It’s still dark as I make my way to the Shrine Room for our morning meditation; we begin with chanting the precepts. These are words that we intend for ourselves, and how we wish to conduct our lives – being mindful, having truthful communication and speech, living with loving kindness and so on. These are values I love and appreciate. It’s good to be part of a community who honour the same.

I fall deep into my meditation, my mind is calm, I sense the sun rising, filling the room with light. I capture a moment of complete stillness, of being present, being at peace. It’s a place I struggle to leave but it passes and slowly I bring my awareness back and make my way to breakfast.

It feels loud in the breakfast room after the silence of the morning meditation but tomorrow we will begin our silence through the day.

After breakfast we meet in the Shrine room again. A gentleness emanates from Mandarava, often seen in ordained Buddhist women, yet down to earth and approachable. Mandarava is a creative, a puppeteer, and the stage is set for the story to begin.

Inanna is a queen, a goddess, she is fearless, not frightened to go to the places others won’t go. Her life is filled with abundance, with everything one could dream of, she wants to experience all that life offers in heaven, on earth, and the in the underworld. But the underworld is different it brings with it other gifts, gifts of adversity, pain and loss which she is yet to meet.

One night a wild storm ripped up a huluppu-tree and tossed it into the water. Inanna rescues the tree from the waters and plants it in her garden. She tends to the tree daily. Five years pass then ten. The tree grows thick and strong and becomes inhabited by a bird, a serpent and a tree spirit. She wants them gone. “I tended the tree waiting for my shining new throne and bed” she demanded.

She asks her brother Utu for help, but he would not help his sister Inanna. She then goes to her brother Gilamesh, a valiant warrior, to ask for his help. He stands by her and helps her. The tree is taken down and he carves a throne and a bed for his sister Inanna.

The puppets moved across the small stage along with the tree, bringing life to the story. Like a child I watch and listen feeling excited. I notice feelings arising with the story, the highs and lows. After the story we meditate with noticing the feelings that have arisen, giving them space and awareness.

The Village Square

In the past stories like this would be told in village squares and people would talk about them after. In the afternoon our group sat together and took time to discuss what the story meant to them and the feelings that arose. It was so interesting to hear the diverse reflections and the impact the story was having on others in the group.

Everyone relating to the story differently depending on one’s own experience, one’s own perspective. One person in the group did not like the tree being cut down but then another enjoys design and furniture and defends the argument. Brothers who help and brothers who do not touched a few in the room. But more importantly it raised questions in our own lives:

What needs attention?
What needs nurturing?
What is the heart’s wish?

Much to think about and the story is just beginning.

A candlelight puja and a delightful harmony of voices chanting together the mantra bringing the day to a close.

Om muni muni maha muni sakyamuni svaha


It took me 10 years to finally decide to embark on this retreat. In the second year of the pandemic I packed my bags and off I went to immerse myself in this intensive practice.

Vipassana is a meditation technique which aims to allow one to transform by committing to a focused practice of self-observation.

We are all bound by our thoughts, feelings and actions some conscious some unconscious. Vipassana explains that the scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.

Arriving at the Dhamma Dipa Centre, UK

The 10-day residential course requires you to commit to a code of conduct – to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely and intoxicants including the commitment to fully complete the 10 days.

The key to the meditation practice is to observe your breath and bodily sensations very closely. In observing these and not reacting to them ideally one develops equanimity, the idea leading you away from misery towards self-liberation. This may sound simple but it is not.

With much enthusiasm 11 hours of sitting meditation practice a day, is seriously hard work. Being a regular meditator for a long time, I have to say I found it challenging. Switching off my ‘thinking’ mind and being in total awareness for such long durations was easy for me but it was the reactions that were occurring that were intense.

Teachers of Vipassana explain that the body and mind start to purify, and I was certainly beginning to ‘release’. My energy dipped, I got cold and shivery and lost my appetite. I found myself having strange dreams, one night I awoke screaming from a nightmare. I felt vulnerable as I observed flashbacks of emotions and experiences appearing in my mind from nowhere, a stream of consciousness I could not control. It’s easy to react harder to maintain equanimity.

It’s not surprising SN Goenka describes it as preparing for surgery of the mind. I gave my mind full permission to do some serious housekeeping. Sitting all day sometimes lying down, sometimes with some gentle walks around the grounds. I knew the process was doing something but I couldn’t rationalise it, some things were shifting/moving in me but I cannot put it into words.

By the end of the ten days, I felt a lightness in my body, a deep sense of peace plus an extreme awareness of my body, mind and breath. I know these 10 days were a drop in the ocean and a constant daily meditation practice is required to see any sustained results. There are monks who over a lifetime put in thousands of hours into their meditation practice, most of us unable to commit such amounts of time. Their minds work differently, we know this, science has recognised this. They find deep compassion and peace inside even when presented with stresses of life.

This kind of peace from suffering is a kind of liberation.


Can one ever be unhappy when they are in a place of gratitude? I reflect on the question.

Much pleasure can be had in giving and receiving appreciation and you can certainly change your own and others’ state in an instant.

I think of the times I appreciate others especially those who took the courage to go out of their comfort zone to share their talents or passion to do good in the world. Of the merits of human nature, especially those of kindness and selfless actions from the heart.

Today is my last day here. I have much to be grateful for, the team who cooked all the meals, the teachers, the yoga practice, the meditation teachings, the mountains for their glorious exuberance and not to forget the gift to myself of being here. So much to appreciate.

Joy is glowing, she’s achieved such a lot. She’s cheerful about her weight loss and that she’s stopped drinking but most importantly she’s found a renewed connection to herself. Joseph is taking things in his stride and looks at peace. Seeing and knowing more of ourselves is part of growing up, not just existing as an automaton.

Spiritual teachings tell us to even appreciate the difficult times which is where most growth happens. Cautiously revisiting those places within with love and tenderness does bring a whole new reconnection and peace to unfinished ends. I find myself, albiet hesitantly, grateful for the appearance of some of those challenging times giving me the opportunity to learn and heal.

Fruit from the strawberry tree

As I look out over the mountains against the crisp clear blue sky, the sun beams fully, the brightness is strong but I like it. It draws on the essential oils of the plants and I cannot help but be captivated by the aromas of rosemary, lavender and pine. I reach out and pick the hanging fruit, from the strawberry tree. It tastes so sweet and bumpy.

Retreats have helped give me time and space to reflect on pathways within myself, but the everyday practice of awareness is a continuous process.  It matters more to continue the practice at home. It’s essential work to me.

I think about times when I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.  I find myself doing it more frequently, as though there’s a silent motivation to experience life, to experience more. Much excitement exists in the unknown, as does overcoming fear of the unknown, but it would be dull if every day was the same.

Life after all is to be lived fully.

A place so loved someone created this bench for others to look out over the mountain