Last weekend the Middle Way Society held the first of a series of three planned weekend retreats in different parts of England: this time in the village of Telscombe in the South Downs near Brighton. My feeling is that this event was a great success, with a balanced programme, a warm sense of community, and a shared sense of engagement with the Middle Way both in theory and in practice.
At first I was resistant to the society holding weekend retreats, because I felt a weekend was too short a time to sufficiently develop understanding and practice of the Middle Way – but I think I’m now thoroughly converted to the gradualist approach they suggest. They give people a chance to get a taste of the society without too much initial commitment of time or expense, and are able to attract people (e.g. parents of young children) who might find it difficult to manage a longer retreat.
One thing I’m very happy to report about this retreat was a better gender balance – indeed a slight majority of women – in contrast to the week-long retreats in 2013 and 2014 that had been decidedly male dominated. If that has something to do with it being a weekend, that provides a further argument for holding weekend retreats.
Our programme included four sessions of meditation, two talks with lots of discussion, and a drawing class with Norma Smith. Other things that happened without needing to be programmed were a walk on the downs and an impromptu singing session led by Barry on his guitar (pictured). Despite some minor setbacks (traffic delays on arrival, a certain amount of rain and a lost lemon), a friendly atmosphere quickly developed.
The theme of the retreat was meaning, which I introduced with talks relating embodied meaning to the Middle Way, to religion and to the arts. There were quite a few interruptions, but I was rather pleased by those, as they showed people constantly engaging with the concepts and relating them to their own experience. I expected that all I could offer in terms of ideas on a weekend was an initial stimulus rather than in-depth study, but I think it fulfilled that role. The drawing class also allowed us to experience a predominantly right-hemisphere, embodied meaning as we tried to draw a still life arrangement set up by Norma.
Many thanks to Norma for the class, as well as Nina for provisioning and Barry for dealing with the finances – and indeed everyone else, who all contributed to the retreat in their own way. Our next weekend retreat is in Yorkshire on Feb 20th-22nd 2015 (see link for details), focusing on the environment, and there is another one in Worcestershire on 5th-7th June 2015, focusing on meditation (see link). Hope to see you there!
Picture taken by Norma Smith