Four of us arrive at Whitchurch train station eager for the next stage of our journey to Tarloka. We greet each other and Helen who I already know smiles warmly making me feel at ease.

I reflect on what it would be like to spend the week at a women’s Buddhist retreat centre. Having done many retreats this is the first with women only. I had heard a lot about Taraloka a warm, friendly, and supportive place, all the things needed to help one grow.

Taraloka Retreat Centre

Separation of men and women has always been present in religious practices and having grown up in such an environment I sometimes struggled to see the merits of it. Part of me wonders whether integration offers more than separation. How else do we learn about each other, the masculine and the feminine are both important and the more we come together to understand each other the more we learn to integrate. But in a discussion with a Buddhist teacher, he mentions that men behave differently in men-only retreats as there are no distractions and they can cry without feeling weak (in the presence of women) therefore allowing them to process and heal. There are advantages, so maybe there is a place for both.

I like the non-theistic spiritual practice Buddhists maintain to help one live a more meaningful and fulfilling life by cultivating more positive mental states. Its focus is on the development of oneself, particularly on one’s mind along with being surrounded by like-minded people. There are many parallels to psychology. Psychologist Carl Rogers says, in order to self-actualize or develop one’s personality one needs certain conditions to be met, and having a supportive environment in which to grow is one of them.

The sun beams its last few rays of the day and the trees shimmer their autumn colours in the dusk light. The glow on the fields slowly begins to fade.

Going on Retreat is an opportunity to take time out from the pressures of daily life and do that inner work that is so vital. Often friends think you are going on holiday but far from it, diving deep into oneself is not easy work.

I decided to remain in my room for a while and connect with myself. I usually set intentions at the beginning, and I want to write these down: find clarity on the way forward, get to know the parts of myself I don’t know, heal deeply, and have some realisations. OK that’s a start, I will add more later.

We meet in the Shrine Room, beautifully immersed in candlelight we are welcomed by the team Sinhacandra, Alayari, Suryahridaya and Mandarava who is leading the retreat. The story begins tomorrow but for tonight we are gently led into our first meditation.

Shrine Room at Taraloka, set up by Mandarava