In January, the residential staff at Brockwood spent a week on retreat in the Lake District. Here, one staff member describes what it meant to be together without the pressures of the working week, in an atmosphere of inquiry, sharing and cooperating — and having fun!
“I think it is essential sometimes to go into retreat, to stop everything that you have been doing, to stop your beliefs and experiences completely and look at them anew… You would let fresh air into your minds.”
—Krishnamurti, Madras. Jan. 5th, 1952. The Collected Works, Vol. VI.
The residential staff at Brockwood were invited back to Yewfield at the beginning of January this year to spend a week on retreat together in the Lake District. Yewfield is a vegetarian B&B owned and run by Derek Hook, one of the trustees of Brockwood. We were given a warm welcome by Gary Primrose (another trustee) and Christina West, both of whom used to be staff at Brockwood.
Every morning before breakfast we gathered in silence to sit together in front of the log fire as dawn broke over the valley. As we sat, we were able to observe thought chattering, feel the tensions in the body, listen to the fire spit and crackle and the birds twittering, without the usual demands of our working lives to attend to. Breakfast, then washing up and morning jobs (feed the chickens and the ponies, vacuum and tidy up) before gathering together again to watch a series of discussions between Krishnamurti, David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake and John Hidley.
Why don’t I change? Am I aware that the self is the past? Can thought stop? We took up these questions and others in our daily dialogue, sitting in a circle in front of the fire. We watched frustrations arise, enthusiasm, assumptions and mechanical thinking; we saw that I cannot bring change. We observed the flow of dialogue – the flow of life – in which I am caught, with my pleasures and suffering, in the attachment to thought as the thinker.
One day, with the promise of dry weather, a group of us hiked together up onto Crinkle Crags, led by Gary. As we ascended the fell, we entered the clouds and all visibility of the valleys was lost. There was fresh snow underfoot. The air was pure and fresh and breathing in felt like cleansing our whole system. Up and up and up – exhilarating! It was tough going at times: the temperature dropped to zero and, with the wind chill, it felt much colder. As we got higher, the snow got deeper; we had to take great care with each step. We made it back down just as it was getting dark shattered, but full of the spirit of adventure.
All our meals were prepared by Brockwood mature students. Between late morning and late afternoon we were free to rest in our rooms, plant trees with Gary, read by the fire, hike around Tarn Hows or visit the town of Ambleside. On our last night, we were all treated to dinner at Zeffirelli’s restaurant. Our retreat at Yewfield enabled us to deepen our connection as a staff body, to explore urgent questions with care, and to enjoy the wild beauty of our surroundings. Thank you, Derek, for the opportunity. Thank you, Gary and Christina, for making us feel so welcome.