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Living the dream

Last month I achieved a life goal of running a retreat in Greece. It's taken me a few weeks to fully digest this experience, and now I've absorbed it into my being I thought I'd share my thoughts before they, and the suntan, begin to fade.



The first spark


I've been in love with Greece since I was 9 years old, when I had my first holiday there with my parents. I remember the smell of the heat and the wild herbs the moment we got off the plane; I had a full body sense of being home. I had no way to understand or communicate it, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Since then I've been lucky enough to visit over 35 different countries and whilst some places were unforgettably brilliant - Costa Rica especially - none have ever had the same impact as Greece. It's like something in the very cells of my being changes there. I still don't understand it really but I don't deny it. In fact, I am guided by it.



Daring to dream


The dream of running a retreat in Greece started hazily but began to take shape as I gained experience of running wellbeing events in the UK. I also noticed how much I enjoyed having family and friends to stay, cooking for them and creating a relaxing environment. My husband - a chef - and I started to say "we'll serve this at our retreat" when we made something especially delicious for our guests.

An idea began to form of what an ideal wellbeing week would look like. I also knew what I didn't want, such as 7 days of endless yoga, unsatisfying food, cult like retreat hosts or a sense of a boot camp vibe. I had a clear sense of how I wanted people to feel on our retreat and how we would create the right environment. My therapy practice informed a lot of my vision; this would be evidence and expertise based. Professional and relaxed. Supported yet informal. Quality but not pretentious.

We were inspired by some trips to Pelion - a lush, mountain region on the mainland - and Skiathos, a nearby island that we'd first visited in 2019. It was our second visit to Skiathos, in 2022 that convinced us that this was the place; it had everything we wanted to offer and was so beautiful. I spent some time holidaying and working there and formed a quick and deep connection. I sobbed when I had to leave. I still do, every single time.



The planning began in earnest, and anxiety increased as the dream became more and more real. Running this retreat felt incredibly important to me. It was personal. It felt wonderful, exciting, risky and terrifying. Whilst I'd done all the practices and elements of the retreat many times, I had never hosted a group of people abroad for a week before. The planning was overwhelming at times and there was so much we had to learn as we went along. I had doubts, fears and so many thoughts about ways it could go wrong, or not even happen at all. But I also had a ton of regulation techniques, wellbeing practices, supportive friends and my endlessly optimistic and encouraging husband. I found the courage to keep dreaming my dream.

"If you can imagine it you can achieve it. If you can dream it you can become it." - William Arthur Ward

Pinch me


Steve and I are stood by the infinity pool, the green hills and the sea behind us, looking at the perfect villa. In each room the guest gifts are laid out on the beds and somewhere in the sky four lovely people are winging their way towards us.

"We're here," he says to me, looking as hysterically happy as I feel, "we're really here and we're doing this!" I respond by squealing and jumping in the pool.



During the following week I took regular moments to pause and ground myself. I am here, I thought, I am here doing this. It's a strange feeling when something you've imagined for a long time becomes reality. I found it to be simultaneously utterly unbelievable and wholly unsurprising. It made no sense at all for me to be in this beautiful place, having made all this happen, and it made perfect sense. I'd catch myself thinking "how is this happening?" and then remember that it was the culmination of a lot of hard work, brave decisions and good fortune.


Made for this


Frequently during the week, Steve and I found ourselves in an easy work flow; unloading dishwashers, laying tables, unpacking shopping, emptying bins, sweeping floors, sourcing supplies, cleaning, organising the schedule and making quick decisions when needed. There was no doubt we were working hard, and yet....



"Is it just me or does this feel really easy? Like, we've always been doing this?" one of us said these words, I honestly can't remember who because it could have been either of us. It did indeed feel easy. Not because it required no effort, but because all the jobs either of us had done in the past - waitress, housekeeping, commis chef, head chef, receptionist, therapist, manager....the list goes on! - had trained us for this.

It wasn't just the work experience that made it feel easy either, it was the pleasure of being there, in a beautiful environment with wonderful people, doing something meaningful. The Japanese call this 'ikigai', which has no direct translation but means something like purpose for living.



Back to life, back to reality


I planned my return to normal life quite well; we'd had time to rest after waving our guests goodbye, I'd not overscheduled my first week back to work and I'd put some nice things to look forward to in the diary so I wouldn't feel too miserable about leaving Greece.

But you know what they say about the road to hell don't you! My good intentions were scuppered by a couple of unexpected and difficult things happening immediately on our return. These challenges coupled with a unseasonably cold and wet weather in the UK made post retreat life tricky at first. I struggled to let go of 'Greek mode' and resisted the realities and responsibilities of our daily lives, which seemed grey and heavy in comparison. My compassionate self says I was grieving. My inner critic says I was sulking. To be honest, they're both right!

I've read about top athletes or sports stars getting depressed shortly after winning the Olympics or world cup or whatever their pinnacle is. And I know enough about depression and how to prevent it to make sure I didn't fall into that trap. It didn't take me long to feel a lot better, so here's what I did:


Natalie's wellbeing post-success, anti-slump guide (also useful for post holiday blues)


  1. What goes up must come down - accept the slump, for a short while. It's natural to experience highs and lows, so let yourself feel a bit low at first. Forcing happiness or positivity at this stage won't help. Feel your feelings. Know they are temporary.


2. Reconnect - spend time with your people, go to the places you love and do the things you enjoy that are part of your regular life. Practice being present and allow yourself to get absorbed in your activities.


3. Be grateful - notice all the home comforts and things, people and places you'd miss if you didn't see them often or they weren't so easily available. Instead of wishing for more of the good thing you had, remember that you're lucky to have had the experience and are likely to have more good things happen in the future.


4. Appreciate and reflect - don't move on too quickly, take the time to process and reflect on your experience. Journal about your highlights, learnings and favourite moments.


5. Keep dreaming - now you've achieved one dream, you can be confident about the next! Balance enjoying the day to day with taking steps towards your future goals so you retain a sense of both presence and purpose.


Speaking of keeping the dream alive, we have already set not one but two dates for next years Full Recharge Retreats!


Before I sign off, I must - as a therapist - ask how you are feeling? What does the topic of achieving dreams bring up for you? Are you feeling inspired, energised, hopeful? Or maybe you feel uncertain, lost, overwhelmed? Please know that your story will be completely different to mine. We are different people on different paths. I want the message to be that achieving a dream is neither a linear process nor an end point. What makes a dream reality is a lot of bloody hard work behind the scenes. And I actually think that's the most beautiful part, the unglamorous grafting, the faithful persistence and blind, hopeful stumbling towards a glimmer of something beautiful.


Keep dreaming, dear readers.


"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." - Eleanor Roosevelt


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