British School of Meditation Blog
A silent meditation retreat
At five to seven the gong sounded. We went into the meditation hall and found our places.
We sat down, and when everyone was seated Francesca, the course leader, came in. she sat down and said nothing. She rang a little bell and closed her eyes.
‘What is going on?’ I thought. ‘Isn’t she going to tell us what to do or lead us into a meditation?’
Nothing, just silence. Complete silence.
I looked around furtively at the other people in the room to see what they were doing. They all seemed to have their eyes closed too. Had I missed something I thought to myself. I sat there feeling rather foolish. It reminded me of maths lessons at school when everyone, except me, knew what to do and got on with the task in hand, while I sat there feeling really stupid and wondered yet again if I had missed the crucial lesson when the teacher had explained what we were doing.
Anyway I knew from the joining instructions that each meditation session lasted 45 minutes. I decided that the best thing to do was to close my eyes and meditate.
‘Why am I here? I don’t know if I can do this, I’m scared’
OK Mary, just breathe and recite your mantra’
‘I wonder if I’ll sleep tonight? It’s a strange place and a strange bed. I usually find it hard to sleep in a new place’
‘For heaven’s sake, stop it’ I told myself. ‘Stop thinking and just meditate’ I told myself sternly.
On and on it went, my mind constantly juggling thoughts, unable to stop myself. I felt a complete failure.
‘It’s hopeless, why did I think I could do this?’
A bell rang and brought me back into the meditation hall.
Francesca stood up and walked out. Everyone else began to get to their feet and follow her out. I struggled to my feet; I was finding the half lotus position difficult to sit in for three quarters of an hour.
I went out of the hall and up to my room. At least I have a room to myself I thought. When I had booked the retreat I had been told rooms would be allocated on arrival and that there were only 5 single rooms, all the rest were shared, and included several dormitories. I had been worried about sharing, especially as I had gone alone so I would be sharing with a stranger.
That first night I felt desolate. All my usual props had been removed. I was here in this country house for the next five days spending my time in silence. I couldn’t avoid myself. It was me, my thoughts, and silence. The silence was truly deafening. At that moment in that bare little room the thought uppermost in my mind was ‘Why on earth did I come here?’
Earlier in the year I had read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the book Elizabeth write about how she decided to take a year out of her life to travel and to discover who she really was after the breakdown of her marriage. It had inspired me to go on a retreat myself. As my budget was somewhat more limited than this famous New York journalist’s my choice had been a five day, silent retreat in Devon. I had been meditating already for several years and had found it had helped me to become a much calmer person. I had been drinking far too much, to the point where I had become dependent on alcohol. I would come home from work and the first thing I did was pour a glass of wine. This would then turn into a second and third glass. I was drinking every day and didn’t seem to be able to stop. Nor did I want to. Every one I knew drank, and it did seem to help me cope with the stresses of my job. I was becoming aware however, that I was drinking more and that I had got to the stage when I preferred to stay in and drink than go out and socialise.
The turning point came when I met someone, in a pub, of course, who suggested there was another way to cope with the stresses of daily life. He had been meditating for many years and told me how it had recently helped him to cope with the death of his wife from cancer. He had found that meditation took him to a place where he was calm and much more in control.
I went home and thought about what he had said and got in touch with him. Through him I learnt to meditate and gradually with daily practice I had become a much calmer and nicer person. The dependence on alcohol had also greatly reduced. This was a good job I thought as I sat in my little room. All alcohol was prohibited on the retreat.
There I go again, I thought, I just don’t seem to be able to put a stop to my thoughts. I decided to try and sleep. It wasn’t easy. I was very restless and thoughts churned through my head for most of the night. I always find it hard to sleep in a strange bed any way and this funny little room reminded me of the nun’s cell’s back at school. It had a single bed, a chair and a small wardrobe and that was it. No luxurious ensuite accommodation. The bathroom was shared with all the people on my corridor, about 12 of us.
The next day I got up at 6.30 and went into the meditation hall for five to seven. Francesca came in and when she rang the bell we went into our first period of silent meditation for the day. Sitting there I tried hard and for a few minutes I did actually manage to still my thoughts. It didn’t last long. It was a humbling experience because I had thought it would be so easy. After all I’d been meditating for a long time now hadn’t I?
‘Thinking again, Mary, stop it’
Eventually, time was up and we went for breakfast. Like the evening meal the night before I found this difficult. We ate in silence. I found the best thing to do was to avoid eye contact. After breakfast we had chores to do. The costs of retreats at the centre were kept low by everyone volunteering to help with housework. I had chosen to be on washing up duty. We washed up in silence although it seemed to me quite a lot of communication could be achieved without words.
