Charmian Evans turned her back on her busy, urban life and spent three days on a silent retreat. f Harry Potter had walked in and yelled “Expelliarmus!”, the effect could not have been more dramatic. At the ting of a tiny gong, 30 chattering strangers – a doctor, bank manager, farmer, builder, solicitor, nurse – became mute, and remained like that for an entire weekend. They shut up as part of a three-day retreat to get away from the ever noisier world.
“A silent retreat?” shrieked friends when I told them where I was going. I grinned sheepishly knowing that it would be a bit like trying to muzzle me. I didn’t care; I could do with some peace and quiet. For townies, at least, this is the noisiest time of the year, with Diwali firecrackers and Bonfire Night fireworks providing a nightly chorus that lasts for weeks.
So when that gong sounded, I was relieved. The tranquility of this Buddhist retreat – held at Gaia House, an imposing Georgian house near Newton Abbott in Devon, set in acres of beautiful gardens – would be good enough for Buddha himself.
Previously a convent, what used to be the nun’s chapel is now the main hall, where we had our introduction to meditation. No previous experience was necessary, though I noted that as we sat down for a 10-minute welcome speech, several people folded themselves up in yoga-like positions that would make a chiropractor proud. I plumped for a chair with a big cushion.
Based on a Burmese technique called Mahasi, which teaches you to be aware of your every action, right down to the way you walk, the retreat was lead by a cheery Buddhist monk, Bhante Bodhidhamma, from the Satipanya Buddhist Retreat near Shrewsbury.
He showed us a breathing pattern to lull us into a meditative state, and soon his reassuring tones began to make me unfurl from the day, glad to be rid of the phones, the car and the computer. Life seemed to slow, like a gramophone record played at the wrong speed, and before I knew it we were shaking ourselves down in readiness for bed.