Friday, 26 October 2007

Preparation for our trip to Spain

Thursday October 25th 2007


The last few days have been really hectic as we try to get as huge amount done before leaving for Spain this weekend. The website takes another jump forward with the specification of much of the underlying database structure for the booking system. This is fiendishly complicated and it takes a fair bit of testing to ensure that errors aren't lurking in it somewhere.

Part of the database structure - one page of many - dealing with payments

On Tuesday I spoke to Nigel, one of the owners of the property we are staying in next week in Andalucia. This is the first property we are using next year for three weeks from late April, so our trip next week is very much a reconnaissance for next year. We have an enormous list of infrastructure points we need to try and cover as well as seeing as much of the local area as we can. He and Zoe seem keen on what we are trying to do and have sent us a list of local activities we could consider offering through our breaks. I am very keen to assemble some "a la carte" lists of things people can do each week for each property but it is extremely tough to do this without some local knowledge.

We have also sorted out our merchant account so we can accept debit and credit cards. I have processed one test payment so far and we wait with baited breath to see whether it can work its way through the entire system without hitch. It will be several days before we know if the processing has worked fully.

And I have come across the wonders that are Google Maps. I was able to create maps that showed all of our planned properties and sort out links that Darren can, in theory, post to the website. I think these would look very good.

And this weeks major problem - the planned online brochure, though looking lovely, is much too big even as a PDF file, unless you have broadband to download it. But until I can work out why it is so big and correct it, it will have to go out at 2mbs. The problem is possibly the graphics on each page which are occasionally made up of a dozen frames and cause each page in Word to average about 3mb.

Lots of packing still to do and loads of papers to take with us. So definitely a working trip - I doubt we'll have much time for relaxing.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Yoga Teacher Training

Saturday October 20th / Sunday October 21st

Yoga Teacher Training Course, Victoria, London


The next weekend of my course has come round really quickly, mainly due to us being really busy for the last few weeks with Emma going off to college, etc. But unlike last time, I have actually done my prep for the two practicum sessions this weekend and, post Qi Gong at Gaia House, I feel I know a little more about the body awareness sequences that Elena likes so much. Not confident exactly, but feeling ok about doing it.

But first off today it is an Introduction to Yoga Philosophy with Swami Saradananda. It turns out that she wrote one of the yoga books we have at home - "Yoga Mind and Body". I actually quite enjoyed this lecture as it contained quite a lot of material that I have some familiarity with and is does make a big difference to what you do in yoga if you have some more of the background ideas. So we reviewed the five main branches of yoga - Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja, Hatha - the time lines of Indian philosophy, the six main scriptural types and the major philosophical schools. A nice start to another busy weekend.

After that, we have Camille taking us through the Seated Asanas in our syllabus. Having studies the syllabus in great detail together with Elena's document on teaching methodologies that she submitted to the British Wheel of Yoga as part of her accreditation process, I now know much more about how this first block of teaching on these asanas fits into the overall programme. But from a couple of conversations this morning, many other people are still very unclear.

Over lunchtime I had a quick chat to Camille. We discussed where I've got to with Well Being and she hinted that she might like to look at helping us with some of the yoga teaching next year, which would be very good if we can work something out. But we mainly talked about my work on the syllabus, etc, and I had a few questions for her that also suggested some additional points.

Overall, I have to say that I think Camille is the best teacher on the course as she is totally focused on the issue of "Yoga teacher training". No distractions, no wider issues, just a relentless focus on the key points we need. And from what I could tell from the others, they also thought this was a very good block of teaching. But I did ask several people whether they realised that we had actually finished the first teaching for standing asanas and there are quite a few who didn't realise we had. Also few people really understand the Practicum / Posture Lab interaction.

Our last two hours this afternoon are given over to a Practicum on seated body awareness. We are split into groups of three and each have a turn at working through our plans (if we have them). I am teamed up with Romana and Vicky who have been seated either side of me today. As always, I am happy to leap in and have a go first no matter what a mess of it I make. So while Camille and Elena circle round taking notes I run through my sequence based on a whole series of Brad's Qi Gong lessons from Gaia House. Romana is also well prepared and does an excellent sequence. Vicky hasn't prepared anything in advance but I thought she did do a very good job of improvising.

