Global Retreat Centre Re-opens
The Global Retreat Centre In Nuneham Courtenay, Oxfordshire, opened its doors to the public again on Sunday 23rd July after five years’ closure for essential renovation. Over 1,750 people attended the Grand Re-opening event Feeling Peace – The Meditation Experience.
Uplifting and vibrant, the event was a rich mix of stage performances, music and dance and the sharing of wisdom and insights, personal experiences and good wishes from senior meditators from around the world, local community leaders and friends.
People were invited to come earlier in the afternoon to explore the beautiful gardens and the state rooms, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and experience the informal meditation activities set up around the grounds. There were movement meditations, affirmation meditations, grounding meditations and even tea meditations – all offering a taster of the meditation that is studied, practised and taught there. There were also informal sitar and violin performances, a meditation tent and tea and snacks for all. Many visitors remembered the Peace in the Park festivals that took place every summer for many years and attracted thousands of people, while a lot were discovering the place for the first time.
The main stage was stunningly decorated with a brightly coloured, hand-painted backdrop of flowers and peacocks under a canopy of stars. The first Lord and Lady Harcourt, the original residents of the 18th century house, were there to welcome everyone – brought to life in a light and entertaining performance by Minal Patel and Marnetta Viegas. They gave an imaginative peep into their world, and how our world and the retreat centre might look to them. Introducing and interweaving the speeches and reflections were songs by Lucinda Drayton, a rap performance by Lacky C & Jaini and dance performances by Pearl Jordan and Sharon O’Regan.
Senior meditators of the Brahma Kumaris from around the world spoke about different elements that enable us to feel peace and how meditation and a spiritual awareness is essential for our wellbeing. Sister Mohini, Additional Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris from USA, talked about Feeling Grounded:
“For each one of us, our eternal, natural nature is peace. We have to cultivate it], starting with our thoughts. Take this gift from here: “Om shanti – I am peaceful” and then I look at you and you are also peaceful.”
Sister Sudesh, European Director of Brahma Kumaris talked about Feeling Safe:
“When there is purity, security and positivity in the self, you feel peace.”
Brother Brij Mohan, Additional Secretary-General of the Brahma Kumaris from their headquarters in India, shared his thoughts about Feeling Connected:
“We have got disconnected from the whole world and the Creator because of an identity crisis – considering ‘my’ to be ‘I’. “There is a common denominator which can unite us all, and that is: I am a soul.”
Sister Jayanti who is Additional Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris and CEO of Brahma Kumaris UK – and very much behind the renovation project – completed the picture with Feeling Peaceful. She brought the evening to a close by leading the audience into a beautiful guided meditation for the self, for the world and for nature, ending with several minutes of powerful, ‘pin drop’ silence. She concluded by saying:
“We would like you to carry away the peace that you have felt – even for a few fleeting moments or perhaps longer than that away with yourselves so that you can be instruments for peace wherever you may be and that peace becomes available for you at any moment, at every moment you choose.”
Councillor Mark Lygo, Sheriff of Oxford, shared a few words, saying:
“During this time through the pandemic, everything was about wellbeing, fitness, moving – being more caring, connecting, sharing, and looking out for each other. And that’s one of the benefits of this retreat. Rewarding on many levels, refreshing. Re energising and re-powering, deep relaxation and peace.”
Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke, former Vicar of Marsh and Toot Baldon and Nuneham Courtenay, shared his memories of past events and collaborations with the Brahma Kumaris. He mentioned the important role of the Brahma Kumaris at the start of international interfaith initiatives:
“I think the true meeting comes as we can allow ourselves in all different traditions to find that inner peace. …I owe a great deal to the Brahma Kumaris and am so grateful to them, for their contribution to the world. …Peace is flowing like a river, that flows out from our hearts.”
Sarvjeet Soodan, Head of Political, Press & Information Wing at the High Commission of India in London, said:
“On behalf of the High Commission of India, I congratulate you for this grand opening and for making the centre available to all of us… A chance to take a break from the magic of our computer and mobile screens and away from the confines of our offices to find ourselves, to find inner peace and tranquillity.”
Dr Sandip Verma, Baroness Verma spoke about how people’s welcoming smiles here encapsulate peace – they settle our emotions down and help us be more accepting towards others. Remembering Dadi Janki, the late Head of the Brahma Kumaris who lived in the UK for 40 years and whose determined thought it was to have a spiritual university in the Oxford area, she said:
“We live in sadness, we live in a depression that comes in all forms and sizes. But what she taught us was that, actually, if you want hope, then start with it yourself.”
The Global Retreat Centre has been offering meditation and self-development courses, sessions and retreats along with festivals and other events – all free as a service to the community – since it opened in 1993. It serves people across Oxfordshire and from all continents, faiths and backgrounds. A beacon of hope and a place of peace for young and old, it has welcomed many professional groups including leaders, educationalists, social workers, prison staff, health workers, from the local area and from around the world.
Speaking on BBC Radio Oxford’s Breakfast Show earlier that day, Sister Manda of the Global Retreat Centre said:
“I love seeing people’s faces when they arrive and then seeing them again – changed – when they leave, having spent some time here. It’s about creating a balance in our lives between our head in our heart, between what’s going on the inside and what’s happening outside us.”
“Everything that happens here is free of charge. It’s a community service that runs on the contributions of people who come here. People are invited here just to be.”
The evening ended with a joyful song by Lucinda entitled ‘Abundance’ and dozens of colourful balloons filling the marquee.
For more information about the Global Retreat Centre’s activities: globalretreatcentre.org