To Laura, Carly, and Silvia–thank you.
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 bring them together and spend more quality time with them myself.
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 Dinners, Mandali, 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 even more 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 worry about the parts I wouldn’t be able to accomplish. The table wouldn’t be set the Gatherists way. The dinners not as elaborate as Sunday Suppers. And the retreat space wouldn’t have Mandali’s views and rooms nor its yoga teachers and cooks. Still, that didn’t mean I couldn’t make the experience as much of a life-changing one as the ten-day silent meditation retreat had been for me.
Thus, I focused on the program, incorporating what I know about habit-forming, happiness, and personal growth. Furthermore, I designed the retreat with two main goals in mind: to unplug from the day-to-day noise, allowing our inner strength to surface, and to recharge through our shared humanity and tribal connection.
From experience, I know that dosed just right discomfort can help us grow. That’s why I needed the girls to be on the edge of their comfort zone at times. Whether it was through experiencing something they never had, doing something they believed they couldn’t, or being forced to give up bad habits–there was no doubt in my mind that they’d come out stronger.
But as the first morning of the retreat came, and I had to shush everyone into silence, I wasn’t so confident about my plan anymore. As I quickly closed my eyes, taking a deep breath in before guiding everyone into their first meditation, I could hardly shake the hints of defiance, suspicion, worry, and confusion I had just witnessed on the other side of this darkness.
It wasn’t until dinner that I could fully relax, and the girls told me they loved all the parts of the program that I was sure they hated. From day two, it was smooth sailing, and by the last morning of the retreat, I knew we had pulled off an extraordinary experience.
In the end, the house that I chose for the retreat made up for the vibe that I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to pull off. The table was right, as was the garden and the fireplace. Our dinners brought us closer together. And the wild, stunningly preserved coast of Portugal took care of the views for me. The details that I had decided not to worry about resolved themselves, leaving us with an Instagrammable retreat, that proudly-so, never made it on Instagram.
Part I: The Program
Slow Retreats · Reset Edition
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
🧘🏻♀️ 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 to keep for the day.
We did a 10-minute sun salutation yoga practice with Down Dog.
✏️ 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 to each, telling them 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.
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.
😌 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.
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.
💭 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
Most importantly, this rule would give everyone a rare chance to unplug from their daily commitments and social addictions. Furthermore, not being able to use our usual escape mechanisms would force us to deal with our bad moments on the spot. And, at the same time, to be genuinely present for each other, which I hoped would ultimately strengthen our tribe, allowing us to tap into a trusted bond well after the retreat.
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 think the most special moments of our lives go unrecorded. Pausing a moment to take a picture tends to spoil the magic of that very instance. I wanted us to experience the retreat as it was happening and not later through photos. Also, I wanted us to step out of the addictive gratification loop of taking photos to share with others. Finally, I didn’t want anyone to have to worry about a bad hair day or be self-conscious all day long. Besides, there’s always someone who likes to take lots of photos, which can be annoying for the rest.
V – No complaining
To allow for a greater focus on gratitude.
Part II: The Website
Slow Retreats · Reset Edition
🔗 Slow Retreats · Reset Edition – Live
👩🏻💻 Slow Retreats · Reset Edition – The Code