Mindfulness Day Retreat with Radhanath Swami

What? A day of mindfulness, imparted wisdom, relaxation and good food with guru Radhanath Swami and other speakers

“By cultivating a rich inner life of self-awareness and a genuine practice of service, we can become instruments of compassion and agents of sustainable change in the world”

Where? This was held at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in South Kensington however Swami also holds sessions in temples around the UK, as well as on his retreat in India

Who? The session started off with a talk from host Ghanashyam Jay Shetty – a mindfulness and leadership coach helping individuals and organisations embed conscious principles into their lives and workplaces. Jay Shetty told an engaging opening story of a time when the lift broke at his friends 30 story flat in India. His peers told stories and jokes to pass the time, as they climbed tiresomely up every single flight of stairs. When they finally got to the ‘least funny member of the group’, who also owned the flat, on the 27th floor he simply stated ‘I left the keys to the flat downstairs’ – it wasn’t a joke… The end message being that passing the time with his friends in that way had made the task at hand so much easier. That we should all stop looking for ‘the key to happiness / success etc’ and just focus on the journey.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Chetna Kang, followed on with an intriguing piece on the science of the mind, psychology and self-control. Dr Kang has 17 years of experience and conducts seminars in the health and corporate sectors, as well as presenting weekly on BBC Radio and Radio 4.  She spoke of our consciousness being split into 3 main layers: consciousness, subconscious and unconscious, the latter being likened to the deepest, darkest floor of the ocean where creatures stranger than our imagination can conjure live. Bubbles are created here that often surface and pop into our conscious minds sporadically, they are the result of the things we expose ourselves to daily.

One of the key take-home messages from Dr Kang’s speech was that self-control requires intelligence and intelligence requires knowledge. Therefore in order to better our minds and abilities and not simply succumb to the thoughtless automation of our brains, we need to be forever expanding our knowledge and wisdom. We must fully understand why we make certain choices and not just contemplate what choices we should be making.

Radhanath Swami was the highlight of the day. Robed in a glowing orange, he glided silently into the venue, simply took a seat on stage and immediately began chanting with eyes shut, feet up and hands together in prayer. He didn’t seem to have any pre-prepared speech, instead choosing to let a lifetime of acquired wisdom flow from the heart. My favourite comments included those about seeing ‘pebble and gold equally’ – valuing nature’s resources and letting go of greed, stories he told of his travels across the globe and the kindness shown by both animals and humans alike. His key message was about finding happiness in giving to others and finding true love in god.

Is dirt dirty? Swami spoke of everything in life simply being a matter of perspective, whereas we may find dirt dirty, in some cultures this is sacred and people smother themselves in soil. He spoke of love in god being like a current running through you, that brings light to even the darkest of situations. People are like iron rods – you put one in fire and it becomes hot, place it in ice and it will be freezing cold. Only god is pure. I myself do not practice a religion and would label myself agnostic, however I found Swami’s core messages applicable to us all, no matter what label you place on yourself. He described meditation as a form of cleansing for the mind, likening the process to regularly cleaning a dusty mirror in order for it to show a clear reflection.

One of the most poignant questions directed to Swami was that of a deep seated hatred towards another after a betrayal, and how this might be forgiven. The response was understanding yet firm: it is human to feel this way and may feel as though it requires a higher power beyond oneself to change the way you feel. However it only hurts one more to hate another, peace and forgiveness will only be found in changing vengeance to forgiveness and hate to pity, you cannot illuminate the dark with more dark.

The session ended with 20 minutes of mantra music, lead by Jahanvi a professional mantra singer. This is her way of relaxing at the end of a stressful week, closing her eyes, listening and singing along to simple tunes. She also holds monthly sessions all around London for anyone to have a go and join in.

It was a thought provoking and relaxing day, expertly organised and with lovely company. If you would be interested in knowing more you can purchase a copy of the Swami’s latest book The Journey Home, attend a mindfulness conference like this one, or sign up to one of the Swami’s mindfulness and meditation retreats in India.

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