Recently I attended a Mindfulness retreat, this is not unusual I have been to many but this was different. It was a Hui set up by Mindfulness for Change to bring together those in the Mindfulness community and discuss how we might work together to create change. I was excited but also a little apprehensive and not sure what to expect. Torn between the relaxed anticipation of a retreat and the less relaxed prospect of having to do some work and contribute something intelligent!
We arrived at Riverslea Retreat in Otaki in darkness after the Friday night traffic from Wellington and the end of a long week. Immediately I noticed how many people there were, so many strangers I’d not met yet and the introvert within my groaned. At the same time I was torn between wanting to get to know these like-minded souls, learn from them and connect with them but not overjoyed at the prospect of having to make an effort to interact and socialise with so many strangers. Usually I’m perfectly content to retreat into my shell, meditate in solitude and appreciate the natural environment I found myself in on a rare trip out of the city. In fact it’s one of the things I love about retreats!
The set up was interesting; 40 people crammed together inside as the rain beat down around us, only 2 showers to share and bunk rooms shared with 8 others. I reflected with a new friend that this would usually be the recipe for a social disaster on the scale of the Big Brother house as all human emotions, frustrations and personalities clash with dramatic effect. But not here. Surrounded by so many compassionate, considerate individuals the kindness was evident. People held doors open, smiled, hugged one another on greeting, queued patiently for food and offered up their seats. Trust and respect was evident but we didn’t even know one another. Is this a recipe for how a new society could be born, I thought?
The room seemed full of such happy people who believe there is hope and that people are good and the world can work, despite being acutely aware that it’s currently a bit broken. It’s not that these people had privileged lives or a life without problems. In fact each shared moving stories of their own challenges, grief and difficulties in life. From struggling to belong and fit it, losing loved ones, battles with health and lives turned upside down yet each had emerged with a compassionate heart, a love for human kind and a wish to do good in the world.
What amazed me most was the mix of ages, gender, backgrounds and the impact this had on our collective ideas and conversations. A room where doctors sat alongside yoga teachers, psychologists alongside students. We were all so different yet uniquely the same as well. The combination of youthful hope and excitement with the experience and wisdom of others was inspiring. I was humbled by the gratitude everyone showed for the presence of others and the acknowledgement that everybody present brought something to the table.
I had always put Mindfulness down to changing my life as if it made me a different person. But what I now know is that, the person was there all along and is in all of us. Life was like this all along I’m just seeing through new eyes, like a fog has lifted. I feel aware, awake and alive and incidentally that’s Mindfulness in a nutshell.
It turns out I loved the combination of stimulating discussion with silent reflection time. The ability to connect with others but also to go inwards and connect with ourselves. I learned more about Mindfulness but also about myself. In fact the self-awareness and reflection was just as important as the acquired wisdom from the conversations and experience.
I also learned something new about how we connect with others. By the time the weekend was up I had formed such strong bonds with people I’d barely spoken to. This connection to people was beyond speaking, a deep connection in a short space of time united by common goals and similar values. An environment of trust where some shared things even their friends did not know. It touched my heart to witness such an outpouring of emotion but a groundswell of support made possible by the environment of non-judgement and compassion.
When it was time to leave and many hugs had been exchanged with new special friends and plans for action and future progress were written up on the walls. Back in the outside world I feel oddly calm and centred as if something has shifted. Excited about the future and full of hope that there are good people in the world. As I walked back through the city towards my apartment I saw an argument and a road rage incident and wondered why can’t all people be like this? And then I realise they are. Compassion is within us all it’s just buried a bit deeper in some. Mindfulness is how we set about uncovering that in each other and reconnecting with what matters.
Mindfulness for Change is for people who want to contribute to a mindful, compassionate, flourishing society so that together we can help co-create true social and environmental change.
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