On Saturday I went on a day retreat at the Guy Chester Centre up in Muswell Hill, North London.
The Guy Chester Centre is Methodist run, and besides offering retreats and quiet days, has many other projects and initiatives – halls of residence for students, nursing care, sheltered accommodation, a tennis club and a high dependency dementia unit.
The theme of the day was ‘moving forwards’, with around 25 others on the retreat (the majority women) seeking a day of quiet reflection for the start of the New Year.
The day was led by Glynes Mewton, a multi-disciplined Energy Therapist, who took us through some group discussions and a few activities to get us thinking about the theme. She gave us some free time too for our own reflections and to wander around the gardens.
One of the exercises involved picking out a couple of postcards from a pile that was scattered across the floor – one to represent where we are currently at in our lives, and one showing where we wanted to be. We then went round and explained to the group why we’d picked the cards.
One woman in her mid forties picked out a photo of dogs and said she had the desire recently to get a dog to keep her company. She said she thought the postcard was telling her something else, that what she was really looking for was company of a man in her life, and that she hoped this year would open up new opportunities for that. I thought it took courage for her to say this, to a group of strangers.
My choice was different to most peoples. I started with a tranquil scene of a lake, followed by a photo of a lighthouse, engulfed by waves in a storm – for me, not a chaotic image, but one of energy, vitality and movement. I wanted to move away from calm in some areas, and seek out new opportunities.
This raised a few eyebrows as for most people it was the other way round: images of stormy scenes followed by something much more tranquil. They had come here for rest, to find a way through life’s problems.
There was a ‘magic eye’ exercise, where we were shown various images and if we stared at them for long enough, another image appeared (you know the ones). It was a simple but effective way of getting us thinking about how we see our lives.
‘As we go through life we can be focusing hard on some things, and miss some of the other things’ Glynes said. ‘We can have a tendency to over-complicate. We make things difficult when they are actually really simple.’
At the end of the day, one woman, an accountant with three unruly teenagers, said she liked my ‘energy’ – that my choice of cards really stood out to her, that I brought something really positive to group (which was really encouraging considering I wasn’t feeling especially energetic).
Another older guy alluded to how going on retreat when you’re young is really valuable, and helps later in life. He said he use to be a high school teacher and tried to make the hyperactive kids sit for five minutes of meditation before lessons. It was hard, he said, but the results were amazing.
We wrote lists of things that were preventing us from getting from the place where we were at, to the place we wanted to be, and then shredded them in a paper shredder – a way of saying that we were not going to let these things stand in the way in our lives, from achieving goals and moving forwards. We were encouraged to pray for each other as we went up to shred our bits of paper.
We were given a pot of daffodil bulbs and a Bible verse to take home with us, to represent new beginnings and a fresh start; the casting off things that held us back. Now it sits on my kitchen window sill, the daffodil heads slowly opening, some pointing in the direction of the sun.