Summer Workshops: Don’t forget your fur coat, diamonds and high heels!

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Summer retreats are very popular here in the south of France and with good reason: The sun rises early and it is not fully dark until after ten o’clock in the evening. The days are long, warm and sun-drenched…

Most of our guests remember to bring the essentials on a mindfulness meditation retreat at Les Sources Sacrées: a sunhat, sunglasses, suntan lotion, a swimming costume etc. I thought of a few more that no-one can do without on a summer retreat :

  1. Full evening dress as most retreats insist on evening wear for dinner. For the ladies, this means a full-length black evening gown with a tiara and a full-length fur coat for those chilly evenings. The gentlemen will need to wear black tie at least, although tails and a top hat would actually be even more appropriate.
  2. Another essential for the ladies is high heels. One really can not afford to let standards slip just because one is going somewhere to relax. So don’t forget to pack those Jimmy Choos and Louboutin pumps. kpi
  3. Talking about tiaras, you will also need ALL your jewellery. Retreats can be pretty dull places, so a bit of sparkle would not come amiss. All the other guests will be wearing the full complement, so it obviously won’t do to look half-dressed. kom
  4. Not to mention full-combat makeup – concealer, foundation, blush, translucent powder, mascara, eyeshadow (various colours), eyeliner and lipstick (various colours). Take every stick and brush (powder brush, blush brush, eyeliner brush, eyeshadow brush etc.) that you think you might need. Take some extras because you don’t know where in deepest darkest rural France you are going to end up. There may not be a suitable shop within reach to supply you with the specifics you may need to look your best during the rigorous challenges that you may have to face during your summer retreat. rty
  5. Also essential is your favourite coffee/expresso machine. It may be a bit difficult to get it through customs, but really, you will just have to insist. A Nespresso machine is not that big and will easily fit into one of the five suitcases you are taking with you. Take a few dozen capsules of different flavours. You are definitely going to need multiple caffeine shots  a day to keep up with the frenetic pace at the retreat. kiu
  6. All retreat guests must take their own alarm clocks, in fact, take several. You do not want to lose track of time while you are on retreat. You can set your alarm clock to make sure you wake before the sun comes up and then again to make sure you are not late for breakfast and…well, an alarm clock will come in handy several times during the day. If it is battery-operated, take several batteries. (see point 3) lko
  7. Bring everything you need to ensure that you are able to stay cool, calm and collected during the retreat, even if it is just on the surface. Remember to pack all prescription medication/herbal remedies. Bring loads of whatever it is you pop to stay calm – most retreats have hectic schedules.
  8. Another essential is enough food to last you for the duration of the retreat, just in case you are expected to eat all sorts of exotic dishes. You never know what you are going to have to eat, especially in a country as foreign as France. You will be taking five suitcases, a vanity case, a hat box and all the rest – there will be more than enough space for food as well. If not, you could always take a cool box as well…
  9. You also need to take all your work papers/paraphernalia. It really won’t do to lose contact with the office. Or at least, take enough work with you to keep you busy during the retreat. Make sure you leave contact details for everyone who may need to get hold of you, 24/7. kiup
  10. It is also important that you bring some music to listen to. Silence can become so oppressive and it will also help you block out those annoying sounds of nature like birdsong, babbling brooks and neighing horses. Especially if you like heavy rock/loud rap music, take your favourite tunes. Don’t bother to take earphones, take speakers instead.

PS. Don’t forget to have a full manicure and pedicure BEFORE you come to the retreat, one does want to arrive looking one’s best, I think, and waiting to have the works until you get to the retreat of your choice really would create the wrong impression.

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If you took any of the above seriously, you very badly and very urgently need to go on a mindfulness meditation retreat at Les Sources Sacrées. Write to us as soon as possible on welcome2gascony[at]gmail.com, we will fit you in at the first available opportunity.

