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.

Right.

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

SI

 

Mindful eating: a visit to Eauze fresh food market

Mindful eating
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Should you come and stay with us for seven or more days on a personal empowerment workshop, you will spend Thursday morning at the weekly fresh food market in Eauze, a thriving country town not far from us. As you know by now, we have this awkward fixation with feeding our retreat guests bodies as well, as healthily and as sumptuously as their minds.  

Our retreats are designed to help our guests manage stress and as part of this aim of ours, we introduce our guests to the local, laid-back lifestyle. In this part of Europe (Gascony),  in the south-west of France, people eat and drink what would elsewhere be considered a very rich diet, and still they manage to remain slim, fit and healthy and live to an advanced age.

I am convinced that their healthy, fresh, organic, often home-grown and nearly always home-cooked diet has a lot to do with this. We therefore take our visitors to the largest and most popular fresh food farmers’ market in the area, the market at Eauze, to show them where the inhabitants of this region buy their food.

For most of our guests, this is one of the highlights of their stay. It is true that it is a singular and unforgettable experience. Rather that try and put it all into words, I will let the pictures below do the talking.

Before you get to the pictures, you may want to have a look at this short clip of the Eauze market, as screened by TF1 (a leading French TV station) during the news hour : 

CLICK HERE  to view the video of Eauze market on TF1.

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Grateful for what we have

Comparing Meditation Retreats
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If wishes were horses!

I wish we had a whirlpool/jacuzzi/spa tub at our retreat. It would have been wonderful to lie back into hot, swirling bubbles at the end of a busy day of walking meditation, writing meditation and working meditation sessions. Especially if we also did an equine-assisted experiential learning session. Instead, all we have is a 2 acre/1 Ha spring fed lake and a pond surrounded by mint, wild thyme and whispering reeds. Yes, I know I can sit on a sun lounger on the deck by the lake with a tall, cool drink (some of the ice-cold water from the mountain springs that feeds our lake will be pure bliss in the summer heat) and watch the sun set over the water. Or I could join the otters for a late afternoon swim in the lake. Or I could swing in a hammock over the water and watch the horses come down to the water for a drink. Or I could sit by the pond with my feet in the mint-scented water…

I also wish we had a sauna. Lots of retreat resorts have saunas. I would like one of the infra-red ones that warm up instantly. Just imagine all that blissful heat at the touch of a button. Yes, I know that we live in the south of France, where in the summer the temp goes up to 35° in the shade and where even in the winter we rarely have cause for complaint. I know I spent most of my days here trying to get out of the sun and into the shade. I know our guests love the endless, sunny, warm summer days. I know they love getting up early in the morning to see the sunrise while it is already warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt . I know they love the long, balmy summer evenings when the temperature stays in the mid-twenties until sunset at 10 o’clock at night…it is just the thought of having a sauna on site – such luxury!

I think our retreat could do with a live-in yoga instructor . I am seriously into yoga – I find it very relaxing (especially afterwards). I have come across hundreds (literally) of yoga retreats on the web. It would be great to have a yoga teacher here for our guests. Instead, we have to put up with nothing but miles of off-road footpaths through ancient woods, lush orchards, past quiet lakes, along manicured vineyards and flowered meadows for relaxing walks. I DO enjoy going for a long walk, maybe coming upon deer peacefully grazing in a lush green field, or a woodpecker building a 5* condo in an old oak tree in the woods or watching the swallows catching their dinner on the surface of a dark pond. I suppose I do enjoy doing some stretches on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere facing the rising sun, but a private yoga teacher, just for our retreat guests, would really make my day!

A detox diet regime might be a good idea too. I also saw loads of detox retreats on the web. I have hosted detox retreats in the past – my detox retreat was called the « Red Wine Retreat » (go figure) and was based on Prof Roger Corder’s research about the health benefits of red wine, specifically the famous Madiran wine of our region. The problem is, here in Gascony, we are surrounded and overwhelmed by nature’s bounty in every shape and form : fresh, home-grown fruit and vegetables, nuts from our neighbours’ trees, organic home-raised meat, fish from our own lake and free range poultry and eggs, some of the most delicious and excellent wines in all of France…a starvation diet here would be unthinkable. So we decided to feed our guests’ bodies as richly as we feed their minds. Gascony is, after all, a region famous for its extravagant gastronomy and exceptional wine

Silence might be beneficial too. I have also read about silent retreats on-line. Silent retreats are very popular. I can understand why people would refrain from talking during a retreat, in fact, we have a « no-talking » period to give our guests an idea of how this works, but we have no hope of creating total silence here, deep in the heart of a very active countryside. Sounds of nature keep shattering that so longed for silence: birdsong bursting our eardrums from sunrise to sunset, horses neighing and cantering up and down their paddocks, people joking and laughing while working in the vineyards surrounding us…it is only at night that silence reigns here profoundly and unperturbed.

