The Retreat

A short story

Article Index

When I turned up at the Monastery on Saturday, I did so with no expectations that said all was to be as expected of such an event.  I was met by a kind welcome from the hosts, Peter and Kate, and a three other humans nervously seeking something to make their lives richer, plus a few robed monks floating around setting the scene.  Introductions were made; the three humans consisted of Dave, Ruth and Ian.  There was a prolonged section of small talk enforced by a missing participant who was on the way.

He walked in and I immediately noted an interesting change to the focus.

It was a very odd few minutes everyone seemed to pause in anticipation, then, as he walked straight past us and over to the books browsing ignoring us, we tried to carry on as if he wasn’t in the room.  Eventually I think the others actually forgot he was there.  Or maybe like me, they just had to assume that Peter and Kate knew who he was and he was not one of us.  Anyway, whatever they thought, I was hoping that the latecomer was going to be as interesting as this mysterious book browsing guy looked.

About 5 minutes later, and 5 minutes after the official opening time of our retreating adventure, Peter made a decision, “I think we will just get on and start, we are waiting for one more and I know he is on the way but I don’t know how long he will be” The mystery guy walked over and said “I think that’s me”.  All was solved, further introductions made and a slightly uncomfortable air overtook the space, quickly and nervously laughed off by all.

He sure knows how to make an entrance. My curiosity is heightened.

Now settled in our places and ice broken we tell our stories.  I am used to telling my story, I do it regularly in a group situation and I am aware that it is just a story, it is no longer who I am, but it is where I have been to, and needs revisiting in these types of situations to begin the process to unlock some of the blocks to a state of eternal joy. I enjoy listening to others and finding out what brought them to now.

I am interested to hear the mystery latecomer speak, I want to hear what brought him here today,  he tells a couple of statements of fact, he is single, lives in Kent and used to be a police officer, oh and he has a girlfriend..  DAMN this guy, I want to know more, is he shy, dumb or just selfish?

As he starts asking questions of us, he reveals, not arrogance or indifference but some kind of deep understanding of what is making, or could make), us desperate story telling people tick.

So, I am sitting there, opposite this cool guy, who is asking probing and relevant questions of all, but wait, what is he wearing? Are those joggers legal in public? Somewhat distracted by the loose, soft, seemingly impossibly thin fabric I do my best to get a grip and return to the room. Peter is smiling, Peter is good at smiling, and Kate is looking a little pensive, constantly catching herself, digging inside to see if she has a smile like it. I have absolutely no idea what the other humans in the room are doing, thinking, I am not sure we are actually in the same time space, I am pretty sure their minds are not dwelling on red joggers.

I am not sure when we were sent out for our first fresh air walk, but I will put it in here, I could do with some fresh air (or maybe a cold shower). I walked with Ruth, she had asked me and I had said yes, putting aside the feeling that I would rather like to wander on my own and reminding myself I can do that most days, didn't I come here to learn from other humans after all? The walk is nice, I know exactly what I want and even though I feel like I am strolling Ruth seems to be struggling to keep up and is worried that we might get lost! We are about 400 yards from the gate and she asks 'will you know the way back?" I assure her that I will. I find a tree he is beautiful and strong, settling down for his winter sleep, calming to touch, protective even though bare of leaves. 

Next mission to find a bench, Ruth is still worried about getting lost, so we giggle about that. Bench located we sit to chat. We chat. Chatting done and bums getting cold on the wooden bench we arise and manage to find our way back the 600 yards from whence we came. Lunch is good, lots of pasta and cheese; because I have paid money for this I decide to get my worth, pile my plate high and scoff the lot. I know we all chat around the table but my recollection of the event is purely based upon my plate. People are starting to wash up and I think to help, well I hope I did, be a bit rude not to have done so.

Lunch over, and it is time to decide what I really want. I discover that I really want to heal people using plants and stuff, I already knew this but it is good to revisit, to reinforce the plan. It is not what I really REALLY want but to talk about what I really want, in front of people who probably won’t get it, doesn't sit right with me, plus no one is zig-a-zig-ahhh-ing so I figure it’s ok not to bring up my innermost desires.

Ian really wants to be good at something, Dave wants to be back in the old days (when he wasn't being used by some woman (who he knows is going to leave as soon as she gets a life)), Ruth doesn't really know what she wants but mutters something about health and work and I am damn sure the cool guy didn't reveal anything about himself besides the fact that he can carry off a pair of old joggers better than Jesus could sport a pair of sandals.

The program says something about Tea at 4pm, I don't remember any scones and jam being offered, which is a shame because I like scones and jam with afternoon tea and a bunch of jolly people, especially when we have had some breakthroughs in what we want, apart this is besides jogger pants boy who is still deciding whether or not to join us on this retreat.

The change walk (another retreating type exercise) I do remember, mainly because I got Peter all to myself. I know this man has something I want and it is always good to spend one to one time with enlightened humans. I enjoyed this, and did actually recognise some valuable stuff about myself. The other half of the rooms’ participants, Dave and jogger boy, well, I would like to hear that story. I just hope that Davey realised that he was being taken through it by a master of life.

