Life comes at us out of the blue

Even at the best of times and even to the best of us, there’s no predicting it. This story may resonate with you directly. Or perhaps it describes a friend you know. There’s nothing extraordinary about the circumstances but there is something out-of-the ordinary in the way Viktoria responded to her sorrow that’s made all the difference.

Empty nest syndrome looming large

Viktoria from Stockholm was in her early 40s when we first met when she attended my Vision Board Workshop.  Months later, she came on the Soul Alive Retreat - in Istria that year. Already Viktoria was unhappily anticipating the imminent departure of her two sons.  Meanwhile, she continued with a job in financial services, which she was good at but was finding increasingly soul-destroying.  

The final straw
One year later, Viktoria joined me again for Soul Alive - in the Algarve on this occasion – giving her extra space to be with herself and just in the nick of time.  Her mother had recently died, which was devastating. One son had already left home and the other was setting sail. Her job, while still good money, was driving her insane.

One transition alone can be distressing.  But when unexpected crises line up in row and ping off one after the other, it can be too much to bear.  When you run a home, love a partner, raise children, work, care for an elderly relative too (which was Viktoria’s grand-mother in her case), when do you have time to attend to your own sorrow?  

Incomplete recovery from grief can continue to eat away at us
We need to face our loss, take stock of where it leaves us – otherwise the loss can continue to undermine our well-being and happiness for a lifetime.  That’s why taking time-out for yourself is an act of self-kindness and investment in your future.  It’s also why a holiday with friends or family won’t do it when you’ve got some private healing to do.

Trying to resolve all these issues with your head when it’s your heart that’s suffering doesn’t work either; you can’t think your way out the quagmire.  The heart needs to be heard.  This is where creative expression can come into its own, gently side-stepping your rational mind to connect you to yours deeper wants and needs, and guiding the creator towards resolution and a promising new future.  The holding space of a small, intimate retreat is the perfect environment for the heart to safely have a voice - and because you're more likely to be listening to it too.  

How a spouse or partner can stand by you
Viktoria’s husband was only too willing to support her in taking time-out.  It makes life a lot easier when your partner isn't trying to make you feel guilty abut needing this time to yourself.  I watched daily as Viktoria engaged fully with each creative process. Her drawings were rapturously received by the group; she clearly had artistic ability lying dormant. 

What was also very gratifying was her long-held dream came bubbling to the surface: how to combine teaching children (which she had a degree in), with her love of the forest and foraging, and her passion for food and cookery? 

As we said goodbye, I wondered how the answer to this question would transpire yet trusting that the way forward would unfold organically.  It always does in time; you don't have to force it.

Fortunately, we’d already sampled Viktoria’s awesome culinary skills on the couple of occasions we decided to eat in on the retreat. Subsequently, when I visited her in Stockholm for a Feng Shui consultation, I was totally impressed by the love and attention Viktoria put into meal preparation and could see that this was her calling.

Viktoria’s review of events:  
“I enjoyed Mary’s week-long retreat very much; a beautiful place to stay and beautiful places to visit. I liked the combination of inner work in the mornings and exploring our surroundings in the afternoon. "

“I really appreciated the silence before breakfast to give us time to write and draw, and sharing the highlights in a listening circle afterwards brought me a lot.  The self-enquiry through creativity gave me the freedom to express myself without worrying that it needed to be artistically perfect.” 

“I continued to write and draw after my return.  I always loved to draw but I used to struggle with writing.  However, I found the latter invaluable in helping me process  sorrow, especially when soon after my return my dear grandmother died too.  The moments when I can just sit by myself to write and draw are quite magical.”

 “I was also inspired to go out into the woods gathering mushrooms and blueberries for jam-making and picking apples in the garden for baking and juicing.  There’s something very primitive about this and brings me much happiness.”  

“A lot of creativity was ignited in me during the week’s retreat and I gained the courage and confidence to finally quit my job.” 

The jigsaw comes together
Viktoria first took a part-time teaching role to cover for a man on paternity leave. This gave her time also to sort and clear her mother and grandmother’s belongings.  She then sourced a part-time job preparing food in an upscale supermarket restaurant.  

A year later she’s full-time there in charge of the kitchen during the weekdays, her weekends still free.  Here’s evidence of discipline and self-nurture for you.  She gets up at 4.15am to start work at 6.00am so she can take a run, or do some yoga, take a shower - all before her working day begins.  

“The time flies.  I’ve never had a job that goes by so quickly.”  
“I prepare about 30 cooked meals a day, maintain the salad bar, and make all the sandwiches.  I pick the food I need from the supermarket shelves and use produce close to its sell-by date.”  

“My ambition is to work for a conference company and cater for business people in a lovely setting like a Castle.  I’d have a free reign on the meals I’d prepare.  Even though it’s a big step up from the supermarket, I consider what I'm now to be my training ground, in lieu of studying.”  

“I’m under a lot of pressure to get loads done in a short space of time and I’m tired at the end of the day.  I finish at 3pm but once I’m home and prepared supper, I don’t feel to write about the thoughts still swirling around in my head. 

“I take quiet time at the weekend to exorcise these thoughts. At the moment I’m not drawing, perhaps because so much of my currently creativity is consumed on the job.”

Hope lies sleeping
It warms my heart to hear Viktoria’s story.  There's promise for us all that our special brand of creativity, with our name on it, is always beckoning us when we quieten down to listen.   We don’t have to achieve Olympic standard for it to be good enough.  Our talent has its place in the world as is, as we are.

Most of all, I take comfort from the awesome way new meaning and purpose can be recycled from sorrow and our losses.

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SOUL ALIVE RETREAT in the Tarn Valley, SW France