My friend Suzannah and I are in a cancer centre on a 3 day retreat. The centre is in beautiful grounds around which we do walking meditations and sit staring into space in a meaningful way. The food is lovely – organic and not in the least bit processed and involves breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, supper. Each snack is lovingly prepared and is waiting on a table for us in the refectory for when we have finished a group session.
Our group is the usual ramshackle collection of people snatched from suburban streets of the UK and plonked together. We all do different things, are different ages and in different states of disrepair. I think we all have a sense of humour. We are all happy to talk about how we feel, what’s been happening to us, what we think will happen in the future and for once, the sun shines and we can sit in the garden and watch the plentiful bees. We have mostly smuggled in things we shouldn’t have like coffee and chocolate although we drew the line at wine which was brought in by a member of a previous retreat we had attended. We have our standards, you know.
On day 2, we are arranged a visit by the founder of the centre, a lady in her 80’s. Several months earlier we had been severely warned by another lady who had attended a retreat at the same place that we would be brainwashed into a cult at this point. She said it was sinister and that we shouldn’t go. She told her friend what had been said to her and her friend said it was brainwashing. She had felt isolated and nobody spoke for fear of saying the wrong thing. She said the founder was mad and believed in fairies. Suzannah and I think this sounds just perfect and sign up immediately as it promises to be just like an episode of Midsomer Murders only possibly without John Nettles. And hopefully without the dead bodies but with a real, live cult. We can’t wait.
The reality (and I realise that is a challenging concept in itself) is that we are given a talk by an elderly lady who has worked tirelessly to do what she believes is the right thing. She has Christian values and believes in God but doesn’t get sniffy at those who don’t. She believes in vibrations and higher planes and other things that may not always enter everyday conversation but she is passionate about the work she has done, helping people with cancer have somewhere they can go and talk openly and honestly. We don’t actually get onto the fairies thing because she has been given a strict cut off time of 9pm by which time, to be honest, we are all tired and flaking anyway. She says if she wasn’t with us she would be sitting at home on her own which makes me feel a bit sad for her. I am glad I have met her, though, and she gives us each a card with her contact details on it so we can continue the conversation via email if we want to. So no fairies, no cult and nothing sinister. I should feel disappointed but in reality I just feel grateful.