I am drawing a blank on what happened next or in what order. Ate more food which obviously wasn't a patch on the pasta cheese lunch as I have no idea what it was. I seem to remember something about chocolate cake, but I didn't indulge, so diner must have been ok enough for me to stuff myself once again.

I went to the evening service where the monks and nuns danced and sang it was very sweet. I went back to the guest house to chat and drink tea but the two people I want to spend time got up and went in the other room for a private chat, so I went to bed. I managed to sleep pretty quickly, so the day must have been a good one, lots to process.

 I am awake at 2.36 am, this is normal, I don't do sleep very well in the early hours. What is not normal is that the inflatable excuse for a bed is throwing me off, off towards the seemingly fragile table which has been placed precariously alongside the bed. Perhaps it is a monk thing, some kind of discipline of strength to have to negotiate a sliding upturned dingy from underneath oneself, whilst avoiding shattering someone else s (probably sacred) property. Could this be the first indoctrination to spiritual awakening?

Disaster is somehow avoided, I ponder the bed set up and rather than remove the cause of the sliding bed, I mathematically position the futon (which has been placed unnecessarily underneath) dead central hoping that gravity will hold me in place. I arrange myself very carefully to go back to sleep and remind myself over and over not to move until sun up.

Having survived the night the day begins at around 7.30 am.

Muesli and chamomile tea bring me slightly back into the world, I fetch myself a bowl from the cupboard to be told by Kate that there are bowls on the table. Why are there bowls on the table when the food is in the kitchen? Makes no sense to me at this time, probably at any time, I mumble a joke flippantly and continue with my cupboard bowl.

First thing is not my best 'human' time. Sorry Kate.

Back in the book browsing room Peter is smiling, it kind of brings me round to the fact that it is really OK to be in the company of others. He instructs a walk, now this is perfect, a walk alone now that is my kind of 'first thing' activity.

We are told to notice so I walk and I notice, I notice exactly what my feelings are telling me and follow, leave my intentions at the gate, ignore the neglected allotment. I turn left, am led passed the friendly tree from yesterday, we nod good morning he acknowledges that I have to observe and says he is going nowhere if I need him.

I turn left again, into overgrown bushes, but the calling is there so I continue. Upon arrival I see why I have been brought here, there are steps, I climb to a small stone hut, check the door but it is padlocked, shake the padlock just to check, but that is intention and I am not here to find out what is behind the door of the hidden hut, told to turn around, I do, from the enclosed balcony of the hut I lean on the protective rail and take in the expanse of country before me.  An open field stretches out populated by sheep, we look at each other, I assure them I am going to keep my distance, and they go back to grazing. Apart from one, she hobbles across the field, my heart goes out, why do we breed these animals when we cannot care for them, when they suffer for the conditions we keep them in, we huddle them into tiny moving vehicles to take them to places of death where we torture them to feed humans who have no idea. These thoughts take an instant; they are with me always thankfully this beautiful hobbling creature has no idea either.

I want to find more at the hut, but there is no more, I go to leave, again told to turn left, almost questioning this I hesitate then follow. I see why I have been brought here there is a stream it is flowing, bubbling slightly, and carrying discarded leaves to a new destination.  It is perfect. A solid raised shelter, openness beyond and water to live.  I dream for a moment then know I am done here.  I see Kate and Peter walking along the path to the abbey; I briefly wonder what they are talking about.

I have no further directions so I go it alone, it is peaceful and quiet, just the sound of the breeze and the leaves dropping. I find a small tree, branches curving downwards, he offers me a place to meditate, I accept, lower myself to enter his world, then stand, eyes closed. Is this the most beautiful sound I have ever experienced? He sheds his leaves rhythmically, softly, sighing as he too prepares for a long sleep. I know nothing but the sound and total peace and serenity.

Back in the guest house, most others are there, I sit. Unsurprisingly there is one person missing. Several minutes later he arrives and sits, damn those joggers! And I am back in the room!

 His name is Ritch. I found this out last night. I cannot remember the exact circumstances but Ruth had a torch in her hands, and it belonged to Ritch.  Obviously he hadn't been named 'jogger pants boy' at birth (and I had suspected that he wouldn't appreciate me calling him that) so I was grateful for this knowledge. I rolled it around in my head for a while, tried it on for size, Ritch, it fitted him perfectly, of course he was Ritch, he could be nothing else!

Anyhow, I had assigned myself the role of returner of the torch. Like I said I cannot remember the circumstance, I must have been driven by my instincts and in hindsight wonder whether I wrestled the item out of Ruth's hands in some kind of desperate act to have good reason to connect with this fascinating individual. No matter, I had the torch.

Wandering outside I had gone to my car, rolled and smoked for a while, watching the sky, lost in thoughts, relaxed and calm.  I almost forgot I had the torch, then I saw him, moving around the red van, he went to the back and opened the doors, seemed to be looking for something, then I remembered I had the torch, he would need the torch for looking on this dark night, and I had it. "Is this yours?" He looked at me a little confused, looked at the torch, then back at me. He confirmed it was and took it. Damn, what to do now?