The day then continued with meditations in the hall and walking meditations. We spent the whole day in silent meditation either together in the hall or outside doing a walking meditation. This involved walking very slowly and mindfully up and down focussing on the steps and again trying not to think. We were very lucky; the weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. I was new to this sort of meditation and it took me a while to get into any sort of rhythm. I watched what the others were doing and copied them.
I was still struggling with my thoughts but was beginning to feel a bit easier. We had been told that while we were at the centre we couldn’t use the phone and that mobile phones were to be switched off for the duration of the retreat. We were cut off from the world and cut off from normal communication. It was so unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was me stripped bare. No one to call and discuss what was going on. It was me thrown back on my own resources and trying to discover if I had enough depth of character to survive being just with myself.
Included in our instructions had been advice to not do any reading or writing, because these are forms of speaking. I was finding this hard to do. I love to read and felt bereft without my books. I had brought books and writing materials with me. My idea had been to record the whole experience in my journal. To chart my progress I suppose. I realised this was just another way of talking to myself and therefore breaking the silence. Reading would take me into someone else’s world and the whole reason for being here was to be fully present in the moment. Reading had been my escape route for so long. I had learnt to read before I went to school and was a classic book worm. Reading took me out of my reality into a brighter, happier world.
On day two on one of my walking meditations I came across an old church and graveyard. This became ‘my’ place. I had it all to myself and often after walking for 15 minutes I would lie down and just look up at the sky. I tried not to think as I lay there in the warm sunshine and inevitably I fell asleep. I had been working very hard. I am self employed and find it difficult to switch off from work mode. Now I had five days when I didn’t need to think about work and I was able to relax for the first time in years.
As the days went on I did begin to get to a point when I began to feel more peaceful. We had no contact with the outside world so I didn’t know what was happening. There were no newspapers and no TV or even radio. We were cut off from the ceaseless activity of the media.
I was beginning to find it good not to be bombarded by news and the constant noise of the media. I realised that a lot of my anxiety was fuelled by reading newspapers and watching news bulletins on TV. At first I felt that the universe would stop revolving because I wasn’t on constant alert for the latest news, but gradually I began to calm down and realise that the world could keep on revolving without my help. This was a significant moment for me. I had spent most of my life as a news junkie. I had taught for many years in secondary schools and it had been vital then to be informed, to know what was going on. However, I had given up teaching and was now self employed. I worked as a counsellor and ran workshops to help people manage their stress. Coming away for these few days was helping me to begin to reach a different stage in my life. As the silence took over I did become much calmer. It was a revelation. My meditation teachers had talked about the still calm space inside us that is always there no matter what is going on in our outer world. I was slowly beginning to grasp the point of meditating.
By day 4 I had begun to let go of all sorts of useless baggage. I was still thinking but was now finding I could just observe whatever thoughts came up and instead of dwelling on them, letting them go. It was fantastic. I began to feel lighter in mind and body; although that could have been that I was eating less as well. Note to self: if you want to lose weight go away and try to be silent for 5 days! We can be weighed down by our thoughts and letting them go, in particular letting the past go was helping me feel free.
Day five, the last day of complete silence. I was now getting into a real routine. I got up at 6.30am and was down in the meditation hall for five to seven. I was able to sit and be still in my mind, body and spirit for most of the time.
The sense of peace in the meditation hall had been growing steadily over the days. It made me realise I probably wasn’t the only one struggling with the experience. The deep silence echoed through the hall and filled my mind. My thoughts actually stopped and I became still. It was truly blissful. In fact it is hard to describe in words because you have to think about it rather than just feel it.
Final day – we were in silence until lunch and then we were allowed to talk!
It was really strange at first. Some people in the group just couldn’t stop talking and I discovered that there were people there from all over the world. We hadn’t spoken to each other until this moment. And it was very interesting finding out about people you had been making assumptions about for the last few days.
There were Americans, French, Swedes, Italians and people from different parts of the UK one lady lived only a few miles away from me. As we all chatted away it was amazing to learn about different experiences. One boy of about 19 was meditating his way around the world and was heading off to France the next day.
I phoned for a taxi and got my bag. I was on my way home. As I sat on the train I reflected on the experience. I decided it had been worthwhile and that the feeling of calm and peace I had achieved was a huge benefit. When I was forced to be silent I had nothing but myself to be with it. I discovered that I was an OK person to be with.
That was several years ago. I now spend much of my time meditating, teaching meditation and running the British School of Meditation. It was a life changing experience. Mary
Highly Sensitive People
On Saturday I went to a talk at the Isbourne on Highly Sensitive People. The talk was given by mel Collins – see her bio below.