So then Elena runs through what she thought of everything. We are asked in turn to say how we thought it went and then our guinea pigs are asked for their views. Finally Elena gives her views. I am reviewed first and it seems to go ok. My guinea pigs were reasonably happy but Elena is critical of my own movements - I hadn't really paid as much attention to what I was doing as I should have done. Afterall, I am the teacher and I need to set an example!

And Elena has some common themes throughout her review. She thinks it is obvious that we aren't doing enough practice ourselves. In her words, we all look "lazy". We need to practice our teaching in front of a mirror and take care with what we are saying so we avoid saying too many negatives. But she does surprise me by also saying that she would definitely come back to a class of myself and Romana - however I think that is more because the two of us were very well prepared, while many others simply weren't. I suspect Elena was actually really cross about this but if so, she didn't let on.

So we finish the first day of the weekend - another very tiring day with loads to take in and digest. Tonight I am staying in a cheap hotel near Paddington - the cheapest had to offer. And I can see why. Another tiny narrow little room, though compared to the other recent ones, this one did have a shower. I would have been quite happy to go straight to sleep but I felt I should try and go out and see the Rugby World Cup Final. So I settled into a little pub round the corner, had a couple of beers and watched the game. No doubt my fellow yoga trainee from South Africa - Sarah - was pretty happy with then outcome. I was close to falling asleep by the end!


Awake at 5:30 and plenty of time to have a couple of run throughs of my practicum for this afternoon, focusing on some of Elena's points from yesterday. I also have time to draft a new version of the Well Being Brochure so it goes out to 8 pages. This could then be available to download off the website as it would print much better. I will also print some up for the coming month and for the various people we'll be seeing.

I left the hotel around 8:00 and set off to walk to Victoria through Hyde Park. The sun was only just rising and the morning was cold enough to produce mist rising from the Serpentine. I was surprised by the variety of birds on the lake. Not only were there the ubiquitous ducks, geese and seagulls, but quite a few herons and loads of cormorants, most of whom were sitting on the tied up rowing boats with their wings extended out. Most joggers were wearing furry hats but despite the cold there was one guy swimming in the lake!

Our first course session today is a second session by Swami Saradananda, this time an introduction to meditation. I probably have more experience than most of meditation, but mine comes from the buddhist tradition, not yoga, and there are some very clearly differentiating points. But the practical advise is sound enough, though her view that we should all be doing 20 minutes a day is unlikely to match what people actually do.

Next up is a two hour block on backbend asanas with Camille - another excellent session I thought. Elena starts the afternoon with a partial review of what she expected that Camille had covered but her questions are often not precisely related to what we were taught and I suspect that Elena was a bit annoyed that we didn't always have snappy answers to her questions. Much of this can probably be put down to us not really having digested the material yet.

This afternoon, Elena take us through more anatomy - this time on the shouders and upper back. We don't have the handouts available before us and so much of the lecture to me is a confusing list of various parts of the body, questions that I don't know the answer to about various joints, and so on. These next few weeks are when I will be studying anatomy much more - especially while away in Spain - so maybe I'll know something in time for the test in 3 week's time.

Then on to the second Practicum - kneeling body awareness. I am paired with Bridget and Rhea and again am happy to go first. I try to correct the errors of yesterday in respect of my own posture but apparently I talked too much this time. Still I was pretty happy with the progress. Despite what Elena said yesterday, Bridget hadn't been able to do any prep for this and Rhea had done a little. So Elena was a bit more strident in her grumbling about the need to prepare.

We finished the afternoon with another run through the 10 week sun salutation programme. I'm still very unconvinced by this idea but it is the was she wants to set it out.

At 6:00 Elena and I settled down for a chat about the work I have been doing on the syllabus etc. We look at a few of the points in detail and I learnt one or two surprising things about the behind-the-scenes situation for her. We have a possible plan for a one hour session about the syllabus for next time, but will perhaos decide on this nearer the time. Elena's husband tells me that Lewis Hamilton as failed in his attempts to win the F1 championship and Raikonen has pipped him, which is a bit of a surprise.

Yet again I am feeling that there is loads to do for my yoga course and I need to get going with some of it urgently. So as soon as the Well Being Website is working . . . . .

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Silent Retreat Day Five

Wednesday October 10th 2007

Gaia House, nr Newton Abbot, Devon

Five Day Silent Meditation Retreat - Day five . . . . . .

