A few weeks ago, I spent a warm, friendly, and thought provoking weekend at Dhanakosa, a Buddhist, Meditation and Yoga Retreat Centre within the Loch Lomond and Trossacs National Park, Scotland.
I’d booked earlier in the year as a late birthday present, having been recommended by a friend at work. November was the first available introductory weekend.
After a four hour drive and sing, I arrived safely and was shown to my room. I was sharing with two others Lizzie, mam of two who works as a phycologist, and Teresa who works for Scottish Farmers Union.
We had curry for tea, with rice, lentils and mango sauce. All food at the retreat is vegan. I was so impressed I bought the cookbook. Dad was also pleased, as having recently watched The Game Changers, he set himself the challenge of eating a plant based diet for a month. (He’s three weeks in and stuck to it 100% – even to the point of refusing a cuppa when I’d used a drop of the wrong milk, and eating vegan whilst out – he’s offered to share a blog post about his experiences soon).
At 7pm we had a welcome session where 25 of us shared why we were here, and then signed up to a rota. My job was to keep the tea/coffee station clean. Others had meal prep, cooking and cleaning roles.
At 8.30pm we visited the shrine for our first meditation of 20 minutes – where we were encouraged to focus on our breathing. After I felt very relaxed – that is until when brushing my teeth I realised I’d brought sensitive hair removal cream rather than sensitive toothpaste – not a pleasant experience!
7am – rise to ringing bells. 7.30am – Meditation in the Shrine room. After gentle movements to help get the blood flowing, we were asked to pay attention to our five senses, and then did a full top to toe body scan.
At 9am I had breakfast of porridge, with cinnamon and raisins. I also added banana, tahini, and kefir. One of the trainers explained and showed us her kefir culture, and explained how on adding milk each day, it will turn to a yogurt consistency and has lots of good bacteria.
For the rest of the morning we returned to the Shrine to discuss meditation techniques, which can be either cross legged, sitting on blocks with knees to the side (which most of us used), and sitting in a chair. In each case, we should imaging a golden thread running through us from the ground, and pulling us upwards with our shoulder upright and chest open.
We completed a breathing meditation sequence with four phases
- after each breath count upwards from 1 to 10 e.g. breathe, 1, breathe 2, breathe 3 – then start again after 10.
- as above, but count backwards from 10 to 1
- focus on your breath with no counting
- focus on the points at which the breath comes in and goes out of your body e.g. nose, mouth, and how it feels.
After lunch we had a few hours free time. I walked with others to see the loch outside my bedroom window, and then up a hill to see a waterfall. We talked about all sorts including a fireman’s journey to becoming a Buddhist, struggles of a lady who has an adopted child, and vegan food.
At 4.30pm we had an open session about meditation and how we were finding it. We then repeated our morning mediation for 40 minutes.
After tea we had a talk on Buddhism, where we learned about the three jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga. It was fascinating and almost all new to me. We meditated, followed by chanting – which was more like singing. It was very calming.
That evening up to breakfast, we were asked to observe silence. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried this. It was surprisingly easy as I was exhausted – I was asleep by 9.30pm.
7am – arose to bells ringing.
7.30am – We learned a loving kindness meditation which had five phases;
- For you
- For your friend
- For someone neutral e.g. a bus driver you may see regularly but don’t know well
- For your enemy (we were asked to pick someone we may have had a small disagreement with recently rather than someone who has caused us great pain e.g. an ex partner or similar – to practise the technique)
- For everyone
We were left to interpret this as we chose, and after breakfast discussed how we’d found it. It was different for each of us. Some people cried or felt uncomfortable, especially after an exercise where we were asked to look directly into a partner’s eye.
Before we repeated the meditation, the teachers gave tips to consider e.g. think of when you were last kind to yourself… others etc, and how did it feel? What physical reactions do you get from your thoughts? Imagine your heart is a rose, with petals opening up to the sun, and/or light passing through your body…
After our final lunch, we were allocated final chores, and then had a short closing ceremony where we stood in a circle and held hands. Over the two days we’d connected and had a special and unforgettable experience. I highly recommend, and would like to try a longer themed session when the boys are older – they do yoga, hill walking, tai chi, wild swimming to name a few.
Key Learning points from the weekend:
- Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. It’s about becoming self aware and acknowledging them so you can make informed choices about what you pay attention to e.g. is what you’re telling yourself kind/how you’d respond to a friend
- Science has proven regular meditation can change the shape of your brain, and help you cope better with everyday demands. The recommendation is to alternate daily practise between the breathing and loving kindness meditations for a minimum of 10 minutes each day.
- Meditation is not for everyone e.g. if you have a mental health condition, or if it is making you feel unhappy you are encouraged to seek medical help.
- Finding a local retreat/centre group is a great way to help maintain regular practise.
If you’re interested in attending Dhanakosa, here are a list of future retreats.
Have you ever visited this or a similar meditation retreat? What were your experiences?
#Dhanakosa #MeditationRetreat #Buddhism