In the meantime, if you would like to escape on a virtual visit to the sun-blessed south of France for 10 magical minutes where you can quickly recharge your batteries and come back bursting with supreme self-confidence, and for early-bird discounts and last-minute special offers, available only to mailing list subscribers, and notification of new life-enhancing blog posts, notification of new book/course releases, subscribe to my mailing list by CLICKING HERE. You will receive my 10 Simple Steps to Instant Self-Confidence Guide immediately – straight from the horse’s mouth!

©MMontagu

Summer Retreat Essentials

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2015: Short-cut to Happiness

Short-cut to happiness
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2015 felt nearly too short – so much happened in such a short time. We had to work very hard to renovate our 400 year old French farm house, our fields, our lake, our wood, our garden, our orchard and our potager so that we could host our equine-guided personal growth and meditation retreats here. The horses also needed a lot of time and attention to get comfortably settled. Even though it was a very busy year, it was also a year full of blessings and we are intensely grateful for each and every blessing that came our way. We seem to have found a short-cut to happiness – and we intend to share this short-cut with our retreat guests. Our 2015 happiness highlights were:

Although we have lived and owned a house in the region for the last 8/9 years, 2015 was the year we moved into our dream house, Les Sources Sacrées, in Gascony, in the south-west of France, 2 hours from the Atlantic ocean, 2h north of the Spanish border and 90 minutes south-east of Bordeaux.

Our dream house in gascony

Les Sources Sacrées

Before we renovated the rest of the house, starting on the second of January 2015, we renovated the guest wing. Here we house our Equine Guided Meditation Retreat and our Learn how to Meditate with Horses Workshops participants. There are single and double bedrooms – useful for participants who want to bring their non-participating partners/spouses/better halves. More pictures of the house here: Accommodation.

2015 was the year we renovated the 2 acres/1 hectare lake on the farm, as well as the small, adjacent wood. Wading around in water-boots up to one’s thighs was called for, and we removed a small mountain of weeds that was suffocating the black bass (ze fishes). We cleared most of the brambles in the wood and on the island that were sometimes up to 2m tall and we built a bridge to the island so that guests can get to the 14 step meditation path laid out on the island.

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2015 was the year Bass came to live with us. An exceptionally beautiful tinker stallion, he also has the gentlest of characters. Thank you so much to Leonoor van Dongen for introducing us to Tinkers and selling us Bass (and bringing him to us all the way from the Netherlands!). It is already clear that he is going to be an exceptionally perceptive equine guide. Read more about him here: Bass des Sources Sacrées

Tinker stallion

2015 was the year Leo, the horse we rescued from slaughter, decided to stop running away from us and that being with us is an acceptable, even desirable, option. Leo does not work with guests yet, but he now allows just about anyone to approach him, as long as the approach ends in an extensive neck scratch. People with carrots are welcome too. Read more about him here: Aurileo d’Alegria

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Aurileo d’Alegria

In 2015, especially during the portes ouvertes de Madiran and Saint Mont, we tried some more excellent wines, but our favourite for 2015 is Altera’s Merlot. Our second favourite has to be the wine of our neighbour at LaPrune, who sells the season’s wine “en vrac” at 1 euro 80 per 2 litres. Also appreciated was Beréjat’s Chardonnay and Domaine de la Rose’s Rosé. We offer our guests the opportunity to discover our region’s wines by adding an extra day to their stay to do a Tutored Wine Tour.

Merlot -our favourite wine of 2015

In 2015 we discovered wholegrain pasta. Difficult to find here in deepest rural France, but we did manage to find a couple of local shops that stock it. Even though our favourite restaurant of 2015, Chez Quintin in Nogaro, does not use wholegrain pasta for their Pasta à la Carbonara with mushrooms, cream , “lardons” (ham) and a raw egg (on the side), it remains irresistible. We share some sort of pasta dish with our retreat and workshop guests at least once during their stay.

2015 was the year we met Monica Gould, a Masterson’s Method and Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork practitioner. 2015 was the first year we and our horses benefited from her training and experience as a cranio-sacral therapist, her sunny disposition, her extensive knowledge of barefoot practices and of aromatherapy.