Another thing I would appreciate would be a professionally designed and constructed meditation room. We have to make do with the deck by the lake – admittedly it is large, stretches out into the lake so that it feels as if you are sitting on water. There is a lot to be said for meditating outside, but when it rains we have to use the horses’ barn. It is true that the barn is very useful for equine-guided meditation, especially since we have installed sturdy tables for our guests to sit on when the horses join them for a meditation session, but I so admire the meditation rooms at huge retreats resorts in exotic locations! I suppose, for the time being, we will have to make do with our meditation labyrinth, our meditation station path on the island in the lake and the large number of secluded spots we have created for private meditation…

A small army of therapists to help us look after our guests would come in useful. All we have is a retired medical doctor (admittedly with many years of experience and a few decent qualifications), a wine expert (with a WSET diploma) and six supersmart horses. It does help that most of the horses also have many years of experience helping guests through equine-assisted experiential learning – (Belle de la Babinière has been on the job for nearly 10 years now) and that each of the horses bring their own individual characters and experiences to each session – some of our horses have suffered trauma eerily similar to the trauma our guests may have suffered in the past.. Aurileo d’Alegria, our cocky little Lusitano, was severely abused and on his way to the abattoir when we found out about his plight.

Sometimes I wish we were more isolated – like a lonely monastery on a mountain top – far from any interference from modern life. We are secluded, in our own little valley, on the edge of a typical south-of-France village, but we are not isolated. I suppose this does have the benefit that we are easy to reach. We are within less than 2 hours’ drive from 4 international airports: Bordeaux, Toulouse, Pau and Tarbes/Lourdes – our guests often spend a day on arrival or departure at the world famous Lourdes pilgrim site. I suppose it is also useful to have access to all mod con’s even though we are steadily working towards self-sufficiency and to be close to local weekly fresh food markets, as part of the aim of our retreat is to introduce our guests to the lifestyle that allows people of this region to live long, fit and healthy lives.

Huge bedrooms with every luxury imaginable would be interesting. We do not have bedrooms the size of aeroplane hangers. We have cosy bedrooms, with exposed, 200+-year-old oak beams supporting the ceiling, more oak beams in the half-timbered walls and terracotta tiles/oak floor boards. Each of our bedrooms is individually decorated, along the «Romantic French Country Style » (you can find out more about this style of interior decorating on my Pinterest board with the same name). Our guest accommodation is in a separate farmworker’s cottage, with its own kitchen (for that midnight cup of redbush tea), and its own sitting and dining room with an ancient open fireplace that now sports a cast-iron wood-burner. It also has a dainty little porch where our guests can sit and eat their breakfast looking out over the horse paddocks. No large and luxurious bedrooms, I am afraid, but the cottage does have free wifi.

Another thing on my wish list is a top-of-the-range, fully-fitted kitchen with every modern appliance/gadget ever invented. At the moment all our meals are cooked in a 200+-year-old farmhouse kitchen with a humongous bread oven; we often have an open fire going in the bread oven. It is true that we have spent many happy hours there, some in the company of our guests, cooking together, laughing and sampling a variety of wines (while pretending we are choosing the right wine to complement a specific dish). It is also true that our kitchen, in its current shape, is the inviting and welcoming hub of the house and that many a guest and I have shared and solved problems while sitting at the table shelling peas or skinning potatoes.

 I think, in retrospect, that I am quite perfectly happy and deeply grateful for what we already have – our retreat guests certainly appreciate what we have to offer them: “Ah, that brought a smile to my face:-) I think about you and your fur family SO often – your farm is my go-to daydreaming place. I smile just thinking about the space, the lake, all my horse friends (who thought I’d ever say that!) and the cats walking through the paddocks.” Claire-Marie M.

 CLICK HERE to find out more about our Personal Empowerment Workshops

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”  Seneca

Comparing Meditation Retreats

Best Paella Recipe

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If you come on a mindfulness meditation retreat at Les Sources Sacrées, we will feed your mind as well as your body. Les Sources Sacrées is a secluded but not isolated retreat house deep in the heart of Gascony, in the sun-drenched south of France – land of « milk and honey », or rather land of paella Gascon, duck confit, cassoulet, croustade and Madiran, Pacherenc, Saint Mont and Cotes de Gascogne wines. Going on a starvation diet while you are here would be soul-destroying.

