A retreat is a special place for practice, where we try to leave any habitual anxieties and obsessions behind for a while and allow ourselves to experience a wider sense of perspective. Retreats can be done alone, in which case each individual decides for themselves how best to do this; but when we share an organized retreat, some structure is needed to give everyone the opportunity to benefit from the retreat. See below for some of what this implies. If you have not been on retreat before, you will need to get used to this structure and adapt to it. Most people find it deeply refreshing and helpful.
The retreats at Tirylan House are mainly mixed practice retreats. That means that we combine several types of practice that work in slightly different ways – intellectually, emotionally, physiologically, imaginatively, and psycho-spiritually. If you have previously been on a retreat that is based solely around meditation practice, you will find Tirylan House a bit different from that: for example, we do not generally have extended periods of silence. Study and discussion are important here, but again study and discussion need a wider context of other practice to be more effective. The arts and the imagination also play an important part in what we do. The mixture of practices does not make retreats any less serious or focused, just that they try to work simultaneously on different aspects of our experience.
Our structure for a helpful retreat
When you come on retreat here, we ask you to participate in the retreat structure we have set up for everyone to have a helpful retreat. For the sake of clarity, this does mean that certain practical rules need to be followed. None of these rules are ends in themselves, but they are all needed for practical reasons in this context.
- To leave behind our anxieties and obsessions it is important to get offline. We suggest that you simply turn your mobile phone, laptop or any similar device off, put it away and leave it alone. In an emergency, you can be contacted via the retreat leader’s number, which you will be given before the retreat. If you have special and urgent reasons for using your phone, we suggest that you at least use it discreetly well away from communal areas: in any event, your phone should never distract you in the meditation room, at meals or at other shared activities. There may be some occasions when computers are used as part of the retreat (for instance, for projecting pictures, or connecting with a remote speaker), but these will be carefully circumscribed.
- Unlike many retreat centres, we think that music can have a helpful place on retreat. However, it does need to be used with awareness, and be confined to the music room. Silence should be the default, not music as mindless background noise. Please check with everyone present in the room if they are happy to listen, before you start playing music on an instrument or playing recorded music, and obviously don’t play it when others are likely to be asleep. If there is music in the room, please listen to it rather than having it on as a noise in the background. Do not play music for too long, as the longer it goes on, the more likely it is to turn into background rather than a mindful experience (we also recommend this if you listen to music privately through headphones whilst on retreat). If you would rather have a conversation, please do not talk over the music: there should be other places you can go in the house (or outside) that are music-free.
- You should only be responsible for yourself on retreat. Please do not bring children, babies, or pets on retreat (you may be able to visit the house with them at other times, by arrangement). You are welcome to come with a partner, but please try to participate as an individual.
- Substances that reduce your awareness in any respect will hinder your retreat, and will interfere with the atmosphere for everyone else. We thus have a clear rule that no alcohol or recreational drugs are allowed on the retreat. If you must smoke, please do it well away from the house.
- Everyone needs to feel comfortable in relation to each other, so please do not start new sexual relationships in the context of the retreat.
- The house runs on a communal basis, so everyone is expected to participate in some clearing up after meals, cooking (or helping the cook) and cleaning. On some retreats there may also be a work period in which you’ll help with other sorts of work, such as gardening or maintenance. Obviously you only need to do what is within your physical capacity, but please participate in this: it is a good opportunity to engage in a practical task with awareness, and/or to engage in conversation with others who are working with you.
- Some retreats may have well defined beginnings and endings, whilst others may have more flexibility as to when you join and leave the retreat, but still have a core period when everyone needs to be there. Any restrictions on when you join and leave the retreat are intended to avoid disruption to others, so please respect them, and let us know if you are arriving later than planned for any reason.
- Please generally stay on site during the course of the retreat, except for walks or other exercise that fit in with the purpose and focus of the retreat. Extended excursions are likely to be a distraction from the retreat, and Tirylan House is not holiday accommodation.
- Everyone on the retreat needs to stay healthy as a basic condition. Please do not come on the retreat if you have the symptoms of Covid or any other serious infectious disease. Please try to avoid passing on Covid or any other disease through normal hygienic practices: for instance, cover up sneezes and coughs.
- If you have any issues with mental health (for instance, depression), we recognize that you may benefit from a retreat here, but we also need to be able to support you appropriately where necessary (bearing in mind that we do not offer any kind of therapy). Please tell us when booking (in confidence) about any mental health issues you have, and brief us on how best to respond (or who to contact) if there is a sudden deterioration in your mental health whilst on retreat.
- The meditation room demands particular awareness to give yourself a chance to focus, and to avoid disrupting others’ meditation. Please treat it as a special quiet space.
- You will be welcome to borrow books from the library, but please bring them back and replace them before you leave the retreat (except by special arrangement).
- You may need to share a room with one or two other people, who will normally either be people you arrive with (such as a partner or established friend), or other people of the same sex. We do have a single room, but we will try to keep this for people who really need it. Please tell us on booking if you have a medical reason for needing a single room, or any special concerns or questions about room sharing.
- If there are any questions about boundaries or the interpretation of this structure, the retreat leader is the best person to talk to. Different leaders will have slightly different approaches, but the overall purpose of keeping the retreat as a special place for practice will be the same.