February 10, 2016

An Out Of The Ordinary Weekend

Turns out, that being wrenched from your familiar surroundings every now and again can have the most positive impact on your state of mind. The chance to get a birds-eye view of your life, to zoom in on the things you appreciate and pinpoint the things you want to change.

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Don’t worry, this is not a story of a “digital detox”. I have not come armed with a fist-pumping listicle of all the varying ways in which you can “find yourself” or “juice your way to happiness” by simply “dialling down your WIFI usage”. Nope. I don’t even own a Nutribullet; I’ve never been on Goop and I cringe when British people say “yoga pants” except for a handful of friends who I let off the hook. I skim read mindfulness books. I’m not writing a piece about the dangers of our iPhones and how they are making our necks longer and our thumbs a weird shape. We’ve heard plenty of those. We don’t need to hear the stats again. Yep, we get it! We sure like our phones! These types of #DigitalDetox articles that we’ve all read countless times are still being pitched approximately one hundred times a day to all the women’s magazines — I’ve heard editors grumbling about it on Twitter and I’ve heard it IRL in meetings.

But, this weekend, I did find myself unwinding and “detoxing” in a way I never have before. So of course, I’ve decided to write about it, in all it’s glory. Because it was a totally new experience.

This weekend, I stayed at Middle Piccadilly. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a rural retreat in the middle of Dorset, surrounded only by derelict woodland, a few farms and long country roads. Some call it a “holistic healing” centre too — but more on that later. It was, in all honesty, totally out of my comfort zone. I like the city and I believe the city likes me back. I like hearing people bustling around on the streets below; even the noise of car engines and people stumbling nosily out of the pub over the road. I find it helps me sleep, to know I’m surrounded by people and things and busy lives. But sometimes, an escape for a few days can be just what you need. Even if it is in the middle of nowhere. With nothing surrounding you. Gulp.

As we arrived, we entered into our little cabin room off the side of a small living area, and unpacked our bags. The first thing I noticed was how extremely quiet it was. At first, I found it too eery. No noise. We found ourselves whispering every time we spoke. We don’t really know why. It was just so calm, quiet. There was a different kind of energy.

As we made ourselves at home in the minimalist living room. There was a water cooler, some plants, a book case (full of amazing poetry books from the 1960s) and on the table, a peg solitaire board with different sized marbles sitting in the indentations. A game that was played in the 1600s. So easily, without WIFI, we started enjoying one of the oldest games people have played over the centuries to stay occupied. As we moved the marbles around the wooden groves, one of us said: “isn’t it weird that this is what people used to do, in their spare time?” Of course it feels more therapeutic to move marbles around with your hand, than refresh Twitter over and over again. But we wouldn’t choose it normally.

There was a knock at the door, and in came a woman named Eliana Harvey who looked as though she was in her 70s. She took off her scarf and got her notepad out, asking how we were. She wore colourful clothes, striped socks and bright jewellery. She told us she ran the retreat with her son and the head chef, Dominic, who we had already met earlier that day. She gave us a brief history: they bought Middle Piccadilly over twenty years ago and founded the Shamanka practice in 1990. The family are all involved in some sort of healing or medicine work, her father was one of the first British osteopaths in Wimpole Street, her mother her mother was a healer and early Bach Flower practitioner, and her daughter now works in Harley Street.

I asked her why she wanted to create the Middle Piccadilly retreat.

“There are so many demands put on people these days — to-do lists are getting longer. And women especially are expected to be high performance vehicles — like Ferraris,” she said.

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She was right. She said that people nowadays expect so much of others; and we expect so much of ourselves. Especially women. Comparing us to fast expensive cars, women are needed to be fast, mobile, impressive and looking good at all times. It can be pretty exhausting for most. In the city, people are stressed at work, hardly anyone takes a proper lunch break, we’re expected to always be on email, always available. It takes its toll. We’re always distracted, always waiting of the Next Big Thing to happen in our lives. When really, do we ever just STOP?

Eliana went into some detail around her practices, how they aim to heal the mind, body and soul. “But we don’t like to scare off Mr Average” she says, giving us a smirk. This suggested to me that the therapy might not be for everyone — that each guest has the option to go either go deeper into a spiritual journey, or just stick to the healthy food and long walks.

She seemed relaxed, at peace with life. I Googled her, after she left. She was 86. She did not look it.

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She said she had checked us in to trial one of their signature therapies: the Shamanic therapy session. I was intrigued.

If you haven’t heard of it before, Shamanism is “rooted in the belief that everything has an energy and that, sometimes, work needs to be done to bring things back into balance”.

That’s when we met Maya, a therapist and female Shaman (and co-founder of many of the practices at the retreat). The moment she walked into the room we all felt totally relaxed in her presence. It was like we’d met her before. She was making a cup of herbal tea, in the corner of the room where a yoga mat was laid out on the floor and she started doing some stretches and we were chatting about how peaceful it is here.

“I don’t want to go back to the real world tomorrow.” My friend Charlotte said, sighing, as she imagined her work desk.

“We’re in the real world right now too,” said Maya, stretching. “You can make your world what you want it to be.”

“It’s so so quiet here. We’ve been reflecting.” I chimed.

“Sometimes we need time to reflect on why we are here. To find out what we are here on this planet to do,” Maya replied.

There was a silence.

“We are all here to do something…lemon and ginger or Peppermint?” she asked.

Maya handed us each a tea.

She continued: “There’s not a day where I don’t think about death. I think about it all the time.”

I loved how deep our conversation had gone within in minutes of meeting each other. I think about death a lot too — not in a morbid way, it’s just my biggest motivator, as the clock begins to tick faster and faster. We try to ignore it, but the reality is, we just don’t know what could happen around every corner we turn.

*

I debated whether or not to write in detail about the Shamanic therapy session. A part of me wants to go in depth into how it works, what happened and how I felt afterwards. But every session is different, so I don’t want to give away too much. All I will say is, Charlotte & I came away feeling even more in control of our emotions, and empowered in totally new way.

If you’ve ever been travelling for months and months at a time (I haven’t), you probably aren’t surprised at how much you can bond with strangers when you’re all away from home. At meal times, we all gathered in the main house and we met a group of three friends all doing a “juice cleanse”. They were in great spirits each time we saw them, even though on a few occasions we were cracking into the bread and cheese in front of them while they slurped on their liquid avocado. We met a really lovely woman called Zeynep who was staying in a room just down the corridor, and we ended up chatting away in our room about Leonardo DiCaprio for hours. It’s not every day you meet a total stranger and end up laughing your heads off like you’re at sleepover with a friend.

I whole-heartedly recommend this get-a-way to do exactly that — to get away from the stresses of life even from a few days.

Middle Piccadilly also offers packages to people to have experienced trauma, offering them somewhere to escape to for a few days.

We forget, sometimes, just how much we are on autopilot. Getting up, getting dressed, getting on with the mundanities of life — that having some time away makes you appreciate what you have, and push for the things you want.

Thanks for having us, Middle Piccadilly.

General information:

Sherborne is the nearest town, only a few miles away, which you can get to via a train from London (Waterloo). You can get a taxi from the station that knows the way to the retreat (we drove, which is definitely something you want to do in daylight). It costs £100 a night including three brilliant vegetarian meals. Thank you to Middle Picadilly for inviting me to review the retreat.

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