I have recently returned from a mindfulness retreat at The Sharpham Trust, and I have to say, I was blown away at what was on offer. The Sharpham Trust is an educational charity set in a stunning location near Totnes, Devon. I wanted to share with you all a bit about my time there, the benefits this has had on my mental health and how impressed I was with the sustainability aspect too.
Just to give a bit of a background about me, I first started practising mindfulness during a challenging time back in 2016. I soon found that being more present rather than caught up in my thoughts of the past or the future helped me to stay grounded, and helped to get me through a hard time. Since then, I have been practising on and off, but the last couple of years I’ve become more disciplined with my sitting meditation practice, and also have become more interested how I can integrate mindfulness into my everyday life.
The retreat was called “Taking Mindfulness Deeper”; one of the reasons I wanted to go was to learn a bit more about what taking mindfulness deeper would look like and how I could use this to help my practice. I was also keen to meet like-minded people who were interested in mindfulness so we could share our experiences with each other. I got everything I wanted out of this retreat and so, so much more.
I will never forget the drive up towards the main house; the scenery was incredible. After a 6-hour drive from Suffolk, it was almost like I felt an instant calm looking at the stunning views. I parked my car in the barn, and walked up to the house, listening to all the different sounds of the birds along the way. I got settled in my room and briefly explored the beautiful house and surrounding gardens.
There was a large vegetable garden, and the kitchen staff would use mostly ingredients from this garden for the meals they cooked. Where they can’t use food from the garden, they source it from local food suppliers, and everything is vegetarian/vegan which obviously significantly reduces their carbon footprint. The drinking water is also sourced from springs which are regularly tested to ensure a clean safe supply. We had salad leaves bigger than the plates and freshly squeezed apple juice from the orchard every day! All the residents on the retreat took their turns helping out with preparing vegetables and doing the washing up, which I have to say brought a lovely community feel to the stay.
At the heart of the Sharpham Trust ethos is their desire to build a more mindful, compassionate and environmentally sustainable world. Some of their key principles include an understanding of the interconnection of life, a belief in learning through experience, creative engagement and enquiry, an acknowledgement of the value and stillness and awareness and a deep respect for the natural world.
There were many periods of silence during my stay, which I found to be very valuable to me. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed these silences; before I went, I was concerned I may struggle with it but in fact the opposite happened. We were in silence from 9pm until 10am every day, and then on day three of the retreat we had a full day of silence (from 9pm Sunday evening until 10am Tuesday morning). During these times I felt I learnt a lot about myself; when my mind is quieter, it helps me to really go within. The narrative in my mind significantly quietened, which felt lovely and calming. However, I feel it’s important to recognise that it didn’t disappear completely. I was able to observe the inner voice that was left and this is what a felt I learnt a lot about as I was able to sit with it, and notice different patterns in this thinking, recognising what was helpful and what wasn’t. This was a fantastic opportunity and silence is something I am already incorporating into my daily life back home.
The Sharpham Trust also manages their farm land organically without the use of harmful chemicals, which obviously everyone at Reverse was pleased to hear! They generate renewable energy through solar panels on their barns, and heat their buildings with large biomass boilers run on wood chip. I noticed the use of biodegradable eco-friendly cleaning products around the house, from washing up liquid to hand soap.
I also really liked the fact that we all got an email a few weeks before our booking, encouraging us to use the train where possible, which lots of people did. I wish I could have done this, especially for the way home; I felt a bit jealous of everyone talking about how they were going to reflect on their time at Sharpham, whilst gazing out the window on the train ride home! I felt that driving was the only option for me because of the distance, which as we all know isn’t always the most calming of experiences!
Aside from all the amazing ways in which The Sharpham Trust strive to be as sustainable as possible, by being away from civilisation, or “the real world” as we were calling it, I was able to fully disengage with all my usual roles and responsibilities which I found extremely therapeutic. As much as I love my job and my friends and family, I found it empowering to be able to focus on me and only me for 5 days straight without anyone requiring anything from me.
We were encouraged to turn our phones off for the duration of the retreat, we could even hand them in to the front desk if we felt we might me tempted to use them. I kept mine in my room, but turned it off and I have to say I was really surprised with how easy I found it to be without it! I thought I’d be tempted to check in with Reverse, or some of my WhatsApp group chats but I didn’t feel the need to do this even once. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been carrying this through as much as possible, leaving my phone in another room in the evenings or when I’m trying to read a book. I feel that putting these boundaries in place is so important for my own mental health and spiritual growth. It’s really helped with my concentration as well, and I feel that the less stimulants I have around me, the calmer my mind is. I read a book and a half while I was on retreat and I believe that a big part of this was because I wasn’t spending time on my phone. Another huge eye opener for me!
The retreat leaders would ring a bell a short while before any of the meditations or teachings, so I didn’t even really need to know what the time was. Time is a massive thing for me at home, I run my life as a very tight ship to ensure I get everything done that I need to and so that I also have enough time for that all important self-care. To let go of time for 5 days was a massive thing for me and I have to say it felt very liberating to do so!
It was great to meet so many lovely people with similar values and ethics, and I had some deep conversations about meditation and the value it can bring to a person’s life. I find it so interesting how everyone’s journey is different and unique to them, and it was really great to hear some other people’s perspectives on how they find the practice. That was another great learning curve for me.
So, what has Sharpham taught me and what will I take away with me? I could go on for pages and pages to answer this! In summary, the main things I have learnt are:
- Silence is invaluable
- Technology usage, for me, needs to be significantly reduced
- The world is full of beauty if you look hard enough
- I am stronger than I think
- There are still so many kind hearted, beautiful human beings in the world wanting to make a change
- You don’t always need to look far to find peace; you can find it within
Sharpham – what a very special place to be. You have taught me so much and I will never forget my time with you. Already looking forward to my next visit!