My default setting is lone she-wolf. It’s taken me a long time to fully understand this and I suspect it will take many more years to truly accept it, because it flies in the face of the norm — or the norm that I perceive. I have friends I love and trust and my family are more important to me than anything else, but most of the time I really do prefer my own company. It goes far beyond being able to amuse myself of a long weekend. I like visiting new places on my own. I like working on my own. I walk my own path and looking back I see it’s always been this way. I don’t think I’m particularly anti-social — I like spending time with friends, just not as often as most people do. Once a week is just fine for me — twice a week and I feel drained.
Yet even with this bone-deep independence — and a life-long journaling habit that keeps me sane — some of the most important personal work I’ve ever done came about through the sisterhood found with other women. Through being seen and heard and emotionally held by others.
I was reminded of this last weekend when Meg came to stay — within an hour of her arrival we were already talking about the Real Stuff. We’ve known each other for eight years so it’s easy to open up and be honest, yet I remember even on our first friend-date we did the same. That’s the lovely thing about meeting friends through blogging — you cut straight through the fluff to the bean-spilling.
Our second friend-date was a flight to Seattle in 2006, where we spent a week with new friends and I got my first taste of how powerful being in a group of women can be. That week changed so much for me, as has every retreat I’ve been on since.
Fast forward to 2012. Meg, Sas and I flew to Italy for SquamItalia. Having spent many weekends together we were excited to be sharing a room again. Like sleepovers when you’re at school, the adult version is even better: we basically talked our faces off for three days. That was where we hatched the plan for our Redfox retreat (we were even planning the goody bags late into the night!)
Redfox was born out of the desire to bring women together to share their stories in community. To experience the kind of sister-bonding that lasts long after the retreat is over. We knew the three of us could hold the space for transformation to happen, and the more we schemed the more we knew we had to make it happen — it was something we yearned for in our worlds, too.
Last year’s retreat blew us all away, but especially me. This lone she-wolf likes to stay at home, so I wondered how a week of not just retreating but also facilitating would feel. As it turned out, we’d woven so much intention and love into our retreat plan, it was the most restorative and nourishing week of last year.
This November we’re leading our Unravel Your Story retreat again and we’d love you to bring a soul sister with you to both get 25% off the price. Taking time out to nurture yourself in this way is so rewarding, and doing it with your best friend/sister/cousin/mum? You’ll be taking your relationship to new heights :)
This is the only in-person teaching I’m doing this year and I can’t wait to meet our new group of vixens, ready to dig deep into what’s meaningful and true in our lives. And if you’re a lone she-wolf like me? There’ll be plenty of space to decompress and refill your cup in the quiet. Hello scheduled free time for naps, reading and walks in the woods!
Will I see you there? Feel free to email me if you have any questions! x
In 2012 Meghan, Sas and I hatched a plan to lead a retreat in the UK. We were in Italy at the time, painting on a hillside with Flora and Elizabeth, taking time out to be together and have an Actual Break From Life — not something any of us do that often. We were sharing a room, and inbetween midnight chats and letting it all hang out after our showers (we’re really comfortable with each other :) we got to talking about how lovely it would be to “do a retreat” in the UK. And just like that, a seed was planted.
Fast forward to October last year. Our first RedFox Retreat surpassed all our hopes and dreams, bringing together a group of women who left our beloved manor house with new magic coursing through their veins. Even though the three of us were leading the retreat we unravelled (in the best way!) right alongside our vixens — for us it’s less about teaching from the front of the classroom and more about rolling up our sleeves and working together. We formed a circle and the effects of this sisterhood are still being felt today — that’s what happens when you mix soul sharing, time to rest and gorgeous gluten-free cake.
We’re running our Unravel Your Story retreat again in November and would LOVE to have you with us if you feel called to gather with a group of soulful birds in the Somerset countryside. You can read all about RedFox over here and just for fun, the three of us got together on the phone last week to talk about where Redfox came from, what we do and why we love it — it gets a bit silly at the end, which gives you an idea of how we roll (hint: our superpowers are humour and hugs):
This is the only in-person teaching I’m doing this year so if you’ve got any questions do drop me a line. Let’s do this! xx
“Going to the Redfox retreat is one of the most self-loving things that I’ve ever done. I went with expectations for clarity and I got that and so much more. Because, although I was away, I was home. I felt comfortable in my skin, being myself, being the authentic me. No need to apologize, no need to strive, no need to doing anything but, be. I came away physically and emotionally restored, feeling healed and a part of a circle of Vixen sisters.” – Gerri Smalley
“I just wanted to write and let you know how much I’ve enjoyed this class. I’ve taken all of your courses and this one feels qualitatively different – deeper – an evolution. I liked the lightness and gentleness of the structure, the space for carving-out deep alone time. It perfectly suited and reflected the purpose of the course.” – from Melinda, via email
After five years of teaching online I’ve come to trust that the teacher often ends up teaching what she most needs to learn. All my courses draw on my own experiences, and The Sacred Alone is without a doubt the most soul-excavating work I’ve done since writing the book. The class is illuminating and rich and I really didn’t want those 14 days to end (always a good sign!).
I like to challenge myself to find new ways to present my ideas and I knew meditation would be a key part of this class. I was a little nervous about recording the audios as I hadn’t done it before, but, as always, I trusted my instincts and opened up to the possibility of doing it imperfectly, knowing that would be enough. Because the truth is, I’ve had a patchy relationship with meditation over the years. My reluctance to settle into stillness has dogged me forever, despite spending a lot of time being still, if that even makes sense. I have a shedload of guided meditations, and have tried all sorts of techniques, but nothing really stuck as a daily practice. I live mindfully, yes, and have often said that photography is like meditation for me, but it’s only been this year that something has changed.
