After almost a decade of numerous health issues, different medications, operations and hospital treatments, my body was exhausted, my mind was depressed, and not even my family and close friends knew my true suffering, because I didn’t have the energy or words to explain what was happening to me, or the courage to reach out for help.
Life started throwing all it could at me. Honestly, it was a shitshow. One thing after another smacked me in the face and by March 2017, I was so defeated that I was literally brought to my knees in a sobbing mess, praying for help. Three days later, I found myself bedbound for three weeks with a brutal dose of the flu. I instinctively knew that my body was shutting down to force me to rest, but what I didn’t know was that this would be a crucial turning point for me.
During this time, through a series of synchronistic events, I was contacted by a woman named Rose, who is (as well as a skilled writer and editor) the PR for Path Retreats. They are best known for their global seven-day intensive retreat called Path of Love. When she offered me the opportunity to do the retreat and write about it afterwards, I immediately said yes. I was nervous, but certain that I was supposed to do it.
When the time came to pack my bags in June this year, I drove to the UK retreat destination of Buckland Hall in Brecon, Wales. What a place! Laced with traditional décor, floor to ceiling windows and stunning grounds, this historic estate has a magical feel that flows throughout and welcomes you into its heart. It was reported that Buckland Hall was the inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien when he was choosing the childhood home for Frodo Baggins, and a map of Middle Earth hangs proudly in one of the corridors to pay tribute to the author and his amazing work. It really was the perfect place to be inspired, and the perfect place for this retreat.
People started arriving and I was really happy to see such a diverse range of faces. Different ages, genders, races, sexualities, nationalities, religions and personalities. All were welcome, and I loved it! As everyone bustled in through the main doors, we were greeted with warm smiles. This was followed by the registration process, disclaimer agreements, room numbers, introductions, folders, name tags and rules: no technology, no smoking, no alcohol, no violence and no sexual contact whatsoever. This was a relief to me, because I’d never done an intensive personal development retreat like this before, and if I’m honest, there was a nagging worry in the back of my mind that it may be some kind of secret cult that would try and make me have sex with the leader at the end of the week. I needn’t have bothered with the stress – it was nothing of the sort! Although, I did have a nervous giggle on the first morning’s Dynamic Meditation, when I peeped from behind my blindfold to see everyone jumping and dancing madly, and to my right, stood a man in just his boxer shorts, sweating like a bullmastiff at a rave!
Oh, and the other rule: outside of therapy, we were to be in silence. This provides a chance for you to really feel and digest the healing process. The silence feels odd at first, but once you get used to it, it’s actually a relief to not chat to people out of politeness or boredom. And after a while, the silence becomes a real comfort.
I was put into a small group with nine other participants, two facilitators and a mini entourage of staff who accompanied our daily sharing (a form of communicative therapy) sessions. Hours were spent sharing our deepest, darkest fears, judgements and wounds. I quickly learned that if the process was going to work for me, then I needed to be open, honest and accepting of myself and everyone else in my group. I had no idea who these strangers were – all the things we are so conditioned to sell ourselves with (whether we’re married/single, what we do for a living, our class/status) were stripped away. As a result, we were left with raw, truthful versions of ourselves and each other – the parts of us that we normally don’t display to others, because they’re somehow not acceptable/too much/wrong/rejected.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my own experience, it was quite refreshing to be faced with my real self; good, bad, light, dark, healthy and unhealthy. There were aspects of myself that had been screaming at me for years, because they needed attention and healing. My womb and my body were crying to me, because they were so tired and wounded from the pain and trauma that I had carried for so long. And when I was put into an environment where that pain and trauma was confronted and provoked, something inside me literally started to shift. I could feel a popping sensation in my womb, I got migraines, I was constipated, run down and tired. Each day, my body resisted the treatment. And each day, my body got through another barrier and felt that little bit better. With all the active sessions, combined with all the group sharing and therapy, it was like Boot Camp for the soul! Add to this, the excellent House service and the best vegetarian food I have ever tasted, Buckland Hall became a home of real comfort during the healing process.
