Nature as the benchmark

The retreat location is Alladale, Scotland, a remote estate in the Highlands. A place without mobile coverage and internet. The area consists of deep valleys, steep mountains, dark lochs and babbling brooks. The only permanent residents of these glens are inhabitants of the animal kingdom, like red deer, Scottish Highlanders, grouse, crested tits and squirrels.

This is a place where you have to let go of everything, including the idea that it must be sunny to enjoy nature. Most days, it rains, at least for a short while. It can even snow in May, as I found out recently. The key to quiescence is suitable clothing, i.e. waterproof and warm.

Digital detox in the Scottish Highlands

Invited by ‘Natural Change’ to experience this retreat I take this opportunity to contemplate my life, even though,  I am in a good place at the moment.

Although I am not planning to make radical changes in the foreseeable future, there is one thing that needs taking down a peg or two. My time spent watching funny cat videos on social media could be less. This might sound like a trivial problem, but to be honest my entire internet addiction could use a digital detox. Alladale, devoid of most modern pitfalls, appears therefore an ideal setting to relax my brain, indulge in life’s simple pleasures and rekindle my inner fire.

Retreat in the Scottish Wilderness

What is a ‘Natural Change’ retreat?

During a one-week retreat, participants work in a small group, under the guidance of ‘Natural Change‘ facilitators, on a change they want to make in their life. The desired transformation can be either professionally, personally or in the world around them, or all three.

Mindfulness in nature
Scottish cuisine
Slowing down in nature
Regional gastronomy
Natural Change Facilitator

Methods and techniques used during the retreat in the Scottish Highlands

During the retreat, with nature as a catalyst and tool, the facilitators guide our group, journalists and bloggers, with a series of exercises that should help us achieve the desired effect. This week is mainly about self-reflection, using different techniques to accomplish this.

Personality types

We start with a study of the Carl Jung model. This shows the four functions of a personality:

Jung personality types

“All four functions — thinking, sensation, intuition, and feeling — are used at different times depending on circumstances. However, there will typically be a preference for one principal function.”

  • How do you record information? – Sensing (feeling) or INtuition (N)
  • How do you make decisions? – Thinking or Feeling

The above is (I think) the framework for the rest of the week’s exercises.

Slowing down

Slowing down is the next activity.

Probably, if you are a bit like me, rushing from A to B to get things done, you don’t pay attention to your environment or even to the task at hand. Shopping, cleaning, cooking are just items on a tick list that must be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. By moving more slowly, one is more aware of their environment.

True for me, I notice when travelling by plane or train, especially during a long train journey, when I enjoy my surroundings. Probably because there is nothing else to it, it is impossible to speed up the trip, even if I would like to. So when I make an effort to slow down, I start noticing things that I would usually not see, hear or feel, leading to more mindfulness.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is living in the here and now. Thoroughly concentrating on what is happening now will help you stop worrying, experience less stress, work more effectively and feel better.

It also helps to make a better connection with others. Because by consciously focusing on the other and listening carefully, you notice that you give the other more room to think.

Associative thinking

Associative thinking can begin when I am listened to by someone interested in my story without judging, asking questions and commenting. Thus allowing me to develop creative solutions, usually a tricky affair because the listener constantly interrupts thoughts, albeit with good intentions.

By practising with a partner, I notice how powerful this can be. Not only for myself but also the other, as a speaker and a listener.

Guided meditation

Meditation is a practice that helps an individual to relax. With meditation, one observes their thoughts without judging them—meditation exercises used in various religions (Christian, Buddhist, Hinduism). In the West, it is also widely used in the secular sector, for instance, as part of yoga.

Guided meditation is a process by which one or more participants meditate in response to the guidance provided by a trained practitioner or teacher either in person or via a written text, sound recording, video, or audiovisual media comprising music or verbal instruction, or a combination of both (source definition).

Meditation is a technique I already know from yoga and practice (albeit not often enough).

Self-reflection and storytelling

After the participants spent some time alone in nature, they shared their experiences (storytelling). Thus, with the group’s help, they reflect on the experience.

Although I did not find this exercise particularly enlightening, perhaps because I regularly spend time in nature anyway, other group members had quite powerful experiences.

My experience during the retreat

It is made clear at the start that this is a safe environment. Everything that is said is confidential. A few times, I am invited by the facilitators to share my thoughts, which is always brought as an invitation, not an obligation.

If a participant is not willing to share, that is fine. Also, the facilitators and the group will not comment unsolicited on the individual’s statements. There is always the option to talk things through on a one-to-one basis with one of the facilitators in a separate area from the group. I did not feel the need for this, so I can’t comment.

In our group (all British except me), there is no significant drama apart from a few emotional moments. After all, it is a British affair: stiff upper lip and all that.

Jolly good.

For the most part, it feels good, and I soon relax. Immediately the first night, I sleep like a baby, and it stays that way all week. Although I often wake up around four or five o’clock in the morning at home, it usually takes me half an hour or to fall asleep again.

That’s a win …

Last but not least, I enjoy being offline and unreachable for once, whereas in my day to day life, I am glued to my phone. At the end of the week, I don’t feel like going back to normal. As soon as I return to ‘civilization’ (read: have internet access) and the messages start flowing in, I immediately return to the ‘alert’ position. Daily worries crop up, and the sense of relaxation quickly ebbs away. This certainly clarifies how important it is to switch off occasionally.

In conclusion, I will start using (more) of a number of the techniques described before associative thinking, mindfulness and meditation. I also intend to make some changes in my internet habits.

Meditation in nature

Natural Change Retreat target audience

The retreat is primarily intended for professionals or entrepreneurs between 35 – 55 years old who want to contemplate their life.

Although most of the day is spent outside, you don’t have to be particularly fit. All exercises go at a leisurely pace, suited to the average person. However, if you are less mobile, this is probably not the best place for you. Many activities involve some walking off the track through swampy peatland, which can be challenging.

During several exercises, you will engage deeply with your thoughts and feelings; therefore, a ‘natural change retreat’ may not suit those with a psychiatric condition.

If you want to enjoy nature, there are cheaper ways to do this, as it will set you back, depending on the desired comfort level, between £ 2700 – £ 7500. A sum of money that is not easy to cough up for the average self-employed blogger like me.

Slowing down in the Scottish Highlands

Location: Alladale in the Scottish Highlands

Alladale Wilderness Reserve is located north of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The area covers 100 km².

Accommodation

The Pro version takes place in Deanich Lodge, deep in the reserve. Meals and breaks are held in the lodge by a cosy fire. Unless you opt for the more luxurious options (Premium or Deluxe), participants share a room with at least one other person. The bathrooms are also common.

The meals are prepared with as many as possible regional ingredients and are one of the highlights of the week.

Hiking in the Scottish highlands

Practical advice

Clothing

The organization will send you a packing list. In any case, you need waterproof and warm clothing. Plus hiking or mountain shoes, hats and gloves.

Ticks

Unfortunately, there are a lot of ticks. A tick is a small animal that can cause great misery because it can transmit various diseases, such as Lyme. Read here how you can prevent tick bites.

Transport

Alladale is an hour and a half’s drive from Inverness, the closest central town. There is no public transport to Alladale. Only authorized (4WD) vehicles may drive on the estate.

There are direct flights to Inverness from Amsterdam, London and Dublin.

Money Matters

  • Britain is not part of the EU. Therefore, the currency used is pounds.
  • After Brexit (31/01/2020), Britain will continue with EHIC for a while. This means that if you are a European Citizen, you will be insured for medical emergencies via EHIC. But not for repatriation, lost luggage, etc.

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