I feel like I have come away to summer camp to learn new things. No lanyards this year, though, no archery. I have been learning to watch the trees wave in the wind, to see how many different kinds of butterflies might be sharing the butterfly bush, to figure out how to get the alpacas to come to the gate so I can scratch their ears. What a strange and slow summer camp this has been, the time suspended like the dragonflies that buzz by me.
The rhythm of each day is the same. 7.45 breakfast—something light and healthy. No gluten, dairy, or refined sugar at this Ayurvedic retreat. 9am the magical Alison for yoga, with lots of intentional breathing—7 sniffs in, one long out, alternate nostril breathing, the breath of fire with short punchy exhales. And a dancing kind of yoga that involves finding a pose and then, as Alison says, “Taking it for a spin,” as we move our spines or heads or arms or legs in any way we wish until it’s time for stillness again. Then there’s a relaxation after yoga where my body spreads more deeply into the floor than I knew possible. And then a morning snack—generally a healthy cake but once little clusters of chocolate covered pomegranate seeds exploding with flavour and texture and temperature in my mouth.
The mysteries of the day’s schedule unfold after morning tea: when will the treatment be? This is the only changing piece of the day. You get your assignment (11, 1, or 3) and have your lunch before or after. Treatments are some kind of ayurvedic massage: floaty, oily deliciousness. I feel so floppy afterwards that I can hardly bear my own weight. The afternoon is for talking or reading in the meadow or walking in the woods—or scratching the ears of the alpacas or the dog, Millie, who howls when you stop. Dinner is at 6.30. We were exhausted and in bed by 8.45 most nights.
There is a magic in this place, and I think it’s about how utterly filled with care it is. There is no pretence of anything at any point. It’s expensive, but when we did the math, we could hardly imagine how Julie could keep up the massive expenses of this place with our meagre money, since there are only five or six people there at any one time. But of course, you wouldn’t do this for the money. Julie has found not only her magical old mill by the water, with a tumbling older house attached to it. She has found her calling, the gathering together of people and food and places and actions that will promote a little bit of wellness in this little corner of the Cotswolds.
Elena loves figuring out new things to do with the food. She pops in like a pixie with a pot of steaming water and herbs or seeds or ginger. This is the “tea,” (although there’s no tea in it) rather than water, that we will drink with our meals. She places our plates before us with a tiny flourish, the delight of making carrottop pesto or turmeric pumpkin seed pate bubbling through her. Karen is the most magical masseuse I’ve ever had. It is like her fingers are having a conversation with my muscles, aided by the gentle jasmine-scented oil. Her fingers don’t try to force my muscles to relax (nothing is forced at the Clover Mill), but they converse, and I can feel my muscles gently get convinced by Karen that they shouldn’t be so tight after all.
There is no phone service in the cabins, but there is WIFI in the dining room, so I can check in with the kids or see how Mom is doing. I don’t open my email once and am sort of delighted at the way I don’t even want to. I don’t check the news, the latest on Twitter or LinkedIn. I often can’t even be bothered to read the Steinbeck I brought (To a God Unknown, which turns out to be epic and lovely and strange) because the bees are fascinating and besides, the plot moves so much faster than I can handle at the pace to which I have slowed. The gong bath on the last night (where they bathe us in sound, not water), leaves me wired for hours as I consider going home at last.
And then there’s the train home and now I’m back in my lovely little flat, blinking in the grey chilly London summer. My good habits of the week are knocked out like my breath after falling from a tree, and it somehow seems impossible to get them back. I check email while I brush my teeth, read the Guardian just before bed. I look at my phone and see what’s going on in the world, in my in-box, at every free moment, filling my eyes and mind with words and ideas and people and places. Is this my constitutional weakness returning—that I need to be constantly entertained except for short periods of time? Is it the context—that the trees waving in the air are lovely but buildings stretching solidly into the sky are boring? Is it just the force of habit—I always read while brushing my teeth?
I’m not sure. But the lessons of my summer camp, my five days at the Clover Mill, are slowly unfolding in me. One of the other guests, R, had been there four times before. When we asked him the first night what changed for him afterwards, he said, “I can’t think of anything.” I was disappointed then, hoping he was going to share his transformation so that I could aspire to something like that too. But over five dinners and breakfasts with R and the other guests there, I understood more deeply what he meant. “I love my life,” he said at our last lunch together. “I don’t need it to change. But I like how this feels when I’m here, and I like the way I feel when I get home.”
Maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s more than enough. I love that it was easy to slip into this time watching the rain fall. I love the pages I wrote in my journal; the conversations Michael and I don’t make time to have in London. I did love the way it felt, and I have come back different somehow, if only with the memory my body utterly relaxed and the unimaginable beauty of the trees dancing in the wind.
(This came in just when I was finishing up this essay. It says many things I should have said, only better: https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/the-hard-work-of-being-lazy/)