By Sally Hawley
Earlier this year I attended the 'Finding Stillness Within' weekend retreat at the Tara Kadampa Mediation Centre in Etwall. Having attended a half day course there last year and experiencing the tranquillity and open and warm welcome that it provides, I was really looking forward to a longer stay. I was also intrigued to learn how I might find stillness within through meditation in an often hectic and chaotic world.
Before I talk about the retreat, I would like to share with you how I arrived there. What makes a person attend such a retreat and why is taking time out to improve and look after our mental health important?
On the whole I feel very blessed and fortunate to live the life that I do. I live in Derby with my partner who is also my best friend, in a lovely home that we bought together almost three years ago. I live on Chester Green, with the gorgeous Darley Park on my doorstep and have many dear friends and family members who live close by. I love my job as a museum professional and feel very proud and fortunate to have been able to work hard and thrive in my chosen career. It has allowed me to meet and work alongside some amazing, inspirational people and to travel all over the world couriering objects and installing exhibitions.
Whilst I am very blessed and grateful for all I have, I have encountered many challenges to get to where I am today. There have been a number of very difficult times in my life which although I can look back on now, and see how they have taught me valuable lessons and how they have made me stronger, at the time were challenging, very scary and often felt so overwhelming to deal with.
My family and friends have also been affected with a number of different mental health challenges and illnesses which as you may have experienced, not only affect those who suffer with them but also their loved ones too who try to help them through it.
It was because of these challenges that I first started looking into coping mechanisms for myself and my family members. Working hard and experiencing stress and anxiety from work and other challenges within our everyday lives can really take it out of you. This is how I came to attend a meditation class at the Buddhist Centre in Manchester many years ago. I had read and researched the many benefits that were to be found by practising meditation and mindfulness and whilst it was difficult at first, I found that it certainly helped me to stay focused and calm when the world around me was chaotic and stressful.
In November 2016, having always admired and followed the work that Derby Museums do, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to join the team working on the capital project that will redevelop the Silk Mill, one of the three museums under their care. I decided to return home to Derby after a few years spent working and living in Manchester for this new and exciting adventure. One of the biggest appeals for me was the way in which they work, coproducing the redevelopment with a number of partners, local businesses and the community of Derby. It is so different to any of the organisations I have ever worked for because they focus on empowering and involving the community in all they do. Surrounding yourself with a good network of inspiring and positive people is so important.
I believe that what we put out into the universe in terms of our thoughts and our actions is reflected in what we receive back. My new role was making me challenge how I worked with colleagues and volunteers and really put the emphasis on empowering and coproducing rather than leading and asking people to follow. One of the reasons I love working in museums are that they can be real agents for social change and empowerment and can make a real difference within the communities they serve.
Meeting Saima seemed to coincide with this new exciting outlook in my career, she was a refreshing change to all the other personal trainers I had ever worked with because she not only placed an importance on training and nutrition but her holistic approach to wellness meant that she encouraged me to look after my mental health as well as my physical health.
She has become a true friend and I feel blessed to have been able to get to know her. I am also inspired by just how hard she works to put beauty into the world with her gorgeous scarves and how she encourages us all to find the beauty in ourselves. She reignited my interest in meditation as a tool for improving wellness and so it was with this in mind that I booked to attend the retreat. It was time to spend some time reigniting my passion for meditation, to reset and regroup.
The Tara Kadampa Meditation Centre is in Etwall, only a short drive from Derby. The grounds and the main house are so beautiful and tranquil and on arriving I immediately felt more relaxed being surrounded by nature. It is run by volunteers and there are some monks who live there too. The food was vegan, home cooked and delicious!
The structure of the weekend consisted of hour long sessions with talks and meditation time in each. In the introductory session, resident teacher at the centre, Paul Jenkins, explained that Buddhists believe that the natural state of our minds is calm. When we experience emotions, for example anger or frustration, these are what they call delusions of the mind and can be easily acknowledged but then let go. It is natural to feel anger and pain for example but they become a problem when we feed them and hold onto them. We should acknowledge them but then let them go.
Stillness is the opposite of chaos, he used the analogy of spinning plates, we often have so many on the go that eventually some will fall or we make ourselves ill by focusing all our energies on keeping them spinning. Being calm and still isn’t about removing the plates as we have to deal with family, jobs etc. but it’s about learning to cope with them in a calm way.
Meditation is a tool that when used effectively will clear our minds of chaos by allowing us to empty our heads of all the thoughts that spin around constantly and thereby be truly still and peaceful. By practising mindfulness we can learn to recognise our thoughts becoming frantic and then we can easily respond and revert ourselves back to the calm, still state that we find during meditation as the norm, thereby helping to deal with difficult or stressful challenges we face. “Peace of mind is the source of the feeling that we call happiness” (Buddha) He described the retreat as a treat, it was a chance to physically and mentally leave behind our usual routines and stresses and he encouraged us to mentally give ourselves permission to retreat from life for a few days – something which I think we all struggle with from time to time!
The main points I took away from the weekend were;
-It can be difficult to get into a meditation and completely empty our minds. Our minds will wander and thoughts will keep popping up for example thinking about what you need to do later that day and ticking off that on your to do list. This is normal, try to acknowledge the thought and then let it go.
-You shouldn’t force it – sometimes you won’t manage even 5 minutes and if you need to stop and try again later then that’s OK. It should be a joyful experience not a chore!
-We cannot change those around us or what will happen around us, we can however change our response;
-We need to help ourselves before we can help others.
-Taking time out for you to meditate and look after ourselves isn’t selfish its essential.
-Try to see every challenge or difficulty you face as a lesson. What can you learn from it?
-Meditation can be anything from a focused 15 minutes to start the day or end it or it can be 5 minutes in the middle of the day if you need to reset. With practice you can learn to find opportunities wherever you are to rest and revisit your quiet and peaceful mind.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit I would recommend you do. It was a wonderful weekend and I learnt a lot as well as meeting some amazing people who are now friends. Whatever you do, just remember that as you think about what foods you eat to fuel your body, or what you need to do to be good at your job or to look after your family, make time to look after your mental health too. Be kind to yourself and those around you and remember to talk and reach out to those around you if you are struggling with anything, however big or small you might think it is.
Shop our t-shirt collection designed to raise awareness about mental health and help eradicate the stigma's surrounding mental illnesses.
A percentage of the proceeds is being donated to mental health campaign 'Time To Change'.