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my first foray into zen

Hi everyone, my name is Jennifer. I attended one of Hamid's retreats a few years ago and I thought it could be nice to share my blog post about the experience to give you more of an idea what to expect. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions, I hope to meet some of you at a retreat in the future.

Saying good bye to our little piece of paradise we were all collected by Buddy to travel to Ubud for a meditation retreat. Buddy remained our driver throughout Bali as he was one of the only drivers we met who offered us a reasonable price first time when he first took us from Kuta back home to Canggu a few weeks previous. He is also one of the kindest people we met during our stay in Bali and on long trips across country he would fill us in on Indonesian history and attempt to explain the complicated and often bizzare Balinese Hindu culture but this is something I think is beyond translation – you just have to experience it for yourself.

We meet Hamid and our other friends from the yoga course who are joining us for the meditation retreat in the centre of Ubud at the grand palace. Hamid is a Zen Budhist monk and taught us meditation during the yoga retreat – a true inspiration to myself and Hamish – well he’d have to be to convince Hamish to come on a meditation retreat! Our other friends were Amy – a business consultant for Delloite, Ella – a high end fashion photographer turned entrepreneur and Eloise – a French Canadian occupational therapist and then myself and Hamish so quite a mix of people!

We followed Hamid’s scooter through winidng roads until we reached the end of a dirt track where we would have to walk across duck paths through Paddy fields to reach our new home for the next few days – ‘9th House’.

What a spectacular setting for our first meditation retreat. After being showed to our room we all gather for a 30 minute opening meditation with Hamid and Hamish gets his first taste of seated meditation. Susie, Sav and Shaylo join us for this and for the opening dinner that follows. It’s around 7pm when Hamid sounds the singing bowl and our meditation begins and I’m immediately struck by the aliveness of the paddy fields by night. I count at least 8 different types of birds singing in the trees, crickets chirping, ducks pattering in the water, toads croaking and even the vibration of insect wings all accompanied by a chorus of gamelan and praying in the nearby village.

After what only seems like minutes the singing bowl sounds again and as I look up out of the window to survey the night I’m greeted by a hundred fireflies dancing through the sky. This really is a special place. We head downstairs for our opening dinner which is an Indonesian feast! The food that follows over the next few days is no less stunning and best of all it’s all vegetarian! From tomorrow morning the retreat will be silent so we all make the most of the evening to chat and get updated on what everyone’s been up to since the yoga course ended. At the end of the night we say good bye to Susie, Sav and Shaylo as they won’t be joining us for the rest of the retreat but are headed for Nusa Lumbongan in a couple of days which is an Island off Bali – it’s sad to say goodbye to our new found Australian family but with any luck we will be meeting them again after the retreat. Me and Hamish check our schedule for the next day and seeing the early start we head to bed and get an early night.

All through the night my dreams are plagued with thoughts of waking up and talking by accident and when I finally do wake up that’s exactly what I do! It’s 5.30 am and I hurry downstairs to make myself and Hamish some ginger tea with generous helpings of sugar to stave off the hunger until breakfast at 9.30am. 6am and we climb the stairs to the meditation room just in time for Hamid to strike the bowl. Every day we have three sessions of meditation and each session of meditation consists of 30 minutes seated meditation, 10 minutes walking meditation, 30 minutes seated, 10 minutes walking and a further 30 minutes seated meditation. It’s amazing how difficult it is to sit still for half an hour and by the final meditation at the end of the day it really does take every inch of will power to remain seated. Throughout the retreat people begin to accumulate pillows like nests to attempt to make their seated position more comfortable but it seems that no matter how comfortable you are when you start the pain in your back, knees, hips and shoulders still sets in like clock work ten minutes in and remains for the duration. In the silence of the meditation there’s no distractions or entertainment – just you, your pain and your thoughts and often the pain is more tolerable than your thoughts.

Breakfast on the first day seems to last forever and feels like the longest awkward silence of my life. By lunch time I have relaxed into the silent routine and am actually happy for it, realising that for once it’s a silence no one needs to fill. So for the first time in my life, instead of my mind being filled with what to say next, I truly appreciate every bite of my meal and enjoy the beautiful gardens, content in my own world.

Our evening walks are my favourite part of the retreat and each day we spend an hour meandering through the rice fields of Ubud watching the rice farmers at work; planting, harvesting, beating the rice from it’s stem and carrying the heavily laden bags on their heads to the nearest dirt track where it’s carried into town by moped. The duck paths are lined by exotic flowers, coconut trees and dragon flies which dart in between us.

We are always joined on our walk by 9th House’s dog who appears every day just in time for our daily walk and insists on leading the way. Whilst it’s so difficult to keep peace during meditation, out here in the rice fields it’s easy and it’s a pleasure to watch the rice farmers at work and the ease with which they return our smiles and waves despite searing heat and heavy work. People in Bali are a world apart from the UK. They never complain about their work – they take time to laugh and smile but most of all they always take time for each other. Whilst in the UK we are all isolated and encouraged to be independent and praised for it – out here it’s family and community that’s important. Each village contains several ‘banjars’ in which everyone will know each other. When important decisions are to be made, for example regarding water supplies for the rice fields, all of the local farmers will gather and make decisions together. That way all of the fields receive ample water regardless of how far up or downstream they are. When a marriage or other ceremony takes place everyone in the Banjar is invited and shares in the festivities.

The next few days blur into one and the meditation sessions seem to becoming longer and longer and I become convinced that Hamid is playing a trick on us and increasing them each time, despite the fact we always seem to stick to schedule. The simplicity of our daily routine and the silence gives us all time to reflect and begins to calm my over active mind which wanders less often into the future and begins to notice and appreciate the small things in the present moment – each mouthful of food, tiny insects I’ve never seen before, the feeling of my bare feet on cool stone.

When it’s time to speak again at the end of the retreat it feels strange to break the silence and despite it only being 3 days my voice feels too loud and I find myself speaking more quietly and thinking harder before I speak to make sure I am not just talking for the sake of it. It’s interesting to hear other people’s experiences and reflections on the past few days. Whilst we all have had such different insights it strikes me just how much a few days of silence and meditation can teach you about yourself and I feel like this is the first time I’ve ever really sat still to think about who I really am and what I want, rather than who I want other people to think I am and what I can do in my life to gain respect from them. In one of our lectures Hamid spoke to us about how our path in life is principally driven by blame and praise and our constant seeking of approval by our family, our peers, society in general. When it really comes down to it though there’s only so much happiness other people’s approval can give you because it’s you who has to live with yourself, not them.

The blog and associated photos can be found here:

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