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Sunday, 22 February 2015

My retreat

9 Feb 2015
I arrived at the Krishnamurti Centre about 2.45 in the afternoon. A nice man called Wilfred showed me around all the facilities, then to my room, and explained about meal times. He left. So there I was. Now, usually arriving at holiday accommodation means plunking down the suitcases, a quick cup of tea after figuring out how to plug in the kettle, slurped whilst examining tourist leaflets and speculating on what we can manage to see before it gets dark. After all, we're on annual leave, no time to waste, gotta see what we came to see! (The itinerary would have been planned - by me - weeks in advance, but with some leeway for weather and travel time. Cause you know, I'm flexible.) But this time -- I was on my own. It was just me. And this is where I am; there's nothing to do, nothing to accomplish. This is it. For the next. Four. Days.

I sat down on the bed, at a loss. Then I noticed the welcome folder on the desk and opened it and the very first page of the folder contained this quotation: 

'I think it is essential sometimes to go on retreat, to stop everything you have been doing, to stop your experiences and beliefs completely, and look at them anew, not to keep repeating like machines whether you believe or do not believe. You would then let in fresh air, wouldn't you? That means you must be insecure, must you not? If you can do so, you would be open to the mysteries of nature, and to things that are whispering about us, which you would not otherwise reach; you would reach the God that  is waiting to come, the truth that cannot be invited but comes itself...

'In a retreat, do not plunge into something else, do not take some book and be absorbed in new knowledge and new acquisition. Have a complete break with the past and see what happens. Do it, and you will see. You will see vast expanses of love, understanding and freedom. When your heart is open, then reality can come. Then the whisperings of your own prejudices, your own noises, are not heard. That is why it is good to take a retreat, to go away and stop the routine -- not only the routine of outward existence, but the routine which the mind establishes for its own safety and convenience.'

-- Jiddu Krishnamurti, 1952 

I was struck by the phrase 'That means you must be insecure, must you not?' Ah ha. So this uneasy feeling I was having, this unfamiliar situation of a completely neutral environment with no programme, no companion, no goal -- is a normal reaction! Reading that helped me relax at once. It was okay to feel unsure.

The Krishnamurti Centre is an adult study centre, a place of retreat, containing a complete library of all Krishnamurti's books, in English and many other languages, a digital library of all his talks and dialogues (every talk and dialogue was filmed or recorded from 1961 onward), a viewing room for the talks, a lovely communal area for relaxing and reading, and expansive grounds for walking. Each room is a single en suite and three meals a day are served, at set times. You can join others at mealtimes for conversation or you can sit at a designated quiet table if you prefer not to talk or interact. You set your own programme, do whatever you want, and people leave you to it. This is the way Krishnamurti envisioned it, and this is how it is.

I started by visiting the library and selecting three books. Then I went to the video room and selected a talk by searching the database for the word 'relationships'. The first talk on the list was 'The Cause of Conflict in Relationship', delivered at Brockwood Park (the school next door to the Krishnamurti Centre), delivered 25 August 1984. About 10 minutes into the talk, I realised this was important stuff, so I ran back to my room to get my journal and pen and I sat there for two hours, pausing the talk regularly to scribble down notes. This was the first time I had ever seen or heard Krishnamurti speaking. In this clip he was 89 years old, a very small, frail-looking man who sat down on a straight-back chair, tucked his hands under his thighs, and started talking. Much of the talk was delivered with eyes half closed, but at times he would open his eyes, lean forward, and fix the audience with a penetrating look. I was more than a little transfixed, not only by his personal charisma but by the amazing things I was hearing. There is nothing new in Krishnamurti's teaching -- if you are familiar with Buddhism and Hinduism, you will be unsurprised by the content, if you have read Eckhart Tolle, you will have been well-prepared to receive the content, but still, I was feeling lightbulbs going off time after time during the talk.

After watching the talk, I returned to my room and sat on the bed, gazing out the french doors onto the grounds behind the centre, for about an hour. I just sat there, feeling myself relax and relax. It's hard to explain what it's like to be on one's own, in a completely neutral place, with nothing to accomplish. I felt a peace falling upon me. After scribbling in my journal a bit, I went out and wandered around the grounds on my own, watching a glorious sunset. (I'm glad I caught it the first night, because subsequent evenings were so overcast the sun could not even be seen. But I saw one that evening!)

