The Making of Slow Retreats

As my reach with Paper Planes & Packets increased over the past years and my circle of inspiring friends and friends of friends widened, I began wishing to spend more quality time with them myself and bring them together.

Then, after a year packed with workshops in 2018, I couldn’t imagine following one more by and with strangers, and so I resolved that the only classes I’d sign up for in the coming year would have to be ones given by friends. To help this wish along, I decided to organize the event myself and set the challenge of making it happen in the first month of 2019.

That’s how, on 19 January 2019, The Class of 1919 spent a long afternoon together, and Silvia, Devon, Hongyuan (from Pekoe & Imp), and I each gave a workshop. (Hongyuan took us through a tea appreciation class, Silvia showed us her editing process for photo stories, Devon taught us about food photography, and I introduced the practice of morning rituals.)

The Class of 1919 was one of my first little bets towards Slow Retreats, but The Knitting Club was the one that sealed the deal.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. –Steve Jobs

I created The Knitting Club out of a desire to keep in touch with friends, stay sane during Covid, and turn a period of disconnection into connection and adversary into growth. It’s one of my favorite silver linings of Covid-19 (the other ones being moving back to Europe and starting a family.)

For one year, four Knitting Club seasons long, Devon, Silvia, I, and guests came together once a week on Zoom. Laura joined us as a core member at the end of season two, and Carly followed in season three.

Then, as soon as G and I decided to move back to Europe, I proposed to get the core Knitting Club members together in real life. Having been inspired by projects like The Gatherists, Sunday Suppers DinnersMandali, the 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course I followed in 2016, and The Class of 1919 I mentioned earlier, I offered to organize a retreat for us. The girls agreed, and I began spending my early morning and late evening hours planning our multi-day get-together.

From the start, I regarded the retreat as a business idea that I wanted to bring to life. I calculated every expense, from candles and flowers to breakfast and fuel costs, and charged everyone for their part. The latter made me take the organization of the retreat seriously because I wanted to ensure the girls would get a retreat worth their money. The former helped me determine if I could turn the idea into a viable business in the future.

I tried my hardest not to fret about the parts that I thought I wouldn’t be able to accomplish. It was likely that I wouldn’t have a table set the Gatherists way. The dinners wouldn’t be as elaborate as Sunday Suppers. And the retreat space wouldn’t have Mandali’s views and rooms. Still, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be able to make our time as much of a life-changing experience as the ten-day silent meditation retreat had been for me.

I knew parts of the program would make the girls uncomfortable. Silvia wouldn’t be able to imagine not taking pictures. Carly had never done something like this, and besides, has never been a morning person. Laura, I thought, would have a difficult time being away from all that was familiar. And probably all would struggle with the silent mornings and giving their phones up.

Yet, I designed the program with these discomforts in mind. I wanted everyone to experience being on the edge of their comfort zone at times. I knew from experience, that dosed just right, fear would help them grow. Besides, after spending a year with them on Zoom calls, listening to their stories, I knew they needed this program. Whether it was to experience something they never had, spur their creativity, discover their inner strength, or break some of their bad habits–there was no doubt in my mind that they’d come out stronger.

Then as the first morning of the retreat arrived, and I had to shush everyone into silence, I wasn’t so sure about my ideas anymore. I saw looks of defiance, suspicion, worry, and confusion on the girl’s faces. I quickly closed my eyes and hoped for the best while guiding everyone into their first meditation. It wasn’t until the evening that I could fully relax when the girls told me they loved all the parts that I was sure they hated. From day two, it was smooth sailing, and by the last day of the retreat, I knew we had pulled off an extraordinary experience.

In the end, the house that I picked made up for a lot of the decoration details that I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to pull off. The dinners prepared together brought us closer. And the wild, stunningly preserved nature of Portugal took care of the views for us. The details that I had decided not to worry about had resolved themselves, making the parts that I had put conscious effort into all the more shine.

Part I: The Program

Slow Retreats · Reset Edition

Daily Schedule

🗺 Map

07:00 – 08:30 Meditation, yoga, morning pages, gratefulness practice—in silence

08:30 – 09:30 Breakfast—in silence

09:30 – 11:30 Silent beach walk

12:30 – 14:30 Lunch

14:30 – 16:00 Free time, grocery shopping

16:00 – 17:00 Workshops, talks

17:00 – 18:00 Dinner prep

18:00 – 20:00 Dinner time, conversations

20:00 – 21:00 Fire meditation, reading time

Morning Practices

🧘🏻‍♀️ Loving-kindness meditation
We followed a 4-part series of guided loving-kindness meditations by Sam Harris via Waking Up. Part 1 is available here.

