Why do I go on retreat?

Uncategorized Feb 27, 2018

To explain why I personally go on retreat let me take you back to late 2014. At that time I was still affected by symptoms of ME /Chronic Fatigue syndrome that typically became worse during the winter months. I was negatively affected by the weather & light, my energy levels became depleted and I lived in fear of catching even the simple cold as it typically resulted in chest infections and other health problems. To add to this I was mostly doing work that I found stressful and unfulfilling, with tight deadlines that coincided with periods of my lowest health and energy. I could see that the two were connected but how could I change this pattern? This had been my life for fifteen years. I realised that if I always did what I’d always done, then I would always have the same issues. The answer came in seeing a post about a retreat. Could I manage to go away during the busiest month when my energy was lowest, and set my intention to transform my health, my life and my work? It seemed like one of those no-brain decisions that I had to go somehow, and I found myself saying yes and booking flights. I had a very short window to try to complete all my outstanding client work in advance and trying to change the ingrained habits of some clients was like trying to push stones uphill, so it was a challenging and tiring time but with a clear purpose. I still had a sense of doubt and guilt, but I was determined to explore the difference it would make to my life.

It’s amazing the transformational shift it can make to leave home in the UK early on a very cold morning at the start of a New Year, and then arrive and go for a late afternoon swim in the warm turquoise Caribbean Sea. To be safely held in that space with three other like-minded women travelling on a similar self-developmental journey, but with different personal circumstances. To spend days doing a mixture of nurturing yoga, swimming, self-development work and learning new self-care approaches, some spiritual practices, body treatments, working with the natural elements, sometimes visiting places on the island. Our accommodation was simple but with a wonderful energy, and we were nourished with healthy nutritious food alongside the extra hours of sunshine and warm sea breezes. I started to feel in amazingly transformed health and energy very quickly. Living in close proximity to others I also realised that at last my energy levels were comparable to other people, and it surprised me in some ways that I was the only one who never went and had a nap in the middle of the day. One of my favourite places was to lie in a hammock strung between two palm trees, looking up at the blue sky and feeling weightless in the breeze.

I was fortunate that I had the chance to stay on for a few extra days before my return flight. I felt that I needed that extra time to process all that I had learnt and ensure that I was able to return to the UK in my most vibrant state. I had generally always felt in better health after personal holidays- from the sunshine, a different environment, the chance to truly relax and spend time with my husband and children. But I had never experienced such a radical shift in my health and energy before and the retreat had definitely been far more than a holiday. My greatest concern was whether this would last when I returned to my “normal” life? In 1:1 support sessions we explored the creation of an ongoing Nurture plan to support Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit and how to anchor in those feelings of a new level of health. I also opted for a follow-up series of monthly sessions to give further support, accountability and check-ins of progress. This was all about creating permanent transformation not a quick fix that rapidly evaporated.

My husband, family and friends could clearly notice positive changes even after returning to a drop in temperature of over 30 degrees centigrade and the remaining winter period. The most difficult challenge was to protect my own boundaries from things in my normal life that might create a return to feeling stressed or anxious. Going back to my nurture plan and focusing on the basics even when busy was becoming a new embedded habit.

I was keen to understand the differences between my life on the retreat and normal home life. The different weather and environment were big factors-being outdoors or having the house open to the breeze, warmth and sunshine, being away from TV and negative news, minimal use of mobile phones or internet, tranquility, protected mainly from all the everyday sources of stress. There was a strong focus on our own journey and mindset, doing inner work to clear emotions and unhelpful behaviours and planning our vision. Journalling helped to capture all the insights. It made such a difference to be doing this work with others and with support, rather than struggling along trying to work it out myself. We moved our bodies but without extremes by practicing a gentle nurturing style of yoga, swimming and allowing ourselves to be supported by the water, and walking along deserted beaches listening to the sound of waves. We were having healthy vegetarian food, lots of water, and avoiding coffee, carbohydrates, sugars and alcohol. We tended to wake naturally with the dawn around 6am and go to bed quite early, with improved sleep as we didn’t have anything to worry us. Spiritual practices helped to connect to the sense that we were part of the bigger Universe and would be supported in our life purpose. Although I couldn’t easily recreate all these aspects my Nurture Plan helped me to introduce new sustainable self-care practices into my life at home.

It made such a fundamental transformation to my life. I’m so truly grateful to my wonderful mentor, Monica Douglas-Clark for guiding me on my own journey. I’ve since been fortunate enough to return to this retreat space in three subsequent years, sometimes alone for a self-directed retreat and sometimes with fellow travellers. Cumulatively it helped me finally reach a point where I could say that I had fully recovered from the ME cycle of remission and relapse, and I had made deep lasting changes to my beliefs and behaviours, and tackled those areas that were impacting my health and energy. Every visit was a deeply healing experience and I needed to be clear on my boundaries and what was the critical value I wanted from the retreat experience. Yoga, walking, swimming, mindfulness and journaling have remained as core practices. I understand from learned experience that sometimes it’s necessary to say no to some things like thinking I could do developmental work on my business or keep up social media activities. They wouldn’t have allowed me to get the true restorative benefit from being away in that space. If you are naturally quite a driven personality even positive experiences like enjoying exercise or fully exploring the island may need to be limited at times to achieve better balance. It’s about truly connecting with what nurtures your body, mind, heart and spirit.

Over the years I have gradually shifted away from the work I found challenging and stressful and now have 100% focus on helping other female entrepreneurs to consciously create a life and business that is both successful on their terms AND allows them to be in vibrant health and energy. Now it feels time to start to plan to create my own retreat experiences. My personal vision of client retreats is for them to be small and intimate, nurturing and supportive, with like-minded people. It’s about selecting a suitable retreat environment and creating the sense of spaciousness compared to normal life, the ability to let go of all the mental and emotional clutter and 100% focus on nurturing self-care practices. My experiences show that it’s more about supporting people and walking alongside them on their on-going journey of transformation, rather than necessarily having a high level of luxury & pampering or overwhelming them with a full schedule of learning and daily activities. The location doesn’t necessarily have to be tropical despite the obvious appeal during winter- it’s more about the opportunity to be outdoors in the beauty of nature.

Does the idea of going on a retreat appeal to you? I’d really appreciate your comments to help in exploring this further and researching possible locations. Thank you !

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