This was the largest retreat we’ve ever run and I was a little nervous when I saw all the people get off the bus and just keep getting off, handshakes and hugs in all directions as everyone breathed in their first bit of desert air.
Including musicians, teachers and one journalist, we were 36 people and I wondered how long it would take everyone to learn all the names. But the great thing about the retreat is that there are many beginnings and chances to start over again; the first contacts are made when everyone meets up for tea in Marrakech on the Saturday evening. Then there’s the 11 hour bus ride together through the mountains and the long desert road to Merzouga and the sea of sand that awaits.
Then more connections are made on the Sunday evening at dinner and again on the walk out to the camp in the dunes the next morning. We hold the opening circle and are present with the energy of each person there, and then again at the sharing circle the next night when we learn in more detail what brought everyone out on the retreat.
Each year it only takes a few hours before I catch the overall mood of the group. Last year there was a strong comic energy and the retreat felt like a plastic beach ball that just couldn’t be kept under water, with laughter and merriment the whole week. This year the overall feeling was one of compassion and open-heartedness and that extended around the whole group like a safety net to make sure that no one got left behind.
By the time the meditation and dance expression workshops began on the first day I could see the group settling in for a great week and I felt the burden of responsibility lift. It became quickly evident that the large group meant there was a lot more energy than usual and that could be seen in the singing at lunch time, the buzz of conversation in the camp, and the little groups that kept forming to go and climb the big dune.
On all the retreats we try to keep a balance between running workshops and activities, and just allowing the space of the Sahara to do its magic. On the Wednesday we made an extra workshop on freeing the voice and though it was an amazing experience, people felt a little tired in the afternoon workshop and we remembered how important it is to just give quiet moments on the retreat and let people find themselves in quiet conversation and meditative moments on the dunes.
There’s so much love on the retreats that it happens sometimes that romance springs up between people and a German guy and an Italian woman who had met each other on a retreat 3 years ago were here again. On the last morning as we prepared the camels to carry our bags back to the village, the German asked me to help him create the right mood and so we created a singing circle around them, at the climax of which he asked her to marry him. There wasn’t a dry face there as she nodded her consent.
I love running these retreats. The meditation, the love, the sharing. It’s such an honour for me.