The girl second from the left looks like she wants to laugh and she's wearing robes.
This gives me hope.
On the last morning, we took chairs outside and meditated while the sun rose over the valley beneath us. *sigh* Good times.
Between morning meditation and breakfast at 8am, retreatants carried out their allotted tasks. My task - which I shared with another lady - was taking care of the cats and chickens. For me, this was fantastic. I loves me an animal. In fact, I loves me an animal so much I don't even eat them, which was helpful when it came to the Barn's diet* . I may have enjoyed the retreat much less had I been put, say, on laundry duty. For years, I was convinced that as soon as I got a mortgage I would (by virtue of the immense wisdom that I would undoubtedly have acquired by that point) be able to fold fitted sheets. Alas, here I am at 42, still struggling with pillowcases. Chucking around kibbles and chicken-feed? That I can manage.
Silence was kept from 9pm each night until 9am the following morning. The exception was Wednesday, when silence extended from 9pm on Tuesday night until 9am on Thursday. I found that tough, but was told that most Buddhist retreats are completely silent and that if you so much as fart, they hit you with a stick. (OK, I made that last bit up.) This made me glad I had come to the Barn for my first retreat.
Now, those of you who are sharp of mind (or who have drawn a timeline) will have noticed that we had to carry out our morning tasks in silence. I confess that I found this frustrating. Although it is possible to convey "you fill the water dispensers while I clean the shit out" using only hand gestures, in my view this is akin to wanting to reach a spot three paces away but deciding to get there by climbing the nearest tree, getting winched into a helicopter and then parachuting down to your desired destination. It is inefficient. I'll admit it: I occasionally cheated.
Most days there was a meeting at 9am, to discuss practical matters or to share how we were getting along. This was followed by working in the Barn's organic garden or, if you were on lunch duty, preparing food.
Lunch was at 1pm, just after the second meditation of the day. Afternoons were free. Well, they were free in the way that school study periods were "free" - you were supposed to be doing personal practice. My personal practice involved a lot of napping, reading and walking in the countryside; I think my fellow retreatants did similar things. However, the retreat coordinators seemed fine with this and at no point was I hauled into an office, told I'd never amount to anything or given detention. So it wasn't that much like school.
There were several talks by visiting speakers during the week. These generally took place at 5pm and were followed by dinner at 6pm. Dinner was supposedly a DIY affair, but our group tended to eat together before going on to the evening meditation. Evenings ended with drinks and socialising until silent time began at 9.
*I'll deal with the Barn's philosophy and rules in the next post.