by Priyanka Roychoudhury
In today’s fast-paced and interconnected world, finding moments of solace and meaning can be a challenge. Amid the chaos, it becomes essential to forge connections that ground us and nurture our personal growth. With this in mind, I joined the GirlDreamer Retreat in Cairngorms National Park in June 2023. The retreat promised us time away from our usual life in the middle of Scottish nature. This was enticing, as I had found myself stuck in a rut: each week seemed to roll right into the next and I suddenly realised we’re halfway through the year already! Little did I know that besides having some time off from work, I would emerge from this retreat full of life, wonder, and a whole new appreciation for the power to be found when connecting with nature, an amazing community, and above all with myself.
Connecting with Nature
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” – John Muir
The retreat had us explore the woodlands, mountains and water bodies in the national park. Amidst the grandiose and age-old pine trees, we discovered the beauty of life often overlooked as we stare into screens. From the tiniest of bugs that crawled on the mossy grounds, to the fragrant bushes that could act as natural midge repellents, to the tweeting of birds, so much more pleasant to the ears than the notifications of a (digital) tweet! Everything reminded us of what life was meant to feel like from the beginning of human history on this planet – connection with and respect for all beings.
In the tranquil stillness of the mountain top which we climbed together, we discovered a refuge from the noise of the world, allowing our minds to quieten and our spirits to rejuvenate. The gentle breeze became our companion, providing a sense of belonging and interconnectedness with the mighty mountains that stretched in all directions. We felt on top of the world. Stepping into the pebbled river, we felt our bodies come to life as the sensation of fresh mountain water against our feet reverberated not just in our bodies but in our souls as well.
Research suggests that spending time in nature can reduce stress, enhance creativity, and improve overall well-being. This brief experience of spending time in the embrace of nature, with little to no network reception left us with a new enthusiasm for life and gave us a peek into what life in close touch with nature can feel like.
Connecting with Community
Humans are social beings, and our lives are enriched through connections with others. Community provides us with the richness of diverse voices, offering support, understanding, and a sense of belonging. once said,
“One individual cannot possibly make a difference, alone. It is individual efforts, collectively, that make a noticeable difference—all the difference in the world!” – Dr Jane Goodall
The retreat brought together ten women of colour, strangers to each other at the start of our journey. By the end of our four days together, we found ourselves bonded over the joy of experiencing together the most beautiful waterfall, conquering an 810 metre climb and watching a family of wild goats trudge across the fields as the sun dipped behind the mountains in the horizon. We laughed together without a worry in the world and teared up listening to each other’s extraordinary journeys that made each of us who we are today. We carried each others’ stories back with us, inspiring us to be kind, warm and grateful no matter what comes our way.
Engaging with community not only allows us to contribute our unique stories and perspectives, but it also fosters personal growth and empathy. By participating in shared experiences or simply engaging in meaningful conversations, we cultivate relationships that nurture our souls. We become aware of the interconnectedness of our lives and the power we hold when we stand together. Through such connections, we learn to appreciate our individuality while embracing the beauty of collective purpose.
Connecting with Self
In the midst of our bustling lives, it is crucial to carve out moments for self-reflection and introspection. As the Greek philosopher Socrates wisely advised, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Connecting with oneself allows us to understand our passions, values, and dreams, propelling us towards personal fulfilment and growth.
Although the retreat gathered us in a beautiful hostel to live and eat together, we all found the time and comfort in spending time with ourselves. Be it during the hours-long walks through the pine forests, time spent reflecting (literally and metaphorically) by the waterfall, the bliss of enjoying a well-deserved lunch at the mountain top or the peaceful ‘me-time’ in the evenings with our books and journals, we all got a chance to connect with ourselves.
Practising the art of spending time in the company of oneself helps us tap into our inner thoughts and emotions, creating space for self-discovery and self-acceptance. In these moments of solitude, we gain clarity of purpose and find the strength to overcome challenges. Embracing our own identity and understanding our values enables us to navigate the world authentically, paving the way for personal transformation.
The profound connections with nature, community, and self offer so many benefits to our personal development. By immersing ourselves in nature, we gain a renewed perspective, finding inspiration and peace amidst the chaos. Engaging with our community fosters compassion, collaboration, and a sense of purpose. Connecting with ourselves allows for self-acceptance, growth, and the realisation of our true potential. In this interconnected web of connections, we cultivate resilience, empathy, and a deep appreciation for the beauty of life. These connections become the building blocks of personal growth, empowering us to lead fulfilling lives and contribute positively to the world around us.
As Audrey Peterman, “The level of comfort and peace that I experience in the parks flows like a stream throughout my life, so that no matter where I am or what I am experiencing, there is a core of me that cannot be disturbed. It keeps me in balance all the time.” Let us embrace these connections, finding solace, purpose, and inspiration from the vibrant natural life that surrounds us.