Another good night's sleep in the yoga room and awake at 5:00 feeling very good.

I am aware that much of my blog about the retreat has tended to deal with the distractions and small amount of activity that we have actually done, but of course the main part of the retreat is spent sitting in silence in a room of strangers for hours on end, focusing on the breath, noting bodily discomforts, noting the various distractions as they arise and returning all the time to the breath. There is not much more to it than that, but it provides an ever-deepening practice. I haven't yet really got the words to describe it more fully, other than by the statement I made in the last entry that slowly it all begins to work its magic.

My fear that someone would hide the bell during the retreat and I'd have no way to wake everyone up proves unjustified and I am soon into my yoga routine joined by Chrissie again.

We have a slightly different routine as it is just a half day. Qi Gong and the first sitting are slightly curtailed so one of the managers can do a small admin speech. Attempts are made to arrange car pools so people can get to the station, etc.

Our longer morning sitting includes discussions of Dana giving - the manner in which the IM tradition arranges income for teachers. I have no idea how much to give as there is no opportunity for discussion of this as we are still in silence. I pick my figure and write them a cheque, plus one to the general trust fund. Other parts of the closing session cover taking things forward. We have one last walking session in the hall and a full circle sitting where we are encouraged to make eye contact with people for the first time in five days. We repeat the chant from a few days earlier - Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino bhavantu - may all beings find wellbeing (!!). Finally there is a closing circle to share any last thoughts and a short guided metta meditation of just a few minutes. For the first time in a long time I feel part of a community of like minded people.

Our silence is then lifted. We put away all the mats and cushions and make our way to the library where there is a book sale (I buy three!) and out to the garden. I have a few people I'd like to say something to. To Chrissie, about her yoga. To the girl whose name I never knew who had wanted to quit on day one but stuck it out to the end and who did, in the end, really enjoy it. Back in my room I talked to both the snorer (who apparently used to work at Hartwell Landrover just up the road from us) and to Karl. He has slept two nights in the lounge it turned out having also had the same response to the snoring. And it turns out that Matthew, who killed the rabbit, is a G.P. and so might be thought to have rather more knowledge of life and death than many of us.

And I had a brief chat to Phoebe, the girl who had passed me with such purpose on her walk yesterday. She hadn't known the location of a shop but had just wanted to walk quickly - she didn't find a pub either! She mentioned she was a journalist and was planning to write about the retreat for London Lite magazine and felt a bit guilty about writing some things down. But when I mentioned that one person had killed a rabbit she seemed less worried by her breaching of the five precepts we were trying to live by. I mentioned we were keen on knowing more about how journalists come to write articles on things like WBB's plans and when I described WBB to her she thought it sounded very good. When I said we were pitching to the sort of people who read "Psychologies" magazine and that our first adverts were appearing there soon, it turned out that she was going to be working for them in the future. So she scribbled down her email address for me and wants to find out more.

People have mostly left by 2:00 and I was all set to meet with Kate, who, it turns out, I had been sitting next to at lunch that day. We settle in her office at the top of the main building and I take her through my carrer in finance and also the sort of thing I would be looking for in the work they need doing. The upshot is that she will have one of the trustees call me very soon and we will take things from there. If I do go ahead, I will be expected to attend more retreats but I wouldn't have to pay for them.

And so I departed from Gaia House at about 3:30pm. I'm soon on the motorway with busy traffic and noise. I listened to the radio and some music for the first time in days. And speak to Linda, who has had a rough few days. One of the ladies who attends her aerobic class in Longworth has been knocked down and killed on the A420 at the end of our road. Linda cancelled her Tuesday class as a mark of respect and had to call everyone to let them know. So not a good period.

Back home I have a long hot bath and start to get my thoughts toegther for writing all this!

Silent Retreat Day Four

Tuesday October 9th 2007

Gaia House, nr Newton Abbot, Devon

Five Day Silent Meditation Retreat - Day four . . . . .

Awoken again at 11:00pm last night after just an hour or so asleep. Karl, my other roomie, is on the move it seems. I leave soon after and am nicely settled in the yoga room for another decent night's sleep. Awake at just after 5:00 and I have time for 30 minutes yoga and washing, etc, before bell-ringing, which I perform with increased gusto now I am feeling less tired.

I am joined at 6:15 by the super-fast yoga person who zips through her routine in ten minutes. Her name might be Chrissie as I have noticed she does the 8:15 bellringing. My yoga is based on backbends and hip and shoulder openers - postures like half pigeon, Gomukhasana and so on. Also I remembered to have some aspirin before each of the sittings today, which helped alot.

So Qi Gong goes well first thing - Brad's energising playful session is now going very well. I will have to try and remember the sequence. For the first time in a sitting meditation, I think about Emma at college and Linda at home and hope they are both fine.

An even bigger bowl of porridge is consumed this morning with banana and an amazingly sour apple. My hour of house work has a small change and after washing up I peel, core and cut up dozens of windfall apples that are going to be made into chutneys later that day.

So far I haven't mentioned one possible development that arose as the retreat started but today there is a short note from Kate Fyfe, the executive director of Gaia House, asking if I could meet her on Wednesday after the retreat finishes. Not sure how this will progress but is an interesting possibility. More later

In Qi Gong we have moved onto more flowing sequences linked to breathing andI find myself really getting more into it. Late morning we have another group meeting with Catherine and I talked about the conflict I was feeling between the results of the creative burst I have experienced and the goals of Insight Meditation - she sets me some exercises to ground me back to the breath. I am just not sure that is what I want at the moment though

One woman is now finding much of the retreat to be funny and she says she keeps bursting out laughing about things. One guy (Tom who sits near me in the hall) is worried about fears and anxieties building up in him as he sits. The oriental lady - Cher - says she has barely slept for three weeks and is really struggling with her life at the moment, but that she is beginning to see a new path for herself going forward. Silvie, a creative person, is finding some element of grounding coming through her practice and another girl is feeling better about herself. Finally it is Mathew's turn and he surprises us all by announcing his confession - yesterday he killed one of the rabbits that live in the garden outside the meditation hall! Now I hadn't expected anyone to say that! It turned out that the rabbit was in obvious distress and close to death and so he had felt he was putting it out of its misery. But when he first spoke it sounded like he had killed just one of the regular bunnies.

After lunch I went for another walk along the public footpath behind the house. As I wait at a gate looking at the cows I am caught up and passed by the young girl who sits to my right in the hall. She is strinding along with great purpose and it occurs to me later that she might know the location of a secret shop - why walk with such purpose otherwise?

I missed one of the afternoon sessions as my back was really hurting and dosed up with aspirin I stretched out on the floor of my room thinking about the meeting with Kate tomorrow. I am really keen to be involved more with Gaia House and the possible role we are to discuss would suit very well. They need the assistance of someone with a background in finance and I can do that for them.

The late afternoon and evening sessions are the best I have had - the constant stream of ideas is dissipating and I am beginning to make some progress in my sitting it seems to me. It is a perfectly clear night and again my walking meditation is dominated by star gazing. It is our last full day today and I don't rush off to bed. Instead I return to the garden and sit looking at the stars, then have a quick wander round the library, getting to bed about 11:00. Gaia House is beginning to work its magic . . . .

Silent Retreat Day three

Monday October 8th 2007

Gaia House, nr Newton Abbot, Devon

Five day Silent Meditation Retreat - Day three . . . . .

I had a new sleeping plan for last night. I would go to bed as soon as we finished and aim to be asleep before the snorer arrived. Then, if I woke up at any point prior to 2:00am, I would get up and find somewhere else to sleep - the yoga room seemed a possibility as it had beds in it, or possibly the lounge downstairs.

I was awake at just past 11:00! My second roomie gets up to go to the loo and I depart while he is away. I settle on the yoga room, though it turns out the beds are stacked on top of one another and that they slope slightly as a result. I settle in one at the far end, hoping that the retreat does not contain anyone who likes to do yoga in the middle of the night. In theory my bellringing duties will ensure I am up before any early morning yogis. I avoid rolling over and falling out of bed due to the slope.

So I do get a decent night's sleep and feel tons better today. I even do a short 20 minute yoga sequence after bellringing and pre-Qi Gong. I am joined briefly by a woman who does one of the fastest sun salutations I have ever seen. To continue the sense of re-vitalisation, I have four spoonfuls of sugar in my porridge, but I do manage to restrict myself to the half banana we are allowed.

