A very special Christmas retreat

Posted on December 31, 2013 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Recently a few people have asked me this question: "Why do you continue to go to these meditation retreats?" My answer is simple: I need to get away from the city, work, stress and reconnect with nature and myself. Retreats help me to detox my body and mind, when you are cut off from the outside world and external distractions, you naturally become more in tune with what is going on internally.

I nor my family have ever been bothered about Christmas and New Year, but since the business started 2 years ago, the month of December has turned into the busiest and most stressful time for me. Hence this year I decided to go on my first Christmas meditation retreat ( though I have previously been on New Year ones) to get away from the excess consumption during this period, and the location is Devon at the Sharpham estate run by the Sharpham Trust.


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Like many other retreaters, I originally wanted to go to the Barn retreat, which is also within the estate; but due to the limited numbers, it was already fully booked when I looked in September. And so I turned to the Sharpham house, a new location that is used for the first time to host Christmas and New Year retreats.

This retreat was special largely due to the stunning house and spectacular location overlooking river Dart. Designed in 1770 by the famous architect, Sir Robert Taylor ( who designed the Bank of England), the Palladian-style house is not only rich in history, it is also full of wonderful art works including 2 sculptures by Barbara Hepworth in the entrance hall and sculptures by Jacob Lane.


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Top left: the front door; top middle: the back door; top right: a 'secret' safe in the bathroom wall'; second row left: entrance hall with a compass on the floor; second row right: Barbara Hepworth's sculpture in the entrance hall; third and last row: the magnificent staircase; Fourth row left: The Octagonal room; fourth row right: The music room; Fifth row left: my bedroom (!); fifth row right: books about the trust/ house.


I was slightly gobsmacked when the taxi drove into the estate as I had no idea of the how much land ( 550 acres) the estate occupies! And this includes a farm used for educational outdoors project and a diary farm and vineyard that produce a range of award-winning cheeses and wine!

Upon arrival, I was asked to pick a folder on the table and in it contained the name of my bedroom... so by some fortunate luck, I was assigned to one of the best rooms in the house. Walking up one of the most beautiful staircase that I have ever come across, I was rather astonished when I saw my very high four poster bed ( which reminded me of the Princess and the pea story) and the river view from the bedroom window. It felt so surreal to be doing a retreat in this grand/ Downton Abbey-style setting, but then again, why not? To be honest, I can't think of a better location to spend Christmas than this place!


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Top middle: a brronze sculpture in the garden; Top right: the bathing house; Main: A view of the house and Jacob Lane's Seven stones/ Temple to pan sculptures; Third row middle and right: the Quarry; Fourth row right: the boat house


I have been to more intensive mediation retreats before, but being completely exhausted mentally and physically before I even arrived, a more relaxing and flexible meditation retreat was what I needed. Apart from three short meditation and a sharing sessions each day, we were also offered optional qi gong, yoga and walks. The timetable was flexible with plenty of free time, and so I took the opportunity to go for walks, read or just take naps ( which turned out to be what my body needed)! With the stunning view from my room, I was able to watch the storm ( we were lucky to be safe inside this villa during the storm), the rain, dawn and sunrise. Living in the city, it is hard to see the sun rising from the horizon, so I will always cherish the moments sitting by the window and observing the beauty of nature.


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At retreats, you are put into a confined space with a group of strangers from all walks of life for a short period of time, so you will meet people you are likely to bond with and people who you don't get along or have difficulties with. In situations like this (which we often encounter in real life as well), we have nowhere to run but to confront our feelings and deal with the situation. This is also part of the challenge of a retreat, but I think it is a small test for us to try and cope with the situation in a positive manner, which subsequently will help us to deal with similar situations in real life.


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After almost a week of no contact with the outside world, no calendars nor clocks to check the time and dates, I completely lost track of time and date when I left. It actually felt good to be slightly disorientated because I am so used to checking my schedules and planning my timetable most of the time. Suddenly, all the so-called 'important matters' didn't seem so important anymore, and I didn't feel like I needed to get things done asap. Instead, I felt calm, content, healthy ( thanks to all the delicious organic food and no alcohol) and best of all, I slowed down and I started to change my old habits.


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The retreat was a wonderful way to end the year for me, and now I am feeling positive about the coming year. If you can't afford the time or money to do a retreat, then a walk in the countryside or even in a park may help you to wind down, but most importantly, we need to 'unplug' from technology now and again to stop ourselves being constantly distracted from the external world. The older I get, the more I believe that "Mother nature has all the answers", and all we have to do is to protect and observe it.

I wish everyone will have a stress-free and healthy year ahead. Happy New Year to you all!


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Nature, Buddhism & meditation, Eco living & sustainability, Hiking & walking, British heritage, Britain and was tagged with walks, meditation, nature, Buddhism, eco living, heritage, Devon, retreats, Christmas