What is a ‘Natural Change’ retreat?
During a one-week retreat participants work in a small group, under the guidance of ‘Natural Change‘ facilitators, on a change they want to make in their life. The desired transformation can be either professionally, personally or in the world around them, or all three.
Nature as the benchmark
The location of the retreat is Alladale, Scotland, a remote estate in the Highlands. A place without mobile coverage and internet. The area consists of deep valleys, steep mountains, dark lochs and babbling brooks. The only permanent residents of these glens are inhabitants of the animal kingdom, like: red deer, Scottish Highlanders, grouse, crested tits and squirrels.
This is a place where you have to let go of everything, including the idea that it must be sunny to enjoy nature. Most days it rains, at least for a short while. It can even snow in May as I found out recently . The key to requiescence is the right clothing, ie waterproof and warm.
Digital detox in the Scottish Highlands
Invited by ‘Natural Change’ to experience this retreat I take this opportunity to contemplate my life, even though, I am in a good place at the moment.
Although I am not planning to make radical changes in the foreseeable future, there is one thing that needs taking down a peg or two. My time spent watching funny cat videos on social media could be less. This might sound like a trivial problem, but to be honest my entire internet addiction could use a digital detox. Alladale, devoid of most modern pitfalls, appears therefore in ideal setting to relax my brain, indulge in life’s simple pleasures and rekindle my inner fire.
Methods and techniques
During the retreat, with nature as a catalyst and tool, the facilitators guide our group, journalists and bloggers, with a series of exercises that should help us achieve the desired effect. This week it is mainly about self-reflection, using different techniques to accomplish this.
We start with a study of the Carl Jung model. This shows the four functions of a personality:
‘’All four functions — thinking, sensation, intuition, and feeling — are used at different times depending on circumstances, typically there will be preference for one single predominant function.”
- How do you record information? – Sensing (feeling) or INtuition (N)
- How do you make decisions? – Thinking or Feeling
This is (I think) the framework on which the rest of the week’s exercises are based.
Slowing down is the next activity.
Probably, if you are a bit like me, rushing from A to B, just to get things done, you don’t pay attention to your environment or even to the task at hand. Shopping, cleaning, cooking are just items on a tick list that must be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. By moving more slowly, one is more aware of his or her environment.
Which I notice when travelling by plane or train, especially during a long train journey, when I do enjoy my surroundings. Probably because there is nothing else to it. It is not possible to speed up the journey, even if I would like to. When I make an effort to slow down I start noticing things that I would normally not see, hear or feel. This automatically leads to more mindfulness.
Mindfulness is living in the here and now. By fully concentrating on what is happening now, this will help you stop worrying, experience less stress, work more effectively and feel better.
It also helps to make a better connection with others. Because by consciously focusing on the other and listen carefully, you notice that you give the other more room to think.
I feel that when I am listened to by someone who is interested in my story, without judging, without asking questions and without commenting, associative thinking starts. This allows the thinker to come up with creative solutions, which is normally difficult to achieve because thoughts are constantly interrupted by the listener, albeit with good intentions.
By practicing with a partner I notice how powerful this can be. Not only for myself, but also for the other, as a speaker and a listener.
Meditation is a practice that helps an individual to relax. With meditation one observes their thoughts without judging them. Meditation exercises are used in various religions (Christian, Buddhist, Hinduism). In the West, it is also widely used in the secular sector, for instance as part of yoga.
Guided meditation is a process by which one or more participants meditate in response to the guidance provided by a trained practitioner or teacher either in person or via a written text, sound recording, video, or audiovisual media comprising music or verbal instruction, or a combination of both (source definition).
Meditation is a technique that I already know from yoga and practice (albeit not often enough) at home.
Self-reflection and storytelling
After the participants spent some time alone in nature, they share their experience (storytelling). Thus, with the help of the group, they reflect on the experience.
Although I did not find this exercise particularly enlightening – perhaps this is because I regularly spend time in nature anyway – other group members had quite powerful experiences.
It is made clear at the start that this a safe environment. Everything what is said is confidential. A few times I am invited by the facilitators to share my thoughts, which is always brought as an invitation, not an obligation.
If a participant is not willing to share, that is fine. Also, the facilitators and the group will not comment unsolicited on the individual’s statements. There is always the option to talk things through on a one-to-one a basis with one of the facilitators in a separate area from the group. I did not feel the need for this, so can’t comment.
In our group (all British except me) there is, apart from a few emotional moments, no major drama. After all it is British affair. Stiff upper lip and all that.
For most part it feels good and I soon relax. Immediately the first night I sleep like a baby and it stays that way all week. At home, I often wake up around four or five o’clock in the morning, it usually takes may half an hour or to fall asleep again.
That’s a win …
Last but not least I enjoy being offline and unreachable for once, whereas in my day to day life I am glued to my phone. At the end of the week I don’t feel like going back to normal. As soon as I return to ‘civilization’ (read: have internet access) and the messages start flowing in, I immediately go back to the ‘alert’ position. Daily worries crop up and the sense of relaxation quickly ebbs away. This certainly makes clear to me how important it is to switch off occasionally.
In conclusion, I will definitely start using (more) of a number of the techniques described before: such as associative thinking, mindfulness and meditation. I also intend to make some changes in my internet habits.
Natural Change Retreat target audience
The retreat is primarily intended for the professional or entrepreneur between 35 – 55 years old, who wants to contemplate her or his life.
Although most of the day is spent outside, you don’t have to be particularly fit. All exercises go at a leisurely pace, suited to the average person. However, if you less mobile this is probably not the best place for you. Many of the activities involve some walking, off the track through swampy peatland. Which can be a bit of a challenge.
During several exercises you will engage deeply with your thoughts and feelings therefore a ‘natural change retreat’ may not be suitable for those with a psychiatric condition.
If you just want to enjoy nature, then there are cheaper ways to do this, as it will set you back, depending on the desired comfort level, between £ 2700 – £ 7500. A sum of money that is not easy to cough up for the average self-employed blogger like me.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve is located north of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The area covers 100 km².
The Pro version takes places in Deanich Lodge, deep in the reserve. Meals and breaks are held in the lodge by a cozy fire. Unless you opt for the more luxurious options (Premium or Deluxe), participants share a room with at least one other person. The bathrooms are also common.
The meals are prepared with as much as possible regional ingredients and are one of the highlights of the week.
The organization will send you a packing list. In any case, you need waterproof and warm clothing. Plus hiking or mountain shoes, hats and gloves.
Unfortunately there are a lot of ticks. A tick is a small animal that can cause great misery because it can transmit various diseases, such as Lyme. Read here how you can prevent tick bites.
Alladale is an hour and a half’s drive from Inverness, the closest major town. There is no public transport to Alladale. Only authorized (4WD) vehicles may drive on the estate.
There are direct flights to Inverness from Amsterdam, London and Dublin.