Imogen O’Rorke participated in a meditation retreat at the Adhisthana buddhist centre in Herefordshire. Mindfulness has become a buzzword but it’s on retreat that you really start to benefit from the transformational effects of intensive meditation. Adhisthana is equipped to cater for up to 130 people at a time which makes it less intimate than the order’s smaller retreat centres; but despite the large number of guests, it never felt impersonal. On the first night there’s always a temptation to stay up chatting but it’s a good idea to get to bed early, otherwise the 6.30am bell is a truly rude awakening.
After breakfast at 8.15am, there is an hour’s work period when you are expected to participate in jobs like food preparation, cleaning and shrine decoration. Despite the rigorous schedule, there are periods (for example a couple of hours after lunch) where you can disappear to explore the beautiful countryside, read or sleep. Groups are followed by a third meditation session and supper at around 6.30pm (it’s surprising how ravenous sitting still can make you). On the last day everyone was buzzing and faces looked wide open and relaxed (in sharp contrast to the expressions in the minibus en route to the centre five days earlier).
Queen of Retreats is the leading independent travel website that helps you sift through the healthy holiday hype, set up by Times journalist and retreat expert Caroline Sylger Jones. All the material you find on this site has been meticulously researched and written by a hand-picked team of professional journalists with a passion for retreating. Recognized insight meditation teachers from all over the world offer daily instruction and guidance in Buddhist meditations known as vipassana (insight) and metta (lovingkindness).

At regular intervals throughout a retreat, group or individual interviews with the teachers take place. When a Retreat Center course is in progress, anyone who is not already participating in the retreat is welcome to attend the evening talks about the teachings, known as dharma talks. But if you haven’t been to IMS before, please speak first with the Retreat Center office for an orientation prior to attending a talk or sitting period.
Teacher talks given at the Retreat Center are available for downloading, streaming or podcasting. I’d been on Triratna retreats before but this was the first one at their new centre Adhisthana, in the glorious Malvern Hills of Herefordshire, which also happens to be the home of the Buddhist order’s founder Sangharakshita. As I’d opted to do just the second half of the ten day retreat, I was anticipating an obvious division between the retreatants who’d been there over Christmas and the new influx, but this simply wasn’t the case. Some people even prefer larger retreats precisely because you’re more anonymous and there’s “less pressure to socialize,” as one woman put it. All the rooms are twins and therefore earplugs and eye visors are advisable in case, like me, you prefer sleeping in until the last minute. The absolute beginners are taken off into a smaller shrine room to be taught good posture and the two fundamental meditation practices of the Mindfulness of Breathing and Metta Bhavana (cultivation of loving kindness).
Triratna emphasise the importance of the spiritual community (the Sangha) and mucking-in is an essential part of it. You are encouraged not to use tablets and mobile phones during these periods, which tend to break the spell of being fully present.

The day winds up early with a Dharma (Buddhist philosophy) talk at 8pm, followed by a short puja or ceremony. While the context is the Buddha’s teachings, these practices are universal and help us to deepen awareness and compassion. Another major advantage of the Newcomer’s winter escape is that it is always led by the LBC’s most senior and inspiring teachers: this year it was Maitreyabandu, Jnanavaca and Subadramati. The rest of us practised in the main hall around a shrine which got a thematic make-over every day. This year the talks were around the White Lotus Sutra, which is about finding yourself after wandering in the wilderness. The day is spent in silent practice with alternate periods of sitting and walking meditation, as well as a one-hour work-as-practice period. By the second half of the retreat, guests are asked to stay in silence until after breakfast the next day.

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