Episode 67: The Magic Found in Slowing Down & Creating Space!
I knew creating space was important but I always underestimate how much so until I really have some!
At the end of August, I went on a last minute 5 days mindfulness retreat in Valencia, Spain. It felt like just the right thing at the right time. It was hosted by my friend Vicky O’Donoghue, who joined me on the BB podcast for episode #44 The Role of Self-Compassion in Mindfulness (click here to listen now!)
When I heard a space was available at the retreat I was super excited. But, then I have to admit, some apprehension and worries came to mind about this trip and I could have easily talked myself out of it! To ensure I went ahead with the trip I booked my flight as quickly as possible, the decision was then made. I was going!!
Here’s a quick insight into some of the things that were going through my mind at the time..
I was thinking would my class members and clients mind me being away? Who was going to look after the dog? Who am I to go on another holiday, I only went camping in August!? What if the food doesn’t agree with me? What if I don’t get along with the people there and feel left out?
Although, deep down I knew it would be full of lovely like minded people. I worried about the sleep arrangements and the bathrooms. I worried if I would feel out of sorts after the travelling and I was also due to be on my period, but deep down I knew Vicky would create a space to be exactly as I am in the moment. Anyway, I needn’t have worried about any of these things, because it all just worked out wonderfully and I had the best time!
Have you experienced travelling solo? If you haven't you should try it! What I love about going away by myself is that I feel the pressure is completely off. I feel I can practice asking myself, what do I want today? and then try it and see how it feels. There is less pressure to compromise and when people don’t really know you they have no pre-conceived expectations of you either. There is something about that which feels so freeing to me and I know some of the others of the retreat felt that way too!
The retreat had some structure with morning and evening mindfulness sessions, the sunrises at the beach were absolutely amazing and created a magical setting for our mindful practices guided by Vicky. During the daytime there were choices to go as a group or alone into the city, the port, a nature park (which we never actually made it to thanks to Sunday transport haha) and there were other activities available in the local area too such as bike tours and stand up paddle boarding should we have wished.
On the first night we had a gorgeous opening ceremony, whereby we had chance to begin tuning into what we need and start to set intentions for the retreat and beyond. There was subtle candle lighting and an opportunity to share and be seen and heard by others if we wished. It was a great start to set the tone for the next few days.
About 4 week prior to this I’d started to feel like I was at a cross roads in my life. I think this was sparked as I move closer to being 37 and making choices around having children, I had a lot going on in my mind that I needed to process about the direction of my life! So for me on the first 2 days I knew I needed some serious space. I needed to be by the water element, the sea, and feel grounded by the sand. I desperately wanted to slow the heck down, pause and have some time to reflect, have some great chats and gain some perspective.
I didn’t want to be taking in lots of extra information through my senses, at that moment it would have felt overwhelming. So whilst most other people on the retreat went out and about, I did as I wished and went to the beach. It just so happened that another retreat member also wanted to go to the beach and we had just the best days together! I have never spent so long at the beach, it was amazing to deeply connect and relax.
With the beach just a short sunny 5 minute walk away from our accommodation, it was so easy to head down there and enjoy the vast stretch of beach and sea which never seemed to have big change of tides, the sea was always there, always present in all it’s power and glory. I’ve been wanting to get more confident at swimming in the sea so again this break gave me the opportunity to face my fears and get in with the waves to have some fun! Even if I did almost lose my sunglasses!
One gorgeous evening whilst enjoying an evening mindfulness session with dinner on the beach a few of us decided to head to the sea under the night sky. This was totally out my comfort zone as I can feel quite creeped out in the dark, but it felt manageable after spending time in the sea in the daytime - small steps right! I was really proud of myself for taking a night time dip in the sea and I even decided to go topless helping to boost my body confidence too! It was so freeing and liberating!
Vicky created a wonderful safe space and by having time, much needed time, over the course of the 5 days on the retreat I gained a lot of clarity about things that’d started to cause me an underlying level of anxiety just prior to leaving. I came to a point on the retreat where I thought certain things in my life need to change. It was no longer an option to continue as they were and I managed to find the words and clarity I needed to begin to address those when I returned.
Never in my life had I felt so assure in what I wanted (and didn’t want) and I don’t think I would have got there without the time, space, conversations and support I had over these few days and a chance to listen to my heart!
When we are in the mix of daily life, I think it can be hard to really take stock of what we are happy with and what needs changing! I hadn’t felt this anxious in a long time and this was a great reminder of how I used to live everyday! It was great to remind myself that it will absolutely pass and I have a great holistic toolbox to help manage it! I didn’t feel helpless or stuck in this state as I had done in previous years which was so freeing! Gaining clarity on the retreat really helped me to feel more organised and less messy and overwhelmed in my mind.
