I recently opened the doors of my beachfront home in Mission Beach to five fabulous women who spent 5 magical days together in our inaugural writing retreat Australia.
If you haven’t heard of it before, Mission Beach is a small, unspoilt beachside town in the Wet Tropics in Far North Queensland. 3 hours by plane from Sydney, 1 hour by plane from Papua New Guinea.
To one of our guests, travel podcaster and travel writer Emma Lovelly, it looked like Sri Lanka with a bit of Bali thrown in. By the time we’d driven down from Cairns airport and stopped at Babinda Boulders for a lunchtime picnic, Emma said she felt like she’d gone overseas. During a pandemic, that’s a special treat.
The welcome we got by the resident peacock who spread his beautiful bouquet to welcome us to the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics was another.
But the biggest treat of all was the writing retreat itself: 5 days of uninterrupted writing time, to soothe mind, body and soul.
Before we go any further, you may be wondering what this writing retreat in Australia was about. What does retreat mean exactly?
When my mother asked me this recently, I had to consult my dictionary. You see, women who go on retreats in Germany use the English word; there isn’t a perfect translation in German. Despite running retreats in Vietnam for the last few years, my parents didn’t really have an idea what a retreat is.
So let’s go back to basics and unpack the word retreat, shall we?
Here’s what I found in my German/English dictionary:
1. der Rückzug
retreat, withdrawal, retraction, drawback
Not very helpful as it brought to mind soldiers withdrawing from battle (which of course goes back to the origin of the Latin verb ‘ritirare’).
2. der Zufluchtsort
haven, retreat, sanctuary, place of refuge, hideaway, safe house
This made a little more sense to my mum, who imagined monastics pursuing spiritual growth in places of refuge and mountain-top sanctuaries.
3. der Schlupfwinkel
hiding place, hideout, retreat, recess, nest, quiet corner
My 8-year old self who built secret hideouts and cubby holes fit that mental image of my mum’s.
In the end, I shared these photos with her and suddenly it made sense. A writing retreat is a little bit of all of the above.
Retreating from our daily battles
The five women who came together for my first Australia writing retreat had each in her own way retreated from the daily battles we all fight at home and work. They’d given themselves 5 days out to work on their books and on themselves.
I’d turned my home in Mission Beach into a haven of calm. A place where we could slow down, safely go on our inner journeys and come home to ourselves.
Mission Beach is a precious, safe haven
During the pandemic, when I couldn’t return to my home and partner in Vietnam, Mission Beach in Far North Queensland has been a precious safe haven for me. So, too, it became one for those who came to share my home last week to write their books and their personal stories.
Mission Beach is what Port Douglas was before development. There is 13 km of unspoilt beach right outside my home where you don’t have to practice social distancing or wear a mask. It’s that empty.
That’s because Mission Beach, in the Wet Tropics of Australia, is the undiscovered jewel in Australia’s tropical crown. It makes you feel like you’ve gone abroad without actually leaving the country, which is very handy when the borders are closed.
A haven for mind, body and soul
All our writing retreats are designed to be a haven for mind, body and soul
In our Mission Beach Retreat we started each day with a gentle yogic practice. Yoga means union. When mind and body are in union our creativity flows so much easier.
On two mornings, I led us through gentle sequences targeting the pain points of the writer’s body. We worked out our tight hips, shortened hamstrings and sore shoulders.
On other days sound baths took us on deep inner journeys. Nigel, my partner, had returned from Vietnam and 2 weeks in quarantine just in time to join us as retreat chef and musician. He gifted us with some very inspired playing that helped to make us feel in tune with ourselves.
We chanted ancient Sanskrit mantras as part of a special morning Kundalini practice facilitated by the lovely Kellie from Ishwarpreet. It loosened our vocal cords and opened our communication chakras so that the words could flow more easily.
Kellie had also brought ceremonial doses of cacao that is grown right here in Mission Beach. It was harvested the day before and kept us buzzing all day!
In our morning journaling practices, we asked deep questions and found ways to nourish our inner gardens. You could say we did the important inner work monastics do, albeit in comfortable yoga clothes and colourful beach dresses.
Daily meditations kept us focused, centred and grounded. They helped us go deep on our inner journeys and dig up the jewels. They allowed us to go near our wounds and let go of what we needed to, so that we could write new stories for ourselves.
Tapping into our own inner hide-out
As I begun to write this, I started to think of a writing retreat a bit like going into a secret hiding place and making out with your creativity!
To really get into the creative flow, I like to start with a bit of play. Like eight-year-olds, we began our writing sessions by retreating into our inner child. We built cubby holes from the pages in our journals and threw words around as if they were play dough.
We spent an hour each day writing for the pure joy of it, discovering the different nuances of our voices as writers. One woman surprised herself by writing a poem. Another watched her inner garden grow and blossom.
Some of the women had come to get started on their books and we dedicated the second half of our morning writing practices to getting down to basics.
We spent time crafting our hooks, getting a chapter outline down on paper, and nailing the structure and opening chapters. We dug even deeper, brainstorming the benefits for the reader and writing our mission statements and creative manifestos.
Some very important books and personals stories were started on that veranda over those precious 5 days.
Personal branding expert Emma Lovell started a blog and a book, I call BS on the Glow, about not loving pregnancy. My TED sister Peace Mitchell and her (flesh and blood) sister Katy Garner, the co-founders of Ausmumpreneur and The Women’s Business School, started their book The Connection Economy. Another woman, who had been on retreat with me before, nourished herself and watched herself grow through the words that flowed from her pen. Another repeat guest, a Navy veteran and psychologist, started an important book chapter for an academic press about Women and PTSD.
What a privilege to guide and nourish such important projects.
It fills my heart with joy to watch women come together to write, relax deeply and connect with their voices and write their truths.
The irony is that I had actually planned to sell my home in Mission Beach so that I could commit more fully to living overseas in Vietnam. But when the global pandemic was declared, I became accidentally stranded here and suddenly my beachfront home found its true purpose with this Australia writing retreat.
It’s a haven and a sanctuary.
It’s a place where creatives can come to withdraw from the world. A space to nourish yourself with writing, yoga, meditation and home made, locally sourced food. We even have our own coconut tree for mid-morning refreshments!
Most importantly, it’s a place to get a heap of writing done.
Ready to join me on retreat?
If you’ve been thinking about going on retreat this year, check out our upcoming dates here!
Unsure about going on a retreat? Read this post.