I went back to my car and sat, fiddled with some stuff, rolled and smoked. Sitting there I looked into the sky and saw a thick black line, involuntary bringing to mind stories of skies polluted by aliens blanketing the earth with controlling chemicals, I jumped up. "What do you think that is?" I asked him pointing. Ritch, this cool interesting bloke, I had asked him to confirm to me that aliens were infecting this beautiful sanctuary with their filth, wanting him to join me in this conspiratorial story. "A cloud" he replied. Duh! Of course it was just a cloud. Could this be the top of the list of things not to say to cool interesting guys when you want to appear cool and interesting? Oh well, at least he had his torch back and I knew his name. Progress, not perfection, I must remember that.

I digress, it’s easy to do that when Ritch walks into the room.

 We share our awareness walk observations with the group.  I am aware that I am alive from the experience, energised, awake. I begin to talk; I cannot stop, more and more to tell. Seemingly done with my tale my audience begin to exhale, not realising it is only a pause, still more to tell. I apologise, Peter smiles reassurance that it is OK; he makes me believe that he wants to hear more that I should not hold back. For Peter alone, I continue. Finally I am spent of words, but continue to silently wonder at the lucidity of my adventure.

Dave tells of feeling a spiritual belonging being at one with all, but I do not believe him and Ritch is completely happy that he just went for a walk, maybe Ruth and Ian said nothing? I am ashamed to say that I barely recall what any of them said, either I have not listened, or I am unable to understand to what spiritual planes of existence they have been taken. My guess is the former.

Exchanges done we complete a short and private exercise in our workbooks to check in with ourselves then we are moved on to uncover our 'core process'.  Kate explains that we all have inner genius, we use it in our daily lives and by recognising it we can nurture it to develop and reach our full potential. We are set a task to write three stories from our past, times when we felt at ease, like nothing was holding us back, when we gained satisfaction from the results of our actions.

As with the change walk yesterday, we are to split into two groups, this time I choose to head upstairs to be with Kate and whosoever shall join us. I consciously make no eye contact with anyone, invite no one to join me, I rise, turn and leave the room; such body language will be followed only by the strong or the stupid. Ritch follows, I get the strong. I never questioned that he would, but find myself relieved by the prospect of learning more about what makes him, pleased that I can be with someone I want to listen to, who can get my attention and possibly hold it, I could quite feasibly stop thinking about myself.

We are at the top of the stairs Ritch and I, it is my first time in the eaves, I survey the wooden ceiling above, the craftsmanship, how magically two boards rest together, supporting each other, sloping away providing seamless protection for us here inside and protecting itself outside by design. Heavy wooden beams, necessary for further stability, are suspended low above the walkways wrapped casually in cushions telling me that they often prove a hazard to unseeing guests. To the left there is a small open floor space above the lobby of the guesthouse with some shelves and books and a solitary chair, a dark narrow corridor beyond leads to individual bedrooms. Ahead and slightly to the right there are two low arm chairs, they look welcoming and might as well have 'Ali' and 'Ritch' sewn across them for this is the place in which we will exchange our tales of genius.

As I head for the nearest armchair he speaks, "we go in there", he gestures down the shorter corridor to the right, a closed door at the end and then he heads in the other direction. Confused I throw my down my workbook and pen to claim my chair and curiously follow his vague instruction. I go to the door, push it open, behind its a large bright room, walls lined with books, a single bed in the far corner placed underneath a skylight perfect for stargazing. I panic very slightly this does not feel right I want the comfy armchairs with our names embroidered across them in gold silk thread. I shut the door and sit down defiantly on comfy armchair number one.

Settled I begin writing about my natural abilities, Kate appears, so does Ritch. Kate sits on the floor, back to the wall next to the toilet door Ritch takes his place at my side. I relax all is as it should be.

My stories are written in a trice, I know what comes naturally. Modesty left downstairs, I choose one story about my ability to encourage, motivate and support talented individuals, one about healing with plants and the final one I admit my exceptional organisational competence.  Ritch talks about his oneness with sport, specifically tennis and football, and excelling when surrounded by brilliance. He also talks about his ability to evaluate humans accurately and to treat them fairly in diverse circumstances.  Although I definitely feel I know a bit more about him we again we have spent more time listening to my voice. Kate seems to be enjoying herself, throwing in questions to encourage and provoke us to say more, reveal more. These questions come from a textbook, an academic learning and not from her heart I know it and I suspect Ritch does too. But they are not bad questions so we answer them, humouring her slightly, all three enjoying the interaction.

As part of the exercise we have to write words and feelings that come up about the other person as they are talking. I write a full page of A4 whilst listening to Ritch, he writes a few lines belying the amount of words we have each spoken. I challenge him on this, he defends himself telling me that he has written "quite a lot actually" and that he finds it difficult to listen and talk and write at the same time. I smile and accept this.

