”Written byIndio Friedmann and Hannah Mitchell
“From talks on ancient wisdom for modern times to potent plants to support ecstatic states, the menu of magic catered for the entire spectrum of spirituality.”
Was that a fever dream? Was I just in a forest with music floating above and magic flowing right through? Where children twirled whilst adults danced. Where strangers sat side by side to stretch in yin yoga and lay together journeying through minds in meditation.
Considered as a wellness retreat with a twist, Retreat Yourself is somewhere between the edge of our dreams and the universality of our consciousness. It is where the abstract meets you, the individual, but simultaneously also the collective. To explain, it felt that although many people and things were unfamiliar, it was not uncomfortable. In fact, Retreat Yourself became a safe space for the unknown by creating an atmosphere akin to family and kindness. We all took our social masks off and swapped the urge to refresh our emails with the will to refresh our minds. From talks on ancient wisdom for modern times to potent plants to support ecstatic states, the menu of magic catered for the entire spectrum of spirituality. Whether you consider yourself spiritual without religion or believe in something but unsure of exactly what, whether you have consistent belief or unwavering doubt – no one actually cares. So leave your prejudices and worries behind you and join us in recounting our beautiful Retreat Yourself experience (and no, this is not a scripted youtube vlog).
The never-ending festival schedule seemed to feel like a menu giving us the opportunity of a “make your own personal festival experience.” And so Han and I did. Well, we did after arriving a little too late and after setting up the tent when it was a little too dark. It felt like a giant school playground for adults. To come to play and have fun but also understand and take home. I was so grateful that all around me there were safe spaces for mindfulness. Everyone was just so wonderful, not only fellow festival-goers but also the staff, the cleaners, the organisers, the speakers, and teachers.
Unashamedly, I’ve had my fair share of festival experiences over the years but nothing can compare to Retreat Yourself. Quite a few times in the past I’ve caught myself wondering what now? Or I get a sense that I need to be where other people are or I am just waiting for something to happen. You try your hardest to have a “chilled” Friday night in anticipation of Saturday night. No doubt that you boggle that one up with lots of alcohol anyway and you wake up (or for me, continue to stay up) on the Saturday day to just sit and well, rot. Somehow you reach a decent level of hygiene and the night becomes a mixture of “where are you camping?” “meet you front right?” ,“I can’t feel anything yet,” and “my Docs are killing me.”
“Was that a fever dream? Was I just in a forest with music floating above and magic flowing right through? Where children twirled whilst adults danced. Where strangers sat side by side to stretch in yin yoga and lay together journeying through minds in meditation.”
There was none of that this time. Wherever I went I simply arrived on time, my own time. There was no need for me to be anywhere else but present and to be anyone else but myself. The days were just as busy as the nights, a shared momentum of moving about on our own various missions…
There’s quite something to be said in having a wellness festival without any signal. We all hear that we should cut down on our screen time; how addictive the device made purely of dopamine hits can be. But besides a few 4×4 adventures in my little Getz on a bumpy dirt path to get some signal – just to tell my parents I am, in fact, alive – I found the time away from my phone to be peaceful. It was as if we were stepping into this haven of tranquillity, able to focus on the present moment. And what a collection of moments they were. From our first yoga class – achingly still, peaceful yin yoga with Tessa Custers – we became utterly submerged in the festival. We kept ourselves busy, but not too busy. There was time for both learning and relaxing. Somehow, they seemed to fit together.
Our yoga became a daily habit. We learned the story of Hanuman – a Hindu G-d that the splits are named after – in Myth, Mantra, and Flow with Maya Pratt. We stretched our bodies into the pose (or at least, we tried to), with a newfound knowledge that gave our practice a deeper meaning. It was like this in most classes of the festival – topics that we had heard before, brushed over, simplified. These ideas became enriched, tightly interwoven with the experiences of others. We attended a workshop on the meaning of dreams, learning that in some cases, science does not necessarily contradict spirituality and that they do work hand in hand to show how mystical our lived experiences are. We’d jump in the river for a quick soak before exploring the market stalls: vivacious clothes in bright, psychedelic prints, the rich scent of incense wafting through the forest air. A three-layer cheese and tomato toastie from Square Tomato lining our stomachs, we would venture to our next spot. Perhaps it would be relaxing in our tent, listening to neighbours chat in the distance, beading necklaces in rhythmic peace to the sound of birds and laughter. Maybe it would be a talk: learning the ins and outs of astrology and the true complexity of the study (no, your sun sign does not necessarily explain who you are). I was lucky enough to have my fears over my Scorpio Venus smoothed over – turns out I’m not as unlucky as I thought.
‘I found the time away from my phone to be peaceful. It was as if we were stepping into this haven of tranquillity, able to focus on the present moment. And what a collection of moments they were.’
And then came the evenings. Twinkling fairy lights, loud laughter, music traveling through the echoes of the forest. We decided to shimmy around at the groovy roller disco to Donna Summer – ending with me ultimately crashing into the wall and falling on my bum. We watched a packed crowd giggle at Nick Rabinowitz, hummed along to Lost//Youth covering Ironic by Alanis Morisette. We ended up on both Friday and Saturday evenings at the Secret Dancefloor, a haven of incredible electronica and flashing strobe, seeing legends like Oliver Koletzki play until the early morning.
Time to relax, time to learn, time to let go. That’s what this festival was about – realising that things are not what they seem at face value, that not everything of the human experience can be formulated into a mathematical equation, that we are all still students of life.