Mel talked about the defining characteristics of highly Sensitive People. I was interested to discover if I fitted into this category and also went out of interest in the subject. 15-20% of the population are in this category so a not insubstantial number.
These are some of the traits of HSP:
1. Has difficulty letting go of negative thoughts and emotions
2. Can experience physical symptoms such as stress or headaches when something unpleasant happens
3. Often feels tense or anxious
4. Fears rejection
5. Worries about what others are thinking
7. Feels uncomfortable in large crowded rooms, busy public places
8. Feel judged by others
9. Feels uncomfortable when exposed to bright lights, loud noises, strong smells
10. Easily startled by sudden noises
11. Dislikes and avoids violent and scary films, Tv shows
Elaine Aron in her book ‘The highly Sensitive Person’
Describes HSP’s as those who:
have a keen imagination; are labelled too shy or too sensitive; who perform poorly when being observed even though they are usually competent; have vivid dreams; for whom time alone each day is essential;
and find they are quickly overwhelmed by noise and confusion, crowded parties, hectic office life………….
this is the book to help them understand themselves and how best to cope in various situations.
Highly sensitive people are often very bright and creative but many suffer from low self esteem. They are not ‘neurotics’ as they have been labelled for so long. However, high sensitivity can lead them to cease to engage with the outside world.
‘Mel Collins is a qualified psychotherapeutic counsellor, spiritual healer and reiki master who runs regular workshops, courses and talks. Before her work as a counsellor, increasingly specialising in HSP, she worked in Her Majesty's Prison Service for two years counselling substance misuse prisoners, then eight years as a Prison Governor. Being innately sensitive in a challenging prison setting has given her an incredible learning experience and teaching base. She appeared on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 in March 2018 and she has since received widespread interest in her work from both consumers and the press alike, including BBC Radio 5. For more information, go to www.melcollins.co.uk’
Buy her book and see reviews here:
It was a useful talk, I discovered I do have many of the traits of HSP. I am particularly affected by bright lights, loud noises and strong smells. I struggle in crowded situations where people are talking loudly. However, as I have grown older I notice I have let go of a lot of the negative characteristics I had when younger, and cope much better with my thoughts and feeling. I believe meditation has helped enormously in this.
Are you a HSP?
The Hero’s journey
This week I attended a talk at the Isbourne Centre given by Will Gethin on The Hero’s Journey.
I have known Will for a long time, and we worked together at the Isbourne for a while. Will was employed to do PR for the centre and also to promote the guest speaker programme. Some of the speakers include: Brandon Bays, Byron Katie, and Peter Owen Jones.
His talk last night was about the hero’s journey made famous by Joseph Campbell. 'Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls' Joseph Campbell.
There are 12 steps in the journey – the journey begins when the hero receives a call to action which presents a challenge to his usual existence. At first there is normally resistance to the call (we’ve all been there!).
The resistance can be challenged by meeting a mentor, someone helps the hero overcome his doubts and fears and feel encouraged to begin his journey.
There are a series of tests and challenges on the way which our hero needs to overcome. By the way, I am using he/him but the journey also applies to women.
The hero now has to confront his biggest fears and darkest moments and come through the challenges, and being rewarded with new found confidence.
The hero now begins to work his way back, feeling empowered by his experiences and ready share with others the rewards of his journey.
http://willgethin.com/ and https://consciousfrontiers.com/
Whenever I tell friends I am going on a silent retreat most of them react by saying ‘I couldn’t do that’.
The idea of silence can be daunting, and I think for some people quite frightening. To be alone with your thoughts with no opportunity to chat with others about your day, the latest news, gossip etc.
We are social beings and most people enjoy a good chat. We can talk about our problems with friends and perhaps gain some insight and wisdom. So, why, then would anyone want to spend several days in complete silence?
We live in a noisy, 24/7 world, under pressure to respond almost instantly to texts and emails, to keep up to date with our Facebook postings, and join other social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn. There is a 24-hour news cycle with constant updates so that we can know what is going on anywhere in the world by looking at Google or at an app on our Smartphone.
For me the opportunity to get away from this has become really important. I work from home, so my work computer is in my home office. I have been to lots of different places on retreat and have come to appreciate deep silence while on away. Just getting away from home and the office gives me an opportunity to recharge my batteries and reconnect with my spirituality.
