Conishead Priory was originally built in the 12th century by the Augustine monks and run as a hospital. In the 19th century its ruins were demolished and a house was built on the site. It was built by a local magnate who lived there with his family, after that is was bought and turned into a hotel, then later a nursing home for convalescing miners and during the Second world war it was used as a military hospital. It later became derelict before a Buddhists group bought it in the 1970s and began a long process of restoration which is still ongoing.
The whole weekend was calming and refreshing. From our arrival on the Friday evening until we reluctantly left on the Sunday afternoon it was just perfect. The setting for the weekend couldn't have been better. The tranquil surroundings and peaceful atmosphere added to an other-worldly quality, the Buddhist monks, the staff (all practising Buddhists) and the visiting practitioners (everyday people like you and me) exuded serenity and grace. Everyone was welcoming and kind. Nothing was too much trouble.
At 8am on the Saturday morning, after showering and before breakfast in the huge communal servery hall, I decided to go for a walk in the beautiful Priory grounds. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and I decided to follow a gently sloping path though the bluebell covered woodland, crunching the gravel of the path underfoot, past swathes of wild garlic......
....past the rabbits jumping through the bushes. After a short stroll of 5-6 minutes I found myself at the entrance to a deserted beach.
I walked along the shoreline for a short distance, feeling more relaxed than I had been in.....well, I couldn't remember when. This really felt like nourishment for the soul. And it was still only the first day.
Over the course of the weekend we attended most of the classes where, after a short meditation, a Buddhist priest talked about the foundations of their faith. Each talk was interesting and extremely thought-provoking. Could it really be possible to remove all negative emotions from our lives, such as impatience, jealousy, anger and greed in order to gain lasting inner happiness? Well, it would appear so as there were many examples of people at the Priory who had done just that. Talking to some of these people opened my eyes to a different way of living.
This weekend retreat was a potentially life changing experience. The time spent there was so calm, so peaceful and so spiritually enriching that I want to be able to hold onto some of it. It's a very seductive idea but also a very daunting prospect.
To be able to do it would require an immense amount of dedication, energy and time. But as far as I can see, even to be able to maintain the calmness of mind I have right now would be an incredible achievement. This weekend has touched me deeply and has shown me that it's possible to develop a fresh perspective on life, one that can bring real contentment. I have no idea how far I can go with this, but it feels like this has come at the right time for me.