I’m slowly finding my feet again after returning from a 5 day health retreat.
I shared a little bit about it before I left… and I know many of you were keen to hear about it.
Plus, as always, writing it out does help me to soak in the lessons and wisdom of that time.
Why did I decide to go?
I’ve spent most of the last six months sick with back-to-back colds and throat infections.
Last winter, I had three chest infections back-to-back.
Basically, since going through hyperemesis gravidarum, my immunity has been, how they say in France: fucked.
I was feeling beyond burnt out after a really hard year dealing with high growth and staff issues in the business.
I can be pretty shit at self care sometimes, honestly…
And I was just at the point where I knew I needed a change because continuing to be sick with every single bug was not either productive or enjoyable.
I booked in two months out, and started using essential oils to rebuild my immunity.
It was SO nice to have it sitting there in my calendar… just knowing I was going to have time out and take care of myself gave me so much positivity and energy.
The week before I was due to go, some major shit went down with both extended family and staffing… it was honestly one of the most traumatic and stressful days we’ve had in a very, very, very long time. It felt like everything was conspiring to keep me at home. I just knew I had to go though – I needed to get off the hamster wheel of stress.
Where did I go?
I went to Cedarvale Health Retreat in the Southern Highlands of NSW.
I chose it simply because it was the closest one to Canberra.
I wanted to stay closer to home so it felt less overwhelming to get to. I didn’t want to have to fly anywhere! I’m not afraid of flying at all – it’s just that extra travel = extra sensory input that I need to process (for more about highly sensitive peeps, read this).
Plus, it was the longest time I would have been away from the kids… the longest I’d been away before was 3 days when I had a solo mama retreat by the sea. So yeah, this mama was relieved that if anything happened, she could just jump in the car, head down the highway and emerge back into normal life again if needed.
The health retreat is also quite reasonably priced compared to other retreats – all massages and treatments and doctor visits are included. (Yes, I might own a multi-million dollar company, but I’m still stingy! It was still a big leap of faith just to spend that money on myself and my health.)
I headed there Sunday morning from Canberra to give myself plenty of time before I needed to check-in Sunday afternoon.
I took our Hybrid Camry – the fuel efficiency is amazing in that car (it is powered by both fuel and self-charging electric energy). Plus… Chris needed the van for the kid-wrangling week he had ahead of him!
I kept myself amused while driving by syncing my phone to camera speakers and listening to Audible audiobooks and podcasts along the way. David Whyte audiobooks are so damn good for the soul. And Mia Freedman’s No Filter podcast is always tender and insightful.
I should share here as well: I tend to be a bit of a stimulation addict. I don’t know if that’s really a good thing. Whenever I am driving or walking by myself, I am listening to something. I feel like it’s an attempt to be “more productive.” It is what is is, but there we go.
I stopped in Moss Vale for lunch… but not before visiting this incredible work of art:
I had pulled in to a car park and was talking to my Scorpio soul sista Alisha and in the middle of a (really deep) conversation, I had to stop…
“Lish… there’s a fountain in front of me…
It’s a giant dick spurting balls into the air. WHY HAVE THEY DONE THIS? WHY HAVE THERE BEEN NO COMPLAINTS? IT IS SO OBVIOUS!”
Then I texted her the photo and we laffed and laffed and laffed.
Guys, next time you visit Moss Vale, make sure you visit Cock Fountain in front of the train station.
You’ll be glad you did. FIVE STARS ON TRIP ADVISOR.
Speaking of Trip Advisor, I checked it for a yummy restaurant to eat a hearty lunch at before I was banished to vegan food at the health retreat.
I ended up at Fraccaro’s Italian Restaurant which had good reviews, and was definitely worth it.
I attempted to wade my way through a gigantic bowl of chicken and pesto penne before admitting defeat and having to take a doggy bag with me. Holy scrumptious Italian, batman.
Honestly… by this point I was just quite amazed to be by myself without children or husband.
I lazily walked around the streets, doing whatever I wanted to do at exactly the time I wanted to do without a care in the world.
I meandered through shops and didn’t once have to chase a wily toddler or shriek “No touching! Beth! Don’t steal that! No breaking!” (That kid is a whirlwind… it takes two of us to keep her under control in a shop and by “under control” I mean… barely.)
Mamas out there… you know what a joy it is just to be able to go shopping (or anywhere!) without small children… it just isn’t a relaxing, enjoyable endeavour at all… you’re just trying to make it out alive with everyone intact.
If you’re in Moss Vale, check out Made by Others and the artisan collective store just a few doors up from Made by Others (can’t find their name or website sadly!)
Soon it was time to meander onto Cedarvale to check-in.
The health retreat is just up the mountain from Kangaroo Valley which is just beautiful… the land all around there feels brimming with spirits and energy. It’s situated on 130 acres of dense rainforest – it felt very familiar in lots of ways after living in the rainforest in Kuranda in the north of Australia!
