I had heard about the Women’s Circle Retreat, stalked it on Facebook events, sighed and put it in the Not This Time basket. Whilst I was drawn to the idea of two nights away focused on my own worth, pampering myself with time where I was beholden to no partner or child with a bunch of other women from around Noosa seemed frivolous, wholly unproductive and even selfish. What could I possibly hope to gain, turning away from my computer, my business, my ineffectual social media presence and my house on a weekend where homemade school lunches were off the menu but ‘cheat’ meals I could cook without guilt and cosy family movie nights on the couch were decidedly on? And how could I connect with these other women in the space of 48 hours; they seemed so strong in their brands and presence. My business was small, I didn’t have up to date business cards and besides, if I was going to take precious hours away from the responsibilities of all those other roles I played at home, I didn’t actually want to spend them networking with people I had never met before. That’s what these things are, aren’t they?
Well, no. This most certainly was not.
Unexpectedly, I was given an opportunity to attend the Retreat and there was no real time to talk myself out of it. Within the space of a few hours I was on the Tewantin Ferry, feeling like the chug of the diesel motor and oiled wires thicker than my wrist were transporting me much further away than the short drive north of Hastings St I actually was. The whole experience was serene. Before I bumped off the ferry and over onto the North Shore, I could feel the pull of those elasticised strings tying me to home stretch and snap like a thinned-out shell, ready to dissolve into the great expanse of sand, grit and salt.
Driving into Beach Road Homes and through to my allocated house enhanced this feeling of being far away, the eucalypts crowding over me with protective limbs of greens, greys and browns… soothing. Even the enormous house, devoid of the usual familial detritus was beautiful, cleansing almost to have so little distraction but clear lines (clean floors!!) and huge windows showcasing those nurturing trees. My three housemates were lovely women; we asked polite questions and made an effort to learn each other’s names and as we all prepared to move down to the Leisure Centre for the opening ceremonies, I remember being thankful that I knew at least those three faces in what I was sure would be a sea of closed circles.
Oh, there were circles, but just one really, and it was open in ways I could not have imagined.
Women stood around, walking up to each other and introducing themselves, I felt awkward but not anxious, the sense of camaraderie was palpable even here in the first few minutes and I could feel myself being swept up in the tide. The uber successful Kendall Morton spoke first about drive, passion, giving in to that sheer will to succeed and vaulting at an Olympic level over a room full of toys to answer a business call on her home phone, wedged in a closet away from grabbing hands and the sounds of The Wiggles. Here was a woman whose fire was lit; you could feel the heat of that strength emanating out of her. Next, the inspiring Clare Stewart (nee Sultmann), a Noosa Mayoral candidate told her story of physical loss and her primal determination to overcome extreme adversity when her legs were crushed by a garbage truck. Her message of transformation, of embracing life in whichever twists and turns it takes and finally, of grit and determination as precursors of success shook the women gathered around. That fire was there again, you could see it in Clare’s eyes and feel it in her words.
I felt elated and subdued all at the same time. Women whose heroics involved building a multi- million dollar empire in three years or surviving an accident which every statistic said she would not, was humbling. Where did they find this power and strength, and how could I tap into mine? Where was my faith, grit and self-belief buried and how would I ever dig it out?
The answer came as we were shepherded down to the lawn where, underneath a huge eucalypt, two circles had been made with gum leaves, flowers, bark and wood and in whose centre was a beautiful arrangement of enormous crystals, bowls, simple musical instruments and flowers. Each of the women were welcomed in, we sat in the circle and what followed was a deeply spiritual experience, led by Sherridan, Veronica, Meera and Hannah, four women whose connection to country, the Mother, the spirits, life force and energy was obvious. We sat and listened, eyes closed to the beautiful sounds of an ethereal voice calling healing spirits, smelt the cleansing scent of the smudge ceremony, felt the beat of drums and leaves as they shook the ground and were lifted through chant to a higher plane, one where we stood in the essence of ourselves and asked for our burdens, questions and fears to be released into this circle of nurture, to be supported and nourished from the feminine spirits and energy we could feel surrounding us.
Now, I don’t generally drink from the Woo Woo Cordial… but this. THIS! This was true and undeniable. An energy surrounded and inhabited that circle of women and when I finally stepped out of it, I felt like that power I was trying so desperately to dig out was in fact, finding its way to me. The energy lingered over the weekend like a gossamer veil, floating above, around and within all of us.
We moved on to dinner someone else had expertly cooked, drank wine, eased into conversations, listened to talented musicians croon and I went to bed feeling the elation of someone who has walked to the rocky precipice, looked over the edge with fearful dread and found to my delight and relief, a wide path lined with scented flowers into a fertile valley below. I could almost smell the bespoke goat cheese and swiss chocolate.
My housemate, Michelle, commented the next morning that her bed felt absolutely huge, even though it was a standard Queen size. I remarked that my single felt the same and we surmised that the very act of having a bed to yourself was in itself an act of revolution, a shocking luxury to the mother, partner or animal owner in each of us. But there was no guilt and as we moved through Michelle’s Qi Gong session, a mixture of gentle movement and spiritual mindfulness, that sense of being nurtured under a protective veil was palpable.
The day was spent listening to women share their passion, the thing that lit their fire and we revelled in their energy, their knowledge and their nourishment of us, their audience. Each inspiring, each yearning to help others and each displaying that same level of nurturing power.
At lunchtime I went back down to the circle, and walked around it, looking for that same energy, that same woman who had chanted loudly and proudly the night before… And found there was just me, walking around the circle. I looked out over the grass, to the trees and kangaroos, felt the breeze on my skin and sighed, tossing the paper I’d written my fears on into a coconut bowl, in what felt like a futile attempt to allay them. Yet as I watched the paper float down, a breeze snatched it up and it landed off to the side forcing me to pick it up again. It was another chance and as a calming energy encased me, I placed that fear carefully in the bowl and let go.
Dressed in white along with everyone else, Saturday night was raucous and delightful. I ate a small child’s weight in baked ricotta which tasted like it was from that fertile valley, expertly put together by the culinary force that is Jungle&Co’s Vladi, as well as outrageously good vegan brownies. I clinked wine glasses with the friends I’d made in an impossibly short time. We laughed, joked, commiserated and danced in what felt like the most wholesome party I’d ever been to. The women floated on massages, reiki, rest, their commune with the spirits of country and the lifeforce of universe but most of all, the energy of the feminine, of women lifting each other up with the sheer force of their will.
The final day was one of happy joy. The closing ceremony was defined by that same energy from the circle, but with an added element of joyfulness. It was delicious in every way.
As someone who had made every excuse in the book of It’s Not For Me, the Women’s Circle Retreat was most definitely an experience I needed and had craved, something I realised only as I drove back on to that ferry. Doors of every kind had been opened, portals to a life I’d glimpsed but had stood shyly at the thresh-hold of, waiting to be more experienced, more successful, more confident and more me. This is not a networking event for business women, but a retreat for the feminine in you to restore, renew and gather strength for the fires we light out there in the world. Along with the odd wine and some serious cheese and chocolate feasting.
The Circle had enclosed me completely during those two short days, and the collectiveness of those women, their energy, care and inclusivity had produced something so unexpected that when the spark ignited deep in my belly some time during the weekend -I can’t pinpoint exactly when- I was stunned at how gently that robust fire had sprung to life.
And I’m just so grateful it has.