by Caroline Sylger Jones, The Telegraph, March 6, 2017
It’s a fine morning and I’m sitting in an elegant sitting room in a 17th-century chateau in Burgundy sipping good French coffee and watching a TED talk on a giant screen. There are tears running down my face, because the talk is by Amy Purdy, an astonishing young woman who lost her kidney, spleen and lower legs to bacterial meningitis but still went on to become a snowboarding champion.
“There are events in life,” says Purdy, “that either stop us in our tracks or force us to get creative.” Purdy clearly got creative, and that’s what strategist Julie Hosler wants us to do on her new four-night Personal Strategy Retreat in the sleepy village of Chateau de Mailly.
The concept of “personal strategy” looks at how you get from where you are in life to where you want to be. It’s a bit like life coaching, only your coach is allowed to get in the ring with you rather than just direct from the sidelines.
A clearly very focused and well-read American, who also trained with the International Coaching Academy and who now lives in Paris, Hosler worked on client campaigns for Apple and Cartier before moving on to strategising the lives of chief executives and entrepreneurs. I’m more than happy to have her in my ring.
Using a tool kit that includes neuro-linguistic programming, psychology, narrative strategy and stories about famous figures she admires (Sophie Calle, Diana Vreeland, Paulo Coelho, Bruce Lee), Hosler gets us to view our life as a story and ourselves as its author (as opposed to our being dictated to by parents, friends, spouses, colleagues or societal pressures). The retreat’s key message is this: if you’re the author of your story, how do you want the next chapter of it to go?
To help us find out, we’re asked to write three “morning pages” upon waking each morning: a “brain dump” technique devised by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way that is designed to clear the mind of clutter so it can be used more creatively (it works; I do it daily).
After a tasty breakfast of eggs and croissants, we all burn our pages in a giant firepit (go with it; it’s very satisfying) before a three-hour group workshop at the civilised hour of 10am. Afternoons are free for private consultations and time out for individual tasks related to the morning, all in the supremely civilised surrounds of the chateau, where swing chairs hang from giant trees, Japanese white anemones grow unexpectedly out of solid stone walls, and elegant herb-filled pots grace every corner.
Engaging and entertaining, the workshops pivot on themes from “The Hero’s Journey”, the narrative pattern identified in stories, films, and psychological development by scholar Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The idea is the hero/heroine (Amy Purdy; Luke Skywalker; Mr/Mrs Smith who want to follow their dream) hears a call to adventure (losing your spleen/following your destiny to become a Jedi Knight/boredom), refuses the call (in bed for months/the dark side of the Force/not being able to get off the sofa), goes through various trials and tribulations (trying to walk with artificial legs/Darth Vader/debt, disease, dog dying) and eventually returns with an elixir (world snowboarding medal/blowing up the Death Star/new job). All of us are always at some point on the cycle, says Hosler, for life is a constant transformation.
On day one we work on our vision for our next five years. I write mine while reclining on a wooden-slatted lounger, sipping a glass of ice-cold rosé in the sunshine and occasionally glancing over the parapet to the rolling hills beyond. On day two we look at who our mentors might be – the inner and outer resources that can help us achieve that vision.
I sit on my wide double bed in front of a cosy fire and stuff a folder intriguingly titled “Compendium of Inspirational Forces” with phone numbers, quotes, pictures and “other supportive stuff to marinate in” (in Hosler’s words) when I might need motivation. Day three is for sorting out how to deal with our “antagonists”, from a bullying boss to inner fears.
I work through mine while pounding lengths in the long, heated swimming pool and (at Hosler’s suggestion), write a purging letter to one of them. The last day is for making practical plans to ensure we stay loyal to what we said we were going to do long after the mood we said it in has left us – which it undoubtedly will. I digest it all over a walk by the Canal du Nivernais, a gleaming white swan my only distraction.
Each evening we meet for supper in a grand medieval dining room and share our experiences. Sharing is optional, but by the end of the retreat we’ve all taken the plunge and united. It helps that our meals are lavish affairs devised by talented chef Ollie Timberlake and are accompanied by wine. The dishes we devour include an incredible beef bourguignon, inventive salads and the lightest, most moreish almond tart I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Hosler proves to be a witty, warm guide throughout, whose little touches include the smart black Muji notebooks she gives us to write in and the fragrant Diptyque candles she burns in every room.
