Polishing our silver with Advivum Journeys life coaching retreat in Kent, UK

Caroline Sylger Jones reviews a Radical Sabbatical life coaching retreat at Goodnestone Manor in Kent led by executive coach Tania Carriere and learns to trust her instincts again through rituals, workshops and walks.

I’m stood under a gigantic Cedar of Lebanon tree on pea green lawns in the gorgeous gardens of 300 year old Goodnestone Manor in Kent. I’m in a circle alongside nine others on our first morning of a 5 day life coaching retreat. I am holding a rock with the words NO TIME on it – it represents the story I tell myself on a daily basis as to why I don’t carve out the space I want and need to focus on my creative writing, as opposed to my journalistic day job.

Others have their own rocks labelled with their own ‘burdens’ – of insecurity, not being credible, not feeling safe, being too responsible, being perfect, and so on – all the human weights that can plague each and every one of us over time. We’re asked by our retreat leader, executive coach Tania Carriere, to carry the rocks around throughout our week until we’re ready to throw them away and release our burden. Today, we pass the rocks around, and share the burden, starting with me.

I pick up my rock, feel its weight, and tell the group what my quest and burden is. ‘I am Caroline, I’m on a quest to carve out more space for my creative writing, and I’m carrying the burden of no time,’ I say. The rock gets passed around, with each member of the circle holding it, looking me in the eye and saying, ‘Caroline, I carry your weight of no time’.

I feel nervous and odd at first, but as my own eyes meet each of theirs, I start to feel empowered and held instead, despite the fact that I only met these people briefly the day before. I nod when each of them speaks, and a slow smile starts to spread across my face, a small warming ache to develop in my heart.

By the time the rock is returned to me, I hold it, feel that it’s a tiny bit lighter, and put it on the ground, feeling relieved. I think I’m going to get a lot out of this retreat, I say to myself. Others pass their rocks and share their ‘burdens’. It’s an authentic and moving process that quickly creates a strong bond between the group, before we return to the house for a yummy chef-prepared breakfast of smashed avocado with tomatoes, parmesan and toast (the food is darn tasty throughout).

‘Tania tells us that, just like the sugar dishes, candle holders and salt pots we are polishing, everyone tarnishes, and we are here to polish ourselves so we can rediscover our intricate patterns again’

The morning sharing circle is just one of a number of powerful group rituals, workshops and solo activities such as walks that Tania uses to get us to listen to the stories we tell ourselves in life and to realise the answers we seek lie within us. Empathetic and kind, Tania has drawn on her background in psychology, coaching, theatre and travel to create this 5 day ‘Radical Sabbatical’ to help already successful people reconnect with what they really want out of life.

We’re an intelligent, lively group of all ages and professions from the UK, Canada and the USA, all here for wildly varying reasons. Me because I want to return on a daily basis to my creative writing. Others because they are dealing with grief, career stasis or the niggling feeling that there should be more to life. Most refreshingly, we’ve been told to leave our ‘back stories’ at the door. So there’s no chat about ‘what you do’ in your life – only who you are in this moment.

The rituals are the most powerful for me – the morning circle, and a clever, witty meditative practice each evening which finds us in the grand dining room polishing a range of tarnished silver vessels. While we work, Tania tells us that, just like the sugar dishes, candle holders and salt pots we are polishing, everyone tarnishes, and we are here to polish ourselves and rediscover our intricate patterns.

I sleep in the opulent, tawny-coloured ‘Francis’s Room’ on the top floor, enjoy group workshops about self actualisation an elegant drawing room where grand 18th century paintings of the house’s previous inhabitants adorn the walls, and have chats with fellow participants that are punctuated by birdsong and the call of pheasants strolling the grounds. Sometimes when asked to ponder things aloud and alone I feel inauthentic and annoyed, but somehow the laughter and energy of the group, Tania’s heart-centred and inclusive approach, and the grounded presence of vibrantly dressed support coach Fi Macmillan always pulls me back.

During the week the activities tease out of me that, despite having to juggle running a business, freelance work, being a committed wife, mother and friend and attending to my own wellbeing, I do have the time for the creative writing that is absolutely core to my being – of course I do! And that to reclaim it, I need to shift my priorities and reaffirm my self belief. On the last morning, I ditch my rock in a stack of wild garlic at the foot of a tree and a sense of pure joy bubbles up inside me.

By the end of the retreat I feel as if I have been to Alaska and back. To somewhere under populated, a little cold and lonely at times but filled with dazzling lights. Three months on, I feel lifted and reconnected to my self, and am dedicating daily time to my creative writing.