— JASMEEN DUGAL
It's midnight. I’m lying in bed, tired. I should turn out the lights, but instead, I'm typing at the speed of lightning on my laptop while my phone is pinging. I've just finished responding to emails and now, I'm on social media.
''Why don't you sleep?'' my parents ask. ''You need to wake up early.''
''I'm not tired,'' I lie.
''Why don't you read a book? You bought so many and you haven't begun any of them?!''
They have just tapped into a deep-seated anxiety about my inability to disconnect and 'relax'.
Physically, mentally, digitally, I refuse to stay still. When I'm not completing assignments, I'm talking shop with potential clients or updating social media. My demanding career and equally hectic social life keeps me on my toes—and when I return home—I'm unable to 'disconnect'. It's not just me. I sense it in several conversations, like the one in which a girl told me that, being asked to keep her mobile switched off during dinner, resulted in panic. I saw it in my own resistance to reading a book, which has been one of the deepest sources of pleasure throughout my life.
How did I get my life back on track? By embracing slow living at a four-day nature retreat on the outskirts of Mumbai. It's my way of carving time to center myself in the midst of life, a kind of reboot. Physically removing yourself from daily tasks and pressures can help one relax and gain perspective. But beyond 'getting away from it all,' what motivates someone to seek out a nature retreat? It may be consecutive weeks at work. It may be a growing alarm that your priorities are out of whack. Perhaps you are going through a transition in your personal life or career… Whatever the motivation, sometimes you need to feel the wind in the trees and the grass under your bare feet, inhale the fragrance of trees and feel the sun on your face.
So I was thrilled when Manasi Golechha, co-founder- The Spirit Temple invited me to attend 'Sound Of Silence Retreat' to experience the spiritual retreat and share my perspective with the readers of my publication. PS The Spirit Temple is a spiritual community and knowledge-sharing platform. I knew right then it would be an invaluable experience. Until then, physically- mentally- digitally, I refused to stay still. When I wasn't completing assignments, I was talking shop with potential advertisers or updating social media. My demanding career and social life kept me on my toes—and when I returned home—I was unable to 'disconnect'. So it raised a few eyebrows when I posted on social media that I would be attending a spiritual retreat at a nature resort in Vikramgad, Maharashtra. Wait—what really shocked people was my aura upon return… I was a changed person.
FLASHBACK. Once my flight landed in Mumbai at 7 a.m. and I met everyone attending the retreat at the pick-up point, we boarded a hired bus to Vikramgad, three hours from Mumbai. The attendees, from corporates, advertising and business to housewives, hailed from Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Dubai. United by their deep belief in the retreat founder Kanchan RK Sharma. Once there, sleeping in a luxury treehouse in dense foliage, going for walks in the forest fringing a lake, meditation under the trees, connecting and bonding with others over bonfires and barbecues, drum circles and kayaking… was the agenda. Just self-love and pampering. The retreat had taken me away from phones, laptop and work pressure, which in turn, gave me an opportunity to reflect in solitude, on how I am living my life and if this is truly my heart's desire. Memorable moments that come to mind — when I hugged a tree, as part of an excersize of communicating with tree people, I was surprised at the tears that pricked my eyes and rolled down; the embrace had tapped into concealed pain and brought scarring memories to the surface, and I wept, oblivious of my surroundings. It gave me courage to open up and talk about it with Kanchan and allow myself to let go of the pain; it also gave me the clarity I needed to 're-frame' my approach to life. This is just the tip of the iceberg — the sacred fire where all of us burnt a piece of paper where we had listed our weaknesses and offered in its place what we wanted from life — the drum circle to the sound of which we closed our eyes and meditated was undeniably therapeutic. It went a long way in breaking past my reserved, guarded self to make me open up. That night, I surprised myself by sleeping soundly, without the 2-mg sleeping tablets I take for insomnia. Today, it's a month I haven't taken tablets. Yes, it was the perfect place, with positive energy, to journey inwards to my deepest self. And heal.
Sounds inspiring? There was another life-changing incident at the retreat. I have been scared of water since childhood i.e. aqua-phobic. The fear of drowning has kept me away from waves lapping the beach and swimming pools. On our last day, my new friends took me to the pool and showed me how shallow it was. There was no way I could drown in four-foot water where I could stand. So I carefully made my way into the pool, holding the side tightly. The patience, the way they helped me overcome my fear, and try swimming in shallow waters, made me slowly trust them and I made an attempt. Pretty soon, I was playing pool volleyball and frolicking in the shallow end — and agreed to kayaking in the lake — which I had firmly refused due to my phobia of drowning!! Why did it work here and not for so many years? I chalk it down to the powerful, positive energy in the group and the willingness of every single person attending the camp, to help each other. You open up. you learn to trust. You heal.