We are done, Kate is trying to string out the process knowing that they are not finished downstairs, I get bored and start to fidget, aware that I want Kate to leave, to let us continue this mutual probing alone, Ritch notices my irritability and mentions that I might be in need of a smoke.

As I roll the tobacco in the cool crisp air, two thoughts strike me. One; Ritch seems to know what I need before I do. Two; it was the bed in the room at the end of the corridor that flustered me. I inhale deeply, now that's interesting!

 Cigarette finished I refill my polystyrene cup with hot water to squeeze the last drop of flavour out of the already worn bag of chamomile and head back up the stairs. I feel a little edgy, things are moving slowly, I want to get back to the others now to hear what everyone has to say about themselves. I think I have missed being in the presence of Peter, his reassuring bulk and his kindly smile encouraging me to be myself, allowing me to express myself without fear of reprisal. I interrupt the conversation between Kate and Ritch with my arrival at the top of the stairs, I plonk myself down on the chair and we descend into small talk. I try to think of something funny or interesting to say, of course I can't, we continue on, and on. Eventually something within Kate nudges her, "this is exactly what you two hate isn't it, small talk?" This is a good breaker, there is nowhere else to go so we head downstairs and await an open door making just the right noises to allow those inside the room to hear our disquiet. This proves to be a good tactic and the door is opened by Peter and his everlasting smile.

The others are chatting; they look a little worried that we have been allowed back into what has probably been, for the last hour or so, a normal sanctuary without us, goodbye outside lane hello central reservation. The room goes quiet and everyone looks at Peter. It is Kate who speaks, five heads do a quick about turn as we pretend we were looking to her for guidance all along. Kate tells us that now we are fully aware of our individual genii we have to share it with the group, we do so, it is less than earth shattering, but we encourage each other and wonder what is for lunch.

Ritch in his inimitable way pipes up after I have shared and asks everyone else whether they were expecting me to say what I did. All I had said was that I thought my genius lay in organising and motivating other geniuses, the others look at him as if he is mad. I think they are getting a bit sick of listening to me so I gloss over it as best I can and smile at Ritch albeit with teeth bared. Peter says we can take a walk after lunch, just to wander and ponder; this is not a task it is to enable us to enjoy the beauty of our retreat with newly opening hearts. As we get up to leave the room Ritch brushes up to me and asks if I would like to walk with him, I would, I accept.

Time for lunch, more food, I expect they have made up some lovely vegan, banquet for us all to enjoy, of course I expect wrong, damn why didn't I put vegan diet on my application. We have vegetable stew and dumplings for the vegetarians and roasted dead animal on a platter for everyone else it being Sunday and all. I have eaten so much this weekend that I am not sure I can face it, but again the thought of the £200 cheque I handed over on arrival yesterday, if I eat well again today I could quite possibly not bother for the next week. I deliberately sit opposite Ian, I like Ian, he is quiet and a deep thinker, he is also toweringly tall and very gentle in gestures and speech. He has come on this retreat to find out what he is good at, because he wants to be good at something. I suspect he is brilliant at everything he does. I wait until he has a mouth full of dead cow and I tell him I would like to hear more about his photography. He has shown real passion when talking about the subject and I genuinely want to know more. He looks a little alarmed but there is no escape, I take a mouthful of food to dispel any suggestion that I need an answer straight away but glance up at him to notify him that I definitely want an answer this side of walk time. The conversation is good, he likes to photograph buildings, apologising for my ignorance of photography terms I ask him if his photographs are raw. As his eyes widen I hastily explain that I am asking whether he manipulates the images on a computer after they have been taken, to make them better, he does not. With lunch over it is time to wash up, I manage to dry two plates but am anxious to get out into the fresh air, so I hang up my barely used tea towel and head outdoors with no regret, it is a beautiful autumn day and for some reason I am looking forward to this walk.

A late migration of swallows circle above and settle for a rest on a nearby beech tree, the young are eager to continue excited by the elders tales of the Africa sun and break away showing off their skills to anyone who cares to enjoy. I enjoy. Gathering back in the tree they briefly discuss their fllight plan and the flock ascends to continue on their long journey south. Air show over I move to the porch to wait for Ritch to collect me for our post lunch walk. Kate and Peter come out of the guesthouse and sit together on a bench near the entrance which has been perfectly positioned for weary arrivals and smokers alike. They acknowledge me with a smile as they pass but there is no exchange of words. I lean against the pillar and wait, the air is clean and fresh, the sun direct and warming filling me with calm.

I continue to lean and close my eyes, soaking in the rays, and smiling inwardly as I listen to the sounds of the others coming out from their lunchtime chores, no one speaking, just the sounds of shoes being changed for boots and the donning of coats, footsteps shuffle past me. I concentrate to see if I can work out which of those sounds belong to Ritch searching my innermost to find a connection, I wait. Kate and Peter are speaking low I cannot, and do not want to, hear what they speak about but find it comforting. I wait. A small flutter of impatience overcomes me, I push it away, there is no hurry I am so relaxed in anticipation of our prearranged ramble. I wait. Eyes still closed I can feel my brainwaves slowing, going into a meditative state, fully aware of every sound, every scent, every breath of air around me. Colours fill my head softly merging behind my eyes, intense in the sunlight which penetrates my eyelids. I wait. The thought crosses my mind that I could wait a long time, what do guys do when you are waiting? Again I push this thought from my mind not to spoil the moment of anticipation, and feel like I could wait forever.