Monica Gould

2015 was the year we started to do yoga here in the south of France – we would have done so before if we could have found a class within half an hour’s drive from us), my better half for the first time in his life. Our teacher is Kate Coulson, from Happy Yoga. We feel much better for it, definitely more supple, but also more relaxed and more focused.

Kate Coulson

2015 was the year we built the raised beds for the vegetable garden, and planted 30+ fruit trees. With our neighbours’ help, we also installed a bee swarm in a hive. We use as much home-grown produce when we prepare meals for our guests, the rest we buy at the weekly fresh (and often organic) farmer’s market in Eauze.

vegetables garden

With sustainability in mind, 2015 was the year I read up about permaculture, and incorporated as many ideas as I could: water butts so that we can capture and store rainwater, compost heaps for garden and kitchen waste and gathering of he horses’ manure to use as fertiliser next year. Sustainable tourism is important to us.

compost heap

2015 was the year I started blogging, initially to introduce our mindfulness meditation retreats with horses to the world, but as time went on and I made more and more friends in Blogland, my blogging become about so much more. I had been on Facebook for many years, but 2015 was the year I discovered Twitter and Pinterest (and was soon addicted to the latter). I have a Gratitude Dairy Pinterest board, where I post pictures of the things that I am grateful for, as well as a French Country Garden and a French Country Style Pinterest Board.

Equine Guided Personal Growth Blog

2015 was the year I took up singing again. I have been a member of two or three choirs for the last 5 years, and I took singing lessons as a teenager, but 2015 was the year I gathered all my courage together and found myself a highly qualified and very well-known Gascon soprano, Cécile Fornerod, to teach me how to sing properly.

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Talking about singing, 2015 was the year my better half joined the Christmas Carol Choir that I sing in every year from September to December to raise money for cancer patients in our region (a first time ever for him). It was also the year we found him a grand piano and he started playing again (not having played for many years). We had to get rid of quite a bit of furniture to fit the piano in the house, just getting it through the door was a near insurmountable challenge!

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2015 was the first year we felt we needed a tractor. As we now owned 8 hectares / 20 acres, mowing the grass was going to need more than a lawn mover. So 2015 was the year we became the proud owners of a 52 year old tractor (bright red), still going strong, except for the time it got stuck in a ditch and had to be pulled out by a Lamborghini (tractor!)

tractor

2015 was the first year that my better half finally had a wine cellar that he was happy to store his treasured wines in. The cellar came with the house, but needed a bit of updating before, eventually, the precious bottles could be carefully laid down on the new shelves.

wine cellar

While we are sad to leave 2015 behind, we are also looking with barely suppressed anticipation towards 2016 – we hope that the 2016 vintage will be as good as the 2015 was! We would love to share our “petit paradis” with you. Chances are you will discover a short-cut to happiness here too! If you are interested in joining us for a Mindfulness Meditation Retreat/Workshop guided by our Horses, please send us an e-mail on welcome2gascony@gmail.com or fill in the form below.

Meditation on the Mundane: Horse Shoes

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What could be more mundane than an old, rusted and discarded horseshoe? Mundane it certainly is, but is it beautiful?

The Mundane Monday Challenge is about taking pictures depicting the beauty of the mundane. This week I found a very old horseshoe on a nail in a fencepost. Someone must have picked it up and hung it on the nail, knowing that sooner or later a horse will be discovered with one shoe missing and then some unlucky punter will be sent into the 2 Ha field to find it so that it can be put back on the horse. If you have ever had to do this job, you would know that it makes finding a needle in a haystack an attractive alternative option. Especially if the field is muddy…

A horseshoe on a fence post is mundane, but maybe not that beautiful. To me, the beauty lies in the possible meaning of the horseshoe on the fence post. If the horseshoe is on the fence post, it is not on the horse’s hoof. I believe it is better for horses to be barefoot, au naturel. As our horses mostly work as equine guides during our Equine-guided Meditation Retreats, they do not need shoes.  I am a barefoot advocate, yes, but I am not a fanatic and occasionally one or two of our horses, who had always worn shoes before they came to us,  may sport a pair of front shoes during the summer season.

