Have you ever visited a place so enchanting that it feels as if an ancient key has unlocked a sacred space within your heart, and once that door is opened, sunlight streams in, flowers bloom, birds sing, and you are never the same? I say “ancient” because there’s a sense that you’ve been here before, that you’ve seen these sites, loved these people, tasted these foods, and reveled in the beauty. Hyères holds this kind of timeless allure that has captivated me ever since my first surreal visit for an arts retreat with Lisa Congdon last fall—it feels as if I’ve lived many lives among the azure waters and pine groves.
Returning to this idyllic location in May to lead a retreat with Simple Life in Provence allowed me the gift of guiding and witnessing the profound power of personal metamorphoses, self-discovery, and self-empowerment.
Our journey began in workshop one with the analogy of a patchwork quilt symbolizing the eclectic individuals coming together to form a vibrant whole. Each person represented a colorful and integral element, with the strength of the thread woven between the patches as a metaphor for the bonds that would be formed within the group.
Nurturing an environment of trust and acceptance, the group fostered a supportive and inclusive community, which cultivated vulnerably sharing experiences, challenges, and successes, fueling the transformative spirit of the retreat. Our diverse and intergenerational group of dynamic women opened their hearts and shared soulful words of wisdom, thereby restoring, reclaiming, and reigniting parts within that yearned to be seen, healed, honored, and actualized. It was truly awe-inspiring witnessing how the group came fully alive during the retreat. By the end, our vibrant, powerful quilt had fully formed and radiated joie de vivre.
Retreats are incubators of radical growth and restoration, because there is a unique alchemy in a small group of strangers coming together, an invitation and freedom to be our truest selves, for there are no narratives or scripts of how we “should” be: “[W]ith strangers, there is a temporary reordering of a balancing act that each of us is constantly attempting: between our past selves and our future selves, between who we have been and who we are becoming. Strangers, unconnected to our pasts and, in most cases, to our futures, are easier to experiment around.” Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering.
The healing power of showing up as our authentic selves and being seen by the compassionate eyes of others cannot be overstated, for it illuminates new facets of our being and enables us to embrace the full spectrum of who we are.
This is the power of small group workshops—sharing in life's hardships and triumphs, reaffirming our collective humanity, and offering solace, inspiration, and the courage to pursue our deepest goals and aspirations, overcome obstacles, unlock our full potential, and seize joy.
There is also a profound magic in breaking free from our routines and immersing ourselves in an idyllic location cocooned by nature. Hyères offers a breathtaking backdrop that delights the senses and nurtures the soul: To see new sights, immerse ourselves in the beauty of our natural surroundings, savor local cuisine, embrace fun, and inhale the fragrant scents of the sea invites us to play, delight, and fully embrace the transformative power of a retreat abroad. In this way, Hyères became its own catalyst for inner sparks to ignite, encouraging our guests to step outside of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in its wonders. We made sure to build in unstructured time for introspection, integration, and relaxation as well.
Our group blew me away with their courageous hearts, creative minds, soulful wisdom, playful spirits, and kind, compassionate, open embracing of so many new experiences. This marked the first retreat for most of the guests, and they fully showed up despite unfamiliarity or discomfort, diving into all that the retreat offered them.
A highlight of the retreat was a daytrip to Porquerolles, a pristine island paradise nestled within a protected conservation area. With its soft sandy beaches, mesmerizing aqua waters, limestone cliffs, scent of ocean mixed with pine, and magnificent trees (giving it the name, “floating forest”), Porquerolles emanates an ethereal tranquility. Free from the intrusion of cars, the island offers a serene and relaxed atmosphere that calls us to rediscover our childlike wonder. Biking, swimming, and reveling in the magic of the island allowed us to bask in the joyous essence of summer, leaving us sun kissed with saltwater dried to our skin, blissfully tired out, and enriched by the experience.
The retreat's four workshops provided a rich space for personal growth, and culminated in a farewell experience in which we unearthed our wildest dreams. Through journaling to prompts and sharing group reflections, we crafted inspired visions for the future and recognized that which seems impossible is often within the realm of possibility. The group wrote letters to their future selves (to be mailed at a late date) and created vision boards infusing the magic of Provence into their aspirations, laying the foundation for meaningful change and the realization of their true potential.
As a part of our farewell workshop, we formed a sacred circle, expressing gratitude and wishes for each person, noting the ways each person embraced their strengths, came alive, rediscovered their passions, and gained the clarity and confidence to create meaningful change in their lives—our shares were filled with tears of joy and laughter. We celebrated the transformative journeys undertaken, the connections formed, and the ways we restored, reignited, and reclaimed parts of ourselves yearning to be actualized. We also prepared to say good-bye and reassimilate into our lives at home, being mindful of all we wanted to bring forward from Provence.
It is the greatest gift we can give ourselves to believe in our dreams and plant the seeds for the seemingly impossible to root and blossom. Our retreat in Hyères is a reminder of the extraordinary experiences that lie beyond our routines and comfort zones. It is through daring to dream big, quieting the voices of fear, and embracing the wonder and joie de vivre within us all that we unlock our full potential and bring our deepest yearnings to life, like seeds to blooms.
Reflecting on the collective metamorphoses of personal growth, restoration, and awakening the retreat catalyzed, I am personally reminded of the journey I myself undertook from being a lawyer to becoming a life and executive coach. Holding space for such a beautiful group in the idyllic setting of Hyères for me is truly a wildest dream of my own come true. I am deeply grateful for everyone who joined us and trusted in me to guide them.
This retreat also serves as a testament to the profound impact that self discovery, inner work, opening our hearts, forging community, and nurturing our dreams can have on our lives. After such a transformative week together, we each carry the magical essence of Hyères within, our hearts adorned by pieces of one another. We formed friendships to last a lifetime (we already have a winter reunion planned!) and are empowered to continue on our paths of self-discovery and transformation.
“When I was born, I came with a wild heart so no one could ever take the feel of the wind on my skin, or the voices of the rocks & trees & the other wild things that were parted from me at birth. When I was born, I came with a wild heart so no one could ever make me forget how to love.”
Infinite gratitude to Simple Life in Provence for our partnership in inspiring others to embrace and cultivate their wild hearts and dreams!