I travelled to Sydney Australia with Vidyamala & Sona in February this year to teach on the annual Breathworks course, with 22 expected participants booked to attend. This was exciting for me personally on many levels – I'd never travelled to that part of the world before; I would be teaching with Sona & Vidyamala which is always amazing; it felt a bit like time travel because it was always a day ahead of home so when I spoke to people – I was in the future (!); it was hot Summertime (between 36 & 40 degrees sometimes) and it was my first proper holiday in many years.

I wonder, what would I want to know about this, if I were reading it? A mixture of Breathworks related topics perhaps and my own experience of The Journey. So, bear with me, this will probably wander a bit.

From a Breathworks point of view, it was just great to see the fruit of the work Vidyamala & Sona have been doing in the Southern Hemisphere over the last few years. There is a committed community of people from all over that vast Continent, (literally every corner) & from both islands of New Zealand, who enthusiastically believe in the benefits of Mindfulness for Health and who passionately want to get the courses out there to everyone they can. These people are from all walks of life, a wide range of age-groups, some are retired, many are still active in their chosen professions, some completely secular and some who are practicing Buddhists & Christians – a great cross-section of the population really.

The team involved in delivering the training this year included us three who'd travelled from the UK, plus three local teachers (Chris, Maree and Amitashradha), as well as 2 great women (Paula & Satyagandhi) who provided gorgeous food throughout the time we were there.

The team arrived at the venue, Vajraloka, a Triratna Buddhist Retreat Centre, a few days in advance to ensure everything was ready for the participants and on Thurs 12th/ Fri 13th, the participants arrived.

I feel I should say a little more about this because, as an Irish person, my idea of a long distance is the journey from Dublin to Galway or Birmingham to Glasgow – in other words, the sort of distances UK course participants make for their training retreats. Some of the participants attending our retreat had travelled by car for 2 days, some had flown 1,000's of miles across the Continent, some had travelled all the way from New Zealand to deepen their practice and complete their training as Breathworks teachers. I felt hugely privileged to be part of this group and the team working with them.

I mostly taught the TTa people components from the Mindfulness for Stress course to about half of the course participants and both Tti & TTa came together regularly for sessions where one, or two, or all, of the senior team taught the group. (I'm having a hot flush as I write this on the train to Adhistrana, which has vividly reminded me of the heat in Vidyaloka. As I mentioned, it was Summer in Oz and the temperature was regularly in the high 20's & 30's during the retreat. If it weren't for the air conditioning in two of the bigger rooms, I might have died in a puddle of my own sweat. There were times when I was teaching, when I would have a hot flush & the temperature of the day would rise, and I would have to stop and announce that the temperature was possibly killing their trainer in front of them. I'd fan myself and someone would remember to turn on the air conditioning. Saved! I was very mindful about it – in fact I felt I was modelling mindfulness although, in hindsight perhaps sometimes I may have been guilty of over-share. As indeed may be the case here but that's how it was :) I have a theory about why the Aussies are so cheerful – the amazing weather, the sunshine, the vitamin D, the great outdoors – they live in the Green Zone!)

Like yourselves, everyone who attended the Retreat has done an 8 week Breathworks course and for many of them, this was their 2nd or 3rd time to come on this retreat. Also for many of them, it was the completion of their training as Breathworks teachers and at the end of the retreat, all of the TTa group committed to running a supervised practice course. Indeed at least 2 of them have already started and I have been supervising them as they've dived right into the work. Several of the others will be starting their courses soon and those who had already finished their training some time ago are also working towards their accreditation at the moment.

There are some outstandingly wonderful aspects to training at Vidyaloka in Sydney – it's not too far outside the city but it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere; it is located on the opposite side of a river to military land where war games and weapons practice can often be heard booming while you're meditating (okay, that's not so wonderful – good for your practice though) and the river is the perfect place to swim in, every day at lunch or after dinner. There's a steep-ish trail down from the kitchen, through the bush, past groves of Eucalyptus trees and vivid flowers to the tea brown river at the bottom of a gorge. Everyone brings swimsuits to Vidyaloka & once you get down there to the beautiful riverside, it's off with your clothes and into the water. Once you're in that water, it's difficult to tear yourself away. People bring floaty noodle things to help with floating in the river - sea water is more buoyant then river water so you tend to sink. In some parts of the river, the surface is warm where the sun has shone on it for hours; in other places where it's in the shade, and right down at the bottom of the river bed, the water is cold. And sometimes, if you are very lucky and very quiet, a water dragon will come and sun bathe near you on the rocks. Wonderful though Taraloka & Adhistana are – you can't beat Vidyaloka and its river of bliss. (There were no crocodiles.)

I taught a group of 12 people and really, my outstanding recollection of them, which will always stand out for me from the retreats I've taught on, was how much we laughed together. There was a particular lightness and joy to the sessions that seemed to lift us all, which did not mean that deep & profound experiences didn't happen, but that there was a good humoured acceptance to whatever happened that helped us and that we took with us from the retreat. I felt that I was a better teacher because of this bond we created. I remembered Gary saying once "When real inquiry happens, you really love the person you're communicating with". I really love those people.

