The summer is a time for rest and relaxation, counter-pointed by the retreat time of (northern) midwinter. In the capricious temperate maritime climate of the British Isles the summer can be a time both of glorious sunshine and torrential rain. For those of us with children it means the delight of spending quality time together, having a chance to pause and to take stock before the start of the new academic year and the now headlong rush towards the nadir of the December solstice.
This summer I have mostly been on retreat in Cornwall. Part of this came in the form of lovely family holiday in West Penwith. Staying at a charming campsite managed by two friends (complete with gypsy caravan and our own new high tech tent) we had a base from which we could sample diverse Cornish delights from a marine safari (where seals basked on rocky outcrops and pterodactyl-like gannets sliced the sun-bright air above the swell) through to a some rainy-day virtual reality fun (with experiences such as a virtual journey into the watery depths and an opportunity to try VR art). Counterpointing our visits to sacred sites such as Mên–an-Tol (an iconic prehistoric megalith, the Cornish name for which translates as the high-art sounding ‘stone with hole’) was a visit to an escape room, a kind of crystal maze-eque challenge cunningly constructed so that each one of us could contribute to the solution (we escaped successfully with just a few minutes to spare!).
Camping provides an opportunity to reconnect with the simple and timeless features of life; weather, fire, water. The sky, that remarkable artwork beneath which we live our span, revealed itself in its star-strewn glory on a few nights. Lying on our backs by the campfire cushioned by sheepskins, we could look up and out into space, back into time, and marvel at the plane of our galaxy which we call the Milky Way. For me these times help keep the rest of life in perspective. What really matters is how a marshmallow burns when ignited over the flaming logs, or the amazing bright red colour of the large fox we spied out by the lake, or the whether one can spot a shooting star.
My second location for retreat was also in Cornwall but this time further east and on the northern coast. I’ve written before about the amazing place of pilgrimage known as St.Nectan’s Glen and this was where I stayed. Over the last six years the Glen has been beautifully enhanced by well considered new buildings, woodland walks, art and the planting of over 3,000 new native trees. By spring 2018 the Glen will also be available for retreats, with accommodation for around 20 people and the opportunity to have sole use of the space once the day-time visitors are gone. Nikki and I will be facilitating retreats there as well as helping other groups make use of this unique magical place so if you’d like to find out more please get in touch.
The river Trevillet falls some 60ft through a naturally cut circle in the rock and into the kieve. Joined by the outflow from two smaller falls (which can be seen from the new woodland walk) the wider stream flows through the woodland as does the path that visitors need to walk up to access the site. The river then flows on its way down to Rocky Valley (where Troy Town mazes of uncertain age are inscribed upon the rock).
The Glen is rarely a place of literal silence. That said the only sounds that are audible, water, wind, and birdsong create a textured background sound that is at once both stimulating and restful. Further developments on the site over the next few years will include additional accommodation and the erection of a stone circle. But even in the hurly burly of building works those caring for the site have shown enormous sensitivity to its special character. For example, at one point some land needed to be cleared in preparation for the creation of a Zen meditation and sensory garden and Iron Age style roundhouse. Of course the easiest plan would have been simply to grub up the (not terribly impressive) apple trees and get on with the job. What actually happened is that the trees were carefully moved and re planted. Now in a much better place, and having been treated with care and love, they are flourishing.
To go on retreat, however we do it, implies having time to listen. We make an opportunity to be actively passive. This may be very inwards (sitting in silent meditation in order to see what arises in this moment) or outward (becoming tourists and allowing ourselves to engage in a journey of curiosity and discovery). We can choose to downshift and spend hours by the river watching the play of light on the water or actively seek out novelty (in the case of donning VR goggles). Whatever we do, the aim is to make space, to change our usual modus operandi and engage with a different way of being that can shed light on our ‘normal’ lives, putting things into perspective and nourishing our souls. By stepping outside of our usual settings, we can look inside ourselves afresh.
PS: Nikki and I are running a retreat in The Netherlands on Altered States & Magic. This promises to be a magical weekend which runs from 9–11th February 2018. There are still a few spaces left, please get in touch if you’d like to join us.