At first it looked like my attempts to reach Holy Island, a small isle off the east coast of Arran, would be sunk by the weather. Despite glorious sunshine, crossings were cancelled due to high winds. The Dalai Lama had once been foiled by the unpredictable Scottish climate in 1993, so at least I was in good company.
Fortunately, the wind eased the next day and I was able to make the 10-minute dash across Lamlash Bay to Holy Island, a place dedicated to nurturing spirituality and exploring the deeper meaning of life. To the north of the island is the Centre for World Health and Peace, while to the south is the women-only Inner Light Retreat, where 12-15 women will this autumn begin a four-year retreat in search of enlightenment. Even that may not be long enough to find it.
The island is, nevertheless, open to all faiths and the non-religious. During my time there I was able to talk to some of the unpaid volunteers who run the centre and walk over the spine of the island to its 314m summit, Mullach Mor. The descent path overlooks the lighthouse cottages that now make up the Inner Light Centre. The women here will effectively be cut off from the world when their retreat begins. Their hair will be shaved as a ‘token of renouncing attachment’; there will be no TV, newspapers or radio; they will wear no make-up, jewelery, nor will they dress up. Their lives will be focussed and ritualised.
The purpose? ‘To dismantle the armour of protective devices built up over years and lifetimes to cope with life situations and experience the mind in its simple state with no pretence, nothing to prove, just to be as we are.’
The two volunteers I spoke to concurred. One of them, Adam, a 40-something Buddhist originally from London, said as humans we are ‘ceaselessly striving’ and that our identity is created – moulded effectively – by the culture we absorb ourselves in: from the music we listen to, to the friends we associate with, rather than our inner selves.
I can not claim that my four-and-a-half hours on Holy Island led me to find my inner peace, but without doubt, I left the island wiser and my soul a little lighter.