Last weekend, only my second at my new home Bodhi Khaya, found me enjoying a wonderful intimate retreat with the intriguing title, Embodying Presence, led by Dai Heyne and Annika Nicol.
Our retreat manager, David, had told me what great teachers they are. They were both registered clinical psychologists who had spent the last ten odd years abroad training at the Karuna Institute in the UK as well as sitting meditation courses with various teachers. What impressed me more than their obvious experience was, well, their “presence”. They are warm, empathetic, and grounded with a wonderful sense of humour which made for a light yet profoundly moving weekend. What I appreciated most was their emphasis on practicality. The way they structure their work ensures that you not only learn great transformative techniques, but also how to apply this learning into real life. The retreat is designed to take you gently from being with yourself to gradually relating with the world and others while still being aware of what is happening for you in the moment.
It soon became apparent that there would a lot of silence involved, both during the sessions and at meal times. Not everyone in the group were seasoned meditators or partial to silence, but Dai and Annika made sure that the meditation was comfortable for all concerned. Participation and sharing was invited rather than enforced. During the sessions, there was regular sharing and checking in, which gave us all the opportunity to learn from both the teachers and others in the group. Dai and Annika engaged with each participant in the most heartfelt, connected way.
For me, one of the most useful techniques was designed to help one allow space between you and your thoughts, feelings and sensations. It was fascinating to realize and experience that it is possible to observe your feelings (and thoughts or body sensations) while at the same time exploring them and describing them. It was an eye-opening experience to be awake and present to what is there without identifying with it, whether it is doubt or anger or simply boredom. The reminder to allow whatever is present, to be, and to just sit with it was powerful in its simplicity. Also the suggestion to describe all feelings, thoughts and sensation as “happening” was really useful. It may well have appeared and sounded quite absurd to an outsider hearing us all murmur, “thought happening”, “happiness happening” but guess what? It works. Just using this technique creates the space that allows one to explore with detachment.
My other personal favourite was a guided meditation to help us explore and experience our bodies from the inside out! I found it delightful to actually experience and explore being in my body. It makes you wonder where I have been hanging out for most of the 52 years I have spent on the planet…
Perdita Van Dijk Du Bois