The bell goes at 5am, believe you me, not my regular wake-up hour. However, the rustle of bed sheets and the gentle padding of feet up and down the dormitory provides a form of communal solace for the unearthly hour of the day. By 5.30am I’ve negotiated the wash basin, toilets and corridor and am sitting alongside 60 other people in silent meditation. I’m 5 days into an 8 day silent meditation retreat and I’m increasingly aware of the wide variety of “weather” that passes through my mind. Which is not surprising. Whilst no boot camp, the retreat organisers at this Buddhist monastery suggest to get the most from the experience you don’t read, listen to music, or do things, that, well, you could be sitting at home doing on your couch. And definitely no talking. A clearly structured daily timetable includes 4-5 hours of sitting meditation, up to 2 hours of walking meditation, working meditation, and breakfast and lunch, thought no eating after midday please. With the support of this structure in place, I find myself lying on my bed looking at the ceiling, walking around the beautiful grounds looking at the trees, watching the planes going overhead, listening to the birds, and becoming increasingly aware of the damn head weather! By day five I’m noticing the tumble of judgements that fall from my mind as I look at my fellow retreatants. I’m taken aback, “blimey mate, go easy on ’em”. And this awareness in essence is the point. In the rough and tumble of day-to-day life, the biking around London, the organising life on the end of my mobile phone, I miss the very basics of what is happening NOW. The monk leading the retreat consistently but gently impresses on “present awareness”, observe what is happening NOW? As the week goes by I notice the increasing number of retreatants at breakfast intently reading the label on the marmalade jars. I take solace from the fact that I’m probably not the only one looking for a diversion from that damn weather. And yet, walking around the grounds between first meditation and breakfast at 7.00am, the mist lying on the grass, and chatter of an unknown bird in the tree next to me, I’m also aware of something beyond the weather. A space inside me opens up as the week goes by and the concerns of day-to-day life recede into the background. I feel connected to something bigger, and am aware of both gratitude for this something bigger and humble in its presence. Ajahn Viradhammo, the lead monk, seems as ever to unerringly hit the nail on the head when he refers to, “the endless space around thought”. I’ve read all the contents of all the condiment jars and the retreat nears its end. You should never mistake a retreat for a holiday, it isn’t! (unless you relish masochism); BUT, it is a privilege to have had this time and space to reflect on the flow of life and go a little deeper into the heart of what makes me tick, and how I may impact on and influence others in day-to-day life. Retreats with different organisations and in different contexts start from half a day, to a weekend, to five days, ten days, and beyond. I’d recommend dipping your toe in if you want to know more about you, others, life.