Having time to think, to relax and focus on ourselves seems like a luxury not many of us can afford these days. Gently Be‘s ‘Time Out’ days aim to nurture your body, mind and spirit. In January I attended their most recent day to find out if we really do benefit from a bit of ‘me’ time...
It was a miserably wet and grey January morning as I drove up the long, muddy lane towards Ferrar House, Little Gidding. Hidden deep in the Cambridgeshire countryside, this retreat was to be my home for the day, but as I walked towards the door I felt only an overwhelming sense of apprehension. Why had I taken this huge leap out of my comfort zone and decided to spend all day on a Saturday in the company of 10 strangers? Was I really being so selfish to spend a day which would be all about me…?
Inside the house, the cold January day immediately melted away, and I was met with a genuinely warm welcome and Gently Be smiles. The calming sounds of soft chatter and the clinks of tea cups provided a gentle backdrop to the start of the day and my anxiety began to fade. At that point though I had no idea how relaxed, re-energised and inspired I would feel leaving this same room at the end of the day.
I was there for the ‘Time Out Day for Busy Women’. By a serendipitous moment on Facebook earlier in the week, I had seen a post advertising that there was one space available and before I had a chance to think it through, and talk myself out of it, I emailed Ali and I was in! Jackie Bland and Ali Coutts run Gently Be, which provides a range of practices dedicated to health and happiness. 1-1 therapies such as hypnotherapy, massage and Reiki are offered alongside regular yoga classes, mindfulness and well-being sessions in schools and the workplace as well as a range of Time Out days.
This day was about setting goals for 2018, about having time to think, and about deep relaxation. Gently Be runs a number of these Time Out days during the year, each with a slightly different focus. Some of the other days planned are a ‘Happy with Eating’ day, a ‘Moving Made Easy’ and ‘Simply Good Moods’, but this one felt as though the timing was just right for me. I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions but I was at a point in life where I needed a bit of a re-focus, a re-setting of my mind and a bit of time to think. ‘Thinking time’ is somewhat of an alien concept in our busy lives! I know we think we think all the time; I think about my job and what I want to do, if I’m happy with my job or if there are alternatives which could give me a better work-life balance, but those thoughts are always muddled with a million other thoughts about what we’re having for dinner, whose party the children are going to at the weekend, the credit card bill or how we’re going to arrange various complicated childcare issues in the coming week. This day was about forgetting about all of that for a bit and just having time to think; to really think, to think in a quiet space and to focus on making small manageable steps towards bigger goals. For me it felt as though this was exactly what the doctor had ordered!
We were settled in a room for the first part of the day that was full of sofas, comfy chairs, blankets and cushions, and the walls at the far end of the room were stacked floor to ceiling with TS Eliot books. A room with books always makes me feel content. Eliot wrote ‘Little Gidding’, the fourth and final poem in his Four Quartet series which was published in 1942. He’d visited Little Gidding in 1936 and based the poem on the religious community of Ferrar House, founded by Nicholas Ferrar in the 17th Century. Having studied Eliot many moons ago for A-level, and having taught it on a number of occasions in my job, this also seemed a fitting context for me. According to my old A-Level notes ‘Little Gidding’ “celebrates the ability of human vision to transcend the apparent limitations of human mortality. In a place set away from the world, one can hear, if one chooses, the children laughing in the garden.” Although we were in a place ‘set away from the world’ I don’t think I understood at that point what it was that I should be ‘hearing’.
Jackie led this first session and started by setting out the aims of the day, teaching us relaxation techniques and talking us through a wealth of information. I learnt a lot: about the brain, about food, about stress and the body, and I started to learn quite a lot about myself…Other parts of the day were equally as inspiring. Lunch was delicious (and nutritious!) and there was also some time and space on our own to think and focus our minds. I found a space in a separate room in the house where I took my notebook and settled on a sofa with a soft blanket; that cold, wet January day outside the window was by then a faint memory.
The day also included a time for movement and activities, led by the vibrant and energetic Ali. As well as this day being about relaxation, we also laughed. A lot. Especially during the ‘Laughter Yoga’ session! To say I initially felt awkward would be an understatement. I knew I was going to be pushed out of my comfort zone but this was something completely beyond the outer limits of that zone. But do you know what? As we laughed in embarrassment and awkwardness, we began to laugh at ourselves, and then we just began to laugh….and laugh! And it felt really good!
Later in the day was the deep meditation time led by Jackie (there were definitely some sleepers in the room!) This session was the culmination of the ideas from the day, but for each of us in the room those ideas and experiences were probably wildly different. We were each exploring our own thoughts, and the individual small steps we would be taking towards our bigger goals. The women in the room ranged from a recent University graduate about to set out on her new path through life; a young woman who had just started in a new job in London; other working mums like me, wondering about the work-life balance and if there were alternative choices to be made, and women who were on the verge of retirement with conflicting emotions about what the freedom of retirement would bring. We were from all different walks of life, all different ages and it was bloomin’ lovely!
Driving away down that same muddy track at the end of the day, I felt different. It sounds clichéd to say, but I felt lighter; I felt energised and rejuvenated with a strong sense of how I could move forward. The long, muddy lane which led away from Ferrar House didn’t seem as daunting; the wet, cold January day was no longer my focus- perhaps, like the contradictory words of Eliot’s opening line of ‘Little Gidding’, it was almost a ‘Midwinter Spring’. I can only describe it as feeling both completely relaxed and energised at the same time.
So yes there is time for ‘me time’ and that time is important- important and necessary. For me to feel calm, focused and healthy isn’t just about me, it’s about my relationships with my partner, children and family. It’s about them getting the best of me. That night I went to bed and slept like I haven’t slept for years- and I mean years! Maybe that time in a place set away from the world, just for a short time, lets us hear, if we choose to, what we don’t normally have time or space for, helping us to transcend our apparent limitations and take those small steps towards our greater goals.