Time has changed; I could have been there for an hour or a minute, no matter. I feel Ritch in the hallway, my body tenses slightly as I begin to bring myself back to consciousness to greet him, I hear him go back up the stairs. I deliberately relax again; this is easy to do when one is happy to wait, when it is already known that the wait will be worth it. Eventually he descends again and this time I know we are in business, I wait until he is by my side and I open my eyes and smile. He is still wearing his red jogging pants now complimented by a pair of black wellington boots. The combination would be odd on anyone else but this guy could look charming wearing a rucksack.

We head forward past the cabin in which I slept, I tell him briefly about my adventures with the inflatable bed, he doesn't quite get it and I find myself asking if he wants to see the bed as if to illustrate the story further. Thankfully he calmly ignores this question, I am not sure we want to go down that road, well not yet anyway.

We both seem to know where we are going so there is no talk of our direction. When we reach the padlocked gate at the bottom of the orchard I head for the hinged end and climb over, Ritch follows and we take up the single track road between the undulating fence free fields. The chatter is quite serious Ritch is asking about me, I am happy to tell him, we do talk a little about him but he is a much better inquisitor and I cannot help but answer all. We continue to follow the man made path and I spot a couple of horses, I intuitively have known they were there. It is natural for me to gravitate towards equine energy like I have built in radar. There is a gate at the bottom of the road, Ritch asks whether we should continue past the gate, there is a sign saying private nailed to the side, I point this out and make a joke about trespassing, it is not a funny joke but we both laugh regardless.

Thoughts of trampling on private property dismissed we turn left towards the horses, I don't think I have mentioned to Ritch that this is going to be our destination and I still don't, assuming he can read my mind. We walk alongside the ditch which separates us from the beasts and I mentally assess whether there is a suitable place to cross taking into account the awkwardness factor of jumping versus scrambling over in front of him. That thought doesn't last long as the animals magnetic draw is too strong, the horses have seen us and start to wander in our direction, no doubt with thoughts of apples or polo mints on their minds.  I am now wandering along the rusty fence trying to figure out if the wire is wide enough to climb through, although my attention has been partly distracted from my companion I really don't want to get stuck on my way through; that would not be cool.

Finally Ritch spots my plan and tries to advise me on ways to negotiate the ditch, I don't actually need his help and decide that I must be dithering so I focus, climb through the wire and jump the ditch without mishap. Landing heavily on the other side the horses that had been expectantly waiting my arrival spook and canter off a few feet. Ritch laughs probably thinking they have been scared off, but I know they are just protecting themselves, following the leader of the pack, if the leader jumps they jump. My horse whispering talents are on full power and the horses wander back over casually to say hello. I have a perfect moment, I couldn't be any happier; sunshine, country, horses and a fascinating escort. After a few moments with the magnificent steeds I notice that Ritch is standing a fair way back from the fence, perhaps we should be going. Now I have to get my way back gracefully, I hesitate briefly then jump landing both feet in the bottom of the ditch and knees on the bank. This is not the kind of graceful I had in mind. I crawl up the steep bank grabbing at the long grass to pull me upwards. What probably takes a few seconds seems like an age, damn. My hands reach the top of the bank and I grab the wire fence to pull myself all the way up, glancing up I see that Ritch is looking off into the distance. Part of me thinks he hasn't witnessed my graceless but I know he is just being polite, turning himself away from the awkwardness.

Back on safe ground we check the time and realise we are already late back, "shit", we are not particularly worried about getting back but aware that we are probably holding up retreat proceedings back at base. As we saunter homeward the conversation turns to my past relationships. I tell him a bit about my marriage and how it ended, unfazed Ritch asks more, I tell him about the other woman, the woman my husband shared his innermost feelings with, the woman with whom he confided that he was dissatisfied with my relationship, the woman I blamed for the breakup. As we approach the gate at our destination Ritch states "they are the worst kind, emotional affairs". This thought in my head we pass the window but quickly lost when the realisation hits me that we are late.

I hate being late, letting people down, but with this man time has no meaning.

We burst into the room apologies mentally prepared, one look at Peter and we stay silent, "we are just processing, going through a meditation" he says in his naturally kind voice. I glance around at everyone, they have their eyes tight shut and trying to look relaxed but they are obviously irritated by our lateness and this rude interruption and I don't blame them. I sit quickly and force myself to be relaxed. The conversations with Ritch on our extended walk are running through my mind and I realise that I am very, very flustered. Everything has changed he has shown me a new way to look at myself. Yesterday, during the story telling process he had asked me whether if when I was with a man I loved him totally, I had said yes, no half measures. I had been caught on the hop, led somewhere I didn't know I was prepared to go publicly, telling my secrets to these strangers within a couple of hours of meeting them. Ritch has a way, a way to make me open up, or maybe that should be to 'help' me open up. And the questions he had put to me in the last half hour during our walk were more intense, probing, asked in good humour and again I had found myself answering honestly, not sure whether I was telling him or telling myself, not even sure where the answers were coming from, but I knew they were coming from somewhere in me and they felt right.

