Wonderful. There, you can go back to Facebook now.
I was quite apprehensive beforehand. I knew there would only be ten retreatants and figured that if I really got on someone's nerves (or they on mine), it could be a claustrophobic nightmare. I was also aware that I know nothing about gardening and was concerned that I might find myself merrily 'weeding' prize orchids into a compost heap. I made it clear on day one that any horticultural activities requiring knowledge or discernment should probably be delegated to someone else. My message was heeded: I ended up pruning a hedge and cutting nettles. (I can't believe no-one told me not to carry nettles wearing only a T-shirt.)
Anyway, I needn't have worried. I'm told that most groups gel nicely, but one of the coordinators mentioned that our group had become especially close. By the end, we were like family, and I don't mean in a you-really-know-how-to-push-my-buttons / I-never-asked-to-be-born kind of way.
I don't know about you, but I generally know when I've been running away from emotional baggage. I was aware, going on retreat, that I had been avoiding feelings. The fact that, having given up smoking in 2001, I had managed to become addicted to e-cigarettes, was a bit of a giveaway. I decided to use the retreat to stop using e-cigarettes and to allow any underlying débris to surface, should it be so inclined.
It was so inclined.
Apparently it's fairly common for people to get emotional on retreat. Your usual distractions have been removed and you're spending an awful lot of time meditating (a.k.a. spending quality time with your mind), so unaddressed issues can easily arise. Although I had a vague feeling that my unease was connected to those parts of my personality I refer to as my "inner Gollum" and my "inner Sergeant Major", I wasn't sure what to expect. What came up was a lot of pain connected to feeling that I have to be a certain way to be worthy of love.
Really? Years of therapy etc and I still have that crap going on? REALLY? I know - I said this at the end of the Atheist Prayer Experiment as well, when my bulimia decided to put in an unwanted appearance.
I don't know if those feelings will ever disappear completely. They're a lot weaker than they were and, whereas they used to embody a loud voice with which I identified, they are now a poisonous whisper buried in the core of me. They may still be guiding a few characters from behind the scenes, but they're no longer in the director's chair.
At times during the retreat, the feelings engulfed me, but they passed and I carried on with my daily routine, enjoying the company of my fellow retreatants and the beauty of the Devon countryside. What I have found is that, in meditation, instead of being sucked into the hurricane of difficult emotions, I can - with patient practice - learn to sit in the eye of the storm and observe them. Or, to use another analogy, I can hold them lovingly and let them express themselves, like a parent holding their distressed child. I find that getting this sort of distance from pain is healing: I can observe it more objectively, watch it arise and pass away, see its component parts and know that it is not as solid as it seems.
The retreat was a nurturing environment, where I felt safe being vulnerable. The meditation has also given me more insight into the way my mind works, which is always useful intelligence to have.
I've stayed off the e-cigarettes since coming home.
NEXT TIME: How well did I keep the Five Precepts? (Spoiler so that Mrs McGingersnap doesn't fret: I didn't engage in sexual misconduct. Not even with myself. Sorry - that was probably TMI for the rest of you.)