Sunday, April 19, 2015


It is now a month since I left Holy Isleā€”or rather, since my body left Holy Isle, because a large part of me is still there. And I hope to go back one day. Perhaps telling you, Gentle Readers, a little about the place will help me heal the split.

The transition has been more than difficult, especially since after arriving in Oxford I came down almost immediately with one of my notorious chest infections. I have not been able to work and barely to think.

Holy Isle sits about a mile and a half off the SE coast of Arran in Lamlash Bay. It's about two miles long and a mile wide. Parts of it are very rugged, and it has the same sort of basalt formations that you can see on Staffa or the Giants' causeway; there are also sandstone and other types of rock, attesting to a lively geologic history. 

The retreat centre has made minimal impact on the island. The conference centre is on the North End, and the facility for the long (1-4 years) retreats are at the South end, created out of the old lighthouse keeper's cottage. Also at the south end are three 'pods' for permanent nun retreatants. If I weren't going on 74 years old and if I had some money I might try for a pod myself. In a sense I have been pod-hunting all my life. It's good to know that three people at least are living that life even if I am past it physically to make it at the South end.

At the North end there are a lot of polytunnels and gardens; the island tries to be a self-sufficient as possible, though in the deep winter additional supplies have to make the crossing when the wind permits.

The beginning of the retreat was delayed by the wild weather we had right after Christmas. I finally arrived a week late, along with the lama who was directing the retreat and has one of the pods at the South end, and a few others. We crossed the stretch of water between two worlds accompanied by rainbows. It was like going through a time-warp.

The retreatants and resident volunteers were an amazingly varied lot. An architect, two doctors, an herbologist, a construction expert, several therapists, a physicist, someone who worked for Virgin trains and so on. The atmosphere was very laid back and low key, while at the same time those doing Buddhist (or other) practice were very serious about what they were doing without being obtrusive about it. It was an unusual and welcome combination I've never encountered before. Often at retreat centres there is a certain preciousness, an 'in' group and an 'out' group; there are some engaging in competitive piety, etc. But there was none of this, and I sank thankfully without resesrve into the open arms of the island.


Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Gentle readers, if you are sending me private material under 'Do Not Publish' please remember to include your email address; otherwise I can't respond.

12:16 pm, April 20, 2015  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Private to Di: Yes, they're coming through. They don't appear because you say 'Do not post'.

1:04 pm, April 20, 2015  
Anonymous Ian Duncan said...

I was concerned for you because of the outbreak of stormy weather as the retreat was due to begin. Very glad you made it there, survived and found it of value. Looking forward to reading all about it.

5:14 pm, April 20, 2015  
Anonymous Pshobson said...

The phrase "competitive pieties" gave me the best laugh I've had in quite some time! Good to have you back and, as usual, highlighting subtleties that might pass unnoticed in those of us battling the noisy confusion of 21st century life.

6:23 pm, April 24, 2015  

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