I shut my eyes and tried to focus on Peter's voice, what is he saying? Something about walking in a beautiful place, feeling serene, everything perfect. Does he not realise that I have just had my world blown apart? How can I concentrate on an inner sanctuary when I have just realised the lies I have been telling myself for decades are not true. Yes I want to heal people, yes I am good at organising people and things, but... Then I remember what I wrote on my application to attend this weekend "I want to learn how to improve my personal relationships".

Oh my God! I have spent the whole weekend avoiding the subject and I am astonished to find that this bewilderingly humble Scotsman, about whom I know virtually nothing, has reminded me this is what I came here for, he has shown me that I cannot improve my personal relationships until I improve the relationship with myself. The penny starts to tumble.

We have been told that when the meditation is over we are going to be asked to share what we are going to take away from the weekends' experiences and how we think we can take this forward into our daily lives. I try to sink myself into the meditation, panicking I have no idea what I am going to say when the time comes, grappling for the masks of yesterday and this morning. I am laid bare and confused.

Applying long used techniques I tell my brain to shut up so I can let go and let the inner process do its thing. I listen to Peter's voice and all of my functions slow, warm sensations activate throughout my body, I am tingling all over. I know this feeling, know it is purity and truth being committed to my essence, I know that I can never go back.

Peter counts us back to reality, I am not sure I want to come back, I have been to the most wonderful place deep within me, the place where it is beautiful and full of joy, to come back would mean facing everyone, facing myself, facing Ritch. Regardless I open my eyes slowly, Ritch is sat casually in his chair across from me, beyond the the coffee table on which our discarded cups stand woefully and our retreat workbooks have been carefully placed with trust that no one will peek inside, but I see nothing of this. He is looking directly at me, inside me, his eyes boring into mine searching my soul, offering an intense knowing I have never witnessed before. Words cannot express, to come back from heaven and find I am still there. Neither of us blink, our eyes are fixed, it feels limitless, endless... then Peter speaks, we both look at him, it ends.

It is commonly known that creativity comes from the right hand side of the brain and the left controls the logical. Logical left is concerned by its day to day battling with this world driving us to want success and power, the more we are affected by the western world, and its controlling media and gadgets, the further away from us the right brain gets shoved resulting in unfulfilled humans, creativity redundant. Peter explains this to us, somewhat more eloquently and possibly not blaming the way of the world for the domination of the left brain. He gives us a few minutes to draw visions of our future selves, animating the right brain benefits of doing so.

I grab my workbook determinedly, felt tip poised and find that I still have no idea what future I want. I stare at the blank page, it stares back provoking me, ridiculing my fear of the truth. I look up, Ian is pushing his pen carefully around his paper as if he is designing NASA's next space station. Ruth has a pen top between her teeth and scribbles determinedly. Davey is drawing what, from this angle, looks like a stick man being electrocuted. Of course Ritch is looking habitually bored, not drawing anything, like this is beneath him. I am sure I read his thoughts. "Didn't I do this, like, when I was five years old?, yawn!" That does it for me I am inspired, the telepathically received thought in my head as I get to work. The dream future of a five year old floods into my being and I draw a house surrounded by fields dotted with horses and goats and a never ending allotment full of thriving vegetables and herbs. I carefully illustrate a couple of tall skinny people in the picture just for good measure, they are apart, busy in the fields, but waving to each other showing that they communicate cheerfully. I am childishly pleased with the result and wonder whether my mother would consider displaying it on her fridge if I post it on.

With our masterpieces complete it is time to speak our future visions out loud. Everyone looks at me I have nothing yet to say which really throws them as it is the first time this has happened in the history of the retreat. I nod towards Davey with raised eyebrows, he ignores me and looks at Ian, I look at Ian, we all look at Ian; Ian is the first to share. As I listen I am silently grasping at stories of my future self but none of them can be spoken with truth, my stories are sticking two fingers up at me and running off from whence they came back to the land of bullshit. I give up and resign to listen to what everyone else has concluded about themselves, maybe it will help to let go, just see what comes out when it is my turn.

My turn comes, "I want to be happy" I gush. Five words summing up my future self, no rational path to follow, no power, no success, I just want to be happy. It is the truth. I manage to pad it out a bit throwing in words like healing and growing to justify that the last two days haven't been a complete waste of time. Everyone is smiling as if they have always know this is what I need and I am the last to know. I am going to be happy if it kills me.

We are done, it is 3.05pm Peter rises from his chair and tells us the last task of the day is for us five paying retreaters to sit together, without he or Kate in the room to pat each other on the back and state the positive qualities we see in each other. It is a formulated assignment and we are given specific instructions on how to facilitate it. Kate and Peter leave the room a little too quickly for my eyes, thoughts of leaving early and getting home for a Sunday night on their minds is obvious.