The most challenging parts (for me) were the ‘Burns.’ A pure cathartic process, these sessions were an opportunity to find and access your anger, aggression, pain and voice. They involve a lot of movement – dancing, jumping, shouting, kicking, punching, hitting things and pushing yourself through your resistance until you eventually collapse with exhaustion! Others seemed to find their way with this, but it took me a while. The first day saw me sitting cross-legged through the entire session, crying like a baby. I just couldn’t handle all the noise and chaos around me. As I sat quietly on the floor, I had a very clear vision of myself sitting in the eye of the storm. When I connected with this vision, I became calm and went inwards to a safe place. The storm was swirling violently around me, but there I was in the middle of it all, just… still. It taught me that I can rely on myself for comfort and safety, and the feeling was lovely! However, I still wanted to experience that burning release that everyone else seemed to be benefiting from, so I vowed to make it happen – however long it took.
Day three was my breakthrough day. I was supported by my fantastic group and buddy (the person who is assigned to watch out for you throughout the week), cheering me on as they surrounded me with their protective presence. In addition to this, our small-group staff provided a great boost of energy to help us break through our resistance. With these, I had two amazing female staff members with me – Garima and Thirak (or ‘G & T’ as I like to call them, because they were quite the tonic for me!), and my wonderful therapist & group facilitator Simon. This was accompanied by co-founders and leaders of the retreat - dynamic duo Rafia and Turiya – who were a crucial source of strength and support for the entire tribe. Between them all, these angels provided the maternal and paternal energy that I really needed to help me burn through the pain barriers and release a massive amount of stored-up emotional sludge that had been building inside me for years. When I struggled, Simon sensed what I needed and simply said, “Maria, do what feels right for you. You can be the eye of the storm, or you can BE the storm.” This sentence not only resonated perfectly with me at the time, but is something that I have brought home with me. It gave me permission to be unleashed; to get angry; to rage. And when I did, it opened a channel in me that allowed for some very deep healing, understanding, insight and expansion.
The final days of the retreat were filled with unpredictability, challenge and joy. The air of celebration literally brought me to tears, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been to such an amazing party! Not an alcoholic drink or drug in sight, the high that was experienced by all was completely organic and real.
When I arrived home from Path of Love, I was not only filled with energy and promise, but also with some of the truest and finest memories of my life. Since nestling back into everyday life, there have been moments when I thought that the hardest thing about Path of Love, was actually leaving it. I will admit that I personally struggled with the integration process, because when you’ve experienced such a big shift, it’s really hard not to crash when you’ve been sent back home, without your POL family around you. But three weeks later, I have learned to balance myself, and I realise that I will never really leave Path of Love. The deeply moving process will stay with me forever, and has changed me at my core. I feel myself being pushed in a new direction, and I embrace it! I feel a deep calling to start working with women like myself, to help provide the kind of maternal strength and support needed to help them through their own catharsis, and to rise in their feminine power. I’ve also been inspired to take my writing in a different direction, and I’m excited about that!
Will I crash again at some point? No doubt. Am I completely healed? Not at all. But did Path of Love make a true difference to me? Absolutely. I’m more at ease with myself. I’m not afraid of risk anymore. I’m much more compassionate. I don’t feel ashamed of my wounds, or guilty for the way they have affected me. And I do feel that I now have the tools, the strength and the clarity to move forward, keep healing and empower myself and others in any way that I can. All those good feels that I got from the retreat – the inspiration, acceptance, sense of safety and connection – are still with me now, and I instinctively know that they are here to stay. I have no clue where this journey will take me, but I trust it with all my heart. And that’s probably the greatest gift that Path of Love has given me. The ability to trust. For the first time in a long time, I genuinely trust myself. I genuinely trust Life. I have returned home, filled with the exact emotion and energy that the retreat is named after: Love.
Buckland Hall is a residential venue that is hired on an exclusive basis for therapeutic retreats, weddings and other events. For more information, please visit www.bucklandhall.co.uk or www.bucklandhallweddings.co.uk
For more information on Maria Grace, please visit www.mariagrace.co.uk