5 Day Silent Retreat

At the end of 2018, I was lucky enough to go on a 5 day silent retreat. I say lucky, but to be honest, I didn’t really want to go. I didn’t have the funds to go. Or the time. And I didn’t want to leave my young family or my work family for that long. But I had to go really, as part of my Mindfulness teacher training. So booked it and shut up, literally.

In booking it, I was met with my working class edges of thoughts, “sitting in silence in a country manner in Devon – *eye roll* – how’s that gonna help anyone or anything?” So I chose the specific retreat and teachers very carefully. In my research I found Zohar and Nathan, the founders of SangaSeva: “sangha-” a group of people who feel connected to a similar cause, a community of spiritual friends, a body of heartful activists. “-seva” means offering the best we have to give. Often it is translated as selfless service: An action which benefits another as much as it benefits us, as long as we wish to cease being self-centred, that is.

Heartfelt Activists

Sounds good to me, I’m in. So I booked it. I packed a case of comfy clothes, said bye to my loved ones, and jetted off. No really, I found flying from Manchester to Exeter was cheaper than the train!

Up, up and away!

After a day of trains, planes, and automobiles, I arrived. Big Manor House in the country complete with graveyard, check. People wearing blankets, walking and talking slowly and quietly, check. The smell of darl cooking, check. So I get checked in and I’m given a choice of Yogi work, from veggie chopping to loo washing, I swerve those and pick gardening. As we’ve got hopes for mindful green spaces at The Owl and The Coconut, I thought I might learn something and it’d be nice to spend time in nature.


The silence begins and we are held gently in a flowing timetable, coordinated by hand rang bells and moved between mindful gardening, mindful walking, silent sitting meditations, and guided talks from our hosts. And it’s really not that weird. It’s quite nice.

Raking the leaves

In the garden I’m assigned to raking the leaves to clear the paths. And I love it. It’s beautiful, and I can clearly see the impact of the clearing of the paths. I take it upon myself to clear my favourite routes, the paths that lead to a beautiful area of objects including Tibetan Prayer Flags, mini statues of Buddhas and – my favourite – a toy figure of a minion.   As I Mindfully rake the leaves, with the rain gently pouring down, I met myself. The paths I’ve cleared join together, and all routes to the monument are cleared. I feel proud. And I realise this is my work. I’m a path clearer! At The Owl and The Coconut I help connect people to experiences so they can walk their own path and go on their own journey – heading to the shrine if they choose. *Big out Breath*. That feels nice. I don’t have to manage the whole garden alone and feel overwhelmed. I can just help clear the paths.


It was so nice and simple and supportive to live in a community where each person played their part, each individual working within the collective.  And it worked. I learnt a lot there, about so much. And it really helped me to see the future of The Nest, how to open this out and share it with like minded people and build a community.


Before I went, I was told by friends that had done retreats not to be surprised when I have a meltdown or three. But I didn’t really have a meltdown; I had heart-opening experiences. I was overwhelmed by how lucky I am. My family, my work, my home, my life. I love it. And I feel very, very, lucky about that. And it was so nice to really feel this gratitude.

Life without a smartphone

At the retreat, all phones were off. I missed my camera the most. On the last day of the retreat when I was able to turn on my phone, I began trying to load maps and check travel plans but the phone signal was too weak. So I walked to the reception, in hope of a stronger signal. Here I found a man dressed in a taxi uniform looking a bit lost. “Are you ok?” I asked. He said, “I’m here to pick someone up, but I didn’t know it was silent here.” I smile and try to help him out. ‘Yeah, it does seem weird when you first walk in,’ I thought. In helping him, it helped me in a practical way. I arranged for him to come back and pick me up to go to the airport. Turns out if I had tried to get the train, like on the way here, I would have found out the train tracks were flooded and I would most likely have missed my flight. But without my phone, arrangements were put in place. How old school.


I was happy and ready to get home. Moving out of silence had the same energy of Christmas morning: excitement! Interest and conversations filled the breakfast room. A notice had been put on the board by another person on retreat, creating a WhatsApp group for us all to stay connected. ‘How millennial,’ I thought! And lovely too. The group has helped the transition back to usual life. I miss the community of the retreat. The collective and shared experience, but then I also see that at home, in my family and community.

So as 2019 begins and we look forward to the new year, the New Year’s Resolutions that come to my mind are:

. To be a heartfelt activist.

. To clear paths for others on their journeys to health and happiness.

. To look after myself with a balance of work and family time.

. To be  present in the moment as much as possible.

. To practice gratitude.

. To Stop. Notice. Create.

If you fancy joining us to share some silence check out our upcoming mindfulness events;

Mindfulness For Stress Reduction MBSR course Taster session 15th January

Mindfulness for Men course Taster Session 13th January

Mindfulness for Teens

Mindfulness for Tweens

Weekly classes at The Nest, Levenshulme:

Returns 10th Jan: Mindful Art Thursdays 3.45pm-4.45pm £5

Returns 14th Jan: Mindful Textiles Mondays 7-8pm £5

Blog post by Gemma Bowden

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