Helen has just created a blog on silence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFHPZgFTmAI&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3Cn_mnOD_Y8Qk68MEzxdrlFFIz4ZEoTtit1B0RSrGz-6RxNx7vSmCspo0
On our YouTube channel Helen has posted a vlog on using positive affirmations:
As Helen explains positive affirmations can be very useful to change our mindset. We can often grumble and mutter away to ourselves in a negative way. We all do it, we can grumble about the weather, the lack of any decent programmes on TV, the deterioration of the clothes in Mark and Spencer (this is one of mine, but I don’t think I’m alone!), and if I dare mention it: Brexit!!
Using positive affirmations can help to change your life for the better. One of mine is ‘I am happy, healthy, wealthy and wise’ – it’s a work in progress, but it does help me feel much more positive about every area of my life.
You can use cards as Helen suggests too, the pack she recommends by Louise Hay can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Thought-Cards-Beautiful-Card/dp/1561706124/ref=sr_1_2?crid=Q7JYJ0F9MXTF&keywords=louise+hay+cards&qid=1568892641&sprefix=Louise+Hay
Give affirmations a go and notice the changes happening in your life.
In August I went on a silent retreat, something I do at least once a year. This year I was particularly pleased to be going so I could get away from the news!
I went to St Bueno’s in North Wales. It is a spirituality centre set in the most beautiful grounds and with amazing views of the Welsh countryside. It is a haven of peace in a noisy world.
Your time there is spent in silence. Everyone moves into silence on their first evening there and remains in silence until breakfast on their final morning.
Once a day you have the opportunity to meet with a spiritual director for half an hour. This is the only time when you speak, it would otherwise be a bit pointless if you just looked at one another!
My spiritual director this year was quite young, and at first, I wondered if she had the experience to be doing the job. I was proved wrong and it showed me I was being ageist! She was encouraging and enthusiastic and I came away from the sessions feeling happy with my retreat.
I took a book with me ‘A Book of Silence’ by Sara Maitland. It is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it to you. She looks at the history of silence and also delves into her own desire for more and more silence.
When I told a friend I was taking a book on silence with me on a silent retreat she was flabbergasted and wanted to know why I wasn’t taking a novel with me. however, I really enjoyed the book and found out a lot about the history of silence and the power it can have in our lives.
I also switched off my mobile phone while I was there and found that it was so restful not to be in contact with the rest of the world. I spent a lot of time in the grounds and walking in the beautiful countryside. Being out in the gardens and walking in the country was therapeutic as was stroking the lovely little black cat that lives on the site.
The retreat provided me with some peace and quiet to recharge my batteries. I came away feeling thoroughly refreshed.
Success – what does it mean?
‘The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows’. Buddha
I became a teacher because I believed that I had a vocation to teach. I studied history at university with the intention of becoming a History teacher when I graduated. I was fortunate to get the first job I applied for, so my teaching career took off successfully. For a long time, I enjoyed my job and was successful. I was promoted several times and was soon running a big department. I also saw my students do well in exams. Before I was 30, I had been appointed as a Senior Teacher – now called Assistant Deputy Head.
However, in 1997, my world fell apart and all my success in my career began to seem totally pointless. The first chapter of my book tells the story of how difficult that year of my life was. I lost my head teacher, who was also my mentor and a close friend. Very soon after his sudden death lost my Mum and reeling from these losses had to then try and cope with the breakdown of my marriage.
I turned to alcohol to try and get me through the day and noticed I was drinking more and more.
I was rescued by meditation. I met someone who was a regular meditator and speaking to him led me to view my life differently. I went and learned how to meditate properly and will be forever indebted to him for the priceless gift he gave me.
Once started on a daily meditation practice my outlook on life began to change. Firstly, I started to drink less and noticed that I became a nicer person! Meditation helps me to be less reactive, so I think first instead of saying the first thing that comes into my head. It made me less irritable and much more patient. However, the thing that changed most and ultimately had the biggest effect on me was that I began to question my ‘successful’ career. I was successful but at what cost?
I went to work, came home, did more work, went to bed and then got up and did it all again the next day. I was permanently exhausted and too tired to have any life outside of work. If you know any teachers, you will be familiar with this story.
Meditation gives you a chance to step back and look at things more clearly, it gives perspective. What is the point of success if you are unhappy?
So learning to meditate helped me reflect on what was important to me. I realised that my successful career in teaching left me drained and exhausted and didn’t make me happy.
Training as a therapist and meditation teacher transformed my life. I began to feel that what I was doing had real benefits both for the people I worked with and for myself. I began to feel fulfilled by my work and at the end of a working day feel as though I had made a real contribution in the world. I began to feel happy. My vocation to teach has remained steadily with me throughout, I am just a different type of teacher now. One who is happy and inspired by her work.
