Sometimes you find an absolute gem and you wonder whether to share it with others in the worry that it might ruin it altogether. I contemplated this but decided that this blog is afterall about sharing my experiences as an expat in Sydney and if I can’t share an amazing place with you then what’s the point?! So I’m going to tell you all about where I went last weekend and why it was the best thing I have done by a mile since I moved to Sydney 5 years ago!
I heard about Sunnataram Forest Monastery a couple of years ago, based 2 hours south of Sydney (in Bundanoon nearish Kiama) where they hold a weekend meditation retreat once a month. I had contemplated going and finally signed up for their 3 day long weekend retreat last weekend. Now my experience with meditation is only of one 10 day Introduction to Buddhism course in India and also an intensive 12 day vipassana course in the Blue Mountains. I haven’t meditated much in between but I thought this would be something different to do for the weekend and seeing as I don’t drink any more, long gone are the long weekend’s of partying so this seemed perfect.
I also knew I needed some space from Sydney as I find it quite claustrophobic at times. I think I miss having the luxury of going to another city so easily like I did in UK and also I’m realising that I also miss the countryside a lot.
Things I knew About The 3 Day Meditation Retreat Before Arriving
I knew it was a silent meditation retreat. Pretty much everyone I knew absolutely freaked out; “I couldn’t do that. Not speak for 3 days?”. To me, this is bliss. Gone are the awkward chit chat with the other people attending the retreat where I could just be. I think people find it too confronting as there’s no distractions, just you and your mind for 3 days. That’s no phones, no internet, no TV, nothing. The other retreats I’ve done were also silent too and to do a meditation retreat really needs the silence for it to be anywhere as effective.
The meditation room at Sunnataram
It was donation based although they recommended $50 a night so that’s $150 for a 3 day meditation course. It doesn’t get more value for money in Sydney! The food was vegetarian so I was unsure how much would be vegan but thought I could always get around it somehow.
I also knew it wasn’t going to be just sitting meditation with a mixture of Tai Chi, walking meditation and chanting thrown in.
Here’s the course schedule:
Arrive by 6:30pm
7pm Chanting, meditation and orientation
Saturday and Sunday
5am Wake Up (I know!!)
5:30am Morning Chanting (30 minutes or so) & Meditation (1 hour)
8am Tai Chi
9am Walking Meditation (outside, 40 minutes) meditation and talk (1 hour and half)
11am Lunch and sleep
2pm Walking meditation (outside 40 minutes) meditation and talk (1 hour and half)
4pm Help out the Monastery with jobs
6pm Evening chanting and meditation
8pm-9pm bed time!
The same as Saturday & Sunday up to:
11am lunch and pack up
What was the course like?
As soon as we arrived I was in absolute awe of the Pagoda which was all lit up. It looked incredible against the darkness of the night sky and millions of stars around. I miss being able to see a lot of stars, something you just don’t get the luxury of seeing when living in a city.
The beautiful pagoda at Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Bundanoon
One thing I knew was it was going to be cold. I mean really cold because I went there in June, that’s winter in Australia and it was in the middle of the mountains! Luckily I was put into a female dorm which had a fireplace to keep us warm.
All wrapped up for a talk before walking meditation. Can you spot which one is me?
The food was amazing. Like seriously amazing and most of it was vegan friendly too. Think a mix of Thai and Indian food that just all worked incredibly well together!
The monks were just magical. Seriously, they were amazing and taught us a lot. What I really loved was how they related pretty much everything into the modern world. Talking about Instagram to talking about TV Shows like The Voice, they knew it all. Their purpose was to teach us the act of loving kindness and mindfulness, and it worked…really well.
Minus the child, these were the incredible Monks
Favourite Part of the Course
Being able to sit and enjoy the quietness and beauty of the monastery. The view out to Jervis Bay was absolutely stunning.
Spending three days looking out to this view isn’t a bad thing whatsoever!
I also absolutely loved the birds as it reminded me of my mother who loved feeding birds yet I have never seen anything like it! Parrots and ducks would swarm on in standing on the monks’ heads to get some food yet they weren’t aggressive. It literally reminded me of a Disney movie and totally surreal.
I also absolutely loved Tai Chi. It was my first time doing it and and beautiful form of meditation in itself.
What Did I learn?
It’s amazing what you can teach yourself in just a few days. Everyone’s experiences are going to be completely different but I got lot out of it and learnt an awful lot about myself and how to make small proactive changes for a better life. I came back from the course absolutely beaming and full of life. It’s like I’ve been given a wake up call, a bit like how I would usually feel after doing a 10 day juice cleanse yet way more beneficial as I’ve realised how I need to meditate as an on going way of life now.
Why Should you go?
If you’re feeling a bit lost or you just need a few days away (there were a few people there who attended who just needed time out from their families for a couple of days) then this is the place to rejuvenate. It’s also a fantastic course if you’ve just started meditating as the Monks explain everything in a very relateable way so it’s easy to understand. Obviously if you’re an experienced meditator than I’m sure you’re already aware of this gem of a place. There were people there of all levels on the course. For just $50 a night, this is without a doubt the best money I have spent in the last couple of years. I couldn’t recommend it enough so much so that I’m signing up to the next course.
It was funny going back to work and seeing everyone say the usual “weekend wasn’t long enough” whereas for me it felt like I had been away for ages in a really, really good way 🙂
Have you been to Sunnataram or any other meditation retreat near Sydney? Let me know in the comments below.
How meditation pulled me out of a dark time and a review of the vipassana course
Thanks for reading