I have just been on a retreat at Michaelgarth, which is a guest house in the grounds of Ty Mawr, an Anglican convent in a remote little corner of Wales, so remote you can easily miss the narrow lane leading down to it. This is a photo looking down from Michaelgarth to the convent, which is hidden in the trees.
Every year I come here on a silent retreat with the Bede Griffiths Sangha, this year it will be for seven days. Our leader always chooses a theme for us, and this year she has chosen a line from a poem by TS Eliot: ‘in the stillness, the dancing.’ Eliot talks about waiting, waiting without hope, without love, without faith, and yet all three are contained in the waiting. And that is exactly what it felt like, just waiting. Waiting for what, I asked myself.
This is the shrine we set up in the room where we meet and hold our services. As one of us remarked, as soon as it is in place the whole feel of the room is changed and it becomes a sacred space. Here we meet three times a day to meditate, sing bhajans and share readings from the different scriptures, chosen by us all. These services are loosely built around those held at Shantivanam and which were led by Bede Griffiths.
We share the communal tasks of preparing and serving meals and washing up, and the rest of the time we are free to do as we please. A sense of community slowly builds up in the silence, not without a few laughs. I always feel I get to know people at a much deeper level.
At first I experienced a great sense of emptiness, of dryness, where was I going with all this? And somehow the answers began to emerge, as the days went by: through the silence, the countryside, the birds singing, the walking, seeing the lambs in the fields, the horses galloping: through the chanting, the readings, the good company, joining the nuns in their Sunday service. It all began to build up into something very precious and beautiful, so that the stillness became the dance and there was tremendous clarity.
This is the lily pond in the walled garden. It was here that I experienced a sense of the unity of all things, with everything and with everybody.
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI