31st May 2016

This month was a mindful month of meditation. In this newsletter I'll share with you my experience of sitting a ten day silent retreat.

Reading time: 6 mins

Part 1 - pre-retreat

Hi everyone, I’m writing this newsletter a bit earlier than normal. Tomorrow is 18th May and I’ll be driving down to Hereford to sit my third Vipassana retreat. In short, a Vipassana is ten day course teaching people how to meditate.

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It's not religious or sectarian and there is no need to believe anything. Participants just sit down and and learn to observe what they experience.

Participants spend ten days, meditating for about ten hours everyday. The rules of the retreat are strict but they give you the freedom to work hard without distraction. To learn more you can click on the link at the end of the newsletter.

 The meditation hall.

The meditation hall.

I first attended the retreat in New Zealand, mainly out of curiosity and my love of a challenge. I’d heard it could be extremely transformative and rid people of their addictions. At the time I was in the position to go, so I went for it. I had also been finding life difficult. I was on the opposite side of the world, miles away from everything and everyone I knew. It helped me deal with the thoughts that were challenging me.

When I returned home I needed another mental reset so went for my second Vipassana. The experience took me further into my mind and yielded more beneficial results. I also managed to maintain an almost daily practice for the last few years. For the last few months, my daily practice hasn't been so daily. As we all know, when you don’t use it you lose it!

Meditating reduces my reactivity and my judgemental nature. The practice gives me more time to choose how I react and when I don’t meditate I lose that skill. I’m also much more judgemental of myself and others. I can be my own worst enemy, judging and criticising myself unfairly. When I maintain a daily practice, my mind just doesn’t tie itself in as many knots! So I’m going back to reset my brain and to see what else there is to learn.

 The view from my room.

The view from my room.

From my experiences I know there is a lot to learn by sitting down and shutting up. Cutting off all the noise is so beneficial. Rumi, the Sufi poet has some wonderful words that remind me of this. Here are a few to savour:

“Silence is the language of god, all else is a poor translation.”
— Rumi
“There is a voice that doesn’t use words, listen.”
— Rumi
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”
— Rumi

Part 2 - post retreat

Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. It was rediscovered by Gotama the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. He devoted his life to teaching this technique of purifying the mind. This technique has continued to be spread thanks to the work of S.N. Goenka, a Burmese-Indian teacher.

 The teacher S.N. Goenka

The teacher S.N. Goenka

Vipassana means:

Seeing things as they really are.”

The course begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of:

  • Impermanence - everything is constantly changing
  • Suffering - everyone suffers
  • Egolessness - we are all the same

This truth realisation is by direct experience is the process of purification. It is a universal remedy for universal problems and has nothing to do with any organised religion or sectarianism. For this reason it can be practised freely by everyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion and will prove beneficial to one and all.

 All great trees begin their lives as a small seed.

All great trees begin their lives as a small seed.

What the Vipassana is not:

  • It’s not a rite or a ritual based on blind faith.
  • It’s neither an intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.
  • It’s not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socialising.
  • It’s not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

What the Vipassana is:

  • It’s technique that will eradicate suffering.
  • It’s a method of mental purification which allows one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
  • It’s an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

Practising this technique eliminates the three causes of all unhappiness:

  • Craving
  • Aversion
  • Addiction
 I can show you the path but you must walk it. 

I can show you the path but you must walk it. 

With continued practice, the meditation releases the tensions developed in everyday life, opening the knots tied by the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way to pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

That is the essence of the technique and after ten days I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. My body and mind feel recharged and ready to attack life again. The course provides so much time to practice, as long as you work hard the rewards are guaranteed! It’s like living the life of a monk for 10 days, only without the robes and shaven heads!

It’s important to recognise that when we commit to a course of action and work hard there are always rewards. But it’s also important to recognise that the rewards are a result of what you do and what you don’t do. Here’s a summary of the benefits the course provides:

It’s an opportunity to:

  • Practice meditation which has gives the body a chance to rest and repair.
  • Eat healthy vegetarian meals, served at the same time everyday.
  • Go to bed early and rise early in tune with the sun, everyday.
  • Slow down and notice the beauty of the natural surroundings.
  • Spend 10 days alone, working hard at just ONE activity.

It’s an opportunity not to:

  • Leave behind the mass of technology that is a constant distraction to our brains.
  • Stay up late thanks and damage the quality of sleep by staring at screens.
  • Indulge the senses with unhealthy food, drugs, alcohol, pornography and so on.
  • Spend time with people that distract you from what’s important for you.
  • Spend all the day reacting to every single stimulus that hits our sense organs.  
 My accommodation for the ten days.

My accommodation for the ten days.

I will continue to meditate daily and sit this course once a year because the benefits are so remarkable. When I first heard about Vipassana five years ago I wrote it off as being weird and extreme. But I kept hearing about it and decided to go for it and I’ve never looked back. Each time I attend the course I learn more about myself and benefit even more. It’s like watching a complex film for the second or third time. It’s easier to see subtle complexities once the novelty factor has subsided.

It’s hard to commit ten days to something so alien to our culture. I was fortunate that whilst travelling in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to give it a fair trial. So I share this experience with you to plant a seed in your mind, that may be one day it is something you may do. Many people attend the course out of need, but I believe in planning for the best and preparing for the worst. It’s is my own insurance policy that protects my health and happiness for today and tomorrow.

As Goenkaji says:

“May all beings be happy!”


For more information about this wonderful opportunity visit:


Here I present two articles to you, one on cravings and one all about salt. Just click on the pictures to learn more.


I know a lot of you are busy and don't have time to read longer blogs and some of you just prefer a visual lesson. So here's a selection of the last few videos:


Here are a few of my latest social snaps. I've been trawling through my old travel pics so I hope to share those very soon!

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That's all from me and my mindful month of May. As ever please feel free to forward this email onto friends and loved ones. The healthier we all are, the better the world will be, for everyone.

All the best

James @


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