When was the last time you attended a gathering with people of all different ages, educational backgrounds, origins, professions, social classes, nationalities and religions, where everyone – and I mean everyone – was interested in you as an individual, asking you lots of questions about your life and listening to the answers? Well, that was what happened to me for the first time… ever… last weekend, at a retreat on a small farm near Hemel Hempstead. Typically, when I go to gatherings I am the person mostly asking the questions and listening to the answers. And that’s generally fine and suits my curiosity, bar the occasional pang I feel for a more reciprocal conversation. Well, I enjoyed ample reciprocity on this retreat.
The retreat was the start of a work-free few weeks that I had carved out to nourish my burnt-out mind. If you are anything like me, you would probably feel some trepidation and indeed scepticism before embarking on a wellness retreat that you found via google. In fact, you have most likely never been on one (this was only my second ever). It is not easy to summon up the courage. Nor is it cheap. The unknown can be daunting, while putting yourself in a situation where you feel self-conscious is not fun. Furthermore, my personal impression is that underneath a veneer of enlightened togetherness and wisdom, many yoga/meditation teachers and gurus often nurture enormous egos that wallow in self-absorption and separation. So, I made the deliberate choice to drive to Croft Farm in my car, giving myself the option of jumping back in it and escaping if I felt uncomfortable. I’d return home £500 poorer, but I wouldn’t be burdened by any incongruous time- wasting inauthenticity.
I did indeed jump back into my car, but it was the full 48 hours later, on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon, after a revelatory and transformative experience with 14 strangers whom I fell in love with, felt seen by and made plans to meet again (plans that I realise probably won’t actually materialise). The two yoga teachers who guided the retreat – Melissa and Rachael from Breath Body Earth – were anything but self-absorbed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are a living embodiment of those rare human beings who live out of their values authentically and compassionately.
There is much I discovered about the people I met at the retreat, most of which I cannot divulge due to Chatham House rules, but there are some things I learned about myself and others that I will share, in the hope that they help others move forward with their lives more smoothly. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share these lessons. So here is the first:
Lesson #1: Smart phone addiction really is a thing…and I have it
Hello. My name is Luba, and I am a phone addict.
One of the first things Melissa and Rachael advised us to do to nourish ourselves was to switch off our phones and, for the two days we had carved out, to experience the world 4D. Most parents, like me, resisted this advice, which is understandable. We wanted to be available for any child-related emergencies. I personally feel anxious when contact with my family is completely cut off. Somewhat pre-emptively, however, Melissa also gently advised us against checking our work emails, encouraging us to ask ourselves why we would want to do that on this particular weekend. Completely disregarding this sound advice, on the Saturday morning I did the exact opposite – I checked my work email. I did not have an especial reason to do so, just a habitual compulsion. The impact of doing it was noteworthy. The result equated to an intruder yanking my head back by the hair, forcing my mouth open and pouring 10 poison pills into it. Ruminating over the content of one single email left me angry and agitated. I was now also annoyed with myself for having gone against their advice, and so it took me a while to de-stress and settle into the meditation and yoga practice that had been crafted so masterfully to nourish us.
While disruptive, this incident exposed my addiction to staying connected 24/7 to everything and everyone on my phone. It forced me to confront how this curtails my ability to stay present in the moment. The two days with Melissa and Rachael helped me to go back to basics by offering simple activities like listening to the sounds of nature, looking intently into the eyes of another fellow being, drawing and doodling, moving my body to the rhythm of music, and enjoying tech-free conversations, uninterrupted by the repetitive act of reaching out to a screen.
I’m carrying this lesson forward, making a conscious effort to minimise the hold technology has on my life and the impact it has on my relationships. I have decided to treat my mind as a safe rather than a tech bin that everyone throws rubbish indiscriminately in. I now schedule weekly (not daily or hourly) appointments with social media and with the news. Give it a try. You may be surprised with how much easier it is than you thought.