Self-transformation at The Haven wellness retreat
When you stand on the edge and stare into the abyss, are you contemplative and curious, waiting for the perfect moment? Or, in a leap of faith, do you jump? There is uncertainty inherent in either decision, but embracing the unknown is always a risk—and usually one worth taking. Over time, I find myself evolving in unexpected ways. As I forge my path through daily life, I often reflect on my journey thus far, consider the future, and envision what I want it to look like. Who do I want to become? How much risk am I willing to take? For many, the desire to learn and progress is strong. Personally, I feel compelled to improve myself and heal past wounds so I can become a richer, more vibrant version of myself—like a black and white photo, transformed by colour. To do so, I must face the fears integral to any life well lived and get out of my own way. Okay then—challenge accepted. Recently, I was invited to explore “the art and science of self-responsible, relational living” during a retreat aptly named “Come Alive” at The Haven. A not-for-profit centre for transformational learning established in 1983, The Haven is located on seven acres of oceanfront and forested land on Gabriola Island, off the coast of BC. Here, during a six-day retreat, participants are encouraged to “challenge themselves to heal, grow, and thrive” in a group setting. “The Haven is located on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, to whom we are grateful for their ongoing stewardship of these lands and waters for thousands of years.”
After arriving on Gabriola via float plane, I settled into my cozy cabin and prepared to attend the first evening session. It was hard.
As we sat in a large circle within the beautiful Phoenix Auditorium, facilitators Carole Ames and Susan Clarke introduced themselves, and then they turned their attention to us. One by one, we shared what led us there and what we were hoping to achieve. I was touched by the willingness of the others to expose their vulnerabilities but felt terrified I would be unable to match their openness.
Carole asked us to “be curious, and willing to try something different. Something will arise from this,” she promised.
Susan encouraged us to “choose to live. Choose to be curious. Fearlessly or fearfully, face whatever is in front of you. Don’t step away from chaos, conflict, or change. Instead, step in and reap the magic and the miracles.”
Guiding us with warmth, and wry (sometimes dark!) humour, these two supported one another in the moment—nothing planned, just open, honest communication. Their authenticity was comforting, as was Susan’s assertion that “it’s not what you do but what you do next!” She encouraged us to not be fearful of making a mistake; to just show up and clean up if we do.
They assured us that “Come Alive” is for anyone looking for a deeper connection between their inner and outer worlds—and their words were powerful guides for the journey we were embarking on.
Each morning, we were invited to participate in body movement classes with Elfi Dillon-Shaw, a magnificent woman with a passion for helping others. Through Elfi, we learned the art of self-massage, dove into some deep guided meditation, and laughed our way through mirror dancing, something I practise with my girls to this day. As a way of connecting with our physical bodies, these sessions were valuable and allowed for emotional release.
After breakfast, we gathered as a group for daily morning sessions. Each activity was unique, moving us closer toward something necessary and profound. Together, we explored our thoughts, beliefs, fears, and feelings. Through guided exercises, we practised the communication and relationship models, and applied “the art of relational living.” Each activity built upon the previous one, gradually exposing us to new possibilities and empowering us to embrace positive change.
The evenings were spent in small groups and were intensely personal. Here, we dove deeper, observing our thoughts, sitting in our feelings, and working through them in tailor-made activities that required absolute trust. We leaned on each other, opening our arms to healing and transformation—sometimes perfectly, sometimes imperfectly; it didn’t matter. We just had to remain present.
On breaks, we absorbed the power of nature while we sat by the ocean and listened to the waves, shared some laughs and some heartaches. We fully embraced the outdoors on walks that took us along rocky outcrops and to the Malaspina Galleries, a cresting surf sandstone formation carved by the powerful waves. There, we felt like surfers, ripping through a tube, enjoying the rush of adrenalin, followed by stillness and contentment. During these times, and through these experiences, we strengthened our bonds and developed friendships that will last a lifetime.
Through my fellow seekers, I discovered my own hidden vulnerabilities and the power of sharing. Their truths resonated, their difficulties sometimes mirrored my own, and their tears and laughter were palpable reminders of my ability to embrace my unique feelings and emotions, enjoyable and otherwise.
Over the short time we were together, we made an unspoken commitment to move forward to a place we could each feel proud of. A place where we could rediscover ourselves and feel the joy of authentic human connection.
Each day during the retreat, I explored who I am beneath the layers of self-protection. I hope to continue to rediscover myself, to communicate more effectively with others, and to walk through this world gently and with determination.
“Everyone has a different and unique experience with ‘Come Alive,’” says Carole. “I think what most come away with is the knowledge that they can connect with others in a meaningful way, that they’re not broken, and that there are tools they can use to support different choices in their life.”
Life is a series of choices. We all have our share of missteps and disappointments. Learning from our experiences is key to transformation. If you’re searching to rediscover yourself, to feel more alive, or to find deeper meaning, I urge you to embrace the unknown, to explore, as I did. Whatever you’re struggling with, or searching for, the tools learned during your experiences and exploration will permeate all areas of your life, allowing you to reconnect with yourself and others like never before.
You can learn more about the retreats offered at The Haven: haven.ca.
You might feel uneasy at the thought of travelling alone and exposing your vulnerabilities, but the benefits of retreats are real. Research shows that most people experience significant psychological and health benefits that last long after the experience has ended.
Accepting who I am and showing up authentically in all ways is my true purpose. Role modelling for my two little girls that they should never hide parts of themselves to make others feel better, or to fit in, is the essence of motherhood to me. Sometimes, we’re too much for others, sometimes too little—and that’s okay. We all possess parts of ourselves that we wish were different, but the truth is, you’re enough—we’re all enough—and the goal should be to like ourselves in our entirety.
I asked Susan Clarke and Carole Ames how The Haven had impacted their lives. Susan told me, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for The Haven and the lessons I learned about being real and showing up. I love that each program brings people together who normally wouldn’t sit down at the same table. Yet, by the end of five days, people can hold a space for whatever someone has come to deal with. I love the humanness of it, the belief that we can be self-responsible and relational, even with all our differences.”
Carole emphasized that her life has been “impacted in almost every way imaginable, including a healthy primary relationship, fulfilling work, connection to and expression of [her] passions, and the honour of guiding others through the models, teachings, and experiences offered at The Haven.”
I’m still feeling the impacts of “Come Alive” as they manifest in my everyday life. The benefits continue to appear over time, upon reflection. As I apply the teachings, I’m humbled by the effects. I now feel new freedom in my personal and professional relationships, and I can trust, knowing I’m invested and working to build honest connections. If things don’t turn out as expected? I’m at peace with that, too.
The truth is, we don’t have to explain our purpose to anyone. We just need to discover it, and then make that purpose stronger than our discomfort. Self-transformation at its best.
A shout out to all my Haven Homies—I see you. Thank you for your friendship.