Recollections of a Scottish monastery

written by Zara Sekhavati
updated 12/7/2020
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Rough Guides author Zara Sekhavati reminisces about a trip to Kagyu Samye Ling, a magical monastery in Scotland.  

Getting spiritual in Scotland

The naked spindling trees drip trickles of raindrops. The chilling breeze whirls through my hair. The crunch of gravel draws my attention to a figure in the distance.  

Through the haze of the gloomy winter weather, I squint to find the shape of a bald middle-aged woman, fully clothed in saffron robes, spikes of hair almost visible. The tips of her heavy cotton overalls stroke the stone floor, revealing a pair of spongy slip-ons. 

I watch the woman scurry up a series of sopping wet steps. At the top stands a rainbow of colour in the shape of a temple. Deep reds splash against dark blues with trails of glistening golds throughout. Fuchsia, evergreen and mustard-yellow prayer flags billow in the wind. The temple’s pagodas flick upwards into the air, ready to drive off any evil spirits. 

Yoga retreat © fizkes/Shutterstock

My dear friend Katherine and I are fighting off our own inner thoughts, grappling with anxiety. We’ve arrived at this grand monastery to enroll on a yoga and meditation course. We are far from home. The long, gruelling journey has landed us in a calming valley on the banks of the River Esk in Scotland, where the Kagyu Samye Ling rests – the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre founded in the West. 

I turn around to a flurry of women clutching multicoloured yoga mats under their arms, coated in tight leggings, long-sleeved Lycra tops and a mountain of hair tousled on the tops of their heads. Katherine and I shuffle along with the group to a meditation class.  

My yoga mat lies on the wooden floor and I spread out on its cushioning foam while our instructor, Johnny, enters. Layered in white tracksuit bottoms and a loose grey T-shirt, he is warm and friendly. I am ready for my first meditation practice.  

“Close your eyes and focus on your breath,” Johnny gently instructs, in his charming Irish accent. “Become aware of your natural breath. Notice the rising and falling. Feel your breath, sounding like a wave as it comes and goes.” 

Sitting buddha at Kagyu Samye Ling © Caroline Jane Anderson/Shutterstock

As my stomach expands and contracts, I feel like I am drifting, but I pull myself into the present. I’m not sleeping, I say to myself. And just then a thunderous snore bellows from somewhere in the room. “There’s no sleep. Complete awareness,” Johnny responds. And just like that, the sound ends and the snorer is brought back to us.  

As our practice finishes and we clasp our hands together in a sacred Anjali Mudra pose, Katherine, to my right, turns to me, green eyes glimmering.  

“I don’t know, but I just feel something,” she whispers.  

“I know what you mean, I can’t put my finger on it,” I reply in a hushed tone. And then it emerges to the surface. I face my oldest friend in the world and speak softly: “This may just be the start of the road to inner peace.”  

Top and above image: Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre, Eskdalemuir, Scotland © Caroline Jane Anderson/Shutterstock

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written by Zara Sekhavati
updated 12/7/2020
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