Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Beyond Chocolate Retreat
Just before half term Audrey, Clare, Sheila and I spent the most amazing week at Hidelow House with our new Chocolate Fairy Trainees. Running the Chocolate Fairy Retreat is my absolute favourite part of Beyond Chocolate. I love the workshops, I love working with women one to one, I love writing books and ecourses, I love working with women by email and on the phone and I love, love, LOVE the Retreat. There’s something so magical about creating such a special, welcoming place where we can do the invaluable work that we and our participants do when we are there. We (the Fairy staff that is) always get there a couple of days before the participants so that we can get everything ready. We prepare the bedrooms, the dining room and the workspace. We start baking and cooking and getting ourselves, and everything we need, perfectly ready.
It’s a pretty intensive four and a half days. We rise earlish every morning for some Guru time and then we pretty much have sessions all day until about 9pm, punctuated by time to walk, reflect eat and rest.
There’s nothing to do with our relationship with food and our bodies that we don’t talk about or explore. Every year I am moved, inspired and heartened by the participants’ stories.
Audrey and Clare work magic in the kitchen. Truly. I am astounded by the quality and abundance of the meals they provide, catering for everyone's likes and dislikes, allergies, intolerances and preferences with grace and generosity. Every meal is freshly prepared, every day, with such care and passion. The dishes are creative, luscious and nourishing. We have puddings every night and Clare's afternoon tea creations are wonderful. And mealtimes are work time too - we’re eating and that’s what we are there to explore after all. So that’s what we do. The awareness we all come away with is mind blowing. Every time I run a retreat I learn so much about myself and about my own relationship with food, which, like every other part of my life, is constantly changing and evolving. When I run a retreat, I am on retreat, maybe that’s why I love them so much!
I find it incredible that I could sign up for a course on just about anything at a UK university. There are literally thousands of different options; linear algebra, textiles, gemmology, risk management, online journalism (to name but a very few of the ones I’d never heard of) but not one of the subjects I’ve seen on offer would teach me how to live my life in a more satisfying way. Sure, I can go and study psychology or psychotherapy - and mostly these are academic courses centered on theory and practice with clients rather than the students working on themselves and their own issues and struggles. Not one of the courses I have seen (of any kind) teaches us how to live well and be well rounded human beings. Not one of the courses would give me the tools to have a healthy relationship with food (or a healhty relationship with my parents, my children, my partner or my boss - relationships, whether with people or inanimate objects, are the most challenging aspect of anyone's life and not one university course addresses them. Incredible). None of them would teach me how to deal with my anger or my fears. None of them would require me to write essays about how I, as a woman, am impacted by society’s focus on slenderness and youth. How it feels to be middle aged and sagging. None of them would offer me lectures on how to stop feeling ashamed about my bingeing or how to stop hating my body. The Beyond Chocolate Retreat on the other hand, is a crash course in all those things. And there is something so powerful and liberating and reassuring about being able to talk about them and explore them all with like minded women. To know you won’t be judged or criticised. I love every moment (did I say that already?). And with all that work, all that serious and life changing work, we manage to have moments where we laugh and laugh and laugh, literally til the tears are running down our cheeks and our sides feel like they are about to burst!
We love the retreats so much, Audrey, Clare and I, that next year we are running two! One in May 2012 and one in October 2012. And there's something else. We’ve had so many requests for Retreats that aren’t just for trainees that we’re going to open the Retreat to Beyond Chocolaters who want a Retreat but don't want to become Chocolate Fairies. If you want to come just for the Retreat and you're not sure if you want to train as a Chocolate Fairy or you know that you don’t want to, that’s fine. You can just do the Retreat and there will always be the option to add the Chocolate Fairy training later if you decide to go for that. The Retreat has always been the first step in the training and now it will also be an opportunity to give yourself the time and space to delve deep and explore your relationship with food and your body, just for yourself. So that you can feel freer, more relaxed, more confident. We'll keep them small, with a maximum of 12 participants so there's plenty of time for everyone. The May Retreat is now on our webiste, so click HERE to find out more.