After dinner I returned to my room and read a novel (I tried to read some Krishnamurti but felt overwhelmed) and was asleep by 10.30. I slept like a rock for 9 hours, which for me is nothing short of a miracle.

10 Feb 2015
Before breakfast, I read some K and took some notes, did some writing in my journal, then I sat and stared out the window. I was not doing an Eastern practice of meditation, nothing to do with postures or awareness of the breath or chanting. I was just sitting there and watching the movement of my mind. Then it was time for breakfast.

I watched 'Looking at Fear, the Extraordinary Jewel' and by then it was time for lunch. After lunch I returned to my room for more sitting and staring out the window, and a tarot reading for myself. Then I wandered down to the video room and watched 'Your Image of Yourself Prevents Relationship with Others'. With this video, I discovered a series of dialogues between Krishnamurti, theoretical physicist David Bohm, and psychologist David Shainburg. They were filmed in 1976, when K was younger and more vital, and the dynamic of watching him interact with others was lively and very engaging to me. I took notes furiously. This series of talks is called 'The Transformation of Man', and can be found on You Tube.

I took a walk around the grounds and took a big mug of hot chocolate outside and sipped it sitting on a bench, overlooking the view. I don't know how long I sat there. I don't know what I thought about. I was just sitting and looking.

After dinner, two fellow guests wanted to watch a video with me, so we went to a room where groups can view the videos together and watched a talk called 'Is it possible to end all sorrow?' I didn't get a chance to take notes during this talk. Afterward, we spent some time talking about it, K, and a bit about our personal journeys. It became clear to me that my job on this retreat was not to interact much with others but to go inward. I didn't want to talk about things but experience them.

11 Feb 2015 
 On this day, I had made arrangements with a fellow guest, Satish, to go for a circular walk to the nearest two villages and we would be back in time for lunch. So I borrowed some wellies and a stick from the centre and off we went, visiting nearby Warnford and West Meon, stopping for coffee (I had water) and back in time for lunch. After lunch, I spent the rest of the day watching Krishnamurti talks and taking notes, then retreating to my room to ruminate and stare out the window. I bought two books from the shop and returned the books I'd borrowed from the library, taking out a book featuring a dialogue between K and some Buddhists. I read the entire book in my room that evening.

12 Feb 2015
I returned home, feeling quite freed and motivated to do some clearing out of things that no longer serve. And that is why you may notice some changes on this blog.

I am eager to return to the Krishnamurti Centre for a longer stay.


  1. Lovely to read, Carla, it sounds as if the retreat and the K centre have had a profound and welcome effect. There is such vitality in your words. The blog looks great, so fresh!

    1. Thanks, Margo. I forgot to add so many lovely moments, like the giant bunnies living on the grounds, and how one morning I watched them walking around foraging amongst the wood pigeons. Or the two pheasants I watched run across the yard. There's also a walled garden with a trellis arch tunnel and bird feeders everywhere with robins. Very peaceful and lovely. When you live in an urban environment, in a flat, where if you want to see some green you have to walk to the nearest park, it's a wonderful thing.

  2. Great read! When you're used to structure and plans, when there's suddenly none of that around it can be strange. But that quote came at just the right time I think! Hope the retreat was a wonderful and refreshing experience.

    1. Thanks, Jordan. It was great and I look forward to another!

  3. It sounds heavenly! I would probably just sit and stare or wander around aimlessly. And I'd take my meals at the quiet table. :) Well done for doing this for yourself!

    1. You know, I loved it so much. I want to stay longer next time.

  4. I'm so glad you didn't talk yourself out of going! And I can understand your desire to declutter more, now, too :)

    1. 'What distinguishes Krishnamurti, even from the great teachers of the past, the masters and the exemplars, is his absolute nakedness. ... If he had a mission, it is to strip men of their illusions and delusions, to knock away the false supports of ideals, beliefs, fetishes, every kind of crutch, and thus render back to man the full majesty, the full potency of his humanity. He has often been referred to as "The World Teacher." If any man living merits the title, he does.'

      Henry Miller, The Books in My Life

    2. :) Does this mean you'll go skyclad? Just kidding!