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Holiday, friendship and “meditation retreat” (first post)

This is the first of 11 blog posts about going to Morocco to walk "mindfully" in the Sahara desert.  This post gives a bit of background to the trip.

6.00am - the old clock has just sounded in my cousin's house in London. We arrived yesterday evening, flew down from Edinburgh, came across London, had a great meal with my cousin, his wife, their daughter, and dear Kieran, our son, who'd cycled over from his flat further East. I woke this morning an hour or so ago and lay thinking about the trip ahead. At 8.00am, Catero, my wife, and I are due to head down to Victoria and take a train out to Gatwick airport. Hopefully we'll meet up with four friends there and catch a plane to Marrakech. We should then get together with a couple more friends at the little hotel we've booked in the Medina. Tomorrow we're due to be picked up by two 4x4's and driven over the Atlas mountains down towards the Sahara desert.

Catero and I have done this before. Two years ago, a friend and I taught a three day course on cognitive therapy for the Moroccan Psychiatric Association in Casablanca. We then met up with Catero and a couple of other friends and did this kind of trip down into the desert. Five days walking - luggage, tents, food and water carried by long-suffering camels. A very precious time. Mostly during the day we walked in silence, "mindfully". I wrote a journal, a diary of the trip. Yesterday in the plane down from Edinburgh I reread much of it again. So describing the last morning of the five days in the desert, I wrote:

"And this morning, gradually emerging like butterflies into warming sunlight. Our last full day walking through this 'lovely wasteland' ... walking again ... such luxury! Walking for hours ... a bit windy again ... at times, the desert a haze of sand. My back easier again, not right, but much better (I'd strained my back at the start of the trip). So good striding out. Lovely lightness, at times almost dancing across the sand. Initially a friend wanted to talk about his work concerns. I like him and want to help, but after a while I was impatient for silence. I said some things that I hope were helpful and then sliced off to walk out to the side well away from the camel train ... but in parallel with them. Walking through desert sand haze. A pleasure to do. Dropping quickly into cycling my attention round my body and connecting too to sight, sound, touch ... and feeling. Feeling is the least easy to see clearly. Sometimes a background flavour of sadness, or contentment, or happiness, or peace - sometimes these quiet background sensings seem more appropriately described as feelings of energy states, energy movements, or even colours ... but mostly staying with the body releasing, loosening, the senses, sometimes the breath ... and then as the morning went on, after our first short stop and catch up (we often became strung out over the desert as we mostly walked silently and alone) and again after our second short stop, I found I'd quietened enough over these desert days to simply walk ... my mind/attention quiet enough to mostly just be in the present of walking, the feeling, the experience of walking through the desert without needing the aids of deliberate attention direction sequences in order not to disappear into the usual 'underbrush' of mind wandering. Precious, coming back to this simple being - 'the feeling of what happens', the well clearer of rubbish, of work and busy-ness ... the water glinting, glistening, tasting ... coming home."

Two years ago, when I came out of the desert I cried. I'd got in touch with a peacefulness, a centeredness that felt so deep, connected. I guess that's the main reason for going back again this year. "You can't step into the same river twice". Life changes. This will be different. And it feels a fun, slightly crazy thing to attempt - to try to combine/construct something that's a mix of adventure, holiday, time with good friends, and also a meditation retreat. Like trying to play some strange mix of musical styles. And I believe we can do it. Catero's running the bath. Breakfast soon and to Gatwick!


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