WHAT IS IT?
Part of Sharpham Trust, The Barn is a retreat centre based on Buddhist tradition in the beautiful Devon countryside.
Set in a stunning hillside location overlooking the River Dart, the Barn has been a friendly retreat centre for 25 years. It is a place where people are given the opportunity to reconnect with themselves and with nature in a tranquil, supportive environment.
Through a mixture of mindfulness practice, teacher-led inquiry and working meditation in the organic garden, retreatants develop a practice of mindfulness for everyday life.
WHO’S IT FOR?
The retreats are suitable for beginners and experienced meditators alike. A 6-day retreat like the one I attended is priced at £250, which is considerably less than most retreats I’d researched before discovering The Barn. Concessions are also available upon request, making it particularly accessible to folks from all walks of life.
It’s worth noting that while the Barn’s practices are based around Buddhist traditions, it’s not super Buddhist in feel. I learnt that its founder wasn’t strictly a Buddhist himself. The whole approach is very relaxed and not dogmatic in the slightest.
If, like me, you appreciate your own space, you’ll also be thrilled to hear that all retreatants get single rooms. Bathrooms are shared, but the abundance of them meant that I didn’t queue for the loo even once during the whole 6 days. The huge converted barn itself is simple, clean and very cosy.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Every time I talk about this experience, I tell people it was truly one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It’s tempting to keep The Barn a secret, for fear of it becoming too popular. But I just can’t do it. Not sharing this place would be a crime.
The weekly schedule was more structured in practice than I had imagined it would be, but I surprised myself by loving it. Living in a group of up to 12 retreatants, you’re expected to be an active part of the community during your stay in order to sustain Barn life for yourself and future visitors.
On day one we randomly selected what would be our morning task for the week. Happily, I got breakfast preparation. I did feel a little sorry for the girls on toilet cleaning duty. Other morning tasks included things like caring for the resident animals (chickens and cats) and cleaning the floors. As the week went on I settled into my designated role – toast became less and less burnt and table decorations became more and more elaborate.
Preparing lunch was taken in turn by pairs, with the real foodies amongst us volunteering to cook more often. All meals are vegetarian and organic at The Barn and much of the produce, seasons permitting, are the fruits of the labour of previous visitors. We shared delicious and simple salads, soups, curries and hearty casseroles.
Several hours of additional “mindful work” is only as strenuous as you choose. You can select from an ever changing and expanding list of tasks that keep The Barn’s cogs turning. The idea behind the work as a mindfulness practice is to be as fully present with whatever you’re engaged in as possible. As I learnt, it can be as deep and revelatory an experience as the meditation sessions themselves. Eager to take on some of the more physical work (though there are plenty of indoor tasks if you prefer), for the first couple of days I tended the organic garden, digging up Jerusalem Artichokes and picking the last of the season’s apples with a fellow retreatant.
For the remainder of my days at The Barn, I opted for solitary physical work – something I lovingly termed “shovelling shit”. Carting wheelbarrows of manure up the hill to the raspberry bushes was the simplest of joys. Basking in the gorgeous views and the wholesome satisfaction that crept into every underused muscle and bone in my body, I found a wide inner smile. I realised that if could be so damn joyful in something I would normally consider a most menial task, I could be just as joyful anywhere, doing anything.
Granted, it takes a lot of presence and awareness to really live that experience anywhere with anything or anyone. But having gotten a very vivid taste of it, I’ve never been more committed in my desire to live it.
I also came to ponder what the world might be like if everyone had the opportunity to really choose their daily work moment by moment, from the heart. Given the space, each member of the group naturally fell into tasks that appealed to them, and it was eye-openingly utopian. Surely this is what life is about, I thought, and I had to question why on earth I was having to go on retreat to experience this. The whole thing felt backwards! The process of unlearning all the ways I have thought that life and work should be, and daring choosing differently, is still unfolding within me now.
The three meditations lasting 40 minutes each day were just as you’d expect them to be – difficult to settle into at times, and totally blissful at others. The structure of sitting regularly was a game-changer for me – I now “get” what all the fuss about meditation is, and I’m hooked – even though it’s something I’ve practiced on and off for most of my life.
The support we received from the coordinators and the local Buddhist experts who came to give talks on several evenings was wonderful. They lead the way by example and were so insightful. Just the right balance of hands on/hands off.
WHY IS IT AWESOME?
The deeper I got into the 6 days, the clearer my own guidance became. In addition to the meditation, observing silence from 9pm – 9am every day (and for a full day midweek) really seemed to facilitate the process of connecting with my soul, which is what I’d gone there for in the first place. Mission accomplished. So. Many. Invaluable. Gifts. Far too many to mention.
I’m also still meditating for 40 minutes daily (if not more), which is pretty phenomenal. I usually have a hard time adhering to any specific daily spiritual practice, but this one’s got me hook, line & sinker.
HOW CAN I TRY IT?
Visit the Sharpham Trust website to learn more about The Barn and find retreat dates.
About the author: Amity Roach is the founder of The Alternative Review. She’s a writer, designer and follower of her inner truth. Amity has surrounded herself with spiritual inspiration for as long as she can remember and aspires to be like those she most admires; a conduit for such inspiration. You can follow Amity on Twitter and on Facebook.