I arrived on the island with no prior knowledge of Edie’s teaching; my mother had recommended attending, having deeply benefited from a previous course on the island, led by Lama Rinchen Palmo.
Edie is a wonderfully grounded teacher, whose honesty and humour helped us all feel at ease remarkably quickly; like Ringu Tulku she combines a natural spiritual authority with a warmth and generosity, and her teachings were incredibly valuable. The group sessions, particularly the visualisation sessions, developed in tandem with Akong Rinpoche, and the work we did on the six syllable mantra was particularly enriching. The Tara Rokpa sessions helped unlock creative pathways that had long creaked shut, and suddenly I found that I was writing poetry for the first time in years. These sessions have also helped me approach the music that I make with a greater clarity of purpose, and a feeling of being grounded.
Now settled back into the hustle and bustle of everyday existence, I remain deeply grateful to have marked the changing of the years in this manner, in such good company. I am particularly grateful for the way the course focused on working with mindfulness within the workaday world; for me the sessions struck a very healthy balance between the practical (top tips for negotiating technology) and the theoretical, making the step back into day-to-day life less troubling than it might otherwise have been.
Although everyone on the island was on their own personal journey, there was a rich fellow-feeling between the retreatants. Since leaving the island I have really enjoyed meeting up with some of the Glasgow crew, and hope to see more of the group over the months to come.
Rollo Strickland is a Glasgow-based freelancer and songwriter, who volunteers with various music in the community initiatives.
Two paths had led me to the Holy Island New Year retreat. One started when I visited Arran for the first time during the summer. On seeing Holy Island and finding out more about it, I was captivated both by its beauty and its interesting history, particularly that of its ancient Celtic hermit, St Molaise. I promised myself that I would visit as soon as I could to climb to the top of Mulloch Mor and also see the hermit’s cave.
The other path had started in the autumn when I came to practicing mindfulness meditation. This led to joining a weekly Sangha in Glasgow and trying to do some meditation every day. I had also started reading some of Thich Nhat Hanh‘s books, in particular “Peace in Every Step”. I liked the idea of using everyday activities as a form of meditation. So, when browsing the internet to find some more information on Holy Island, and coming across a website offering a course practicing everyday mindfulness on the Island over the New Year period, then I was in.
The course was perfect for a novice like myself, as it looked at different techniques to use to come to meditation. This was backed up by three main meditation sessions each day which we were all encouraged to attend. The other sessions on offer were optional and they included sessions on stretching, using art to move into meditation, hand and foot massage, relaxation sessions and sessions on using visualisations to support health and well-being. This approach suited me as I had other reasons for being on the island besides developing my mindfulness practice. The free time also allowed for friendships to develop and opportunities during real life situations to try out some of the techniques of listening and responding mindfully, that had been explored during the formal sessions. There was also a short time of silent retreat in the morning which lasted till about 10.30. I found this very helpful, particularly on becoming more mindful when eating breakfast, brushing teeth or when walking in the garden.
Edie Irwin led most sessions. The best way to describe Edie is that she is a natural teacher. She leads, advises and facilitates, but she does not impose. She provided enough structure to allow us to develop and grow into the form of meditation that suited us best. Tips on how to sit, how to achieve the best posture and even whether to keep eyes open or shut were very helpful and will never be forgotten. Her personal experience and knowledge were evident in everything she said and did but it did not inhibit us or make us feel inadequate. We were left with the feeling that there are different ways into meditation but there are also some fundamentals, that when practiced regularly and persevered with, would further deepen and develop our meditation practice.
I would recommend the course to anyone new to meditation and mindfulness. You will not be overwhelmed and you will leave with a better understanding of what way into meditation best suits you. Meditation is the practice, being mindful in everything we do is the event and the reason why we practice. That was probably the main message that I took from this retreat. Since the event I have now found it easier to move into a more mindful state and am now much more likely to be mindful during my everyday activities. Mindfulness, like everything, is a process and events like the New Year retreat help to move you along within that process.
By the end of the retreat I felt that the two paths that had led me to Holy Island had become one. The island with its peace, tranquility, beauty and history had become inseparable from my journey into mindfulness. I could now begin to glimpse the beauty, peace and tranquility that is possible by using mindfulness to further develop compassion for myself and compassion for others. I would highly recommend it to anyone beginning the journey into mindfulness and meditation.