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emptinessI’ve been home nearly two weeks now, and I’m not sure if am any clearer as to what I have, might have, or have not been through. In some ways, how I feel now is reminiscent of how I felt before going away; and indeed have been feeling for maybe a couple of years. I notice a part of me that doesn’t feel I’ve been away at all. “Dathun? What dathun?” My spiritual friend reassures me “You will not nor can you ‘forget’ your dathun experience. It’s seeped into your DNA and you will never be the same again. Ever” So maybe its some kind of denial?

I went for a walk on the Downs with a good friend and therapist colleague yesterday. He asked me “what is the purpose of the denial? What is it trying to obscure?” (You have to love therapist friends). If something is being obscured, it is so by a veil, a cloak of emptiness. I feel deadened and quite melancholic. But like I said in my reply to my friend, I don’t know if emptiness is the obscurer, or if emptiness is the feeling I am trying to avoid.

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great eastern sunThis is my third day back at home. I’m not sure how far I am in to processing the experience of the past 4 weeks; nor how long it will take to do so. People I know how have completed Dathun retreats say it takes as many weeks as you’ve been away to “recover”. I’ve been encouraged to go slow, keep things simple, and to stay curious.

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DCLmeditationhallHaving gathered good momentum for my weekly writing, I am taking a blogging pause' for a month. I am about to head off on a retreat - a 4 week retreat that in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition is referred to as Dathun, literally a ‘moon session’. The month-long period of practice is an opportunity to immerse myself in mindfulness meditation alongside others in the ‘sangha’ or Shambhala community. I am told that each day will be a full schedule of sitting and walking meditation, interspersed with periods of work (to contribute to the running of the centre). Another central practice is that of oryoki, a way of taking our meals borrowed from the Japanese Zen tradition. Each person has his or her own set of bowls, chopsticks and napkins. During each meal the set is opened, food is served accompanied by chanting, and everyone eats on the meditation cushion. After eating, the bowls are washed and the sets assembled right on the spot. Most of the retreat will be in silence: some periods of ‘golden’ silence (no talking), and some periods where only ‘functional’ speech is allowed (“can you pass me the salt please?”).

Practice from 7am in the morning through until 9pm each night, for 28 days. As I sit here writing, 4 days before I head off, I have a multitude of feelings about the retreat, and I watch how those feelings and thoughts sway me: oscillating between excitement and anxiety.