Sunday, 15 May 2016

St Beuno's part 2

St Beuno's describes itself as an "Ignatian Spirituality Centre." Ignatian, as no doubt you know but just in case, refers to St. Ignatius Loyola, he who founded the Society of Jesus, aka The Jesuits. 

The shock-troops of the Counter-Reformation, seeking to purify Catholicism of those corrupt and worldly practices that had helped the Protestants to gain ground across Europe in the mid-16th century. Ignatius had been a soldier, and apparently his writings very much emphasize fighting evil, battling the works of Satan and so on. All very dualistic.

I don't know a lot about the Jesuits but I mention all this just to explain something of the ethos I found at St Beuno's. A "spirituality centre" sounds a little as though you might find New Age Pagans, Tibetan Buddhists, evangelical Christians, Druids, Hare Krishnas etc etc all  grooving away meditating, worshipping the sun, whatever path you're on. 

But the spirituality (increasingly woolly word, these days) is, of course, very definitely Roman Catholic. St B's used to train Catholic priests, i.e. it was a college, but now it is a retreat centre, and a specifically Catholic one. 

So what was it like to be a solo retreatant intent not on Christian prayer and Ignatian exercises, but on Buddhist-derived mindfulness mediation? 

 If you join a group of strangers on retreat who share sessions with you, it's a different experience, of course, from being solo. I found it strange to be alone and silent at mealtimes, knowing the other retreatants, also silent, were engaged in their own thing, not mine. I felt oddly self-conscious. All in my own head, of course.

Since it is a place of devout Catholic studies, it is hardly surprising that the corridors were full of literature for sale, sculptures of the Holy Family...and large crucifixes. I found a little of looking at a large sculpture of a man being tortured to death went a very long way, for me. But then good and brave though he may have been, and many truths he may have told, I don't believe Jesus died for my sins and was raised from the dead on the third day. So life-size crucifixes were a purely gruesome sight.

This isn't a grumble - how could it be? Their gaff, their rules. I expected it, and anyway, I was a guest, at a very reasonable price, of a centre that specialises in beliefs and practices that are a long way from mindfulness meditation. 

But what it does mean is that, despite the peace and quiet, and the friendly welcomes and goodbyes from the helpful office there, it's not really my kind of place.  Swarthmoor, the Quaker retreat centre in the Lake District, seemed much more neutral, plainer, lighter, somewhere I am more in tune with. Trigonos, for specifically mindfulness meditation retreats, was ideal, though I think retreats there are expensive.

What I did value greatly at St Beuno's were the gardens and grounds. In particular, there is a tiny building, the Rock Chapel, hidden by trees on a rocky outcrop. You collect the key, walk across fields, duck under the temporary farmer's electric fence (not very spiritual of him!) and walk up to this:

Inside it is lit by sunlight pouring through small stained glass windows of abstract design and lovely bright colours. It was a perfect spot for a peaceful meditation.

There was a crucifix, but mercifully, it was small and quite abstract so your squeamish reporter was untroubled by it.

There is also a labyrinth in the gardens, which I found very useful for walking meditations:

 Your feet crunch on the gravel. Less attractive than the grassy one at Swarthmoor, but somehow very conducive to some presentmomentness.

The gardens and woods were full of birdsong:
which was quite magical - beautiful and calming. Bluebells and wild garlic help a lot, too, and some wonderful beech trees.

In the distance, over the roofs of St Beuno's, I could see the A55, by way of contrast. There goes the world, about it's business - time for me to re-join it.

So I had found a place apart, a place for some meditation, for which I thank it and them; but perhaps not a place, I think, to which I'm likely to return - despite wonderful sunsets over the Clwyd valley towards the sea.


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