I’m out and about and on the move in Wales, England and Scotland until late September. There will be several opportunities to look at potential hermitage structures with a particular interest in sustainability as it’s likely the hermitages will be off grid. I/we will also take the opportunity during the summer to visit retreat centres offering private retreats with the prime purpose of finding out how different traditions function practically and in the guiding and supporting of their guests during solitary retreats.
Last week I was in Wales in the Breacon Beacons where I spent a night in a hut.
It was just a one night stay and my main purpose was to meet the couple who had set up and developed the The Orchard Dharma Centre. It was a real pleasure to meet them both and have the opportunity to ask them some practical questions about planning permission as well as the financial and legal structures they function within. They offer regular group retreats and also have long standing members staying for extended private retreats. There are three huts in the enclosed orchard.
Across the lane from the Orchard Center is Maitreya House a retreat centre with three cabins in the seven and a half acre plot. There is a separate purpose built block with toilet, shower and laundry facilities for those on retreat close to the house. The house provides excellent facilities for cooking, there are three bedrooms with a bathroom along with communal space for meals, meditation, talks etc. The house and grounds are in an open setting with views extending into the far distance.
It did cross my mind that this place, the Maitreya House and grounds, which are available for hire, would be a good place to have a small testing the concept retreat prior to our having a place specifically dedicated for our use. The close proximity of The Orchard is an added bonus. But it is just a thought, that is all.
Although we do not share the same spiritual tradition as that of the places mentioned above, and thus the details of the activities and teaching are different, I did however learn a lot from people at The Orchard. Practical everyday details as well as how they support and guide people on private retreat. It was thought that seven days was a minimum time for quieting down and people might spend several months with regular interviews with one of the teachers to see how things were going. On arrival guests were guided towards an outline of how their day would be structured, within that there was flexibility. Some people do better for time spent walking in nature, as it was put, indicating that people have different needs and capacities physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually too. The regular meeting with a teacher helped provide the much needed move of attention towards inner reflection. Yes it takes time and gentle effort to set aside one’s life, and all it contains, to settle into a new routine which includes more time dedicated to formal meditation.
Even during the short time I was there at The Orchard, in this lovely spot, I saw how I was naturally drawn towards the cabins which have long views rather than ones more enclosed. I don’t think it was about liking or not liking views, after all one is not there to enjoy the view! It was more to do with space. That’s the combination of the enclosed space of the building/hut and the open space before and around it. In the round of daily life we are naturally moving in and out of larger and smaller spaces. For the most part this goes unnoticed. Sometimes we are outside in the open air transitioning from place to place and then we arrive indoors again.
I found that with the background intention, imbedded in the very fabric of the above two retreat spaces, towards inner reflection, that my awareness of being physically indoors and out of doors was heightened. And it wasn’t all to do with the weather either! I’d say it was to do with the combination of the physical security an enclosed space provides and the mental freeing that open space encourages. Wherever one is though there has to be the flexibility to move in and out knowing that ultimately the distinction between inside and outside of one’s being is lost sight of. We are permeable, not separate. However hermitage structures really REALLY need to be non-permeable to the elements don’t they.