Was this volunteering at Happy Buddha Retreats in the Blue Mountains what I expected? A few words that spring to mind are: Better, Enlightening, Eye-opening, Inspirational, Nourishing, Colder, Heart-warming.
Arriving slightly dishevelled three weeks ago, we are leaving Happy Buddha as two happy yogis with happy minds, happy hearts and happy (slightly larger) bellies. Three weeks has flown by, but at the same time, it feels like a lifetime I have known all these wonderful people that I like to call my Happy Buddha family.
To talk about everything I have experienced and learnt in detail would end with a thesis written piece, so I am going to have to speak very briefly. My days were filled with yoga, cooking, hikes in the Blue Mountains, drumming circles, full moon parties, late night harp concerts by the fire, mediation talks, days out in Wentworth falls, runs by the lake, birthday celebrations, and the list goes on. What. A. Life. Please do not pinch me yet.
Dynamic flow, gentle flow, yin or nidra yoga, take your pick. There were plenty of different classes to choose from throughout the day. Each teacher had their very own unique and insanely talented way of teaching, serving your every yoga desires. I am going to miss waking up for the 7am dynamic flow, just before sunrise. It was a simple but purifying ritual to start my day, and is definitely something I will incorporate into my everyday life, out in the scary, non-Buddha bubble.
Despite initial apprehension of the drumming circle – I have close to no rhythm, and am extremely tone death – it was an exercise that snapped me straight into the present moment. This was relevant to the intentions I made in the opening circle when I first arrived, so it was great to learn different exercises I could use to distract me from my overly busy mind. Not once did I think of anything else during, especially with the help of the chant “1, 2, 3…Back to the groove”…every 2 minutes to get everyone who had gone far off course, back to the beat. By the end, my jaw ached from smiling too much.
“Just remember ‘Watermelon, Watermelon, Mango, Mango, Banana, Banana’ or ‘I like pea-nut-butter’and you can always get back to the beat” – Thanks John I certainly won’t be getting that out of my head for the next few days.
The same goes with the TaKeTiNa meditation class, a fully immersive rhythm process that I found highly amusing (*Note to self – Do not go into it an already giggling mood or you might literally die of laughter, concentration is needed). The ‘gum ma la’ mantra really does get your hip thrusting…and busting…right Athill? (Disclaimer – it can be a dangerous sport if not under supervision.)
The food provided was out of this world. I ate like vegan royalty, with zero portion control. If it’s vegan I can eat as much as I want, right? Each chef Paula, Jeevi, Khan and Athill’s parents created masterpieces with every meal. It was a real honour assisting them, learning many tips and tricks for the kitchen. If only I could put Jeevi, (The Laughing Chef) in my pocket to cheer me up with that laugh anytime I’m sad.
Yes we moaned and yawned because it is obligatory that you do, but even the volunteering jobs around the centre were a good time for us all. They were empowering in some case such as our vacuuming during housekeeping…to tell you the truth I felt pretty indestructible wandering around looking like ghostbusters with the brand new vacuum on my back. Lets also not forget the therapy of a good floor mopping while listening to your favourite tune. Who needs a plumber when you’ve got Daisy the volunteer with a plunger.
The hikes in the mountains were incredible. With many walking distance from the retreat centre, it was an enjoyable thing to do in our spare time between shifts. When I ran to Wentworth Falls via the Charles Darwin track for the first time, the view at the top shamelessly brought a tear to my eye. It was breathtaking.
It woudn’t feel right not to mention JJ the French cat in this post. She joined me for lunch, for yoga and even bed time. JJ is sassy and loving. We just need to find her a beret.
After travelling the East Coast, and coming straight to Sydney from boiling hot Queensland, the bitter cold of the Mountains did come as quite a shock. As Brits, cold Australia is not expected. However, countless turmeric lattes, homemade spicy soups, dressing in all the clothes I had in my backpack at once (looking like Michelin man) and huddling together like penguins next to the fires, warmed us up in no time.
On the contrary, in terms of finding an inner warmth, I couldn’t have been warmer. I found a family away from home, a very dysfunctional family at that but the dynamics couldn’t have worked better.We were all just as weird and wonderful as each other, helping one another to find what we were looking for when arriving. For me, I felt at ease opening up about my life and experiences because at Happy Buddha, there is no judgement. Whether I needed a hug, a laugh, some advice, there was always someone. It felt as if there was something in the air at Happy Buddha that makes you want to spill how you are feeling to anyone, I’m pretty sure I even had a few deep meaningful conversations with JJ.
At happy Buddha, Athill and the crew make you feel like the doors always open (quite literally in the Palace) so don’t you worry, I will return.
Thanks for everything you amazing, beautiful and kind people. I feel more complete and nourished than I ever have.