Words and photography by Becki Burrows
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975….That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past…looking back now, I release I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years..” Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
It was that time. My stomach lurched. And a feeling of overwhelming sadness and doom came over me as I sat on the bus. I was fine when I left. What was wrong with me. I hadn’t expected to feel this way. I’d expected to be glad to leave. I was surprised that was not the reality. I woefully and yet hopefully, texted a few friends.
“Sorry busy Becks..”…. “Far too busy..” another responded. I winced. Saturday evening and a twang of loneliness was starting to set in. Oh the love and hate relationship with oneself and the juxtaposition of the either joy or despair of isolation.
“It’s like.. I want to be alone… but… it’s like. In another way. I don’t..”
The bus passes Canterbury.. (the trains being delayed due to a leaf on the track..it’s always the little things!)…
*I could just get off here and stay in a hotel* I ponder to myself. It’s 5pm and I remember that everywhere else in the country shuts shop at 5.30. Not many options of what to do after that. *Nah I think. And I sit back and decide to just head home.
I had been staying at the Middle Piccadilly retreat, Dorset.
And I hadn’t expected to feel this way. In fact I’d presumed the opposite. It was not as if I had been around people the whole time during my stay at Middle Piccadilly..a detox/shamanic healing retreat in Dorset. I had been excited to go. Of course! Yet also perhaps slightly cynical. With a bit of fear. Due to the thought of being on juice for two days without solids. I like to chew. And feel the different textures and taste of food. Don’t we all?
I found some yoga retreats to be.. hmm not really about the yoga. Too many young fashionistas obsessed with their weight (and yours!) and trendy ‘overpriced’ yoga outfits rather than the actual practice or history of yoga. I’m not saying I’m not concerned about my weight but when one feels insecure..those places sure can be a rather intimidating environment when someone curls their lip slyly at ones figure. I remember when one of the retreaters – who was slightly plus sized came off the plane and greeted the rest of us. The yoga instructor whispered.. “she doesn’t look like a yogi..”… to all the more.. ‘slighter looking ladies’. *F*ck that.
And then there was the bootcamp. I had been on a previous bootcamp – running around for 8 hours a day for 7 days. Admittedly I came out straight out and ate all the crap I had been trying to not consume in the first place. On my second visit to a diferent boot camp.. by day two, and by push up 571 after a cracker for breakfast. I thought you know what. F*ck this. And made a sharp exit.
Extremism. Black and white. Which is exactly the sort of *thinking* I am usually trying to escape from. All or nothing. Working out everyday. Or not at all. Working all day and night. Or procrastinating. For me the bootcamp way of doing things doesn’t really work. It’s like. It’s like… self f$cking punishment. Sure parts are fun. And yes I’m not a ‘dog’ and shouldn’t need a ‘reward’ at the end of the day. But all work and all work. Is not that rewarding. (I hate it when instructors use that line “You don’t need a reward you’re not a dog”… yeah yeah.. *rolls eyes*) and when one replies in a facetious manner.. “Well. Actually this guy once said..” doesn’t wash.
Then there was the yoga retreat that was meant to be all veggie health food, no meat or alcohol on site. Well let’s just say that went out of the window when a bottle of Vodka was discovered under the sink by one of the girls.. and well. Doing yoga with a hangover is not FUN.
So how about actually doing well. Nothing. And actually doing ‘nice’ things for oneself. Like having massages. And relaxing. Sitting around at home – can often not feel that relaxing especially when the incessant mind *I should be doing this* or *I should be doing that* the haunting SHOULD SHOULD SHOULD’S that haunt our daily lives. Generally resulting in extremism or NOTHINGNESS. Well. I speak for myself.
And so I arrived at Middle Piccadilly and Eliana, 87 – who founded the establishment in 1986 with her husband greeted me cheerfully. I was astounded as she told me that she practices yoga everyday for 20 minutes and has done ever since she was 30. *And I never saw her once in Sweaty Betty yoga gear!*
“Try to not do any work while you’re here!” she smiled as she checked me in.
On the first evening I meet a woman who has been there for several days. ‘Its so hard!’ She exclaims. It is a quiet time of year so there are not many people about. She starts talking about food. Fish and chips. And all things nice. I look at my juice. “Lets not talk about food” I urge.
I DO NOT understand why why why go to a health retreat and then sit around mourning chips, kebabs, burgers and alcohol. It has happened at every retreat I have been to – and quite frankly my advice is – if you shut that one down straight off – your journey will be far easier. For it is simply fellow camaradie in self punishment. And futile in my opinion. Would you really go into a rehab and talk to a heroin addict or alcoholic about drugs or alcohol..
“Oh hi- you’re trying to quit booze! Well.. do you miss wine? Beer.. heroin.. what about the fun and parties?! By the way I went to an amazing party at the weekend shame you missed out”.
I retreated to my room that evening…stomach slightly rumbling, armed with a few books ..’Fear’ by Thich Nhat Hahn and ‘The Body Keeps Score’ by Bessel Van Der Kock. The room, clean, comfortable and secure.
On the second day headed to the kitchen where my next juice was awaiting me. The woman I met the previous night is leaving. She is nursing her juice slowly. I take note of that and nurse mine too.
My first treatment is a therapeutic massage. By Claire one of the therapists. She takes me to a relaxation room and asks me about allergies and the scents that I prefer. I lie down. “Do you mind your stomach being massaged?” She asks.
“Erm. Well. I’ve never had my stomach massaged” I shrug, remembering the time I went to a massage parlour in Korea and an old lady – wearing literally only her knickers started massaging my boobs after jumping up and down on my back. *Can’t be as weird as that experience* I think to myself.
Lunch and dinner are again juices. Yet, surprisingly I sleep well during the evening.