When I see a horseshoe on a fence post, old, rusted and discarded, I hope it is because the horse’s owner decided that shoes were no longer needed.

So what could be more beautifully mundane than a single discarded horseshoe?

A whole heap of old, rusted and discarded horse shoes.

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What is wrong with the south of France?

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You must wonder why we decided to buy our farm here in the south of France where we host our Personal Empowerment Workshopsbased on mindfulness meditation, because it is really not a very attractive region.

Equine Guided Self-improvement

The landscape is flat and uninteresting.

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Nothing much ever happens.

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The food is not particularly good.

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The people are quiet and withdrawn.

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There are few wild open spaces left.

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The wine selection is limited.

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The weather is boring.

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The roads are congested with traffic.

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It’s just not a very relaxing place.

Equine Guided growth and meditation

There is nowhere you can go for a quiet walk…

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…or sit quietly and meditate.

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It is over-populated, there are people everywhere…

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…you never get a moment to yourself.

Equine Guided Growth

What is wrong with the south of France? It is just not the place to go to if you are looking for a peaceful, relaxing holiday far from the madding crowd, where the people are welcoming, nature is unspoilt, the food is exceptional, the wine excellent and there are loads to see and do if you ever should choose to get out of the hammock. It is definitely not suitable for Mindfulness Meditation Workshops with or without Horses.

Honestly. Why would ANYONE want to go to the south of France to attend a personal empowerment workshop?

What is wrong with the South of France Pin

For early-bird discounts and last-minute special offers on my workshops, available only to mailing list subscribers, and notification of new life-enhancing blog posts, notification of new book/course releases, subscribe to my mailing list by CLICKING HERE. You will receive my 10 Simple Steps to Instant Self-Confidence Guide immediately – straight from the horse’s mouth!

If You need a Friend, be a Friend – Making Friends on a Meditation Retreat

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One of the most rewarding things about running our Mindful Meditation Retreats here in the south of France, is the friends we make during the retreats. And not only us. Very often, our retreat participants make friends during the retreats that they keep for life. Our horses also make friends. Many of our guests become attached to our horses, so much so that they often continue to send horse treats (often home-made) for many years after they attended a retreat – or until they attend the next retreat.

When you first set foot in the horse world, you meet a lot of people from a different planet. Horse people. They live in a parallel universe – in a neighbouring dimension – where life revolves around huge four-legged animals with un-split hooves. From the moment they wake up, till the moment they fall exhausted into bed, they have one thing on their mind : horses. Their horses, their friends’ horses, horses in their care, horses they have met and horses they hope to meet, horses they are thinking of buying /saving /feeding /shoeing /riding /worming /breeding…etc.

If you are going to find your way around, say you want to start riding or you want to buy a horse, you need a horse world friend. A very good friend, who will introduce you, stand bail for you, guarantee your integrity and show you the ropes. Otherwise, you are out in the cold. No helpful hints about good farriers, trustworthy vets, threatening epidemics, no advice when your horse gets ill, no support when your horse dies…dismal, in other words. So you better make a few horsey friends, and sooner rather than later. But how to go about it?

There is a saying, “If you want good friends, be a good friend.” Nowhere is this a truer saying than in the horse world. Because not everyone on this otherworldly planet can be trusted in equal measure. I have come across the odd dishonest horse seller or trader in my time. In some facebook groups, you will find that the most ardent armchair critics of horses and riders have never been anywhere near a horse and have certainly never set a foot in a stirrup. So you are going to need a few very good horsey friends that you can trust.

I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: « The only way to have a friend is to be one. » So if you want to make and keep a good friend, you are first going to have to BE a good friend.

