After my incredible welness retreat at Bodhimaya, Cowdray House, I interviewed my meditation teacher and the Bodhimaya Founder, Cornelius O'Shaughnessy, to find out the best wellness experience he has ever been on the most memorable journey he has ever taken, and his ultimate travel mantra...
Tell us about how you first came across meditation?
I had suffered from severe treatment-resistant depression and anxiety since I was 15 and began to explore alternative ways at managing the condition. I learnt some meditation techniques and they helped to a degree, but they didn’t seem to resolve my depression. It wasn’t until I began to travel to India and explore the ancient teachings about the mind that were traditionally taught alongside the practice that my state of mind began to shift in a meaningful way. After some years of searching, I came across a very powerful and ancient set of teachings that brought the practice to a new level. Shortly afterwards my depression and anxiety came to an end. I then began to teach others what I have learned.
For those new to meditation, how would you recommend to start?
There are many apps out there such as Head Space and Calm that are a great entry point to meditation. People can always start with these. However, if you really want to get the true benefits of the practice then it is essential to work with a teacher who understands the deeper teachings and can help you apply them. Meditation itself is only a small part of a much wider set of teachings that can be used to help free the mind from the causes of depression and anxiety. To explore these in a meaningful way you need the help of a teacher.
What are the biggest benefits of bringing meditation into your life?
If worked with consistently and in the right way, meditation will certainly help you manage and reduce stress, depression and anxiety. However, if the practice is developed alongside a deep enquiry into the mind, which the teachings are designed to do, then the results are nothing short of life changing. The result is a complete and fundamental shift in how we see the mind, ourselves and the world around us. This shift brings about a totally different state of mind that creates a lasting sense of peace, inner strength and happiness.
What can guests expect to experience during a Bodhimaya retreat?
Bodhimaya is focused on mind and body protocols that are designed to have a deep impact on someone’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. We use a combination of personalised nutrition, yoga, meditation and the ancient teachings of the East to affect change in every aspect of someone’s life. The award-winning Bodhimaya programme is an intensive and transformative experience.
You run retreats at Cowdray and Cliveden - what do you find special about these settings?
We offer retreats in many different locations. We use venues where our guests can be comfortable, relaxed and where they can be cocooned away from the world and their normal daily routine. For a retreat, to have the biggest impact, it is best to take the guest to somewhere that is completely different to their normal environment. This kind of space creates an atmosphere and psychology where people find it easier to change and liberate themselves from their habitual pattens of thinking and behaviour.
If you could run a retreat anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
I love India so that is at the top of my list. I would also love to do a retreat in Bhutan. I am looking forward to running a retreat in the Himalayas in October in partnership with Ananda (dates and final details TBC). These regions are so beautiful and are where many of the ancient mind teachings came from.
The best wellness experience you have been on that you would recommend?
By far my best wellness experience was travelling India and the adventures I had there. It was the most transformative time of my life.
What has been your most profound learning since becoming a teacher of meditation?
I think it’s that everyone is on a similar journey. While we all have many differences from the outside, underneath we all have suffering and we all want to be happy. When you dig deeply into people’s mind you see that we all have the same hopes and fears. We are all searching for something. Ultimately we are all searching to find peace and happiness within ourselves. We might all be looking in different and sometimes peculiar places for it, but ultimately we are all looking for the same thing. We are all far more alike and connected that we think. If we could only all see this, many of the divisions and divides we see in the world would simply fall away.
For those with little time in the day to focus on wellness, do you have any advice on simple steps that can be taken?
Some people aren't great at sitting and meditating, but don’t have to sit cross legged to get the benefits of this practice. You can start to be more mindful. Take your attention away from your internal narratives and just be present with what you are doing. If you’re walking, pay attention to what is happening around you; the sounds, the trees, the colours, the people walking past. Try to look at what’s happening without getting caught up in any judgment about it. Just watch it. This is a form of meditation.
Who is your hero?
I think my heros are the people throughout history that have looked into the mind deeply and recorded their thoughts. For thousands of years people have been looking into the nature of the mind and reality and letting us know what they found. Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Nagarjuna and too many others to mention. All of us who use meditation, mindfulness and these teachings are standing on the shoulders of these giants.
What’s on your travel reading list at the moment?
I never read fiction anymore. I keep meaning to, but I’m always reading old texts and learning more about what I teach.
Top city escape and any insider tips?
Rome. I love it. There’s so much to see, do, and eat of course. The history is incredible. Organise to do the Vatican before it opens up to the public or once it’s closed. Queuing for the Vatican in the lines outside is a living nightmare. Avoid at all costs. And before you go check the Teatro dell'Opera has an opera on during your stay.
What is your favourite hotel?
I think this has to be Joali in the Maldives. I love adventure, moving around and exploring a region, but as I’m always on the go with my work, sometime you just want to remove all distractions and relax. In this instance, a desert island is ideal. Joali has beautiful water villas, amazing food, a wonderful atmosphere and of course the beautiful Maldivian sea. It’s a great place to just switch of and really unwind.
Favourite restaurant from your travels?
This has to be Ad Hoc in Rome. The food is amazing.
Where do you long to go next?
I am going back to India in March. I’ve been so many times, but it’s still my favourite place to go. Nowhere else is as transformative. Something about the place is so deeply healing. I throughly recommend everyone takes a month or six out to get lost there and find themselves.
What do you think is the best quality in a travel companion?
Someone who is easy going, relaxed, funny and can cope with change. Never travel with a control freak. Your trip can easily turn into a nightmare.
What is the most memorable journey you’ve ever had?
I got lost in the Himalayas with a tank commander called Micheal. We ended up so high up and that we could hardly walk because of the altitude. We ended up drinking water from puddles until some shepherds stumbled across us pointed us in the direction of a river which we followed back down the mountain. It was an EXPERIENCE.
What would you like to see in the future for travel?
I’d like to see more travel that involved the mind; travel that moves and changes people.
Finally - your ultimate travel mantra?
Go off the beaten track. Don’t stick to the usual sites and tours. Go places where other people don’t go and meet people that live there.
Every time I explore a new destination, whether it’s on an adventure holiday in Peru or a luxury beach escape in the Indian Ocean, I return home full of excitement to share the amazing sights I have seen. Through my own experiences I have developed a love of helping others experience the great wonders of the world; truly getting under the skin of the extraordinary destinations that are at your fingertips. Getting the details right, from which hotel is perfectly located for exploring away from the crowds, to which local guide is most knowledgeable on history or culture or art, is of paramount importance to me. I am constantly seeking out new and exciting experiences and exploring off the beaten track to ensure my clients are receiving the best and most honest first-hand advice.
Take a look at my travel diaries for food for thought on your next trip...