So, I need to be honest here:
I had a bit of a rough start when I checked in.
And I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m just going to share my story.
I noticed there was a Bible quote on the reception desk, and there was a couple of religious magazines.
I didn’t know it was a Christian retreat, and I thought I had made a terrible mistake and that I was the only non-Christian person there. I started worrying that the daily programs and counselling would be religious.
I don’t personally identify as a Christian. I have many beautiful friends who are, and I am so excited they have found a spiritual practice that resonates beautifully for them. And I really do believe that the foundation of all religions and spiritual practices is the same thing, just using different names.
But for me personally, undertaking this very sacred time with myself, I was so worried I’d jumped onto the wrong ship. I’m much more of a polytheistic spiritualist with Buddhist Pagan leanings. It defies having one name, and yet it is very dear to me. I have that strong spirituality that’s been with me all my life.
So I felt really panicky, and knew that if this was going to be a Christian religious retreat, I could not stay. This was time just for me to heal and meditate and be Leonie just as she is, with her own faith. I decided instead of leaving or staying and feeling very worried and tense about it, I would be brave and ask questions and share where I was at.
I asked reception to speak with the manager, and had a really lovely woman come visit me. I explained all my concerns, and she reassured me that I was in the right place, that the vast majority of their clients are not Christian or religious, and that there were no spiritual teachings as part of the program. The only thing that would indicate that they were Christian is they asked all retreat-goers to say Grace before meals. I shared with her I was uncomfortable with some of the wording they used, and she said she was happy to make it a much less denominational kind of Grace… and that if I wanted to, I could also skip it altogether.
We talked for a good long time, and I felt very heard and that my fears were unfounded in experience. I was so glad I had been brave enough to share my concerns and get clarity around it.
I have to say, they were SUPER accommodating and really just wanted me to feel happy and comfortable there.
As the week progressed, I was so glad to be able to meet all of the staff, and hear their stories, and ask questions about their faith and lives to understand more. They are a non-profit organisation of Seventh Day Adventists, and its such an interesting faith with a quite defined lifestyle centred on healthy living and community service. In fact, a community of SDA in California is one of the “Blue Zones” of the longest living people on Earth. SDAs are usually vegans or vegetarians, and believe helping others is a big part of their faith… so it makes sense they would own a health retreat!
So, after my little hiccup/freakout/oh god am I in the right place, it really was all smooth sailing… and I would totally go back there!
After I talked to the manager, I decided I needed just to hear Chris’ voice to help me feel grounded… we’ve been Siamese twins for 15 years now, and it was odd to be away from him. The retreat is very secluded in the rainforest with no phone or internet access (which is TOTALLY a good thing!) I drove down the mountain a little way until I got reception. (Most people could get mobile phone reception by walking the kilometre out to the front gate, but I’m with Vodafone and needed to drive to get it.) It was really good to talk to him, and I told him all about my panic. He said to me so sweetly “Oh honey, you sound like you have a little bit of culture shock. I know you’re not used to being on your own, and this is a totally new kind of adventure.” He was right, and we had a good giggle about it all, and he reminded me I could come home anytime.
Once I was back, I settled into my room to ground myself further.
I had brought two huge suitcases filled with bugger-all clothes… mostly books and art supplies and journals and my new-found obsession of essential oils. I was SO glad that I had decided to bring not just a case of oils, but a diffuser as well! Ha! HARDCORE NEXT LEVEL HIPPY!
I put on some Lavender oil which is always so soothing for me, and the room immediately started feeling homely to me. Bringing oils and a diffuser ended up being one of the best decisions for me… it instantly changed my mood and helped me feel supported and good. (Plus, I took a little vial of tea tree with us when we went hiking up to a waterfall incase I got attacked by leeches. I didn’t… I think they knew I was PREPARED like an oily motherfucker!)
How I spent the retreat…
So this is a proper health retreat… there’s a medical doctor/GP on staff. You have a long consultation with him at the beginning, and can have a follow-up session with him at the end. He gives you a written report on your health, and recommendations on improving it.
It was really good to have a dedicated session where the doctor isn’t in a hurry, and can treat things holistically instead of symptomatically. Dr Paul looked at all the things my body suffers from, and advised that they were potentially all symptoms for a larger disorder I needed to be tested for – Pyrrole Disorder. Strangely enough, some of you lot had mentioned it to me lately that I might have it, so I knew what he was talking about when he told me. Next steps is to go to a Bio Balance trained GP for the testing. There’s about 200 in Australia – you can find a list here.
Cedarvale follows a NEW START philosophy of holistic health, which includes Sunlight, Nutrition, Fresh Air, Exercise, Faith, Relationships & Community. Simple things… ones we all know… but such a good reminder.
So… that’s the logistics all out of the way… what was the experience like?
I don’t say that flippantly.