In Gascony, people live long and healthy lives despite eating rich food and drinking copious amounts of wine – it is called the Gascon Paradox. On an equine-guided meditation retreat at Les Sources Sacrées, you will be introduced to this laid-back way of life : You will discover some of the most famous dishes and wine of this region, visit a local fresh food market and go on a tutored wine tasting.

One would think that people would quickly become obese on such a rich diet, but obesity here is very rare.

Les Sources Sacrées is located just 90 minutes north of the Spanish border. Many people here speak Spanish and people dance the tango, eat paella and attend a bullfight during their village fetes. Paella Gascon has, over the years, become the signature dish of our retreats, the dish is served at the welcoming dinner on the first night here. It is decadently delicious and so easy to adapt for vegetarians who do or do not eat fish.

Guests always ask for my best paella recipe, which I am always happy to share. Despite the long list of ingredients, it is easy to make and even freezes well.

Paella Gascon

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp virgin olive oil, cold pressed
  • 6 chicken (or small duck) drumsticks
  • 250g chorizo sausage, sliced, not too thinly
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
  • 2 cups rinsed short-grain rice (soak it in water first for 10-15 minutes, then drain)
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped in small cubes
  • 1 cup red peppers, sliced
  • 1 cup peas (frozen is fine)
  • 750 ml chicken stock
  • 250 ml of white wine (we use Pacherenc)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Half tsp of saffron
  • 500g prawns/large shrimp
  • 250 g calamari
  • 500g mussels, scrubbed and soaked
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup of fresh, chopped parsley and sliced olives for garnish
  • 1 lemon cut into lemon wedges

Instructions

In a large paella pan/12 inch+ skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Coat the drumsticks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add drumsticks to pan, then cook for about 5-10 minutes until the chicken is crisp. Add chorizo sausage, to flavour the oil.

When chicken is fully cooked, push it to one side of the pan, then add the onion and sautée it for 2-3 minutes until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic, stir well and cook for another minute.

Now add the rice, tomatoes and red peppers to the pan. Let the rice cook in the sauce from the tomatoes for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, paprika, cayenne pepper, tumeric and saffron. Stir everything together (including drumsticks and chorizo) and cover with a large enough lid. Cook for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.

Turn down the heat. Arrange the shrimp and mussels over the rice, cover with a lid again and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the mussels open up. Add the calamari for the last 3-4 minutes.

Turn off the heat and garnish with parsley and olives.

Gascon paella is often served with lemon wedges and a spicy red pepper rouille in this part of France:

Ingredients of the rouille:

  • 1/2 cup hot red peppers
  • 3 tsp dry breadcrumbs
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp tomato purée
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Half a tsp of saffron
  • 4 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Instructions to make the rouille:

Mix all ingredients together (in a blender if preferred). Add cold pressed virgin olive oil last and blend until smooth. Serve in a small bowl with a hot, crusty baguette on the side. Some people stir ½ a tsp of rouille into their paella, others eat it spread on bread.

We usually combine our paella with a deep-red, robust, rock-your-socks-off Madiran, but you can also serve it with a dry white, like a Pacherenc sec.

Allez-y les Gascons, bon appétit!

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This post is also part of the Daily Post Photo Challenge: Dinnertime

Midlife Wisdom: Collect experiences, not possessions

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Since December 2015, I have been thinking about making New Year’s resolutions, in a very general, non-focussed sort of way. It is now the beginning of March 2016 and still I have not been able to formulate any inspiring resolutions for this year. I am not sure why, because I am actually a great recommender of having a whole bunch of short- and long-term « SMART » goals and of living with determined intention. 

Until now.

