutes of peace.
I persisted however. Initially I used meditation music to help focus my awareness and I gradually increased the amount of time I sat in stillness each morning. After a few months of practise I found that I didn’t need or want the music and slowly, painfully slowly, I noticed moments of actual stillness come into my practise. There were moments when my ‘flatmate’ had silenced and I wasn’t thinking a million thoughts. There were moments in between the thoughts and I also noticed that if my ‘flatmate’ did pipe up, I didn’t get involved in the dialogue, I was able to let the odd rant or chatter pass while maintaining my sense of stillness and awareness of Self.
I had been teaching Mindful Movement for around six months when I began my stillness meditation practice, with the idea to train in Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation (MBSM). I felt mindfulness training would complement my teaching of Mindful Movement and assist me in my own life. Last week I spent the week at the Gawler Foundation Living Centre in the Yarra Valley, in a residential meditation teacher training program and it was a wonderful experience that I could have easily continued for longer than the five days!
I was collected and shuttled into the beautiful Yarra Valley and to the Gawler Foundation property, a retreat set within 40 hectares of natural bushland. Our group consisted of 29 women and 1 man, which was no doubt a little daunting for the gentleman, now known as Goddess Murray… It was a group of magnificent people from across Australia, from a range of different backgrounds, some of the people had previously attended cancer programs at the Gawler Foundation and were back to learn about teaching what they had learnt so they could help others. It was a truly inspiring group of people to share such a wonderful week with.
Day 1 began with learning and practising mindfulness based meditations that focused on the breath and the sense of awareness before our closed eyes. We learned about the fundamentals of the thinking mind and about the function of our awareness and attention. We were nourished with a delicious plant-based diet and given the opportunity to get to know each other and to explore the property, making friends with the large population of kangaroos that casually roamed the grassy plains.
After breakfast the following day we gathered together for Day 2 of teacher training. It was as if the attendees from Queensland had brought the weather with them as the sun shone brightly and I was distracted by the flurry of orange and red leaves falling from the tree outside our training room window. As our teacher Paul Bedson mentioned ‘distraction is resistance to mindfulness’ my attention snapped back to the training and the present moment.
Day 3 started with what was called ’Noble Silence’. We awoke and went about our morning routines in silence, as well as avoiding contact and gesturing to our fellow attendees… the only sound at breakfast was the symphony of spoons clanging against the crockery. I didn’t manage to maintain my silence, although I still claim that it wasn’t really my fault as I was startled by a staff member unlocking and entering the bathroom I was standing stark naked in!
As we moved through the training, we came to mindfulness of emotions – a process of nurturing the felt sense and placing our awareness within our bodies. Day 3 came to a close with a serene mindfulness through music experience – a session of live harp music. It was so wonderful and relaxing. I took a little nap mid meditation!! After the official schedule of the day was fulfilled our magnificent little group took the music outside under the Full Moon for some more harp, blended with percussion and a little dancing on what felt like a balmy midsummer night!
Day 4 and 5 expanded on both our teaching knowledge and learning new meditations, including a full body awareness meditation. Over the course of the retreat we meditated between 1-2 hours a day which really deepened my own personal practice and brought several personal insights and opportunities for growth and healing. The retreat finished with an inspiring and touching graduation ceremony and the chance to share our personal insights. We all were able to connect with one another in gratitude and with an amazing sense of openness and vulnerability throughout the week and I felt a real connectedness and bond within our group. We have already planned to remain connected and expand our network through both an alumni social media group and a reunion retreat next year.
I can honestly say that meditation has changed my life, here are the three big things I’ve gained through my practice:
- I feel a great sense of connectedness to myself and the people I love.
- I feel more aware of my thoughts, my emotions and I’m better connected to how my body feels.
- I feel clearer and better able to choose my actions and thoughts during my day to day activities, as opposed being reactive to what is happening around me.
Written by Nicole Betts