I’ve known before that having a solo mama retreat is one of the most healing experiences I could ever have.
To step outside of the role of mother and really just BE with myself, giving myself what I need.
This took it to the next level, because it was a longer time (5 days), there was no internet or phone access (hooray! disconnect to connect!), I didn’t have to worry about food at all and because I was being so taken care of with daily massages, spa treatments and foot rubs. It was quite overwhelming just to RECEIVE.
I honestly arrived there feeling pretty fucking shell-shocked. Just a couple of days before I left I had had one of the most challenging days I had had in years because of external stresses. I am not going to share the details of those stresses, because they involve other people, but let me tell you… it was fucked.
And this year has been just a compound of all those kinds of stresses. I was feeling excruciatingly burnt out, jaded and stunned by how badly some things had gone this year with staffing. My core family was good… my kids are happy and healthy, my marriage is wonderful and strong. Outside of that though, it all felt pretty shit and hard, and my horrendously low immunity and lack of physical strength were just a symptom of that.
My well just felt bone dry. Not a drop left.
So to go… and just receive for five days… and fill that well again… was beyond special.
The people at Cedarvale are beyond kind and are really there for your healing. They want you to be well, and you can feel that. The land is special there. It too is kind, and is there for your healing. It wants you to be well. It was a very supportive space for healing. The rock walls in the mountains feel like great Ancestor Spirits.
So I spent my days there… dripping water down into my well.
I decided not to do most of the optional activities, and instead just follow my own rhythm.
I took my art supplies down through the rainforest to the orchard and had a picnic by myself, making art and journalling and staring at the mountains and sky.
I “dance walked” down the rainforest track, singing and talking to myself and doing energy work as I walked.
I saw wombats and glow worms and lyre birds and wallabies… ecstatic joy at seeing these sweet friends. I’d never seen glow worms before… they are like Mama Nature’s Christmas Lights! Absolutely magical.
I decided to run away for a day, and drove down through Kangaroo Valley and out to Nowra and the beach.
I sat on the beach and made art and smiled gladly.
I went to a winery and ate decadent food while reading trashy Victorian romance novels.
As any mama can attest… it is quite a magical experience… and very healing… just to sit and BE with yourself!
It took about three days, and I started feeling joy seeping back into my soul again.
I started laughing and talking to myself and really just feeling giddy at being alive again.
I started remembering who I was again.
You see… it’s been such a hard year… and I’ve had to work so much…
that along the way, I forgot who I was.
This seems totally strange now, but before I went, I had totally forgotten that I had any worth beyond what I did for work. I was over-identifying with my role as successful CEO and a small, scared voice in me insisted that if I didn’t have a business, that if I wasn’t successful, I was nothing. That there was no… me outside of that.
I’d worked so much, and forgotten to have a good life outside of my business that I simply couldn’t remember or even consider a Leonie outside of the CEO role.
As my well being to drip, drip, drip with hydration again… as I tended to my own needs… as I turned inward and forgot the outside world… I started to remember again.
I remembered that there is a Leonie who loves to laugh. Who loves to make art. Who loves to read in sunbeams. Who is giddy in nature.
And I remembered who I was in the world. As I regained balance, I found myself turning to those beautiful souls I was on retreat with. I listened to their stories. I gave massages… that thing I’ve adored doing since I was a teenager. I whispered to them messages from the angels whenever I was told to. One wonderful night, we got all my essential oils out, and we had a healing party.
I fell in love with each of them – their power, their beauty, their vulnerability, their sadnesses – all parts of them. I remembered again and again that we are all in this journey together. All of us think we are alone in our sadness and desolation and empty-wellness. And then we come together. And we heal each other.
It reminds me of this song:
And so I fall in love just a little, oh a little bit every day with someone new
I remembered that even if I’m nobody… I’m still somebody. I’m Leonie. I love people. I love healing. I love animals. I love art.
And all of that is enough. It’s more than enough.
It’s just what I was born to do.
I cried the day before I was to return home. I didn’t want to come back. I didn’t want to fall into the soup of stress again. I just wanted to keep feeling good.
I made a list of things I needed to change. I asked for help and advice from one of the other retreaters.
When the time came, I drove back up the mountain, along the highway, back to our home.
I did not listen to any music. I just needed to keep listening to my own self.
To keep that stillness, that conversation alive.
So that was my retreat…
I’ve been back for a few weeks now. It’s been a wild journey since then to bring the workbooks into the world. I’ve been sick since then again. I’ve still had some hard moments.
But there’s some water in my well now. There’s a spaciousness now.
I’ve remembered what it feels like to be me. I’ve remembered how good it feels to be in my body.
It’s a touchstone in me now, a place to come back to, especially when it feels like I am lost at sea.
If I ever lose my way again… I remember the way back.
Retreat. Restoration. Quiet time. Being with myself. Walking outside in silence, letting the world and the spirits talk to me again.
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