As I unravelled my understanding of the Sacred Alone, I opened myself wide to meditation. After a lifetime of inconsistency my body/mind/soul finally let go. It’s like when you’re learning to drive and after months of struggle it suddenly clicks into place and you’re driving without thinking. I’ve had my click and it feels like a miracle.
It’s no coincidence that this has coincided with my decision to be more transparent about my spiritual side. Some of my online peers write very unselfconsciously about this stuff, but I’ve always shied away from revealing this side of myself. Even after 25 years of figuring out what rings true for me, it felt too personal, somehow, too revealing. But when I wrote the “Spirit” week for Journal Your Life, I knew it was time to own this part of me more publicly. I’m not a traditionally religious person, but I am and always have been a spiritual person whose hotchpotch of beliefs informs how she lives.
“I LOVED the meditations! I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate meditation into my daily life and I had tried several different techniques, etc. but nothing had clicked for me until this course. Between the morning meditations and listening to the mixtape on my morning walks (that mixtape is gold!), I’ve felt so centered and peaceful.” — Kate, via email
As I wrote and recorded each meditation it seemed to be coming from someplace outside of myself. The audios are short — just 5-6 minutes — and simple, and even the act of recording them was incredibly transporting. I was thrilled (and surprised) to discover I have a knack for this. I want to explore this way of connecting with participants further and definitely see a sound studio in my future, so expect longer guided meditations at some point this year.
As Melinda noted in her email to me, my work is evolving. I feel the strands of the last five years coming together into a pattern, and I’m hungry to see where this next stage takes me. I feel more confident in my role as teacher, while still honouring the fact that I’m always learning. As with everything I share, I like to work through the lessons first so I can authoritatively report back from the trenches. Because, you see, I don’t have the answers — no one does, we find them for ourselves — but I’m very happy to share the results of my experiments.
After ‘retiring’ Unravelling last year I’m now looking into how I can develop this core work. Whether it’s Unraveling 2.0 or a multi-media ebook remains to be seen, but I DO know that I’m feeling called to go much deeper in my teaching. Between me and you, now I’ve taken a break from dating I have so much more energy available for creating. No surprises there, I guess!
I’ve also started working on something that makes my heart race every time I think about it: a deck of oracle cards. Think: inner wisdom, journalling and beautiful imagery, all wrapped up in a deck that feels amazing in your hands. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of oracle cards, so creating my own deck feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s got to the stage where I can’t *not* make them — my overflowing notebook is proof of this. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!
The truth is, I had no idea how the retreat would go. Meg, Sas and I had created a program we felt was juicy and inspiring, but there was no way of knowing whether the participants would get anything out of it. I swung between worrying it was all too simple to fretting that maybe it was too much. There were so many unknowns running alongside the reassurances that the food would be good (it so was!) and the venue was lovely.
As an introvert, albeit a confident non-shy one, I was also worried I’d find the retreat exhausting. I’m so used to being on my own I didn’t know if I could handle the energy of 19 women basically living together for five days. Sharing my world from behind a screen, book page or photograph is extremely comfortable for me — doing that out in public is something else altogether.
But as it turned out, it was one of the most illuminating, connected, nourishing and humbling experiences of my life.
From the moment we welcomed the first arrivals to the final farewell on the last day, we were carried along by something much greater than us. The pace of the days was perfectly in line with what everyone needed. The workshops and exercises stretched us all in ways we couldn’t have imagined (we were working right alongside our vixens). We stayed open to the witchiness that circles of women tend to bring, and we honoured our energy levels by retreating when we needed to. When I fell into bed each night I was tired, yes, but not depleted. Personally this was one of the greatest gifts of the week, discovering I can do this work and not be destroyed by it.
Every evening Meg, Sas and I would gather to prep for the next day, lying on each other’s beds, marvelling at how well it was going. It was such a joy to witness my two friends truly blossom into their roles as retreat leaders — you would have thought they’d been doing it for years (SO PROUD OF YOU GUYS!)
Each of us had a role to play – every woman in our circle brought something of herself to the group. We were a yurt full of equals, and that was exactly how I’d hoped it would be. There is something so powerful about being a witness to each other’s transformation. I’d seen it happen in my classes and have read about it in testimonials and emails, but to be there in person, looking into a person’s eyes as they tell me their story… I don’t really have words for it, actually.
Each woman went home with a map to her future and a tribe of women walking beside her. I returned home exhausted to my bones, yet also oddly filled up. I have a better idea of what I need to do going forward with my own goals and am ready to take that first step into the next chapter of my future. And part of that includes another Redfox retreat next year. This is just the beginning, in so many ways…
Thank you Amy, Amy Gretchen, Anne, Elizabeth, Esme, Fiona, Gerri, Jenny, Katherine, Kelly, Nicola, Rachel, Sarah, Susanne, Wendy and Yvonne for trusting us to be your guides for the week and letting yourselves be seen so beautifully. I’ll never forget it xo
If you’d like to learn more about next year’s Unravel Your Story retreat you can sign up for the mailing list over here. We’ll be updating the page over the next few weeks, but I can already tell you the dates: November 4th – 10th, 2014