The next day, however, I awake feeling a bit depressed and lethargic. “Damn. I should of done more with myself yesterday!” I tell myself.
I go for my next juice. I am alone. But have shamanic healing at 10am. *Mmmmm juice*. I think to myself.
I am starting to get hungry now. The hardest part I am told. The first few days.
“With the Shamanic Healing just try and be open minded” Claire the massage therapist had urged me the day before.
I took that on board. On my first day Eliana had asked me about my health and all the generic questions one needs to ask someone. I had been surprised when she guessed my childhood past straight away.
With a caring nature paired with keen perception my instincts trusted her.
So I lay down on the table. And Eliana set her Shamanic tools out. She picked up a feather
“Calling to the winds of the west….!” she started.
A part of me wanted to giggle. But I resist and decide to try and take it seriously. After all. What the hell do I know. I know that technology, materialism and disconnection has taken over the world.. and that most of the population are on anti depressants. Which can’t be normal.
So I feel happy to embrace and get back to a bit of earthy nature and universal connection.
She sits by me and asks me to close my eyes. And starts to talk about my childhood. My mind resists. *Eurgh I really don’t want to talk about that right now* I think. But then whatever helps, I’m keen to try.
“Always be curious….” A group therapist had said to me once ….”Always be curious when you don’t want to talk anymore”.. I remember I had probably rolled my eyes with a ‘oh whatever’ stance to what I considered psychobabble at the time.
But then. She could have been right.
“Ok” I persist. “What is the colour in your chest.. can you see it.” she asks. “Er. Erm Yes.” I reply with my eyes closed. “It’s er black…?”…
She relates this to a serpent from my past and asks me to pull it out and yell. I have my eyes closed and envisage this. I do as she instructs and I try to yell. But again. Feel silly.
“I feel stupid” I say to Eliana. “It’s ok” she urges..” So I yell. Admittedly not that loudly feeling embarrassed. “Louder!” she urges..
Whilst there is no one in the room with me I imagine my three brothers and most of my male friends in my mind guffawing and mocking me.
The “night sea journey” is the journey into the parts of ourselves that are split off, disavowed, unknown, unwanted, cast out, and exiled to the various subterranean worlds of consciousness… the goal of this journey is to reunite us with ourselves. Such a homecoming can be surprisingly painful, even brutal. In order to undertake it, we must first agree to exile nothing” Stephen Cope
I leave the room relaxed and thoughtful. My mind awake. As I had been asked to go back to my past. Something that has never and never will leave me. Although my desire to let go is strong. I aminterested by the perception in my mind post shamanic healing.
I go for my next juice. Starving and a bit grumpy, I steal an apple.
“I don’t believe in juice diets” I think to myself.. “plus how am I meant to go for a well you know! Need fibre don’t we..”…
Ahhh the beloved mind. Always very good at excuses. It can talk oneself into the silliest of things.
I eat the weetabix and apple.
And cue: guilt…….. “Tsk. You can’t even do two days!” my mind berates.
At dinnertime Dominic the founders son – and the person who now runs Middle Piccadilly is there juicing my next drink. We chat about several things.
“Well it’s not that bad if you do eat an apple or something it’s not like it ruins everything.. or is that much of a big deal” he says.. which seems a healthy way to look at things.
I start to wonder if he had counted the apples in the bowl and knew that I had eaten one that afternoon. I look for the hidden cameras.
“Erm. Yeah..” I shrug. ‘Guess not”.
And the next day! I am introduced to food! A delicious bowl of oats soaked overnight in water – resulting in a milky texture awaits me in the kitchen. I am surprisingly not that hungry but eat it thankfully.
My next appointment is an holistic massage again with Claire and is more about getting in touch with the body. She talks about chakras and sensations within. We discuss disassociation.
For dinner Dominic makes me a cold ‘raw nut burger’ which is served cold with an avocado mousse and an abundance of salad. *Dominic is a genius* I think. It is delicious. And probably the best vegan/vegetarian food I have ever tasted..I am in awe of his cooking skills. “Really you made this recipe up? Really.. ” I go on. Irritatingly. The “burger” is followed by a deliciousness gluten free cheesecake made from cacoa beans.
I don’t feel deprived. Not like the punishment of a bootcamp where one works out all day and returns to a dinner of half a cracker.
And before I know it.. time is up. And on the last day I have a mud wrap and a good chat with Claire about life, relationships, being a woman in a mans world etc. I shower and smother myself in organic coconut body lotion. My body feels soft and relaxed.
Whilst I was only at the retreat for four nights and five days… I could easily have stayed longer. Having the freedom in the day to do what one pleases but having the structure of treatments and regular meal times incorporated kept boredom at bay.
Whilst I don’t want to be a cliche, I believe that this retreat was the first time I had experienced what the term ‘self love’ really means.
Being kind to the body. Not putting it under gruelling tasks for the sake of society (from over working out – to binge drinking). Taking time to just connect to oneself. Just being. Without ‘trying’ to just be. Nourishing the body and trying to eliminate stress in a healthy way.
And so.. you know how the story ends. On the bus.. feeling sad at having to say goodbye. But. On to the next adventure..
Middle Piccadilly is in a beautiful location in the English countryside, and has a homely community vibe without being overbearing. Eliana, Dominic and Claire are very likeable, friendly individuals. And it is as many reviewers have said online. “A home from home”... well they weren’t lying...
I highly recommend.
www.shamanka.com – for the School of Women’s Shamanism
Follow Dominic and his tasty recipes at www.instagram.com/the_lifestylechef
A FEW OF THE ABOVE RECIPES CAN BE FOUND HERE
You can follow me at www.instagram.com/becki_burrows
Words and photography by Becki Burrows