As the Dalai Lama says: ‘Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions’.
We all have within us the capacity to be happy and to share that happiness with others.
‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared’ Buddha
Meditation, the stress solution Mary Pearson
Our YouTube Channel:
Just in case you haven’t noticed we have set up a YouTube Channel. As we develop the channel, we will have lots of chats about Meditation and also share meditations together.
In our first Vlog which you can see if you click onto our web site. www.teaching-meditation.co.uk. I am talking about how the school was founded, and this is a really interesting story; and also telling you all about our Meditation Teacher qualification.
In the following Vlogs we practise a couple of meditations together and chat about how you can set up your own meditation practise, as well as dealing with some very common questions.
Some of these are: -
‘I can’t stop my thoughts’
‘I don’t have time to meditate.’
‘How long should I meditate for’
‘Do I need to sit in the Lotus position’
‘Where should I meditate?’
I also give details of how to find a BSoMeditation teacher. You do this by going to our website and click on the tab label ‘Find a BSoM teacher’. This will take you to a list of registered teachers in your area.
Keep an eye on the channel as I am trying to produce a Vlog every week.
When you have watched one of the Vlogs, please do click on like and the subscribe button. This will help us to reach a wider audience allowing more people to access the benefits of meditation.
Thanks for reading.
Impossible is not a fact.
It's an opinion.
Impossible is not a declaration.
It's a dare.
Impossible is potential.
Impossible is temporary.
Impossible is NOTHING.
Recently I watched Andy Murray make a return to competitive tennis, something that had seemed impossible after he limped out of the Australian Open and it looked like his career was over.
He held a press conference and he was in tears contemplating the end of the career he loves and has done so well in. I have followed his career from its early days, and I, too, was in tears listening to him. Andy has been an inspiration in what he has achieved in terms of his tennis career, but also in other ways too. He raises huge amounts of money for charity – Unicef – is just one example.
He has also championed women, appointing a female coach, and taking interviewers, such as John Inverdale to task for casual sexism.
If anyone exemplifies the above quote from Muhammad Ali, it is Andy Murray. Faced with the end of his illustrious career he had a second hip replacement operation and is now back playing doubles and winning. For Andy impossible was NOTHING.
In 1997 my life fell apart and for a time it seemed impossible that I could change it. But slowly and surely, I began to rebuild my life and, in fact, change it for the better. I began to train in different disciplines, including teaching meditation and looked at an exit strategy from school teaching. I sold my house and moved from Manchester to Cheltenham and set myself up as self-employed. It was a struggle at first but gradually and with determination I began to build my new business.
In 2011 I got together with Helen and together we created something out of nothing: The British School of Meditation. Here we are in 2019 with a wonderful team and a Register of members.
So, remember: ‘Impossible is not a fact -------’
See our latest vlog about starting to meditate- tips from Helen on how to start your meditation practice.
In 2010 my first book: ‘Meditation, the stress solution’ was published and together with my good friend Carol Green,(www.carolgreenmedium.co.uk) I organised a book signing combined with a Christmas Fair.
We had a raffle as part of the Open Day to raise money for ‘Help for Heroes’, a charity close to our hearts. I donated a 1-2-1 session with me as a raffle prize. Helen, my now business partner in the School, won the prize.
Helen and I had been acquaintances for several years, but we didn’t really know one another. We arranged the 1-2-1 session in February 2011.
Out of that meeting came the idea for The British School of Meditation. We chatted away and discovered we had a great deal in common. One of us mentioned that more and more people were now turning to meditation for a whole variety of reasons and wouldn’t it be good if there were more meditation teachers to meet that need. Well, one thing led to another and by the end of the meeting we had both decided to go away and explore the idea.
Helen went home and mentioned the idea to her husband, and he said it seemed like it was worth pursuing. We met up again and looked seriously at the concept and at the idea of working together. From the very beginning we have got on really well and from being acquaintances have become very close friends.
We spent most of 2011 putting in all the groundwork. We talked about the format of the course and decided the best way was to have face-to-face training and that we would offer that training in Cheltenham at the Isbourne Centre.
One very important point we decided on from the beginning was that we needed to get proper external accreditation for the course. This took time and effort but eventually we teamed up with the Open College Network and obtained accreditation for our teacher training course. Ascentis has now taken over as our accrediting body.
The success of the School led us to expand and we now have centres in different parts of the country.
See Helen’s vlog about the setting up of the School.
The British School of Meditation has been established to train teachers in meditation techniques to meet the growing demand for highly trained and accredited meditation teachers throughout the UK including: the Midlands, South West, Wales, North West, North East, London and the South East.