So it is with a much better outlook that I set out today on our meditation journey. But Dharma instruction focuses on some of the questions that I thought I might look into for my yoga course elective. Prompted by Catherine's talk, I am beginning to remember some things from my reading of the classic scriptures of Buddhism years ago. For instance, when she mentions the quote from the Buddha that his monks are radiant because they "do not regret the past nor brood over the future. They live in the present" I remember that this is from the first book of the Sam Yutta Nikaya - part of the Pali Canon of Buddhist scriptures. Other distant memories of reading classical Buddhist texts begin to resurface during the day.

And so began, for me, a whole flow of connected thoughts linking much of my reading of the last 25 years. I rarely have such surges of flowing ideas and I found myself really excited by them during the long morning sitting. Of course, restlessness is one of the five hinderances identified as obstacles to Insight Meditation - and I was certainly restless. But here are my thoughts . . .

We yoga students continually refer back to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. This sets the postures of yoga into an eight-fold path, where it is quite clear that the aim of these postures is to prepare the body for the practice of meditation. This leads on to the later stages of the yogic path into the state of union of the individual self with the Eternal Self. The word "Yoga" means "union" of course. So the famous scene in the Bhagavad Gita written centuries before Patanjali where Krishna gives Arjuna a glimpse of this union shows why the Gita uses the word Yoga without mentioning any postures!

But the classical Vedas also set out a path for life - a model that I find great sympathy for. A person is firstly a child, then a student, then a householder. The householder stage is the main engagement with the outside world - careers, marriage, your own children, etc. But later, there are further stages where the outside world is renounced and a person may throw off their worldly ties to pursue their spiritual life - the so-called "forest dwelling" stage. So the postures of yoga are practiced through the householder stage to enable the body to practice the austerities of meditation required for the later stages.

The Buddha rejected the classical Vedic model and argued that there was no Eternal Self with which the individual self could be in union. Instead he argued that the real ultimate reality was the ever changing world of impermanence. The practice of meditation would enable practitioners to understand this ultimate reality and see that it is the source of the suffering that affects the world and everyone in it (the First Noble Truth).

Now here is a key point it seems to me. Classical Vedic scriptures place the activity of meditation towards the end of life while the Buddha's First Noble Truth can apply to every second of everyone's life. So Buddhist meditation can be applied to anyone at anytime. This is why, when Eastern philosophies start to come to the West, people were drawn to Buddhist meditation throughout their lives while Yoga remains, in effect, solely an exercise programme.

I also seem to remember that certain Buddhist texts refer to various yogic meditators - the ascetics with whome the Buddha lived prior to his awakening. These text provide more detail on yoga meditation from which the Buddha drew heavily for his own teachings in Insight Meditation, even though the Buddha rejected the ultimate goal of yogic meditation. If I could just remember where these discussions are . . .

So if I add to this some material about the history of how Buddhism and Yoga have each penetrated into the West, I will have my elective thesis.

And all of this springs up virtually fully formed during this morning's sitting.

Following this we have a 75 minute session of Qi Gong - lots of arm circling and quite a bit of aching afterwards. Then it is lunch - brown pasta with tofu and tomato sauce which is really nice and which I wish I had had more of.

Post lunch I went for a walk out past the church next to Gaia House and along a public footpath across the local farmland. It is amazingly quiet - just the birds, sheep and cows, some geese somewhere. Virtually no sound of vehicles. I also went on a short trip round the grounds of Gaia House itself, found the vegetable patch at the back, saw the very tame rabbits in the back garden and made my way up through the trees to the stone stupa covered in prayer flags and the small pergoda at the top end. This is certainly a fantastic location.

The huge activity in my mind keeps rattling along through the afternoon and I think of a number of relevant examples to go through in my elective paper. I gradually lose energy as the afternoon progresses and my back and shoulders ache more and more from this morning's Qi Gong. For our last meditation session of the afternoon, we are on our own in the hall while Catherine and Brad have group sessions. For some reason I find this much more relaxing and I am able to focus better on my sitting.

Supper is leak and potato soup - odd how I have really enjoyed the simple veggie diet so far - and a far cry from the plans we have for food at WBB.

