Silent walking weekend

Posted on September 23, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

sunflowereastbourne eastbourne


As a keen hiker/walker, I have joined various walking groups and did many day hikes/walks out of London in recent years. Walking aside, these groups are sociable and provide opportunities to meet and mingle with other walkers who live in London.

Lately, however, I find some group leaders overly keen to get to the destinations (i.e pubs), so it is hard to absorb the scenery except during the picnic break. Other times, we are all just too busy chatting or taking photographs that we completely miss what is in front of us.

Hence this summer I did fewer walks than the previous years and instead booked myself onto a Silent walking weekend retreat at Gayles retreat near Eastbourne. The retreat also includes yoga and meditation sessions, so it is an ideal holistic weekend for a stressed Londoner!

The location of the retreat is situated within the Seven Sisters country park near the Birling gap coastline. The retreat serves delicious vegetarian and vegan meals with most of the ingredients grown and picked from their garden. I loved seeing their chickens wandering around the garden, very free range indeed!


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Some of my friends do not understand what 'retreats' mean (they think it's some kind of luxury spa holidays) nor do they understand why I would go so regularly. As a business owner, it is hard to switch off especially if you are doing four people's jobs at the same time, and I often need the time and space for myself. In this day and age, not only we are bombarded by information, overwhelmed by endless choices, we are also surrounded by noises all the time (outside and inside). Simplicity and tranquility is something that I long for, but I would have to consciously make time and effort for it as city and work life is always hectic. I also like to get out of my comfort zone sometimes, because it allows me to see the bigger picture and observe own my neurotic mindset or behaviour!


ladybirdgayle retreat from the seaeastbourne


Silent retreats can be hard for people who have never done it before, because in silence, we have no choice but to face our inner conflicts and cluttered mind. And at this retreat, we spent most of the time in silence, photography was also forbidden during the walks (these photos were taken after the silence ended).

Silent walking/hiking is a meditative activity. It allows your senses to open up and be as close to nature as you possible can. The only distraction is your own mind. On the first day, I was aware of my wandering mind during the walk, but on the second day, I noticed that it was much calmer and thanks to the yoga sessions, my body felt less tense too.

On the first walk, we saw skeins of wild geese from all directions gathering at a pond, it was a spectacular sight that took all of our breaths away! On the second day, we walked along the stunning coastline and spent some time on a deserted beach listening to the sound of waves and enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin. These moments were very special and not something that I could experience often living in the city.




Although I fully appreciated the silent walks without the use of photography, I have also been wondering about the relationship between mindfulness and photography lately. Does photography really interfere with the present moment? Even though I am an amateur photographer who lacks advanced skills and techniques, I enjoy the process and often find it immensely meditative as I am so aware of what I am seeing that I would forget about everything else. Then I found an article called photography and mediation by the Buddhist teacher/author/photographer Stephen Batchelor and he addresses the query that has been bothering me for a while. In the article, he explains the parallels between photography and meditation, and I especially resonate with the last sentence, "For both paths (photography and mediation) have served to deepen my understanding of the fleeting, poignant and utterly contingent nature of things."

Surprisingly, there are many books on the topic of photography and mediation or mindful photography, and John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche is one of them. His article, Mindfulness and photography also explores the relationship between the two activities with great insights. Photography can be a mindful exercise if we understand the essence of the two activities and adopt an attitude that is open, non-judgemental and not ego-driven. And the more you are aware of your environment, the more likely you will capture THE moment for some great photography.


This post was posted in Photography, Travel, Nature, Buddhism & meditation, Eco living & sustainability, Hiking & walking, England and was tagged with walks, meditation, nature, photography, eco living, retreats