Annual Countryside Retreat 2017

Between 30th June – 2nd July, 25 people came together on this spectacular countryside retreat to the Marist Centre in Gloucestershire where we explored Jain Dharma and spirituality in a fun environment. It was an opportunity to retreat, to go inwards, stay in the present, to treat oneself to new experiences, to explore dharma, and use the time and space to rest and rejuvenate, but also to do different things. It was also an opportunity to have a full digital detox!

Friday evening started with Inspiring Speed Friending, where we got to know one another through some inspirational questions which allowed for deep contemplation. For example, ‘what would you change now, if you knew you had a finite amount to live in this lifetime?’, ‘If happiness is a currency, how rich do you think you are?’.

Saturday morning started off with a trust walk in the early day freshness. In small groups, everyone was blind-folded apart from the leader who led the group on the trust walk. This allowed us to engage our other senses apart from sight, as we walk. This was an opportunity to really listen to the sounds, the birds chirping away, to feel the uneven ground beneath our feet, to focus on our inhalation and exhalation, to smell the scents of the flowers.

Following breakfast, the first session of the day was Soul Searching through Song. Each group was given a stavan and through discussions we were able to gain an understanding of the stavan, it’s meaning and uncover some of the underlying Jain Dharma. The stavan which my group reflected on was ‘Hey Manav Tu Mukhse Bol … Aum Namo Arihantanam’. It was interesting to note that the stavan incorporated the Navakar Mantra, the most auspicious prayer in Jainism. I gained a deeper understanding of the meaning of this mantra, the importance of the order – why we bow down to Arihants, Sidh Bhagwan, Acharya, Upadhyaya and Sadhus/Sadviji’s in this order. We also deciphered the sathiyo and uncovered the Jain path to Moksha.

In the afternoon we went on a walk in the surrounding nature. With the sun beaming on our faces, we reflected on two questions ‘knowing that when I die, I will leave my wealth, relationships and reputations behind, should that influence my life today?’ and ‘what are the most beautiful aspects about our Dharma?’. We also spent part of the walk focused on mindfulness, walking in silence. This was another opportunity to focus on the present moment, to look at the beauty of the trees swaying with the wind, the glorious blue sky.

Whilst dinner was being prepared, the groups started preparing for the next session, a value based skit. The teams were given a quote to contemplate. It was a time to be creative, to think about a positive quality and then plan a short skit to present to the rest of the group. Some of the quotes were ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed’ by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Happiness is a journey not a destination’. The acting emphasised our day to day actions and how that virtue plays a role and if we are aware of this virtue, it can bring a positive change in us.

Sunday morning started off with yoga outside in the morning sunlight. We performed some stretches and movements of the body, to remove any tension so we could focus our energy and mind on the rest of the day. The first session of the day was ‘Connection to A (Atma)’. In small groups we went on a treasure hunt around Marist Center looking for the treasure (letters). We were asked to come up with words associated with Jain dharma/virtues that started with the letter and what the connection to Atma is. For example T – Tirthankar, the ones who have attained moksha and separated body and soul.

The second session of the day was creative visualisation, reflecting on a quality or virtue we would like to aspire towards and then producing a visualisation (using paints/colours etc). This activity focused on mindfulness and how we should be aware of the present moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend being with like-minded souls exploring Jain dharma. It was an opportunity to be in the PRESENT, be away from technology, and play FULL OUT. Delicious Jain Vegan meals were prepared throughout the weekend. I would like to thank the organising team, the catering team and everyone that came on the retreat to make it as spectacular as it was!

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