From Shit Club to Gold Thread

…or when a vision becomes reality

When I first started developing the idea for Fire & Rain I had a clear image in my head of what the perfect Soul Spa would look like, what exactly I wanted to offer to fellow widows and widowers. Well…a few weeks ago we – that’s my co-host Sarah, chef Lesley and me – ran the Hebridean Wildscapes Soul Spa on the Isle of Mull….and all I can say is the real life experience exceeded all my expectations!

Trying to find the words

So what happened? What had been wishful thinking in my imagination became real…with real people, real stories of life, love and loss, real tears and real laughter. I felt overwhelmed by the beauty of this experience and the challenge is now to translate it into words and summarise it so others who may be interested get an idea of what it was like. No words seem adequate, but I’ll try….

The Shit Club is the club nobody wants to be a member of – we involuntarily join it when our life partner, the person closest to us, dies. Some people get some advance notice, others don’t and get catapulted into widowhood from one moment to the next. The latter happened to me and I’ve created Fire & Rain to share some of the things that helped me want to live life fully again, with others.

A programme for self-care, inspiration and enjoyment

So, a few weeks ago a group of women arrived at our venue Killiechronan House on the Scottish Isle of Mull for the Hebridean Wildscapes Soul Spa. They had travelled many hours on planes, busses, trains, cars and ferry – one guest from as far as Minneapolis in Minnesota. Coffee, cakes and prosecco were waiting.

“An anxiety I felt at the start was quick to subside”

Everything is optional…just go with the flow

We had a programme for the week, so there was some structure. But everything was optional, there’s absolutely no pressure to do anything or join in when you don’t feel like it. Each day started with a gentle yoga and meditation session led by Sarah, where we set the intention for the day and got the juices flowing. And we had the perfect studio for it – the lawn outside the house, with birdsong, flowers and a view of the sea and surrounding hills!

“There was no pressure…everything was so relaxed and relaxing.”

Food for body & soul

Life as a widow is so stressful. So it’s bliss when all you need to do is turn up at the table to be served the most delicious, healthy but not overly sensible food and drink! An important part of self-care is eating and drinking what you enjoy. It’s all well with that clean eating stuff but – as we widows know – life’s too short to be obsessed with avoiding everything that tastes nice. Lesley Gillespie, who was our food-artist-in-residence for the soul spa, is a Slow Food chef and she produced the most amazing meals for us! Think Balmoral Chicken with whisky sauce or Venison loin with red wine sauce or Cheesy leek bake. Think Chocolate fondant with Scottish berries, mint and cream. Our gluten-free and vegetarian guests didn’t miss out on the deliciousness either…all were well catered for. And when we headed out for a walk or tour, Lesley had packed baskets full of delicious goodies for our picnic 🙂

One of the afternoons Lesley had a bunch of helpers in the kitchen as she ran a cookery session for us. We learned how to make fresh pasta for Creamy smoked salmon tagliatelle and Roasted new season rhubarb crumble and custard…yum!

“So great not having to do anything – being cooked for, getting spoiled. We widows are exhausted!”

Nature Nurture

One of the most important Soul Spa ingredients is nature! The healing and uplifting effects of walking, looking at, listening to, and just being in nature are immeasurable. And we had loads of that. A walk from Killiechronan to Loch Ba. The evening wildlife tour with Ewan from Nature Scotland, who told us all about the island’s wildlife and equipped us with binoculars – we spotted golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, hen harriers and more! Yoga and collecting treasures on the beach. And just sitting in the garden, chilling….

One of the absolute highlights was a day tour to the Isle of Iona. Iona is known as one of the most iconic and sacred places in the world, where the beauty and diversity of the land and seascapes – even the quality of the light – have been sources of inspiration for generations of travellers, artists and spiritual seekers. We had a picnic on the beach, some of us visited the famous Iona Abbey and it was even hot enough to swim in the sea!

“I learned to be kind to myself – I didn’t know what that meant!!

Creative inspiration

Don’t consider yourself creative? I bet you are! The Soul Spas offer opportunities to try out something new…creative writing, drawing, painting, creating a sculpture-type picture from treasures found on the beach. We just played about…nobody expects a masterpiece…although many personal masterpieces were created in the end. Ever tried drawing what you feel, blindfolded? It takes away the fear of the blank paper…

As for creative writing, our guests were amazed by how simple it actually is…and how powerful at the same time. We used our “NOW” journals throughout the week, to note down our intentions for the day, the writing we did in the exercises with Sarah, random thoughts, drawings, and to stick in pretty things…flowers, feathers. It’s something to take home and go back to whenever we feel like it.

“I was sceptical of creative writing – but I loved it!”

Reflection time

We didn’t shy away from the hard stuff, i.e. all things death! After all the death of our beloved partners brought us together. The tears need to come out sometime. But at the Soul Spa it doesn’t matter where and when as it’s a safe space where nobody judges you.

It’s important to talk about the heavy stuff…our story, the physical and mental impacts of grief, feelings of guilt, ways of honouring our loved ones… Sometimes the tears of sorrow turned into hysterical laughter, e.g. about the creativity applied in doing something meaningful with the ashes..having some built into fireworks? Why not!

“It’s a safe place. You could say anything, nobody butted in. Everybody was so respectful and understanding.”

Fun, fun fun!

Oh boy…the amount of fun we had! Many people think a soul spa break must be depressing…all the grief and stuff. Wrong! I can honestly say I cried tears of laughter every day. The humour and wit among us was incredible, one needs to have been there to understand….

The gold thread

This week of the Hebridean Wildscapes Soul Spa didn’t feel like work for Sarah and me, although we were the hosts and organisers who had to make sure everything ran smoothly and everyone was happy. Instead, it felt like being on holidays with close friends. We want to say a huge thank you to the strong and amazing women who made this an experience that exceeded all expectations! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and humour with us! I felt so supported in my venture and so reassured that Fire & Rain has an important place. And thank you to my wonderful co-host Sarah and chef Lesley for making it possible. Getting all emotional and tearful again as I’m writing this…

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So, what’s the gold thread thing about? Sarah introduced the image during our final yoga session together, on the last night. The gold thread is what still holds us together, even now that the actual retreat has ended. I think it’s such a beautiful and fitting comparison. We have a closed group that’s connected to the Fire & Rain Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/FireAndRainScot/). In there we’ve had feedback that we can all feel this golden thread. A Soul Spa doesn’t end when guests board the ferry on the last day. We take things home…new friends, our journal with the writings that remind us of the important stuff in life, treasures we created and collected, recipes for tasty soul food, things to build into our daily routines, loads of photos.

Yes, it is scary going on a holiday on your own, into a group of strangers, especially when you’re feeling fragile and lost. On that note I want to finish with the quote by John O’Donoghue one Soul Spa guest shared with us by email this week.

Lots of love

Ute xxx

“There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning. More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could. Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning. Risk might be our greatest ally. To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a critical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening. There can be no growth if we do not remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over.”


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