When I left the immersive retreat for inner and outer resilience at 42 Acres earlier this month – facilitated wonderfully by Justine and Tarot from St. Ethelburga’s – I went for a cup of tea with friends who live nearby in Frome. They were excited to hear about how the retreat had gone and were keen for a description of 42 Acres itself; they knew of the place but hadn’t yet been there. In the usual way of doing things, I reached for my phone to show them some photos. I hadn’t taken many pictures but what I had captured turned out to be a full and fitting representation of the three and a half days I had just experienced.
The first image I showed my friends was of some vegetable and flower wraps we had been served for lunch one day. The picture showed something so extraordinarily beautiful and unusual that, at first, they had a hard time deciphering what they were looking at. I explained the food philosophy at 42 Acres, where the principle is to prepare and eat mainly what is grown on-site, supplemented by other produce grown nearby and, rarely, a few items from further afield. The vegetable gardens and regenerative farm at 42 Acres are cultivated using biodynamic and permaculture principles; plenty of foraged ingredients feature in the dishes too. The result, to quote the 42 Acres website, is “unbelievably delicious and nutrient-dense food”.
I found the approach to growing, preparing and serving food at the retreat to be a visceral manifestation of how to build inner and outer resilience: this one area alone demonstrated how we can nourish ourselves, grow a community and support each other through taking care of what and how we eat. It served as a wonderful foundation for the other areas of learning offered throughout the retreat.
On two of the days, we divided up into small groups to do a little work on the land. The tasks included laying a path in the vegetable garden, weeding, planting a herb bed and helping with mushroom log inoculation. On the first day, I trundled off with Russell, the Lead Ornamental Gardener – a job title which I find adorable – and Aarif and Candace, fellow retreatants, to prepare the soil and plant up a herb bed in the walled garden. Candace and I took it in turns to fill wheelbarrows with grit while Aarif and Russell raked over and prepared the bed. Putting in the plants was a highly satisfying job, a blend of art and design to place them appropriately, using Russell’s carefully prepared drawing.
The whole afternoon unfolded with a steady, sweet rhythm, spacious enough to allow for plenty of chit chat, including some very welcome top gardening tips from Russell. We hung on his every word, soaking up his earthy, gentle ease and, after admiring our handiwork, strolled back to the house in time for another tasty and nutritious meal, grown and prepared with love.
A key component of the retreat was talks and workshops delivered by external speakers. These acted as substantial, well-placed stepping stones, supporting us to cross the choppy waters of exploring the climate emergency and possible societal breakdown. Gathering inside the main house to make use of the internet connection, on the first day we heard from Pat McCabe, whose given name is Woman Stands Shining. A Dine’ (Navajo) activist, artist, writer and ceremonial leader, as well being a mother and grandmother, I was humbled to hear her wise, warm and incisive words as she spoke to us from her mother’s home in the U.S. Amongst the many jewels I gathered from her talk, the ones that shine brightest for me are, ‘All possibilities are still humming in the air’; ‘Move into radical self-love and radical self-trust’; ‘Ask – what is my gift to bring?’; ‘Be ready to respond rather than react’; ‘Stay with what’s in front of you’.
On another day we again took our seats inside to listen to Bruna Kadletz, speaking from Brazil where she works with refugees and displaced people and runs Circles of Hospitality which works towards the ‘regeneration of a culture of hospitality and peace in times of intolerance and xenophobia’. Another extraordinary speaker carrying out vital and compassionate work, words that particularly resonated for me from Bruna’s talk include, ‘resilience is a practice as well as a quality’; ‘respond from a place of vulnerability, love and care – not anger’; ‘grow a community of care’.
As well as the online calls, we were lucky enough to be visited by Peter and Annabelle MacFadyen from just down the road in Frome where they have spent the last 30 years developing ‘flatpack democracy’ and many inter-related community projects. It was particularly inspiring to hear about ‘Compassionate Frome’ which has pioneered social prescribing, enabling ‘GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing’.
On the same day, we took part in a workshop with herbalist Rabiah Abdullah. With stunning grace and joy, Rabiah began the session by describing her journey in herbalism, which took her from studying in London, to Ghana, and back.
Over the two or three hours we all spent together, we made a journey ourselves, walking around the gardens near the house, discovering in this small area a myriad of plants that, between them, support nurturing and healing for heart, body and mind.
The last part of the workshop brought all the elements together as we prepared tea for our closing tea ceremony and took away some dried tea that we had mixed. I am still drinking this and with every cup continue to feel refreshed and sustained by the knowledge, kindness and generosity that Rabiah embodied and shared so freely.
Each day at the retreat began with short readings and a 45-minute meditation in the large, beautiful yurt just across from the main house. This precious time set up space for the quiet and caring sensibility that was needed to support us through the – at times intense – learning, discussion and reflection we took part in at 42 Acres. Facilitated by Justine and Tarot with skill, wisdom, knowledge and compassion, the retreat was organised and led in a way that reflected the inner and outer resilience that we were there to develop and experience more deeply.
The short early morning walk from the house to the yurt every day filled me with such peace and joy, it remains an anchor for the vessel of learning, community and care that I took away with me at the end of the retreat and continue to feel such gratitude for; a keystone for building further resilience.
For further information on places and people referenced above please click on the links below:
42 Acres: https://www.42acres.com/
Pat McCabe: https://www.patmccabe.net/
Bruna Kadletz and Circles of Hospitality: https://stethelburgas.org/sowing-seeds-now/