Left alone we are all a little alarmed at the prospect of what we have been asked to do. I am not sure about the others but I haven't really connected with any of them apart from Ritch and I am damn sure I am not going to tell him what I really think in front of the others. We are giggling, deciding who is going to be the target of the ego boost first. Eventually we zone in on Ian, bless him, he does have that kind way about him, maybe I will look to see if he has foot marks up his back before we leave. This goes quite well, Ian is a good man we all have good things to say about him. Next it is my turn, Ritch pipes up that this shouldn't take long, cheeky git. Everyone is very sweet to me, Ruth is thrilled that I have decided to be happy; Ritch does not want to tell me what he thinks now but would rather speak to me later in private that is the best thing I could have heard from him, I smile.

For some reason although Ritch is next sequentially we skip him, completely forgetting Ritch's earlier comment I say it is best if we leave him to last because it won't take long, I have this faux pas pointed out to me by Ritch, Ian comes to my rescue with the line "yeah but it's all about the comic timing", everyone laughs thankfully closing the hole in the floor I was just about to crawl into,

Davey's turn, silence fills the room the poor guy is looking like he needs a nuclear bomb to go off to save him from possibly the most awkward moment of the whole weekend. Ritch speaks first telling Davey that he thinks he tries too hard to be something he is not and perhaps he should try just being. Davey is mentally phoning the White House with his request for the pushing of the red button. I jump on the back of what Ritch has said saying that I kind of agree but using positive words like "reminded of myself" to try to diffuse the situation. Ian and Ruth say nice things, they are nice people this is what they do.

Ruth is grilled by me about the power suite she keeps harping on about, I am concerned that she is going a little left brained and I am not so sure she would look good in a cape. She tries to assure me that she is just going to be a little stronger with people, she is pissed off that I have challenged her, is she already wearing the suit? Ritch doesn't allow anyone to say anything much about him making it quite clear that the whole thing is a farce in his eyes and, actually, he still hasn't decided whether to be here or not.

The time has come to leave, I hug Ruth making no attempts to keep in touch, and I think the feeling is mutual so we part comfortably. Handing Ian a card with my contact details on I ask him to email me some of his photographs, only if he wants to, and hug him also, Davey scuffles past towards his car, forced smile, eyes cast down mumbling his goodbyes. Kate is busying herself loading a car outside which I swear has the engine running so that she and Peter can do as quick a getaway as possible. I stand back and look at Peter with a big smile on my face, I really want to convey to this man the gratitude I feel to have been in his company for the last two days, I give him a long hug and say "thank you".

Ritch materializes at the bottom of the stairs having successfully managed to dodge any weepy goodbyes, I feel a pang, I don't want to leave I feel safe here, had fun, and to be honest with I want to spend some more time with this beautiful Celtic being. "Would you like to, erm, stay for a bit, and, erm, have a chat" he asks, his Scottish drawl faltering slightly. Would I? Now let me think about this, oh look I already answered, "Yes I would". I check with Peter that it is OK for us to hang around for a bit, he smiles his permission and waves goodbye.

Ritch tells me that he just needs to get his stuff together so I go out to my car just to pass the time. I see the back of Ian and Ruth's cars disappearing up the lane, Davey is sitting in his car I presume his is trying to work out how to manoeuvre his vehicle past the big red van parked directly behind him. I walk over and tap on his window, he is actually just staring into space, I motion to him to open his door which he does, "I didn't get a hug" I tell him smiling, if anyone needs a hug this weekend I know it is Davey. He removes his seat belt and gets out, I give him a kiss on the cheek and a big bear like, hoping that the gesture might avoid him driving off a bridge and ending up in the Ouse on his way home.

Still killing time I decide to move my car I start the engine, a Spearhead track booms from the speakers "That's the sound of sunshine coming down. . . “ I switch it off, now is not the time for Franti's wisdom. Parking in the driveway in front of the guest house I roll myself a smoke, sit quietly and I wait.

It's past 4 pm when Ritch and I sit down to have our chat. He sits with his back to the window, in the seat Davey occupied for the previous two days. Rather than leaving the seat hunched up near to the coffee table as Davey had, Ritch has it pushed back further into the wide recess of the bay window he sits relaxed with his legs outstretched, comfortable, confident and un-foppishly handsome.

My spiritual teacher once told me that, when walking into a room, always locate the power chair, Ritch has done just this, for the first time since I encountered him he looks at home, like he actually wants to be there. With the power seat gone I take the chair which I have unconsciously labelled 'Peter's' chair, my back to a sturdy pillar, knowing it be second best I understand where the power lies in this room so accept it without argument.

We sit eight feet apart, the low table between us. I assume Ritch is going to impart some words of wisdom to help me on my life journey and I have some loosely prepared for him in return. He speaks first, "You know, if I didn't have a girlfriend I would ask you out for a drink". I stop breathing, talk about being back footed, I was not expecting that. I have no idea how to react.

