I’m going to cut to the chase. I’ve seen the light. It hit me like a thunderbolt on the third day of the silent retreat. I have started talking like one of those hippy types and will probably be buying a dream catcher next.
So, if this makes you feel weird or it sounds a bit cultish or you are worried I am going to start talking about Jesus, then look away now. For the rest of you, let me explain how it all happened…
I arrived at a stately pile in the Brecon Beacons at 5pm on Sunday. What a place. It was in a lush valley where all you can hear is the rush of the river Usk, crying buzzards and the bleating of sheep.
There were log fires everywhere, a sweeping staircase, fresh flowers, en-suite bedrooms, mountain views. You get the picture. This was a classy place and the minute I stepped inside, I guessed I was going to enjoy my four-day stay.
If you follow this blog, you’ll know that my last experience of silence was positively hellish. I went so mad, my mentor Marion Young suggested that I pull out of this one. She would have enough on her plate, without me losing my marbles in the wilds of Wales.
The unravelling began on day one when I had a conversation with a very nice Beech tree that told me I should spend my days trying to paint nature. There was an art room at this retreat centre with every kind of art material imaginable, so I set to work.
I haven’t painted for years, not since before I had my first child who is 19 now and I’d forgotten how hard it is. My berries looked like Jelly Tots and my watercolour fungus resembled a cowpat.
No matter, off I went into the woods to seek more inspiration. Leaves, chestnuts, lichen…there was plenty to choose from. Try as I might, I could not translate what I saw onto paper, so I looked hard. I peered at the tiniest of details, noticed how light changes texture and shade and became obsessed with shape and colour in the natural world.
In-between all of this, there was much meditating, resting, walking, yoga, eating etc. Frankly, it was hard work doing nothing all day and time went in a flash.
On the penultimate day, I got the urge to paint a nasturtium. It was a blaze of colour and I loved the geometry of its leaves. But my painting was a pale comparison of the real thing. At this stage, I’d worked out that the secret to watercolour painting is to layer the colours. First went the yellow, then the orange and then I dabbed it all off again with water and kitchen roll. I could not paint the wretched flower.
As I stared at it some more, I was dazzled by its beauty. It appeared luminous. Otherworldly. I wanted to go and get somebody and cry ‘Look at this flower. It’s AMAZING’ but well, this was a silent retreat and it would have been a bit weird.
That afternoon, we were invited to sit or lie for an hour and do nothing. Marion asked us to connect to our source. That old chestnut again. Still, it wasn’t a big ask because the view from my bedroom window was of the Brecon Beacons. So, I sat there, ate a bag of chocolate covered almonds and looked. I noticed the pine trees casting long shadows, how the mountains went from green and then to brown and purple at their peak. I marvelled at nature’s palette…how can there be so many shades of green?
It was as if the universe said to me ‘You have gazed at my artistry – do you still think I am not capable of looking after you?’
Of course, I knew the answer and that night, I felt it. We’d done our evening meditation outside under the stars and were curled up on sofas, listening to a CD of chants (they’re all the rage, even Tina Turner does them now). On the carpet of the vast hall that we occupied, was a labyrinth made of stones that twinkled with dozens of tealights. It was like Christmas without the arguments and overeating.
I felt a bit spaced out, as if I had just smoked the best skunk money can buy. Then it came, the love. It went off in my belly like an atomic bomb. It was enormous. How can one person feel so much love I wondered? Could anyone see it? Had I sprouted a halo? Why was I smiling like a loon? Did somebody slip something into my Lapsang Souchong?
I was floored. At the core of me is limitless love. How cool is that?
I haven’t really come down yet, but I will and I don’t want to forget this feeling. Ever.
During my first weekend retreat I’d been tortured by my thoughts as I tried desperately hard to figure stuff out. How could I make more money? Stop worrying? Be a better mother? The voice in my head had started talking to me in a Liverpool accent, which was particularly disconcerting as I have no links to the place.
This time round, I had been so distracted by art that there was no efforting on my part. I hadn’t noticed that the clever bit of me that they call the ‘higher self’, was quietly working its magic on my soul.
I have touched a spark of inner bliss before after a 6-hour silent retreat, but this was a trillion times more powerful. Truly. It was a big KABOOM!
I wondered how I would write this blog post without sounding as if I had lost the plot somewhere between the river Usk and the monkey puzzle tree, but I figured that I should just tell it as it was.
The good news is, if a cynical old hack like me can find the boundless love within, then you can too. I don’t know how you’ll get there because I have also learned that everybody’s journey is different.
But if you really want to find it, I believe that you will – it’s there anyway, whether you look upon it or not. You might make a meal of it like I have done, but that’s okay. It will still be perfect.