If you want to be a good friend, then…

  • Be your own best friend first. If you can not accept and appreciate yourself as you are, you won’t be able to accept and appreciate others. If you can not forgive yourself for past mistakes, you won’t be able to forgive friends’ mistakes. A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are. Be that sort of friend to yourself.
  • Be yourself. Do not try to be someone you are not so that people will like you. Do not try to be the person you think your friend expects you to be. Be sincere.
  • Make time to get to know each other. What do you have in common (apart from horses)? What do you disagree about? What do you both like/dislike? Find common ground. Trust is best based on solid knowledge. Trust is the foundation of friendship. If you give it, you will receive it.
  • Listen with all your heart and mind. Do not just listen in order to reply. Just listen. Hear what is not being said. Be comfortable with the occasional silence. Wait before you reply. Make sure you understand the answer. Listen long and listen hard. Do not give advice unless solicited, and if you do, spare each others feelings.
  • Take a genuine interest in each others’ lives (as well as each others’ horses). As Dale Carnegie said: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” 
  • Commit to the friendship. This means being there for each other at all times, middle of the night, middle of a meeting, middle of a dressage lesson. Make time for each other, regularly check up on each other. Keep in touch. It can be difficult to create times to get together, so take advantage of common activities and interests you have. 
  • Be honest, but be considerate.
  • Share. Share your hopes, your dreams, your failures, your disappointments. Share your victories, big or small, celebrate together. Learn from each other’s experiences. Share your feelings.
  • Support each other. Support your friend even if you can not support her behaviour or her opinion. It is OK to say, I don’t agree. You can still be supportive. Don’t give up on a friend because he/she made the wrong choice or isn’t the person you want them to be. Appreciate and accept your friends as they are, unconditionally.
  • Help each other grow. Encourage each other. Go on workshops together. Read personal growth books together. Help each other back on the road less travelled if one goes astray.
  • It is OK to disagree. Just agree to disagree. Don’t obsess about small disagreements. Forgive. Forget. Apologise first. Do not hold grudges. 
  • Be loyal. If you give your word, keep it. Tell them, “I have got your back,” and mean it. Be dependable, keep your promises.Be trustworthy.
  • Be an empath. Put yourself in his/her shoes. Imagine what he/she is feeling (when you are together but also when you are not together). See a problem from their perspective, before you show it to them from your perspective.
  • Do not manipulate your friends, ever, not even for their own good. Only make use of your friends by being of use to them.
  • Be generous. Be grateful for their friendship and tell them that you are. Show them. Send a card. Buy flowers/a small gift. Any friendship worth maintaining needs nurturing. Give as much to the relationship as you get from it. A good friendship is based on respect, balance and equality.
  • Cheer each other up, when needed. Most people, when asked, say they want a friend they can laugh with. Always give humour free access to your friendship. Make each other laugh.
  • Know when to let go and walk away without making excuses.

A good friend…

  • Has good timing. Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of perefect timing. “There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” – Gloria Naylor
  • Is trustworthy. “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” -George Washington
  • Is precious. “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” – Muhammad Ali
  • Is committed to the friendship. “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” – Jane Austen
  • Cares. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen
  • Motivates and inspires you. “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Is in it for the duration. “I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.” – Jon Katz
  • Loves you. “I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forgot who you are and how much you’re loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn’t any kind of burden for me because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure.” – James Lecesne
  • Enriches your life. “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  – Anaïs Nin
  • Knows when it is time to move on. “Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled.” –  Ally Condie

I do not know where I would have been today without the help of my friends. Somewhere very uncomfortable, no doubt. I am immensely grateful that I can keep in contact with friends effortlessly by using the internet. If a horse’s leg swells up, I send a photo to a friend/a facebook group/the vet to ask for advice. Instantly. Of course, one still has to use one’s common sense, but the support and understanding one gets from friends on- and off-line is invaluable.

It is definitely worth trying to be the very best friend I can possibly be in return.

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