Do you ever get the feeling of being so overwhelmed with life and its challenges that you just want time to stop completely? It was this urge that drew me to a retreat in France at a place called Plum Village. I knew I needed to slow down and reevaluate my life but, once there, I spent the first few days wondering what I’d let myself in for.
This was no swanky spa break, but a proper spiritual retreat, led by Buddhist monks and nuns, in accordance with Buddhist traditions and ceremonies.
One of the philosophies that struck a real chord with me was the importance of letting things happen without forcing. Three days into the retreat, I went on a walking meditation in the hills, which involved focusing on how your feet make contact with the earth, helping to prevent other thoughts and worries intruding and distracting you from the moment.
As a result of focusing on my moving feet I found it increasingly difficult to continue. I became aware of how each step contributed to a greater change and had to force myself to go up a small hill. This was a very significant experience which put me in mind of the rebirthing I had undergone a couple of years before.
On my return I felt very tired and sad, as if I was grieving something lost, but I wasn’t sure exactly what.
The mind can go in a thousand directions
But on this lovely path, I walk in peace
With each step a gentre breeze blows
With each step a flower blooms
(F72, Walking Meditation Gatha)
Another important experience for me happened during a walking meditation where a strong and powerful energy moved me to run ahead of the group. I felt it was a healthy, positive energy rather than a destructive one so I let it lead me – but ended up lost in the beautiful French hills. I closed my eyes and tried to get in touch with the intuitive part of me that might know the way, but without success. I had to wait for one of the nuns to arrive to point me in the right direction, which was another way of changing old patterns. I have always found it difficult to ask for help, but this situation forced my hand and I have found it easier to do since this episode.
I also found that even when strong emotions surfaced, I was able to make them melt away – almost to tame their overwhelming power – by practising a variety of meditations. What seemed to really work was to stop watering the seed of grief, anger or fear, but instead to focus on my breathing to help me stay present in the here and now.
Why not give it a try – follow your in breath from the beginning to the end, than follow your out breath, again from beginning to end – it is not as easy as it sounds! Once you calm down the inner chatter, amazing things start to happen.