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Do Retreats Really Change Lives?

I'll let you be the judge....

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Facilitators enjoying the Fiji sunset

Do you ever just wake up with a sense of excitement about life?  Grateful for all the experiences you’ve had and all the possibilities that lay ahead?  Have you danced your way through the day contemplating the amazing things you are going to do, the places you’re going to explore, the fears you are about to conquer, the boundaries you are going to test and the memories that you have yet to make?  Welcome to my life since arriving home from the Ultimate Girls Week Away #UGWA2020 in Fiji 7 days ago – Celebrating “we don’t have to be good girls to be good people”.

In late December, I saw a Facebook post boasting the “Ultimate Girls Week Away” in Fiji – February 2020 featuring keynote Speaker, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of many fabulous books including Eat Pray Love, City of Girls and Big Magic. I checked out the site and was in awe of the line-up of facilitators, panel discussions, keynotes and entertainment. I felt like a kid in a candy store – hopped up on sugar, overwhelmed with excitement and wanting to fill my bag with as many lollys as possible!  It didn’t take long for me to take the plunge and utter the words – sign me up! 

I was traveling solo so opted to be paired with a roommate to share in this journey.  My roomie and I connected prior to departure and we immediately bonded at a heart level.  In fact, the whole time we were there, people kept asking if we were sisters and others just assumed we were life-long friends.  We didn’t know each other before, but we are certainly connected for life now, which I am truly grateful for. 

Yoqona (Kava) Ceremony

Every day was filled with new experiences, learnings and emotional release.  From starting each day at sunrise with yoga on the beach or chi running to the point, both of which were led by incredible instructors Kim Dashiell Danz and Sarah Richardson, to ending the day with champagne sunsets and entertainment including traditional Fijian ceremonies, magic show, talent night, karaoke and dancing and laughing the night away.  I would love to share every detail of each and every moment with you but obviously, that’s not feasible, so instead I will share some of my key insights, as I do…..

Take your shadow and put it into the light

During the workshop with my friend Liz, (I feel like we are friends now since we spent an intimate week together on a remote Fijian island) she had us write a number of letters to ourselves.  One of those letters was from our fear and it started like this;

Dear Tammie, I am your fear and this is what I want to tell you.  I am afraid of …. From here, the fear took over and shared all of the things she is afraid of.  My role was simply to listen.  I did not console fear, I did not tell fear that everything was going to be ok or that the things fear was afraid of were trivial, silly or unwarranted.  I just sat and listened as fear expressed herself.  When she was done, the letter from fear was read aloud to a complete stranger.  It was one of the most liberating moments of my week.  Unburdening myself with all the fears that I had silently tucked away for years and bringing them into the light so I can face them and stop letting them interfere with my enchantment (which is all the things I love to do). 

Stop pressuring yourself to find your purpose

This lesson actually started as I read Liz’s book “Big Magic” and it crystalized during her workshop.   I have done a lot of work over the years trying to figure out and articulate my “why”.  In fact, it’s something I write about in my own book – Your Extraordinary Self.  I whole-heartedly believe in the concept of bringing more of what you love to do into your life, but I always struggled with my “why”.  Why do I exist, what is my purpose?  Man, those big questions come with a lot of pressure!

Over the years, I had somehow ingrained the notion of adding value to others as my reason for being, and although I love people, helping and doing for others, this session helped me realize that our reason for being is to add more enchantment to our own lives.  It is not about one life-altering purpose or vision, unless of course you are Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr or the likes of them, which clearly I am not.  It’s about giving yourself permission to bring more enchantment (happiness) into your life.   Going through the enchantment exercise was a life changer for me because one of my greatest fears revolved around not being able to figure out what I was put on this earth to do.  Imagine how freeing to hear that I don’t need to figure that out at all!  In fact, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing right now and as I continue to evolve, grow and add more enchantment to my life,  I have faith that the universe will continue to guide me in the direction I need to go if I listen closely enough.  And hey, if I happen to help a few people along the way, that’s pretty cool too!

Love, love and more love

#Fijibesties

Love, love and more love.  The beautiful Kerryn Slater whispered these words into my ear while she held me as I cried following a very emotional release.  Love, love and more love is what I felt as Joy Fairhall guided me through a magical Reiki healing session and engulfed me in one of her “Joy” hugs as only she could do.  Love love and more love is what I experienced while sipping champagne in the ocean watching the sunset illuminate the sky with my new besties, Coleen, Sammi and Karen.  Love love and more love travelled through the Fijian breeze as women from all over the world came together to celebrate themselves, each other and the power of women everywhere.  Love, love and more love is what I saw in Romany’s eyes as she shared her story of magic and life with the beautiful souls in the room.  Love love and more love is what sprang from the stage when Melanie Midegs, Diane Divone and Kate Kazony shared their deeply sacred stories of sex, love and relationships.  Love, love and more love is what emanated from my soul as I wrote about all of my insecurities to “love” and what it felt like when love wrote me back. Love, love and more love is what will guide me in my life from this day forward.

As I reflect on this experience, the number one thing that comes to mind is that I encountered some of the most extraordinary women I have ever met in my life during this retreat. Master healers, spiritual goddesses and genuinely beautiful souls.  Life-long friendships formed, deep-rooted fears faced, old scars healed, emotions released and a new relationship with love has evolved.

When I returned to work, exhausted from the 27-hour travel and jet-lagged from the 17-hour time change, my boss said, “Whatever you did, it worked.  You look different, not just relaxed or de-stressed but like a walking advertisement for why we should all take time for ourselves”.  Truer words have never been spoken.

So – do retreats really change lives?  Well, this one certainly did mine.  In my view, as long as you are open to learning, growing and even more importantly, letting go of what you think you know, open yourself to vulnerability and leave your judgment at the gate, then opportunities for transformation will present themselves in the most beautiful ways and in the wildest of places.  If after reading this you’re suffering from a little FOMO (fear of missing out), don’t worry – you can catch the next UGWA in Vietnam 2021, hosted by one of the most extraordinary women I know, Liesel Albrecht.  I’m already counting the days and really hope to see you there!

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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