Another unique thing about the experience was that every single one of the team was actively working with pain or illness during the retreat. Vidyamala was dealing with a lot of physical pain & the effects of all this long distance travel, Sona was experiencing intense migraines on an almost daily basis, I had my back pain, Chris lives with intense chronic pain, as does Maree & Amritashrada. This required each of us to pace ourselves carefully and, probably more so than with any other retreat team, we looked out for each other, empathised with each other and supported each other. I don't know if the participants were aware of how much pain was present for the teachers but it was deeply inspiring to see the team, every day, choose to respond to their suffering with kindness, patience, compassion and acceptance for themselves & each other. Reflecting on it as I write, I feel moved almost to tears at the courage that this takes - to maintain this discipline; and the kindness it allows us to show one another as we take care of each other in this situation. But also, to see people make such a difference to others, despite their own pain – transmuting it into the gold that demonstrates to all the participants that it is possible to live our lives with good humour, to have fulfilment, even when our bodies are suffering.

At the end of the retreat, after we had said our farewells to the participants; the team remained for a Breathworks Australia, New Zealand Teachers Group retreat. This meeting will be an annual event where Founders, teachers and trainers can come together for CPD, training and mindfulness meditation practice. The Breathworks seeds have obviously taken root and are thriving in the Southern Hemisphere, where a clear need is present (as in so many other parts of the world) and the Breathworks mindfulness approach is recognised as a heartful and effective response to the suffering there. As the Continent is huge and distances between teachers are impossibly vast - networking and peer support are crucial to the new community there. I have no doubt that Breathworks will continue to grow and flourish there – with people like the ones on the retreat and completing their practice courses – it'll be amazing! I'm looking forward to going there again next year to teach, to learn and get to meet even more of the Breathworks community in Vidyaloka.


Have you heard that saying "Wherever you go, there you are"? Well, whatever I thought that meant, I met a different me in Australia. I used to be an operating theatre nurse – I have always considered myself pretty fearless. That is not who I was in Oz. I was jumpy and nervous. I don't like spiders – I was in the land of poisonous spiders.. I am terrified of snakes – I was in a country where St. Patrick had not done his thing, therefore, it is filled with lethal snakes. And, for someone who cannot hear the soundtrack of Jaws when I'm in the bath without getting a little nervous, I was in a country that has recently seen an increase in the number of shark attacks. Why am I mentioning all this? I got to live & breathe mindfulness practice as I watched my mind go to town on the fears & phobias of Karen Hall.

If there is one thing I noticed about my lovely new friends, it's how funny they found my fear of everything. Apparently it's typical of Irish people in particular. For the record Aussies, it's because we don't have any creatures that will kill or poison us on our fair Green Isle!

My standout experience of Primary & Secondary experience happened in New Zealand while I was on a 15 day solitary retreat – one morning, just after I'd gotten out of bed, I turned to straighten out my bed and saw a HUGE Golden Orb Spider just standing there on the middle of the bed (literally the size of the palm of my hand. I have big hands.). We just looked at each other for a while (at least that's what I was doing) and I kept breathing. Alone. Up a mountain. No-one to help me with this one. I was on my own. (With the giant spider). I finally took my courage in my hands and gathered up the 4 corners of the bedspread, carried it out to the verandah and shook it out over the railing. The giant spider clung on – thinking mocking thoughts & judging me, I was sure :) I got a sweeping brush and knocked it off onto the grass below (hoping that a bird would devour it).

I went back inside and could not stop thinking about the spider. About other possible spiders. About where the spider might have been all the time before I'd noticed it. About the possibility that the spider would come back. About what else might live under the cabin – maybe that was a small spider!!!! I wrote about it in my journal. I kept turning round to see if it had crept back in. Reader, I was in secondary suffering hell. I was still catastrophising about it the next morning. And I could see that I was doing it, but I could not forget that gleaming eyed giant spider with it's giant bulbous body, sitting on my bed. On My Bed! Eventually, I had to let it go. I talked myself down. It was Schrodingers Spider – both there and not there. Always there potentially. Or not.....

It was amazing to watch my mind. There was a part of me that was observing the chaos being created by all these thoughts, which was powerless to prevent my mind from working this thing out, powerless to bring it down out of Doing Mode – I could breathe and ground myself as much as I liked, my mind continued on its unmerry way. There was my primary experience – The Giant Spider, and all my secondary experience – thoughts, fears, judgments, physical sensations of fear. I could watch it unfold and slowly, as this was being processed, I was able to, eventually, choose how to respond. And let go of the spider.

I was reminded of the story of two monks coming to the banks of a river where they meet a woman who needs their assistance to get to the other side. One of the monks refuses but the other offers to carry the woman across the river. She is immensely grateful and they proceed on their way, leaving her behind. They walk in silence for miles down the road and finally, outraged, the 2nd monk expresses his disgust that his companion touched the woman and carried her across the river! "My friend, I helped her & left her by the side of the river, but you have been carrying her ever since."

That was me & the spider. It was long gone but I had kept it vividly with me in my thoughts, creating additional suffering for myself . Lesson learned. I hope.

Karen Hall