As well as this, the retreat also gave me the time and space to reflect on my current daily routines and see what I could adapt to help find a place of centre and calm, rather than over-thinking, overwhelm and the off feeling in my stomach that had crept in. I decided I would get back to a morning meditation or breath practice, to focus on my grounding affirmations and to clear my head with a regular nose rinse, which I’ve stuck to! It feel like such a good way to start the day before talking Tilly out for a walk and get some fresh air and real daylight!
The retreat reminded me of the importance of taking time to recharge not just physically but mentally too. Upon returning, I have I began to create some short pauses in my day to slow down and watch a bit of a movie or do some art- whilst trying not to feel guilty about it! It was interesting that the old ‘must be productive’ guilt was creeping back in! A friend of mine has also really inspired me to chill out more, which helps to bring balance and makes it feel more normal for me, as patterns in our household can revert back to be very busy and intense if not managed!
Continuing on the theme of daily routines, I have to admit after a week or so of being back my sleep was still disturbed, I was waking up with my mind drifting to all sorts of places - mostly worries. I was trying to manage this by listening to relaxing music, yoga nidra or meditations when I woke up in the night, which did help but ultimately I needed to get myself back into getting more undisturbed quality of sleep.
I had some time one morning last week and in this space I was able to proactively decide that I need to do something different. Whilst I was avoiding bright lights and screen time before bed, I knew through my Ayurveda and nervous system lense that I needed to create a sense of calm, grounding, balance and safety before I went to bed, so that my mind and body knows they can switch off and relax deeply. When my sleep is ok it can be easy for the routines to begin to slip, so it was time to get them back!
For example, last night I had a warm shower to wash off the day, did 30 minutes yin yoga to really activate the parasympathetic nervous system and come into my body and the grounded earth element, alternate nostril breathing to balance and calm my energies and hormones. I then enjoyed an Ayurveda milky drink, called chawanprash, to settle me even more. I had such a good nights sleep that today my concentration, mood and energy is great! That in itself motivates me to keep it up!
If we think about space, up above with the stars and the moon, it is vast, expansive, and appears to have no limits - sometimes our mind can feel like this too when we feel anxious if we don’t have routines as a container in place!
Coming back to the retreat, just like the trees let go and shed their leaves in autumn to create space for the new growth next year, why can't we do this also! At the closing ceremony of the retreat there was a real release and let go moment for many of us. Luckily, everyone was patient and gave me space to write statements on extensive slips of the things I wanted to let go of, the things that I felt called to write in that moment. It appeared that once I got started there was no stopping me! It was very therapeutic to read each slip I’d written and then say goodbye to it as I popped it in the jar of water to be washed away to sea in Valencia.
Excitingly and a little nervously, I knew I was definitely not going to return the same! So far I’ve had those conversations that were needed, I’m clearer on my own needs, life is improving and I’m trusting that life is evolving, as it’s meant!
When we create space, we open up the opportunity for new possibilities. To pause and listen to our hearts desires. At some points in our day perhaps we have space, but what do we choose to fill it with…perhaps scrolling mindlessly through social media rather than a quick intentional conversation with a friend or enjoying the quiet for a few moments. Perhaps we feel a big gap of emptiness in some aspects of our life, what do you choose to fill that space with? Perhaps work or a glass of wine? Our lives become full not by being busy, but by being nourished physically and emotionally. Love is the highest form of nourishment.
Space may look and feel different for everybody, but I am sure we can all feel pressured when every minute of our days is scheduled and there is very little time to reflect and make changes towards a happier and healthier tomorrow. Whilst we can’t constantly take a few days out of our schedule to go on a retreat, as amazing as that might be!
There will no doubt be an option to join myself and Vicky on a collaborate retreat next year, so keep a look out! In the meantime, why not send me a message or a DM with the word ‘Retreat’ to let me know you’re interested in being first to hear the details.
However, firstly and most importantly, I invite you to consider taking some pauses, creating space and time to reflect and make decisions regularly to help keep life moving in the direction you want it to be and that feels innately right for you! After all, going against the grain causes friction and tension and who wants that?! Where could you create some space this week? What’s one easy thing you can do to move yourself in the direction you would like?
I hope you have a moment to reflect on these questions and feel free to share your answers with me by sending me a DM. If you would like to listen in to this 21 minute podcast conversation, you can click here to listen in now.
I hope you have enjoyed reading,
Love Sam x
P.S- click here to listen to the podcast episode here!