In 1996, a friend visited our home, which back then was in the middle of a forest clearing. She commented, “It’s just like being on holiday in this peaceful place, surrounded by trees”. Our children were young and our working lives full, but here it was that I discovered the value of contemplation and experienced the emergence of a vision: to one day create a contemplative rural retreat that resourced people in the practice of solitude and stillness surrounded by nature.
Inspired by Rowan William’s book, Silence and Honeycakes, in 2011 I began inviting people to come aside for reflection in our home and garden (with coffee and honey cake too!). But, just as Anne Morrow Lindbergh says, in her philosophically meditative book, ‘Gift From The Sea’, this can pose a challenge for many, “It is a difficult lesson to learn today – to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week.” So I just kept on sharing, through my writing and talking to as many people as I could, about how to build peaceful time aside and the practice of meditation into everyday life.
Just before lockdown, in 2019, we moved to a small former working farm, on the English/Welsh border of Herefordshire. In much need of loving restoration, we planned to build a wooden garden room there in which the meditation group established in our previous home could continue to meet, and to hold Introduction to Meditation courses. Hoping people could also drop-in for meditation.
Months of torrential rain followed by a pandemic, delayed but did not deter us. Lockdown was spent re-establishing a productive vegetable and flower garden, designed for us by one of our retreatants. It was not an easy move, from an ordered home and floriferous garden, to something like the opposite. As strong winds, storms, and prolonged rain (on clay soil!) beat down, we had to trust in our vision, and The Fold would seem an apt name for the meditation room.
As social restrictions slowly lifted, building materials could be sourced again and construction progress in earnest. Drainage systems were put in, land cleared of pernicious overgrowth, and an orchard planted. However, any return to group gatherings, was still looking unlikely. Only individuals or couples could come, so we had to prepare The Fold for self-catering instead. We resourced it with books and materials for self-guided meditation and contemplation. I could no longer travel to lead retreats in other parts of the country. I stayed put and, like so many of us, established the unexpected ability to lead meditation and courses online.
We drew encouragement from our time spent as volunteers at Bonnevaux – during early days of its transformation (2018). There we experienced the beginnings of a vision being nurtured into a beautiful reality, as damaged buildings and land, discarded, dilapidated, were slowly being brought back to new productive life; just as we were doing on a far smaller scale. It takes strength to maintain a vision in those earliest days. The physical and mental tenacity to re-store, re-plant, re-claim, when little return can be seen, takes real focus. Early pioneers for Bonnevaux, custodians of a place yet to become, were Andrew and Delyth Cresswell and David Simpson. They so thoughtfully greeted and guided us as we did our little bit to plant, clear, sweep, cook and, most critically, gathered us to the rhythm of meditation each day. The silence maintained at the centre of what could so easily have been disorder was like a hub of hope in what was to come. To this day, we are grateful for time spent there, in that new beginning, and having the example of those hope-bearing people.
Meditation keeps us grounded and attentive, despite all that whirls about in the world: slowly we come to see things quietly growing, even from the ashes of neglect.
Plans can be changed in an instant, but when belief and faith in a vision remains, the creative spirit still moves. In March 2022 and 2023, instead of my planned in-person introductory courses running in The Fold, I have run two online from it (on behalf of Meditatio, London.). The Fold – our wooden room in the garden – was being used as a place from which groups of people were connecting “by wire” across thousands of miles: to learn about meditation. How could we ever have planned for that! It reminds me of my father, who in 1966, from his new shed in the garden, was delighted to make his first wireless connection (using Morse Code) to a fellow amateur radio enthusiast – in America! We were doing something not so very different from our wooden room in the garden, but with the added advantage of images!
And my outlook has changed. Leading a meditation group online, since 2020, I have been surprised to discover that the silence of meditation is just as rich via a computer screen as it is in-person. We have all widened the tent pegs, accommodating new ways to gather and run courses and retreats, and I sometimes wonder what John Main would have thought of this development (living as he did before the internet)? No doubt he would have embraced the challenge. Sharing the gift of meditation in these new ways has been transformative – and caused a renewal of thinking.
A trickle of people to The Fold has gradually increased. Hard-pressed clergy, people from different faiths and traditions, others simply seeking restful reflection in nature, are invited to meditate with us if they choose. All of them leave having learned more about meditation as an essential way for life, contemplation, and WCCM, through books, CDs, information , resources, and talking together.
We are now inviting the local community to drop-in for meditation on the last Friday of each month.
And, a word from our first visitor to The Fold, “the wide-open views enable heart and mind to unclench and rest – which of course you know and have planned for.”
The Fold is as much hybrid as the ways we are all now connecting.
WCCM Meditation Group Leader and Founder of The Fold,