Healing, dreaming & a spot of chocolate at a Gathering of Minds retreat in Essex
‘The speakers have attitude and there’s almost a rock-star vibe about the organisation – it’s young, funky and sometimes controversial in its chosen subject matter’
Olivia Mackinder goes on the first ever Gathering of Minds weekend retreat at Gilwell Park in Essex
Gathering of Minds runs retreats and workshops that focus on energizing and healing the body, mind and spirit, and I went on their first ever residential weekend. It’s the life purpose of Jess Lewis, former model, presenter and competitive boxer, who brings together speakers on a range of wellbeing subjects, from meditation to more out-there topics such as ‘inter-dimensional communication’. As well as bags of energy, warmth and enthusiasm, Jess has a strong Newcastle accent, and it struck me from the off that in the field of holistic health and wellbeing, which can be very ‘home counties’ and London-centric, she’s doing things refreshingly differently.
Our base was a single-storey, wooden lodge at Gilwell Park, a Scout Activity Centre in Epping Forest, Essex. I arrived early on the Friday afternoon, frazzled from work and the city. Ditching urban for green open spaces, I felt tension and stress unraveling almost immediately, particularly after a warm welcome from Jess and her partner, Matt, who was helping in the kitchen.
The weekend was a series of taster session workshops, and as their very first, was a bit of an experimentation with some trial and error, but huge amounts of passion and energy. Meals were raw to complement the physical, emotional and spiritual work going on over the weekend, allowing the body to detox. OK, so sometimes we ended up eating late (dinner at 10pm) and the timing of workshops often slipped, but what I got was a sense of an evolving process – a journey of learning, growing and discovering, for those running it as much as those taking part.
My single room was basic – single bed, shelves but no hanging space and a small desk, but also unexpectedly red curtains and a very modern ensuite bathroom with a toilet and fantastic power shower. The other accommodation options were dorm rooms with up to four beds (bunk style) per room or camping. Being in a bit of a rush prior to the event, I hadn’t twigged from emails that I needed to bring my own bedding and towel, so I hadn’t, but the extra blankets and cushions I’d brought for the meditations did the job.
I joined the other 15 participants at around 7pm in a large hall with the look of a school gym, but flooded with light from floor to ceiling windows on one side. I’m used to sharing circles starting a retreat, where people introduce themselves, but there wasn’t one here, and I missed the opportunity to touch base with the others before we dived straight into our combined meditation and ‘gong bath’ with reiki master Mohan and Cherub Sanson, a sound energy healer. She had brought along a range of instruments, including flutes, chimes and rattles, as well as her own height in gong. Played together, they created a soundscape designed to send relaxing, healing vibrations through the body.
There was an initial battle between the music, noises from the kitchen and scouts outside, but Cherub won. It was a lovely experience – a powerful shimmering wave of sound that, with Mohan’s guided visualisation running over the top, resulted in me feeling more grounded and relaxed by the end.
The following morning was kundalini yoga with Benjamin Saxon or ‘Guru Ben’, a self-styled guru who started with an introduction about the super self, the shadow self and the ego – three aspects of ourselves that the practice was designed to bring into balance. It was a powerful ‘test of stamina’, with lots of male energy, based on a breathing practice and holding positions until my muscles burned. Afterwards, Natalie Nyree, an intuitive healer, provided a feminine antidote with ‘self-healing’ in the woods surrounding the centre. Her invitation to find solace in nature by feeling into the positive energy to be found there was something I could get on with. There was tree hugging – not something I’m drawn to do, but the underlying value of respecting nature was a reminder to slow down and connect more with the great outdoors.
The lucid dreaming workshop was the main act of the weekend. This is the practice of being able to control our dreams and draw wisdom and personal insights from the experience. Nick Barrett, author and creator of the Alwayz Lucid website, guided us enthusiastically through the process, from what might happen (feeling the soul rising out of the body), to sleep cycles and the best way to write a dream journal. I enjoyed the ritual of preparation and mindfulness that went into deciding what we wanted from the experience – and choosing a sacred object to represent our intention. This could be anything from flying to meeting spirit guides, deceased relatives or a favourite celebrity. Whatever we wanted – it was our dream!
An evening to night-time ritual followed, starting with Dene and Jay’s Cacao Ceremony. Bitter and an acquired taste, cacao is raw chocolate which, in the shamanic tradition, is believed to have sacred, heart-opening properties. We drank it mixed with herbs. Then, with a backdrop of gongs and drums, what followed was a beautifully mellowing, meditative experience of just lying down and ‘being’: breathing, relaxing and allowing the mind to travel where it wanted – a journey into ourselves and our subconscious. Then the aim was to sleep and awake at 3am, take galantamine, a herbal supplement believed to encourage dreaming and aid recall, and go back to sleep and see what happens. Prone as I am to paranoia, I had googled ‘the side effects of galantamine’ and discovered that in high doses it’s actually used to encourage brain function in sufferers of Alzheimers. Like anything, even in lower doses, there’s also a risk of allergic reactions and minor symptoms, such as an upset tummy, but in Nick’s experience that’s never happened. However, perhaps as a result of my investigations, I remained awake for the rest of the night.
Not surprisingly, the final day’s sessions were a bit of a sleepy blur. First, we had a talk on herbs from Graham Jevon, a certified clinical nutritionist. He has also worked alongside oncologists, homeopathic doctors, GPs, orthopedic surgeons, cardiologists, nutritionists, psychic healers and even South American shamans. His personal story of self-healing was impressive and he’s a fount of all knowledge when it comes to natural therapies.
This was followed by life coaching from Gurdeep Hundal, a writer and presenter with a background in healthcare. She was a warm and inspiring presence, who took us through four steps to finding our life’s purpose based on her own transformational journey, moving from a career she hated to one she loves, speaking in schools and helping people all over the world. I’d already got a handle on a general direction for myself, but writing a script that brought in my morals and beliefs around the subject took things deeper and being reminded of the value of my goals was a shot in the arm to continue on that personal journey.
Gathering of Minds places itself at the leading edge of holistic intervention and innovation. The speakers have attitude and there’s almost a rock-star vibe about the organisation. It’s young, funky, sometimes controversial in its chosen subject matter, but ultimately founded in Jess’s strong belief that by coming together, people can find ways that will genuinely support them in living a fuller, happier, healthier life.
I went away with plenty of food for thought. I won’t necessarily be changing my life, hugging trees or waking myself up at 3am on a regular basis, but I loved experiencing some different takes on the world and how I could improve and deepen my experience of it – and myself within it.
© Queen of Retreats