Do you ever feel like you just need a break from everyday life? Somewhere where you can just stop, get a good sleep and have a bit of me time? Well, I think I’ve found just the place!
I heard about a meditation retreat at Sunnataram Forest Monastery a couple of years ago. Once a month two Thai monks invite you into the grounds of their home for the weekend, and longer retreats on the Long Weekends and during Christmas time. They also welcome visitors on a Sunday for lunch as well, free of charge. As it’s based in the small town of Bundanoon, Kangaroo Valley, they have the most gorgeous view over looking the valley and out to Jervis Bay in the distance.Beautiful views at Sunnataram Forest Monastery
Now, I know you’re probably thinking a meditation retreat comes with a price tag – think again. I’ve seen these other retreats advertised which charge an insane amount of money which is crazy. Because this retreat is actually ran by Thai Monks, not a Westerner who has suddenly become enlightened and wants to tell the world about it (even if they’ve more than likely haven’t), Sunnataram is the real deal. It’s also not only incredibly affordable, a donation based retreat with a recommended donation of just $55 a day to cover their costs which includes everything from food, accom and a full daily schedule, it’s also just over a 2 hour drive South of Sydney. You also don’t even need a car to get there as you can just jump on the train and they’ll pick you up.
Things I knew About The Meditation Retreat Before Arriving
Absolutely gorgeous gardens at Sunnataram Forest Monastery
I knew it was a silent meditation retreat. Pretty much everyone I know always says, “I couldn’t do that, not speak for 2 days!”. To me, this is bliss. Gone are the awkward chit chat with the other people attending, it was an opportunity for me to switch off. I think people find it too confronting as there’s no distractions, just you and your mind for 2 days. That’s no phones, no internet, no TV, nothing. The reason why meditation retreats are silent is because they actually need to be so you’re able to really get something out of it. It gives you the time and space to clear all of the junk from your mind. It’s like a reboot of the mind. People go on diets, exercise hard, and so on, this is just a version of that to detox the mind in the path to peace and happiness that’s not a quick fix like the others. The meditation room at Sunnataram
It’s donation based although they recommended $55 a night so that’s $110 for a 2 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, dhamma talks and chanting thrown in.
Here’s the course schedule:
- Arrive by 6:30pm
- 7pm Chanting, meditation and orientation
- 9pm sleep
- 5am Wake Up (I know!!)
- 5:30am Morning Chanting (30 minutes or so) & Meditation (1 hour)
- 7am Breakfast
- 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
- 5pm Soup
- 6pm Evening chanting and meditation
- 8pm-9pm bed time!
- The same as Saturday:
- 11am lunch and pack up
- 1pm talk
- 2pm finish!
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 lit up by thousands of stars. During the evening, we were able to do a walking meditation around the Pagoda and it was amazing. It certainly felt very special, walking in the dark in the quiet and amongst the stars.
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. If you’re thinking of going, take warm clothes and UGG boots no matter what time of the year it is. 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 with loads of fruit as well.
The monks were just magical and taught us a lot. What I really loved was how they related pretty much everything into the modern world. Talking about Instagram to TV Shows like The Voice, they knew it all. Their purpose was to teach us the act of loving kindness and mindfulness with their visual stories and it worked…really well.
Favourite Part of the Course
Spending two days looking out to this view isn’t a bad thing!
The amount of wild animals that would gather at the monastery was completely magical. From wombats (I saw my first ever wombat walking right next to me!), peacocks, ducks, rozellas, kangaroos, the list goes on, it was like a scene from a Disney movie. Every morning it was like they would congregate by the fire waiting to be fed and the monk would stand with food in his hands and they would just swarm onto him. It was pretty amazing!
I also absolutely loved Tai Chi. It was my first time doing it and and beautiful form of meditation in itself that really helped me focus and clear the mind.
What Did I learn?
It’s amazing what you can teach yourself in just a few days. Everyone’s experiences were 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 retreat absolutely beaming and full of life and have learnt how to deal with situations in a better light than before. I’m also keen to incorporate tai chi into my life as well.
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 retreat if you’ve just started meditating as the Monks explain everything in a very relate-able way so it’s easy to understand. There were people there of all levels on the retreat. For just $55 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’ve already been back twice since I originally wrote this article!
When I returned to work the next day, it was interesting 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.
Thanks for reading