The day started very civially at 9am with breakfast and introductions. Nothing gets a good writing retreat going like a cuppa and croissant. It was an interesting mix of people, with some of us coming from the writing side and others from the meditation side, but everyone was very friendly which hoped the day go with a swing.
We started of with a stream of consciousness writing exercise, similar to the idea of doing ‘morning pages’, as advocated by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. As I’d left the house just as skips and scaffolding were arriving that morning I decided to use the time to write down all my worries, and get them out of my head. After several pages of those I switched to listing recent achievements to put me in a better mood!
We then moved on to the Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) Meditation, led by Alobhin, which I’ve never encountered before. Alobhin did a helpful little introduction for those of us who were new to meditation so we knew what to expect, especially as this meditation lasted about thirty minutes. Quite a feat for a beginner. This meditation has five parts, you wish loving kindness n yourself, on a loved one, on a neutral person, on someone you are not getting along with and finally on all of the above then moving out across the surrounding area. I found it easiest to concentrate on repeating the mantra to keep my mind from straying. Alobhin also suggested using imagery, such as throwing pennies into a wishing well. I ended up imagining wishes floating down around different people like petals, no idea where that came from but it worked for me. The meditation left me feeling very relaxed, and also rather light headed, but apparently that’s not unusual when you first start doing long meditations.
The combination of the stream of consciousness exercise and meditation (along with another cuppa and biscuits, of course) worked really well for me, as my head felt clear and ready to get writing. The next writing exercise involved picking a photograph or image from those Catherine provided and using it to ‘set the scene’. Having decided on a location we then introduced a character based on ourselves, giving us a chance to try to objectively judge how we would see ourselves from the outside. Next we moved into the ‘to live is to change’ writing exercise, where we took the character and introduced some action into the story.
Lunchtime saw us all sitting outside in the sun discussing everything from vegetarianism to politics to overthrowing the Monarchy.
Due to the lovely atmosphere of trust that had built up during the morning, most of the participants felt happy about reading out the pieces they’d written in the morning. Some wonderful bits of humour, characterisation and description emerged, along with strong ideas and themes. We all agreed it would be great if we could all try to finish the stories we’d started and submit them somewhere after the day. I was very pleased with the story I started and have been working on it since.
The day for me, as I left a little early, then wound down with the shorter Body Scan and Mindfulness of Breathing Meditationsled by Sanghaketu. I found it a little harder to settle my mind for this exercise as it was buzzing with story ideas, but once I settled into it I felt very relaxed.
Overall, the day left me feeling very energised and enthusiastic about creative endeavours, so a big thank you to Catherine and The Western Buddhist Order. I’m looking forward to finishing my story and attending the next retreat in May.
Of course, you’ll have noticed I also mentioned Buddhist comics in the title of this post. Well, I always seem to be able to find comics in the most unlikely places, and such was the case at the retreat. I mentioned being a comic creator when introducing myself at the start of the day, which reminded Jñanarakshitathat he had a charitable Buddhist comic with him to sell.
This issue of the Buddhavanihe : The voice of Buddha comic tells the tale of KalamSutta (The Buddha’s advice on how to live a good life). It’s aimed at introducing children to Buddhist principles, but seems to me to be an excellent medium to use to introduce anyone to Buddhism. I certainly enjoyed reading the comic and finding out more.
To comic fans the layouts and art may seem slightly simplistic, but are actually very ambitious when you realise that the comic was produced by students of the Ayaloka Computer Institute, Nagpur. The students all come from disadvantaged homes in India, and have learnt all the animation skills needed to produce the comic over a seven month period.
My favourite thing was probably the range of skin tones, body types and expressions seen in the crowd scenes. It would be interesting to hear if the comic does well, and how it’s received by it’s target audience.