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The sun awakens to give light to the bush surrounding the billabong.
The stillness wraps around me as I sit alone in a swinging hammock absorbing the sounds of the billabong pulsating with life: Bushes rustle with scurrying animals, mozzies buzz, lizards and turtles splash into the tea-coloured water, and insects and birds sing their demands.
Out here, the kookaburra replaces the rooster and begins its morning call.
When you sit in silence your ability to observe sharpens and I spy King Kooka on a distant branch. With neck outstretched, wings pulled back, and beak opened wide he sprays a long, drawn out cackle. The bush guffaws back in loud chorus. He swoops from his branch to continue orchestrating the music of the bush.
Frogs join in with their croaks, the bluebirds warble, and the buzz of the cicadas intensifies with the rising heat.
It’s so hot here. We picked the one weekend to come to Billabong Retreat where the temperatures decided to rise into the forties.
But, I don’t care because I’m in Nirvana.
I have a refreshing billabong to swim in and a cooling fan to lie under in the pagoda while strong hands knead deeply into my knotted muscles. An hour long massage is one way to wipe away the stickiness.
Billabong Retreat: Mindfulness, Mediation and Yoga
I’ve come to Billabong Retreat to learn to let go and reconnect with my mind and body.
I arrived with every muscle tightly wired and a mind too busy to take notice how my body speaks. I needed this weekend. A hectic travel and work schedule, a demanding toddler and a baby teething 9 teeth at once had me teetering on the edge.
I was hesitant to go. My body screamed, “Say yes,” but my mind said, “I’m too busy.”
Plus I was worried I’d be placed under the control of the Health Gestapos. I fully embrace healthy living, but I am constantly struggling to find the work/life balance. At the moment the scales are too far over into the work side. I knew I could not go to the retreat unless I took my computer to work on some unfinished projects.
I envisioned lectures about how I was not being serious and ruining it for everyone else with my electromagnetic waves. So I snuck out at 5am to sit on the common deck alone tapping away with the sounds of the birds to inspire me.
It was true bliss and something I would consider to be somewhat meditative.
As we learned throughout the weekend, meditation is the process of being completely present. When I was quietly working as the sun rose, the world of my crazy mind could not be found. It was all me right there alive enjoying the serenity.
The lectures didn’t come anyway. As soon as I met Paul, our instructor and co-owner of the Billabong Retreat, I relaxed.
He was very into us making the experience what we wanted it to be.
“Relax. If you feel like you need to skip a class, then skip it. If you want to sleep, sleep. If you want to explore, grab a bike and go for a ride, or go for a bushwalk to explore the surrounding bushland. This is your experience.”
And that’s what yoga is. It is about YOU. Your body and mind and how it connects.
No one knows you better than you. We usually don’t tune in because we spend the majority of our day lost in the world of yesterday and tomorrow. We have forgotten how to connect with the present, and yoga is merely the tool to help you return to now- the only place where life exists.
Yoga is more than just about stretching into difficult postures, like the Western interpretation would now have us believe. It is about meditating, relaxing, and tuning into how your body feels.
In today’s society we are so distracted and focused on the outside, we don’t feel enough. We practice too many behaviours that numb us. We run from our pain and it continues to chase us so we numb some more.
As Paul teaches us, “The quickest and best way to deal with your pain is to go into it. Feel it. Only then will it dissolve.”
This I know too well.
We begin our days at Billabong with a gentle yoga session, always completing it with time to sit still and focus on our breath, and a final relaxation session. My body never failed to turn heavy and slip into contented sleep.
I slowly noticed my body change from exhaustion to zinging with natural energy. Each mediation session felt equivalent to the rest of a night’s sleep. Of course eating the right foods and only allowing water and tea to pass my lips helps.
Our meals were wholesome and delicious. Pauls’ wife, Tory helps to create the vegetarian recipes that had us all deafening the birds with our moans of culinary pleasure and refusing to give up a morsel for the kookas that sat patiently on the railings beside us each meal time. Sorry boys no meat on this plate!
Daily practice and the right path to meditation
Billabong is not just about relaxing at the retreat and then being set off home to get all wound up again. It is all about teaching you how to integrate yoga into your life when you return. Small changes are all that is needed.
Paul taught us an easy 7 minute daily practice. He has discovered over the years that most people feel they can only manage this amount of time.
“Whatever you can do, but practice every day. Learn how to inhabit your body again. Learn to be still.”
Most people get frustrated with meditation and give up because they can’t deal with the discomfort of sitting still and the inability to control the mind.
Meditation is not about controlling your mind; it is about acceptance and letting go. It is through acceptance that we can allow things to pass by saving our mind from continually being fixated on problems.
Paul thinks the reason most people don’t continue is because they have not found their right path to meditation.
Some people like the stillness, others like the yoga postures, for some it might be a meditative walk through the bush, or like his favourite, chanting.
I did not like the chanting. During one session we had a 4 line chant to repeat 108 times. It is said if you do this chant 108 times every day you will find your way to enlightenment.
I have a long way to go. After about chant 57 my mind began ranting,
“This is ridiculous. I really hate this. This is going on forever. How many more do we have to do? That’s it; I am getting up and walking out. I can’t do this anymore. God I hate the chanting.”
I became tenser and tenser until I finally caught my thought and brought my focus back to my breath and the chant. I remembered to tell myself to just see where it goes without judgement.
“Be equanimous. Notice the feelings, but don’t label them. Let them pass by.”
You can change your life
What I really loved about having Paul as our teacher for the weekend was the fact that he was very real. He didn’t have a heightened sense of yogi status. He was just a dude who changed his life through yoga. Just like we all can.
He assured us he still has bad days and can allow his emotions to affect his sense of peace.
Paul was open to sharing his story: one of loss and troubled times. I felt my head begin to lower with the similar memories I had of mistakes and losses. But the strength of Paul’s story helped me to raise it up.
You can change your life. Science tells us that our brains are very malleable. We have the power to form new habits and create new pathways.
As serendipity would have it, a quote passed by me the other day which reminds me to keep my head up and looking forward.
“God never consults your past to determine your future.” Mike Murdoch
All that matters is who you are today.
Again we return to the power of now.
While I had no lightning bolt moments of transformation during the weekend, I certainly left Billabong Retreat a different person. The changes were subtle, but I could feel the strength and softness of them.
On a wooden plaque nailed to a tree, the words Namaste bid me farewell as I drove out of the gate.
I felt Billabong Retreat had indeed honoured my spirit.
More importantly, I felt I had finally learned the power of honouring myself.
Have you honoured your spirit at a yoga retreat before?
Would you like to?
Disclaimer: I stayed as a guest of the Billabong Retreat. If you would like to learn more about attending a retreat then click here. (only 45 mins from Sydney)