Searching for Stillness

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How many times do you hear friends and colleagues saying ‘I’m so busy’ followed in the next breath with ‘I need to switch off’. Or words to that effect. Maybe it’s that life seems to be speeding up. Certainly, we’re multi-tasking and switched on 24/7 more than ever – meaning we are naturally craving peace and quiet.

In the past, that would mean a taking a beach holiday and relaxing for a couple of weeks (if we were lucky), but now that just doesn’t seem enough. For one thing, how many of us take that amount of time off in one go these days? And, somehow lying on a beach no matter how turquoise the sea, white the sand and soft and fluffy the white towels, we’re still distracted by Facebook and emails, Tweeting and Instagram-ing the gorgeous salad we’ve just had for lunch at the chic beach shack.

It’s no surprise then to hear that the biggest boom in the tourism industry is for wellness holidays (including boot camps, running holidays and medi-spas), but more specifically, the fastest growing sector within that is for ‘retreats’ including yoga, meditation, detox. The fact that the Dalai Lama spoke at a recent conference in Delhi for the ‘wellness and spa’ industry says it all. That our frantic lifestyles are leading us to look for somewhere secluded and calm where we can find some sort of deeper peace.

But how do we really achieve that? For me, nothing beats the physical exhilaration of skiing in the Alps: spectacular mountains views, clean, cold air, and negotiating down a black run mean you have to be in the moment. And visiting a city for a cultural fix whether that’s art, theatre or even shopping can be mind cleansing in a way – I often have light bulb moments which make me see things with different eyes. But, neither of those options quite give me the same physical and mental re-boot as a ‘retreat’. In fact, often I’ll come back from one of those sorts of holidays feeling like I need another.

My first way into real retreating was via yoga – the combination of physical practice (it’s amazing how twice daily classes can your downward dog no end) plus meditative aspect of it can leave you feeling completely energised. The beauty is, it doesn’t have to be monastic – find the teacher who suits you, then their followers will be like-minded. So, there was the tattooed, pierced yogi who imbibed a little wine with us at dinner, turned a blind eye to those who smoked and DJ’d for our last night party. At the other end of the scale was the ‘holy yoga’ experience at an ashram in the Himalayas. Now that was monastic, but I knew I was letting myself in for hours of Sanskrit study, morning meditation, yoga and chanting sustained with frugal meals. It was worth the life changing high that’s still impacting my life.

However, lately, I’ve come to realise that getting away – no matter how spectacular the hotel, spiritual the yoga or spartan the detox – can change us overnight, as much as it won’t free us from our daily grind. If we think like that we will always have ‘post holiday/retreat blues’. The point is that it’s a journey. Each two hour workshop I take with my yoga mentor, incredible painting I see in a gallery on a city break or cleansing ritual I do in a beautiful chateau is part of it. What counts are the little shifts inside. The things we learn about ourselves from those experiences.

It’s also knowing what we need at any given moment. Life is about flux and change and we need to adapt. Next year, I’ll be turning 50 and plan to let go and celebrate with champagne and partying which will definitely do my soul good. I’ll also be signing up to a Vipassana retreat to feed that need for peace and tranquility in my mind. A pre-Buddhist meditation technique, Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are’ and involves ten days of silence. Scary, but sounds like true bliss.

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