Peace in the Forest

Jo Hegerty discovers that nothing is precisely what she needs.

Peacefulness fits well within the budget at Prema Shanti meditation and yoga retreat.

THE FIRST “om” was a little dubious, the sound pushed out through pursed lips, chins disappearing into chests. A collective deep breath and we were more focused, rounding out the sound to an A-U-M that vibrated in the chest, then the throat and finally the head. We were getting there.

If you’ve ever said “Give me a break!” and really meant it, then the Prema Shanti meditation and yoga retreat is for you. Surrounded by the ancient Daintree Rainforest and at the foot of Thornton’s Peak, the B&B-style retreat is relaxed, fulfilling and secluded – mobile phones don’t work this side of the river.

Every morning at the Prema Shanti started with the soft tinkling of bells from the temple above. Filtered blue light outlined the open window and, in noble silence, we each made our way upstairs and sat comfortably in a circle to meditate and welcome the day, starting with 21 resonant oms.

Co-founder of the Prema Shanti Mara Staffieri says it usually takes people a couple of days to settle down: “They come up here stressed out from being on the go, but still feel they’re incapable of relaxing”.

Mara encourages her guests to get out there and spend a day at the Reef, just five kilometres offshore from Cape Tribulation; or to go jungle surfing – crocodile spotting – on a four-wheel-drive adventure. On my first day, I jumped on one of the retreat’s mountain bikes and pedalled hard and fast to the Daintree Discovery Centre, 15 kilometres south. That was enough to put me in a contemplative mood and the return journey took three times as long after I’d stopped off for an ice-cream, a swim and learnt to pedal at a leisurely pace. It didn’t take long for the power of the Daintree Rainforest to melt away the need to constantly be doing.

It’s here that Prema Shanti picks up the thread and teaches you how to focus on just being. The practice takes place at first light and at 6pm, when all come together to meditate. The meditation itself is not always guided, but Mara gives her guests a talk on this difficult process of quietening the mind. She reassures us that she, too, finds herself repeating in her head, “don’t think”, then after a moment of stillness, a gleeful “I didn’t think!”.

“It’s normal,” she says, “your mind is racing away all the time, every day. It’s just that when we slow down we really notice it. Meditation is a slow process; what you’re looking for is gaps in the string of thoughts, then, slowly, the length of those gaps will increase. If your mind wanders, let it, but bring it back when you can.”

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