I am rarely, if ever, asked out. To me the word date conjures up images of small talk in a low lit venue where two people do their best to hide their true selves as they present their suggestions of the perfect partner, often fuelled by alcohol, their attentions distracted by nibbles and music and followed by an awkward moment when one of them decides whether or not to make a pass, if successful the facade then has to be maintained, which of course in my mind it cannot so it all ends in disaster. Partly for this reason I have a long embedded skill of keeping men at a distance romantically, ensuring that they know I am not interested even before they start. They don't start.

I have no idea how these relationship things start, yes, I was married once, but only because I gave in when my husband begged me to go out with him and then, under the influence of some extremely good hashish and a trustworthy supply of MDMA, I thought it was love.

I don't do dates, ever.

Actually the word date also brings to mind a dried, sweet, stoned, fruit often bought by middle class mothers during the festive season and then hardly eaten, but I digress

OK so he didn't ask me out but he did say that under different circumstances he would. "That's nice", I respond feebly. Wasn't there a hole in here somewhere? Perhaps now is a good time to pries it back open and get crawling. Ritch calmly goes on to tell me why he would ask me out and a little bit about why he couldn't. I stutter a lot, trying hopelessly to appear calm and to gain my composure. Shit, despite not wanting to go on any dates I did kind of wish he was single just to see what would happen.

The conversation turns in the direction I originally expected and we tell each other what we see in as far as next steps in life might go. I hear myself telling him I can see him working with young offenders, I can, but it is not what he wants to hear and it is not really what I want to talk about, I want to go back to him not asking me out.

I relax and the chat continues. I enjoy listening to his voice and responding to his questions, naturally honest in my answers. The sun has tipped his hat and is bidding us a good night. With no electricity switched on in the room I sit fascinated as Ritch talks, his soothingly smooth accent hypnotizing me, rhythmically slowing my mind, his form, a silhouette against the beautifully window framed deeply greying skies, is surrounded by a pale yet noticeable shimmering glow.

I had tried to explain to the group yesterday morning that I visually see lifes energy, also known as the etheric(previously known as the aura). I rarely talk about it in normal company. I am always a little uncomfortable when I do bring it up, mainly because I am sure that everyone sees it and they just do not talk about it and that by mentioning it I am going to look like a fool, stating the obvious, like asking other people if they know grass is green. Anyway yesterday I had brought this up, Peter had asked me to explain myself more which I had done, very badly. Ritch had mischievously asked "can you see it around me" and I had just replied "no" to raucous laughter which had drowned out my explanation that I only see it under certain conditions and the conditions at that moment were not right. But I could see it now, around his head and behind his shoulders, it was low but it was there, golden bursts of energy seeping from his being.

After an hour or so I became aware that we were sitting in the guesthouse of a Monastery in the dark talking nonsense to each other and that perhaps it was time to leave, to let the resident Monks do whatever it is that Monks do after a bunch of lost souls have withdrawn from their space. This is typical of me, just when things are perfect I tend to break it up. For a glass three quarters full kind of girl, I have a talent for destroying the moment. Before we rise to leave he tells me he would like to write more of his thoughts to me in an email, I hand him a card with my email and mobile number on it assuming that I will never hear from him again, we make to exit.

Ritch gathers his things together as I wait out front. If there is one thing I like to do, and do well, it is to hug. I watch him as he strolls towards me ladened with bags, a pair of white trainers tucked under one arm, I am not sure how this is going to work but I go for it anyway, "a hug?" I ask. He steps towards me and we embrace, I say embrace, I put my arms around him and his luggage and he sort of pushes his elbows around me as best he can with his hands and arms otherwise occupied. It is lowest rated hug of the weekend by far. I am mightily disappointed, I wanted to feel the energy pulsing through him, see if I can feel how many hearts he has. Stepping back we smile and do the usual, take care and drive safely routine, I get in my car and start the engine.

As I drive slowly away I sigh, a long audible exhalation unwittingly releasing emotions I didn't realise I was holding in, I turn off the drive and make my way through the un-visited village. I have gone about two miles when I remember that I don't really know where I am and in which direction to go, still driving I find my mobile phone press the navigation icon and set my course for home. The roads are clear I switch the CD player back on and with no one to hear me I joyfully belt out the tunes as loud as I can. Now is the time for Michael Franti's wisdom.

Arriving home in very good time, (a little too good, I hope the Parishes I whizzed through cannot afford speed cameras), I dump my overnight bag with no intention of doing anything with the contents for at least a week. I am greeted by a streak of black and ginger as cats Morville and Stewie rush up excited to see me home. Satis the girl cat nonchalantly raises an eye but doesn't lift her head from the back of the sofa making it quite clear that has coped very well without my presence, thank you very much.

I spend the next half an hour on the floor talking cat, telling them all about my weekend and listening to what they have been up to. In part they look at me suspiciously and ask me why I cannot stop smiling. I manage to waste nearly three hours doing nothing much but drinking chamomile and avoiding anything that might constitute unpacking. At 9.24 pm I open my laptop, my smile intensifies wondrously, there in my inbox is an email from Ritch