Well, this seems an oxymoron, an urban retreat? It seemed odd to me before I went to London, to learn to teach Youth Mindfulness, but I worked to stay open minded. Slipping onto the packed commuter train from Clapham Junction to Waterloo, where I squeezed in and the doors just closed by my head, I really began to wonder. Through what I could actually see from my confined space, the stereotypical ‘men in suits’ surrounding me were craned round each other looking at their phones whilst rammed up against each other’s bodies, seemed to highlight a lack of connection and loneliness that can be there even when surrounded by people. Tilting my view slightly, through the window in the door, I witnessed a beautiful sunrise over the silhouetted rooftops, equally comparable with those I watch over the sea from our east facing home. I’m not sure if it was actually true, but I felt like the only one who saw this spectacle happen.
As the train stopped and we were disgorged on to the platform, I was nearly knocked down in the rush. I found that I could easily have joined them, feeling the urgency rising in me but consciously I slowed my step in the midst of the hustle. Each day, as I travelled to and from the training venue, I found myself fascinated by the natural world and the urban world thrown together and the magnificence all around. I saw some spectacular cloud formations; bright stars and a half moon; dazzling sunlight reflected off mirrored glass buildings; some striking trees; and travelling down into the tube, descending deep into the bowels of the earth, I was fascinated by the rugged, rock hewn sides of the cavern. All this showing that there is beauty to be found everywhere, even in the heart of the city. I chose to tune into it all and I found myself nourished by it.
The training room was the antithesis of my usual habitat, a cell like room with just a few windows over a concrete courtyard, could have felt claustrophobic, but during the course meditations I tuned into the sounds and discovered a vast soundscape all around. I found it to be as changing and intricate as any landscape. I could have labelled it as noise – especially to my sensitive, rural quiet ears - but I chose to be curious about it and not to judge it. The rhythmic thrum of London around me; the hum of traffic; the wind blowing by the open window of the training room; the sirens: the sheer aliveness. It felt a profound
experience and not one that I would have expected at all.
On a break from the training room, we took a mindful walk in Regent’s Park. It was a Saturday lunchtime and the park was full of people coming and going, children laughing and screaming, dogs barking. Again, it really felt incredible to consciously stop and walk slowly, really look at everything and take it in. I even lay down at one point on the grass, on this cold February day, looking up at the trees and the clear blue sky and felt the cold easterly wind rushing over my nose and face. Towards the end of my solitary walk, a grey squirrel came close up to me and I watched it intrigued and delighted...the next second it ran right up my leg! I have never, ever had this happen before, that was an extremely close wildlife encounter - maybe a bit too close if I’m honest!
The next day, I walked alone along the Thames watching the water thinking that it is the same river but different water, just as our minds are the same but we experience different thoughts all coming and going. Nothing is permanent, even if sometimes it can feel like that when we’re in the midst of it. I feel nurtured and renewed by my urban retreat and enthusiastic to share with young people and children all that I have learnt on this truly fabulous course. Mindfulness has given me so much: to be in the present moment no matter what is happening; a way of being with intense, strong pain; to be more resilient; to know myself better and make more informed choices and live in alignment with my values as best I can; to be truly grateful for the life that I have; as well as to be kinder to myself and to others. I wish it was taught in schools ... and now it is.
"In virtually every way imaginable, the invitation to mindfulness challenges our prevailing fixations. We are invited to practise awareness in a world full of busy, distracted minds. We are invited to appreciate life more openly, embracing its difficulties when grasping for pleasure and avoiding pain are the standard reactions to stress. We are invited to tune into the senses in a world that's run by ideas. We are invited to accept insubstantiality and impermanence in a culture that resists change and death. And we are invited to foster compassionate relationships with everything and everyone on a planet that's rife with separation, struggle and strife." Ed Halliwell
"We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." Thich Nhat Hanh
Such a wonderful group of people I was privileged to spend time with on the Youth Mindfulness training, before our mindful walk in Regent's Park (and the squirrel attack :-) x
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