My one and only New Year’s Resolution for 2016

For 2016, I have made only one resolution: to collect experiences instead of collecting possessions. I didn’t just grab this resolution out of the thin air, I have been thinking along these lines for a long time. I still have goals, lots of them, but my goals have changed, very subtly. The emphasis is no longer on acquiring possessions, or even on acquiring experience, but on living all experiences that come my way as mindfully as possible.  I would like to share 4 of these goals with you to illustrate my point. I would like:

  • To write a book that will help women become more confident and assertive so that they can live more fulfilling lives,
  • To lead a transformational retreat (similar to the Personal Empowerment Workshops I host here in France) in another country, like South Africa for example 
  • To take my horses and equine-assisted experiential learning into local schools, to help with bullying and into local nursing homes, to provide physical and psychological stimulation for the inhabitants
  • To raise money for a charity I feel close to, by talking one of more of the horses to a supermarket and asking for donations
  • To go to the annual EAGALA (equine-assisted growth and learning association) conference in America, this year in Lexicon, Kentucky, to update my knowledge and exchange views and experiences with other equine-assisted therapists…

For the activities listed above, I will still set « SMART » goals, just as I always did before and to work diligently to achieve them. The change is subtle, it really is only a difference in emphasis.

  • Take the first point on my list. I no longer yearn to become a famous author and sell thousands of books. I am more interested in writing a book that can actually be useful, a book that will make a difference to women’s lives. I am more interested in my readers’ reactions to the book – what they found useful and what not, and in the possibility of incorporating this feedback into the book. It is the interaction that will follow the publication of the book that motivates me to write it, now.
  • As for the second point, I am no longer interested in travelling for the sake of seeing the world only. I love travelling, I love discovering new places and I love re-visiting old favourites, but travelling with a group of women with whom I can share the experience while at the same time providing them with the tools and skills the need to change themselves and their lives for the better is so much more appealing.
  • Even the last point, for me, will be about the experience. Being there amongst hundreds of other therapists facing the same challenges in their work as I do, the opportunity to discuss these challenges and brainstorm solutions, the chance to forge new friendships, would make the experience invaluable, in my book.

I no longer feel the need to acquire possessions, not even horses.

Research Results

During the last 10 years, an abundance of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than possessions do, especially in the long run. The understanding that experiential purchases are more satisfying than material purchases has long been the focus of psychology professor Thomas Gilovich. Since 2003, he has been researching how and why experiential purchases make us so much happier than material purchases. In the journal Psychological Science, Gilovich and Killingsworth, along with Cornell doctoral candidate Amit Kumar, expand on the current understanding that spending money on experiences “provide more enduring happiness” than spending money on possessions. (Link)

We used to assume that spending money on material possessions make us happier. We thought that when you spend money on a vacation, it is soon over and done with. Whereas if you buy the most comfortable couch that you can afford, the pleasure last longer as it stays with you, in physical form, for much longer than the duration of the holiday. Not so, apparently. It seems that the memories of that holiday not only outlast the lifespan of the couch but become more enjoyable as time goes by. We can even give negative experiences a positive slant. According to Kumar, if it rains a lot during a holiday, «People will say, well, you know, we stayed in and we played board games and it was a great family bonding experience or something.»

Additionally, anticipating going on a holiday is apparently more enjoyable than waiting for your new couch to arrive – maybe because when dreaming about your holiday, the possible ways of making the best of it are only limited by your imagination. I am not altogether convinced of this, though, seems to me I can imagine rather a lot of ways of enjoying my new couch…

The researchers also point out that other people generally find it more interesting to hear about one’s experiences while on holiday, than about the comforts of one’s new couch. That sounds about right, people more often ask me «How was your holiday?» than «How are you getting on with your new couch?» (Which is probably a good thing!)

Reasons I chose this Resolution

You may have been surprised my outrageous statement above, about not being interested in buying more horses. I am too. I never thought there would ever come a time when I would not want more horses (assuming I have the funds and facilities to look after them), but it is true. I would now rather spend time with the horses I have, learn from them, work with them and study the effect that they have on clients during equine-assisted experiential learning sessions.

  • It might have something to do with the fact that having arrived at midlife, I am now aware that time is running out and that I need to live more mindfully: «It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on Earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had.» – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
  • Or it might have something to do with a book I read recently: 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, by John Herrick. You can download the book(free) in pdf-form by CLICKING HERE.

So what do you think? Have I finally lost it? Should I be buying better saddles, better bridles, better horses and spend more money on more comfortable furniture?

As the personal transformation retreats to South Africa are still in the planning stage, all I can invite you to at the moment, if you are also more into experiences than into possessions, is our equine-guided Personal Empowerment Workshops.

PS. My apologies for my few-and-far-in-between posts at the moment. I have been asked by Hélène Tragos Stelian if I would care to be featured on her blog, Next Act for Women, about women who changed direction in midlife, so I am currently working on that and I am also updating our women’s midlife retreats.

Midlife Wisdom Collect Experiences not Possessions