Before starting the meditation, everyone blind-picked a card from the positive affirmation cards by The Positive Planners, which was theirs for the day.

🍃 Yoga
We did a 10-minute sun salutation yoga practice with DownDog.

✏️ Morning journaling
Inspired by The Artist’s Way, we did ten minutes of morning journaling. If anyone would get stuck journaling, I encouraged them to repeat the text from their affirmation card (see loving-kindness meditation).

Before the retreat I asked everyone to pick a Nikki Strange notebook for their morning journaling practice. I also wrote a personal letter in it, telling each how much I appreciate them, and what my wish for them was at the retreat.

🙏🏻 Gratefulness practice
We used The Five-Minute Journal to practice gratefulness.

🥥 Breakfast
We had our breakfast in silence while journaling and doing the gratefulness practice. On the menu, we had: Sweet Potato Chocolate Smoothie, Greek Yogurt with Coco-Nutty Granola, Chocolate Banana Bread, and Avocado Smoothie.

🌊 Silent beach walk
We went for a silent walk at a different beach every morning. The only prompt we had was to bring our attention to the little things and choose our favorite one to share with everyone later.

Afternoon Times

😌 Free time
Some time to be alone, have a siesta, sunbathe, do a puzzle, or navel-gaze.

I got the Flow With It jigsaw puzzle by Yani Putri from Prints in Pieces for the retreat. The puzzles are meant to inspire slow time and come with curated Spotify playlists. Plus, the prints are by emerging female artists, making them all in all a perfect fit for the retreat.

🔧 Workshops
Each of us had to give a 30-minute talk or workshop with 30 more minutes available for hands-on practice.

  • Flower workshop
  • Introduction to Wim Hof’s breathing exercises via the Wim Hof Method app (Not as nice but the breathing bubble included in the app is also available as a YouTube video)
  • Self-care workshop
  • Minimalism workshop (Inspired by The Minimalists)

Those in need of a hit of courage before their workshop (or any other time) could use the Eve & Keel courage chakra roller. An oil blend of sandalwood, grapefruit, cardamom, and citrine crystals to “silence self-doubt and tap into strength, courage, and abundance.” Which came with the following mantra: “I am fire. My light shines brightly and burns true to my inner flame.”

👩🏻‍🍳 Dinner prep
Each of us prepared dinner for one evening. We had:

  • Pumpkin soup
  • Pesto Zoodles (with grilled salmon for non-vegetarians)
  • Buddha bowl (with roasted zucchini, pumpkin, cauliflower, tahini dressing, and shrimps for non-vegetarians)
  • Vegan Nicoise Salad (with tuna for non-vegetarians).

🛁 Bath and massage
The people not in charge of dinner had the opportunity to take a bath and have an in-house massage.

  • Yogamatters Restore candle, bath salths, and sleep mist
  • Raw Care shampoo, conditioner, body soap, and body cream. There was also a take-home gift with the same products (including a stick of Palo Santo) to remind everyone of their time at the retreat.

Evening Rituals

💭 Dinner + dinner conversations
Conversation Menus + The Friendship Game by The School of Life.

🔥 Fire meditation + reading
Quiet, wind-down time spent at the fireplace.


I – All electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) to be switched off and handed over upon arrival

I wanted to gift us a rare chance to unplug from our daily commitments and addictions.

By enabling us to be genuinely present for each other, I also hoped this rule would ultimately strengthen our tribe, allowing us to tap into a trusted bond well after the retreat.

Lastly, not being able to use our usual escape mechanisms forced everyone to deal with their bad moments on the spot. I encouraged this by asking everyone to share a retro of their day around the dinner table each night.

II – Morning rituals, breakfast, and beach walk in silence

I put this rule in place to allow everyone to tap into their stillness and enable inner insights to surface. I also liked the idea of a slow start and quietness in the mornings at home (which I also believed the introverts in the group would appreciate).

III – Lunch and dinner to be had together with one conversation at the table

To foster connection, friendship, and inclusivity.

IV – No photos

I wanted us to experience the retreat as it was happening and not later through photos.

Besides, I think the best moments of our lives tend to be unrecorded. Stopping to take a picture tends to spoil the magic of that very moment.

Also, I wanted us to step out of the addictive gratification loop of taking photos to share with others.

Finally, there’s always someone who likes to take lots of photos, which can be annoying for the rest. And I didn’t want anyone to have to worry about a bad hair day or be self-conscious all day long.

V – No complaining

To allow for a greater focus on gratitude.

Part II: The Website

🚧 Writing in progress

Slow Retreats · Reset Edition

🔗 Slow Retreats · Reset Edition – Live

👩🏻‍💻 Slow Retreats · Reset Edition – The Code

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🍵 Morning Rituals