The post-supper Qi Gong session is truly awful - four postures, very little movement. I am constantly waiting for it to get going but nothing happens. When it is finally over, Brad gives us the Dharma talk for the evening and it turns out that the Qi Gong we did was a build up for his talk, which is about boredom! He asks us how many times we have read the material on the notice boards (twice for me), how many times we have looked to see if there is a message for us and whether we feel sad when there isn't. All very perceptive points. He reads us some poems by a Sufi mystic (not Rumi). The upshot is that I feel a bit bad about all my writing and thinking about my elective. But on the other hand, it has been an exciting period of thought.

So for me, the loss of external stimulation has led to a flurry of creative thought rather than boredom.

I do my walking meditation outside again tonight and spend most of it stationary with my head looking upwards at the Milky Way around Cygnus. As my eyes become accustomed to the darkness, the level of detail I can see is amazing.

The last meditation session of the day remains painful and I have resolved to consume lots of painkillers from now on, now I have remembered where the first aid cupboard is.

To bed slightly earlier at 9:15 and the same plan as last night if I wake up early.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Silent Retreat Day two

Sunday October 7th 2007

Gaia House, nr Newton Abbot, Devon

Five Day Silent Meditation Retreat - Day two . . . . . .

Things have already taken a turn for the worst - it appears that one of my roomies is a cronic snorer. Not just a little bit of a snorer, but an amazing snorer, both in frequency of snore and volume. I am woken at about 10:00pm, just 25 minutes after going to bed. I reckon the sound is louder than I can shout. The hours slowly drag on as I fail to get back to sleep. At one point I timed some of his breathing and he is clocking up a rather rapid 55 breaths a minute. Then all goes silent for a minute or two and I become convinced that he has had a heart attack and died. Suddenly I am concerned at the thought that I will know his time of death to the exact second. And when the police ask me how it is I come to know this so exactly I will be able to tell them it is because I was timing his snores by the light of my little alarm clock in a spirit of mindfullness and enquiry. It is rather a relief when he starts snooring again soon after.

Eventually it is time to get up to prepare for some bell-ringing but 30 mins sleep has not set me up well for the day. I decide not to skip as I move through the building hitting my bell.

Qi Gong at 6:30 features lots of tapping of the body, hip rolls and various other playful moves, almost all of which could have come from one of Elena's sessions. All through the short first meditation my back hurts and I'm tired and grumpy. Breakfast is porridge with fruit. As I am in bad mood I decide to have a whole banana when it clearer says we can only have half each. I also eat half a Fruit'n'nut bar which I seem to have brought with me by accident. Almost certainly there is a rule somewhere about contraband chocolate.

My first hour of work for the house is spent helping wash up the stuff from breakfast. We seem to finish quicker than perhaps intended so I crept back to my room for a brief rest.

Our first meditation instruction this morning and my back really hurts so I take some painkillers. I am unable to keep coming back to my breath and am not happy. It occurs to me that the main reason the retreat is silent is so that we can't complain to each other. I can't wait for lunch, our main meal of the day. This turns out to be the classic retreat food - lentil stew with brown rice. Actually very nice, much to my surprise, but I am still forced to finish all the remainder of my chocolate bar that I had hoped I might make last for the entire course. I do get another hour of sleep over the lunch break though.

For the afternoon's sitting I decide to try a new posture - kneeling in hero pose on two cushions. This is much better on both the knees and back, though the latter only really seems happy if I am lying down. More Qi Gong that sorts of passes in a blur, and the final meditation sitting of the afternoon - a short 30 mins that I manage in half adept pose.

Then we have our first group session - 7 of us with Brad, our Qi Gong man. I volunteer some thoughts first and talk about how I am distracted by thinking about their teaching technique - the "how" of their lessons, not the "what". Next to me is a rather scary biker from East London who goes next and explains that away from retreats, he is a pretty tough sort of guy - overall I might have guessed that. Brad thinks we both have issues due to the continuing momentum of the world before the retreat - good to know we have something in common. One woman says she has no idea what she is doing here and is hating every minute. She looks pretty unhappy and is wrapped up in her coat - perhaps so she can make a fast getaway if needbe. I decide not to mention my almost total lack of sleep as that might not seem a sufficiently serious issue at this stage. We are supposed to overcome such inconveniences. Lots of others seem to have issues as well - mostly far more serious than mine it must be said. Perhaps I shouldn't have gone first.

Tea is courgette and potato soup and a hunk of bread with jam on it. Again I am regretting having eaten all my chocolate. I wonder if there is any in the car.

