Total Immersion Retreat

A group of people in a semi-circle around a shrine.

Morning session in the shrine tent | Image © Padmapani 2009

We have a page about what we do on a retreat, but we’ve compiled answers to the most frequent queries below. Please get in touch with the office if you don’t find an answer to your question.

Is a retreat like the Buddhafield Festival?

No, the retreats are much smaller, calmer and quieter. Except for the Buddhafield Village Retreat, which has about 200 adults and children on site, most of our retreats have 15—30 people with a Buddhafield team of 6, plus a teaching team. You can find out more about the Buddhafield Festival elswhere.

What do you do on a retreat?

Most retreats follow a similar daily programme with meditations first thing in the morning, a work period after breakfast and then the main morning activity. Depending on the retreat, that could be a talk, workshop, discussion, practical activity or more meditation. The period after lunch is generally left open with another meditation available before dinner. Evenings are often set aside for more devotional practice.

What about food?

We provide all the food and drinks. Inspired by Buddhist principles, the meals are all vegan (with some cow’s milk available for drinks), and most of the ingredients are organic and/or locally-sourced. We endeavour to cater for those with food-related medical conditions and allergies — please let us know if you have a special diet on booking.

What do I need to bring?

You’ll need a sturdy tent and warm sleeping bag. A torch is also indispensable. If you come by car you might want to bring your own meditation cushions and blankets, and your own plate, bowl, mug and cutlery, although we do provide these too. Whatever the time of year, warm, waterproof outdoor wear is essential, along with stout footwear and/or wellies, along with your usual clothes and toiletries. Some people like to bring a journal to write in, or art materials. Please do NOT bring any alcohol or non-medicinal drugs to the retreat.

I’m a smoker. Can I still come?

Yes, but we will ask you to go off site to smoke. Please take care to dispose of your butts sensitively.

What if I don’t have a tent?

We do provide two segregated communal domes for sleeping. You may have to share, of course, and sometimes we need the spaces in the daytime for group activities.

What about the toilet and washing facilities?

We construct compost toilets on our retreat sites, and provide showers and hot water (heated on a wood fire). Communal hot tubs are a feature of many, but not all our camps: the timetable will also include men-only and women-only sessions. Hot water is also available for washing clothes.

Do I need to already be a Buddhist, or know how to meditate?

No! Our retreats are based on Buddhist teachings and practices. Some understanding and appreciation of Buddhist principles may help you to get the most out of the retreat experience, but it is not a requirement that you identify yourself a Buddhist. Our ‘Open’ retreats are open to everyone, and we endeavour to support newcomers (with, for example, beginners’ meditation sessions) as well as those who are more experienced. A few of our retreats are specifically designed with experienced practitioners in mind — it will be clear from the programme blurbs which these are, so please check before booking.

What kind of Buddhism do you practice?

Buddhafield is part of the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, or FWBO) founded in the 1967 by an Englishman called Sangharakshita. It draws upon all the major historical schools of Buddhism. You are likely to experience traditional elements of Tibetan, Theravadin and Zen Buddhism, for example, as well as more contemporary Western ideas and interpretations. Many in Buddhafield are also keen to explore the relationship between the ancient traditions of Buddhism and our own ‘native’ spiritual (‘pagan’) traditions.

Will there be lots of silence?

Not necessarily. Periods of silence are known to be conducive to meditation and contemplation, to the development of calmer hearts and minds, to the deepening of clarity and awareness. So, on many of our retreats, we introduce some periods of silence (for example, overnight through to breakfast). If someone needs to speak, then of course they can speak — silence is a practice and opportunity, not a strict monastic rule! There is one retreat (the Total Immersion) for more experienced meditators which is largely silent for 4 weeks; this is something most of us feel we need to build up to as our practice deepens over the years, and wouldn’t recommend for newcomers.

Do I have to attend everything?

As with the silence mentioned above, retreat programmes are designed to create good conditions for us to practice effectively, both collectively and individually. Retreats are also experiments in community (or sangha to use a Buddhist word). So we would encourage everyone to attend as much as the programme as possible, to make the most of the precious opportunity the retreat offers. On the other hand, nothing is compulsory! You must make up your own mind how best to engage with the retreat, what is most appropriate for your own practice and well-being and in such a way that doesn’t detract from the experience of the other retreatants.

Will there be children on the retreat? Can I bring my own kids?

We do have one very popular, long-standing Family-Friendly retreat every summer. It provides facilities for children of all ages, not as a child-care service while the adults get on with the Buddhism, but with the children engaged as an integral part of the Buddhist practices, rituals and community. All of our other retreats are adult-only (i.e. from age 16).

How do I get to the retreat?

Having booked, you should receive travel directions to the specific site about a month before the retreat. (Please get in touch with the office if you don’t receive these.) We provide parking space for those who come by car — although we do ask for an additional contribution as a kind of ‘carbon tax’ which we use on our land stewardship projects. We can usually accommodate live-in vehicles too. We do, however, encourage people to make use of public transport or liftshare as much as possible, and we will pick you up from nearby train stations or bus-stops. Details of pick-up times and places will be included in the travel directions.

What do the retreats cost, and how do I pay?

Our retreats are essentially paid for by your voluntary donations. We ask for a modest deposit on booking, which you can pay through the webpage using PayPal or a credit/debit card, or by printing off a booking form and sending it with a cheque. Usually towards the end of the retreat itself we ask you to make your donation (cash or cheque). To give you a guideline, there are 3 suggested donations for most retreats (for the fully waged, low waged and unwaged), but you are free to give more or less as you see fit, according to your resources. Overall we do struggle to meet all our costs, and we rely a great deal on voluntary help and the generosity of teachers who ask little for their efforts, so we do ask you to be as generous as possible so we can continue our valuable work.