From Thursday April 28 to May 2 I was lucky enough to attend a five day ‘Experience Silence’ Meditation retreat at Gyreum Ecolodge in Sligo, Ireland.
Guided by Buddhist Nun Kelsang Chitta, a student of 12 years of Tibetan Buddhist Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche, around 20 or so of us had the unique opportunity to break away from daily life and experience the luxury of silence.
Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive about being silent for a lot of time. Modern lives are often dominated by noise, distractions and movement. Taking time out to be still and meditate with a group of likeminded people is quite at odds with this, but I believe it is something every one could highly benefit from.
My own journey of exploring meditation started almost a year ago so this was a natural step forward on that path. Gyreum Ecolodge is an incredible space to practice, with stunning scenery and a real sense of peace and safety. The interior is beautifully decorated and nothing goes to waste. While basic, the accommodation was better than most hotels I’ve stayed in.
Those who attended the retreat were a great mix of backgrounds and personality types. Communal living can sound a little daunting to some, but there was no tension or effort involved which really added to the experience as a whole. Between meditations we were able to relax, read, write and take walks through Sligo’s beautiful landscape.
Our meals were all vegetarian and homemade by a wonderful lady named Paula…and I have to say I’ve never eaten better! Eating as a group, cleaning up the living space and working together was an incredibly powerful way of shifting perspective from our own selfish inner worlds to the reality that we are all in fact naturally connected, despite how much we can become wrapped up in our own lives.
It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I experienced what I would call a Breakthrough Meditation, where I was finally able to completely let go. In silence our senses are heightened and we can reach much deeper insights into the nature of ourselves and the world we live in.
Through meditating on unconditional compassion for all beings, dissolving the ego and the idea of ‘self and learning to observe thoughts and emotions without judgment led to an intense feeling of acceptance, love and peace.
It wasn’t always easy. Being in an unfamiliar place in silence with my own thoughts was a little anxiety-inducing at first. But sitting with this feeling and not relieving it with the typical distractions of work, food, alcohol or television meant I was able to let it pass naturally and healthily.
Your own mind is only as scary as you make it, and we have become incredibly attached to escaping reality.
I left the retreat with a strong sense of being ‘reset’ and gaining something which seems to have been lost in modern society. I also made some amazing friends who helped me realise that people are certainly awakening spiritually and the world isn’t as awful as it sometimes seems.
The Potala Centre, Ormeau Road, Belfast is a member of the New Kadampa Tradition and the International Buddhist Union. Chitta and several others offer guided meditation classes, retreats and events that are open to everyone, regardless of religious background.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to reap the rewards of meditation. If we were to all take some time every day to meditate and become more aware of ourselves, the world would undoubtedly be a much more productive, cooperative and loving place.
I would like to extend huge thanks to Chitta, Colum and everyone else who made this experience so special.
For more information about meditation classes, workshops and future retreats check out www.meditateni.org, www.gyreum.com or connect on Facebook www.facebook.com/Meditation-and-Modern-Buddhism-in-Northern-Ireland