Although it has been 2 months since I returned from the Sister Stories retreat, I won’t allow my blogging procrastination to prevent me from sharing about it, however late. Because special moments must always be celebrated.
I first found out about Sister Stories on Instagram over 3 years ago. The page popped up, probably due to me following people with similar interests in the well-being space. Largely those talking about their own life journeys, seeking inner wisdom and personal growth. In stumbling across the Sister Stories page, I discovered the founder, Gemma Brady, offered something beautifully simple – a space for women to share their stories.
I booked a place at one of her events and a few days later I was sitting on a cushion on the floor in her beautifully decorated living room floor in North London, with 8 or 9 like-minded women. We sipped at herbal teas and after Gemma gave us some guidance on the process and took us through a gentle introspective meditation, we took it in turns to share our stories, basically we told each other whatever came to mind, however big or small, short or long. We spoke in truth.
At that point in my life I had big decisions to make about my fertility journey, and the relationship I was in at the time. In circle I was able to describe what was happening in my life without anyone giving me advice or guidance. I didn’t need the advice of 8 or so strangers, but by telling my story I could hear the words formulate on my lips for the first time, and in sharing them I felt deeply witnessed. I could make sense of what was happening in my life without the noise of other peoples thoughts or feelings. It was truly life changing.
In the 3 years since I attended that first circle I have attended many, many unique and beautiful circles held by many different facilitators, and each one has held me in a soft embrace. I have also completed my circle facilitator training under Gemma’s expert guidance and mentorship allowing me to hold circles for women, and for people in the LGBTQ+ community, and I recently completed my advanced facilitator training.
When we came into lock-down I felt that there was no way the beautifully curated circle space could be recaptured for the online world, but it could. Through circle I stayed connected to other women when the whole world stopped and it was the lifeline I needed. Online the circles connect women from all over the country and beyond, and allows access to those who might not be able to attend in person.
But when we came out of lockdown I was yearning for the physical circle experience, the deeper connection that comes with sitting together in the same room; the eye contact, the shared breath, the looks of encouragement and support, the warmth of smiles. Before I even knew I was yearning for it, Gemma announced that she would be holding an IN-PERSON retreat, in the woods of West Sussex – with vegan catering!
Needless to say I couldn’t sign up any quicker than I did.
The retreat ran from Friday to Sunday in a perfect location near Haywards Heath called the Enchanted Glade. I arrived alone, with excitement and a little anxiety of what was to come. The Enchanted Glade is an eco retreat and wild spa, and the owners encourage getting there by public transport rather than by car, so I took a train from London and a taxi from Haywards Heath station to cut down my carbon footprint a bit. As I walked into the field of yurts any anxiety I had disappeared – I was met with smiles and welcomes from the women who had already arrived. A diverse group from all over the UK, different ages and races, but all with the same feeling that this weekend would be the medicine we had been longing for. I felt like I had landed exactly where I needed to be at the exact right time.
Gemma and Stella, who were co-facilitating the retreat were there to meet me with hugs. I had met Stella during my facilitator training but this was our first in-person meeting, and it was so wonderful to finally meet someone who has been a presence throughout my circle facilitator trainings. Stella showed me to the yurt I would be sharing with 2 other women, one of which I had met all that time ago at circle at Gemma’s house, and another who I was meeting for the first time. Both were equally lovely, chatty and welcoming. In the group there were other circle facilitators, a few people I had met at online circles before, and others that were new to me completely, but the commonality between us was that we were there to share our stories and connect.
After all the other women arrived and settled into place the first circle took place around a fire globe in the woods. In that circle we made our first connection, sharing a little about ourselves and learning who was there and a little bit about their stories. A small toe in the water of what was to come over the forthcoming days.
Over the weekend the circles took us deeply into self discovery, we shared, we cried, we laughed. There were tender moments and real belly laughs. It was magical.
Gemma knew how to take us on a journey. We were never left feeling exposed or raw. There were themed circles positioned at just the right times to help us celebrate ourselves, to share our positives, our wins, our happiness, to counterbalance some of the deeper shares, so that as the weekend progressed we wouldn’t feel too tender to step back into ‘normal’ life again.
We made use of the wild spa, taking saunas, sitting in the hot tub, and taking cold plunges in a repurposed whiskey barrel. We cheered each other on as the dips in the cold plunge took our breath away. In between the circles we got to know each other, we talked, discovering more about one another and learning who each other were – in our own words. We were building a sisterhood.
Being in nature was perfection. Gemma led a forest bathing session where we lay on the ground looking up into the trees, and through a spoken meditation was connected to our bodies and the earth. Nature was the thread that wove the weekend together, and through our connection with it we found ourselves relaxing, unfurling, and expanding.
The real cherry on top was the exquisite vegan food from Chamiah of Nourish Me Wild. Every meal was delicately considered, and presented in beautiful colours, textures and flavours. We literally had cake with every meal. Banana bread with breakfast (essentially cake!), a parsnip and carrot cake, a berry bakewell, and more. They were absolutely delicious and we feasted like absolute queens. The partnering of hearty plant-based meals that are so good for the soul with the circle retreat was the perfect marriage, feeding us with goodness in every way.
I felt sad that the weekend had to come to an end, but it was the beginning of new friendships, the start of a new chapter that felt gently lightened by the shedding of tears and stories that needed to be released. When I got back on the train to go home I felt lighter, more present with myself, more connected to my body and nature. I can not recommend a Sister Stories retreat more, you do not need to have attended circle before. There were people on the retreat who had not been to circle beforehand and it was magical for them to dive in the deep end. But, if you would like to experience circle first then you can find my circles advertised on my Instagram page, or you can find Gemma at the Sister Stories website, and on the alumni page you can find out about all the Sister Stories facilitators and the circles they hold.Wherever you are in your personal journey of growth and unfolding, in circle there is an overwhelming feeling of belonging. A perfect constellation of women brought together in a moment to share their stories together, and in finding them you discover a sisterhood.