But during one of the evening meditation sessions I do have an idea for my "elective" on my yoga course. It will be called "The purpose of Meditation - Yoga and Buddhism in the West" and will address why yoga in the West is viewed principally as a form of exercise, while meditation in the West is almost always from a Buddhist perspective. Or something like that. The first success of the retreat - I have a title for my elective!

Later on, at one of our breaks, I scribble some notes on this. We are not supposed to write anything down while on retreat but I feel that I need to get a few things down else I'll forget them. I then fall asleep and miss a Qi Gong session. Things are not going well.

Our "Dharma talk" this evening features a discussion of the distractions caused by a fly in the meditation hall earlier. It is refered to as the koan of the fly. I can't remember what was said about it though. Perhaps I should buy a recording if it as apparently they record all the Dharma talks. It crosses my mind that we could record my snoring roomie and could play it to meditate by - that would sort the easily distracted from the less distracted.

Our first walking meditation can take place outside and I wander up and down the garden looking at the few stars that are out. For the first time in 5 years or so, I see a shooting star. Any significance? Probably just that I need to go star gazing more often .

And remember - "the meteorite is the the source of the light and the meteor's just what we see"
Bed by 9:31 - I virtually ran up the stars when the day end.

Silent Retreat Day One

Saturday October 6th 2007

Gaia House, nr Newton Abbot, Devon

Five Day Silent Meditation Retreat - Day One . . . .

I have been attracted to the idea of retreats for years now. I first went on one in 1979 when I was only 16. I remember that as being pretty strange, but nontheless the idea had stayed with me ever since. My interest probably dates from hearing that the guitarist Robert Fripp, whose music I have always really loved, had spent 9 months at Sherborne House in Gloucestershire in, I think 1975, on a course in "advanced education" run by JG Bennett, a disciple of the mystic Gurdjieff. His Guitar Craft courses ( follow a retreat pattern and I would have gone on one were it not for the fact that I can't play the guitar.

A year or so ago, there was a brief article in the travel section of a newspaper about a 10-day vipassana retreat in New Zealand, and this was followed by an article in the spring 2007 edition of Tricycle magazine about a US rock star who had been on 6 or 7 10-dayers. Finally I was reading Sarah McDonald's Holy Cow in the spring and that featured her account of a 10-dayer in India. So the idea was set, and last spring I booked myself on a small version of a silent vipassana retreat.

So I am set for five days at Gaia House ( on "Embodying the Dharma", in which, according the the website, the "complimentary practices of Insight Meditation and Qi Gong [would] cultivate a sustained and gentle attentiveness to the movement and stillness of body and mind". And five days of silence of course; no TV, music, newspapers, phones, etc . . . .

Day One . . . . .

The drive down was pretty uneventful. To put myself in the right mood I had carefully selected some appropriate music but ended up listening to England's shock victory over Australia in the rugby World Cup. Not the most calming start.

It seemed I was among the early people to register as many of the voluntary jobs were still open. (Or maybe the early people know not to volunteer, that thought did cross my mind!). Thinking I'd like to do something other than just the one hour of work required each day I signed up for bell-ringing duties. I would be the guy who gets up before 6:00am and walks round the house sounding the bell to wake everyone up. I will probably be the most dispised person on the retreat.

I also discovered to some surprise that the retreat actually finishes on the Wednesday, not the Tuesday as I had thought. So a quick call home to correct this and my last contact with the outside world.

We have a tour, and are assigned rooms - I am sharing with two other guys on the top floor - and then we have our small bowl of soup for supper and its off to our introductory sessions. First up is the house keeper to discuss some admin - toilets are not to be flushed between 10:30pm and 6:00am, that sort of thing. Myself and seven others then have an intensive course in bell-ringing technique. I am under firm instructions that the 6:00am bell ringing must be done with gusto! The house keepr - who is male - feels we should lightly skip as we move through the house. I'm sure no one will be awake to see what I do, but it probably won't be skipping.

And so to our first session of Qi Gong - about which I know next to nothing. I am surprised when the first session is a "playful" session that is virtually exactly the same as Elena's "Body Awakening" on our yoga course. So that's where it comes from!