You don’t have to have your world rocked by a disaster, as Amy Purdy’s was, to gain from Hosler’s methods. As she says, “whether you’re drowning in a few feet of water or a giant ocean of it – you’re still drowning”.
Among my seven fellow and highly engaging guests (we’re all in our 40s, 50s and 60s), there’s an American dad who wants to turn his “groundhog day” life into something more adventurous, a busy mother of four looking for some emotional space to call her own, and a woman from Paris who wants her retirement to be just as exciting as her 25-year career has been.
I start the retreat thinking I need to get clarity on the next stage of my writing career, but rather reassuringly discover that all I really want is a life well lived.
We’re all different, but we all want the next chapter of our lives to read supremely well. On this delightful retreat of the mind, you start to believe that it just might.
- Julie Hosler’s four-night Personal Strategy Retreat (001 503 821829; thestrategicspace.com) runs from April 5-9 and October 4-8 in 2017 in Burgundy and starts from $2,700 (£2,200) per person, including accommodation based on single occupancy, three gourmet meals a day including wine, retreat materials, daily group workshops and individual one-on-one sessions and post-retreat support. Private retreats are available all year at a smaller location in Burgundy, in Paris or at a client’s own location.
Retreats that will change your life:
Live stress-free at The Metropolitan hotel, London
Toby Maguire uses his background in life coaching, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, nutrition, massage, meditation and as a tai chi instructor spanning over 20 years to run his new Stress Free Success mini retreats at Park Lane’s smart, contemporary hotel The Metropolitan, where you can also book one-to-one sessions with him. Aimed at stressed professionals, the engaging day-long workshops will help you rebalance your life so you use your passions, strengths and talents to their full potential. Afterwards, treat yourself to a treatment at the serene Como Shambhala Urban Escape and eat healthily divine food at Nobu.
The next workshop starts on April 22 and costs £450 per person including an eight-hour workshop and lunch (07534 038002; working-in-balance.co.uk).
Change your attitude at Champneys Tring, Hertfordshire
A charming coach in her 70s who takes a refreshingly no-nonsense approach to the self, Tanya Wheway runs monthly two-night, three-day Attitude Is All retreats at Champneys flagship spa to help you develop a positive approach to every aspect of your life, including your health, mind, relationships and concept of time. Each day has a Five Elements morning ritual and a fun, intensive workshop with Tanya, and there are two health talks by Champneys experts during your stay. Between times, enjoy the hot pools, have a treatment or wander the gorgeous grounds stacked with colourful flowers and mature trees.
Retreats cost £499 including accommodation, thalassotherapy session, all meals, use of the spa and access to classes. The next retreat starts on March 13 (0843 561 1943; champneys.com).
Finding answers at Casa Ana, Spain
Personable and approachable mentor and coach Jessica McGregor Johnson runs effective, private two-night retreats on dates to suit you at Casa Ana, a gorgeous b&b in the whitewashed village of Ferreirola in the Alpujarras. The retreat is designed to take you away from all distractions so you can focus on the root cause of your issue, find the necessary answers and go home empowered to move your life forward. She’s especially good at helping you get rid of all the “shoulds” in your life. The setting is stunning – a delectably converted, 400-year-old guesthouse with just 12 en-suite rooms arranged around a flower-filled garden courtyard.
Costs £2,575 per person including accommodation, coaching, meals and airport transfers from Málaga (020 3239 6155; jessicamcgregorjohnson.com).
Tough love at ArtStay, New Zealand
An exceptionally creative and intelligent life coach and psychologist, Rosie Walford runs private day retreats in London’s best parks in August. But for real time out, book a residential retreat with her on the lush volcanic island of Waiheke in New Zealand. Your base is ArtStay, an artist’s stylish home with studios centred on a giant marble courtyard and magnificent views out to forest and sea. Rosie’s open, honest, tough-love approach has helped people change career from finance to photographic art, extricate themselves from a negative relationship and move countries. She will only take on clients she feels she can benefit.
From £1,700 for an individual day-long intensive in London with follow-up coaching (0064 937 27096; thebigstretch.com).