Then a quick opening meditation session. I am sitting by the left hand wall (as you face towards the Buddha alter) about two thirds of the way back - suitably anonymous I thought. There are about 50 of us and the hall seems very full. A glance around reveals quite a mix of people. There are a couple of girls who are maybe in their twenties, a couple of ladies perhaps in their seventies but most seem to be thirties or forties. Hard to tell though. One or two look like novice monks with closely cropped hair. There is the odd strange looking guy, but overall a perfectly normal mix. Quite a large number of men I thought - maybe 40%. Our first session doesn't last too long but already my back is sore. I pulled a muscle a day or so ago and the sitting causes it to flair up a little. Not a good start.

We are all packed off to bed at 9:30 and I am more than ready for sleep. Not the usual way to spend Saturday night perhaps!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Lots of progress . . . .

October 5th 2007


Lots of progress this week. With Emma now firmly settled in at college, I have thrown myself into Well Being work and lots of things have slotted into place well.

The main progress has been on the website. This now has lots of its pages up, pictures and text in place, etc. We are ironing out the remaining formating issues and, in our view, it is beginning to look really good. We have spent hours on sorting out things like pictures and they all look really nice. I have been amazed by the huge amount of really good photography available to buy off the internet. Text writing has been slow but steady. Printed out, the text would now fill over 100 sides of paper!

One book I have been using for a last check on everything has been Jon Smith's Web sites that Work. This has loads of suggestions about configuring websites and I have taken many of the points to heart.

An email from Elena, my yoga course director, to say she was very happy with the work I did on her syllabus document and would I have a look at another document that she has been working on recently. This concerns her specification of how the techniques and teaching methodology sections of her course should be linked. This has provided me with a lot more insight into how she has arranged our course but has also raised loads of further questions.

So this spot of writing for the blog is the last I'll be doing this week. Tomorrow I am off to Newton Abbot for a four day Vipassana meditation course at Gaia House ( Not entirely sure how that will turn out but this is something I wanted to do after reading a lot about this type of retreat over the summer.

I shall be writing up my experiences on this next week.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Big Changes . . . . .

October 1st 2007


A few days of big change for us with Emma setting off for college this weekend.

All last week we inched slowly towards being ready. A steady flow of boxes were packed, various important appointments were kept, and Emma kept herself busy as many of her friends had gone off to Uni the previous week. As the stuff to take grew, I bought a roof box for the Land Rover which I then broke entering a multi story car park.

As a diversion we have been watching old videos that Emma recorded years ago. One of her favourite tv shows used to be "Xena, Warrior Princess" and we have been watching some episodes from some videos we found in the garage. We are both agreed that our favourite villain was Callisto. While other villains were just after wealth or power, Callisto was just bonkers. We always felt she could have made a good series of her own.

This set us wondering what had happened to the various stars of the show since it finished five or six years ago. Searching the internet for info on Hudson Leick, the actress who played Callisto, we were somewhat surprised to discover that she is now a yoga teacher, working through a company called Healing Heart Yoga ( and, apparently, leading retreats all over the world. She specialises in Kundalini and Hatha yoga. The thought has occurred to me that maybe she'd could teach at one of our breaks but that is probably wishful thinking. I am tempted to contact her though!

So Saturday was moving in day and everything went very well. We got there at the right time and found our way through the complex one-way system to get to the entry point we needed. Emma's room is an attic room on the top floor of an old building with beautiful views over the chimney tops of the nearby buildings. But it was hard work to carry everything up to. She seemed keen for us to stay and help her gradually unpack which was nice. We had a meal out at her lucky restaurant - the one we went to before her interview last December - and she met her neighbours, who all seem nice. We left her to it late afternoon after she had spent an hour or so with one of her neighbours drinking hot chocolate and chatting.

Linda and I spent the night at her mum and dad's, planning to return to see Emma again on Sunday. She rang us first thing to say she'd had a great time the night before and had made lots of friends, who she had arranged things with for Sunday already. So there was perhaps just a one hour window for us to see her. It's good to know she is settling in quickly, but both Linda and myself found it quite tough going. After we saw her late morning, we had a quiet walk round the city for an hour and then set off home.

I know I will miss Emma greatly and I can't help feeling really sad that she isn't a part of our day-to-day life anymore, but we are so pleased for her to be where she is and doing what she is doing.

And I now have to focus on finishing the Well Being Website and progressing on my yoga course.