Friday, March 31, 2023

‘Is This What Hallucinogens Feel Like?!’ A Woo Woo Retreat For Sceptics and Believers Alike

Let's be friends!

The books we're reading, the vibrators we're using, the rants we're having and more in our weekly EDM.

The Capsule team head off the Earth Energies Sanctuary, just out of Auckland, for two days of creative thinking and soulful relaxation.

The first peep of the Bombay hills has always signified the start of a journey for me. As an Aucklander, they have also marked leaving Auckland (hurrah) and going on an adventure (hurrah again). But nestled in off the main road is the wellness retreat Earth Energies Sanctuary, a stunning expanse of 200-acre land run by Marie Latus and Duncan McKenzie.

The pair first bought the land 12 years ago and started turning it into the peaceful haven it is now, opening the sanctuary in 2019. The 2km gravel road between the chalet-style building and the road might as well be a two hour drive, that’s how far away from the pace of normal life it feels. The Capsule team have booked into Earth Energies for a two-day creative planning/wellness relaxing weekend, which is the kind of woo woo/business blend you get to do when you run your own business and place as much importance on good vibes as you do on good accounting. It’s a new year and for the first time in 12 months, we are all feeling cautiously optimistic about our ability to look ahead. What better place to plan AND relax than a sanctuary?

Seeing as we had a choice of three very battered and barely road-worthy cars to take us south, we instead rented a very luxurious-by-comparison RAV 4 from our pals at Avis (anything would be next to a 1997 Toyota Levin) and we were off.

From reading through the guest book in the chalet, it appears that a lot of fellow guests have also arrived at a crossroads in their lives. Wellness retreats are great places for those times when you need to turn inwards and find some mental space, in amongst the stress of daily life, to look at the bigger picture. And you don’t have to disappear to Bali or Byron Bay to get it done – you can just drive an hour out of Auckland and suddenly that space starts to appear.

Marie, the co-owner of the retreat, welcomes us to the chalet that will be our home for the next two nights – pointing out the creature comforts of a well-stocked fridge and squashy blankets and couches, not to mention a 360°C view of the Coromandel Ranges and the Firth of Thames. She explains a little bit about her background – after a career working as a health and safety professional in the mining industry, she was burnt out and had lost the joy in her working life. So, she and Duncan came up with a big, audacious plan and decided to create Earth Energies Sanctuary, a place where other professionals in need of some re-balance – or people just in need of a lovely weekend, no crisis required! – could come and recharge. The Sanctuary offers packages to suit all occasions: couple’s retreats, gals’ weekends away, sports recovery or just a safe haven for the solo traveller.

Marie spent a decade retraining in different healing therapies and is the perfect blend of spiritual and practical. I have always found it easier to accept life lessons from people who have been in the trenches than I do from people who have just had nothing but sunshine days – and we can feel the good vibes of the chalet from the minute we step into it. She leads us in a chakra meditation, which is super easy to follow and accessible.

The three of us range in woo woo acceptance from ‘arms wide open’ to ‘sure… I guess’, but the meditation manages to skate right down the middle of that and leaves us all feeling relaxed and ready for an afternoon of brainstorming. Brainstorming – one of the least sexy, glamorous or wellness-based words ever, no? – may seem incongruous in a wellness retreat but, for us, the idea of a retreat was to give us the chance to think outside the daily box of work/chores/children.

With the doors open and the breeze coming in – and knowing that there’s a fridge full of chef-prepared food – we can, finally, sit down and map out our professional hopes and dreams for the year ahead, rather than the skin-of-our-teeth planning we’ve been trapped in since Capsule started in a fit of post-redundancy panic. That’s probably the reason we all start yawning at 8pm and the idea of watching a movie in the snuggly lounge goes out the window.

Instead, we all fit into a relaxation relay of activities: soaking in the giant bath, complete with homemade blends of bath salts; reading on the couch with a glass of wine; enjoying the peace of the outdoors. The only sounds are the gentle moos of the cattle on the paddock before us and the ribbits of the frogs who have taken up residence in the pond. The night sky is so clear that for the first time in my life, I can see the wispy bits of the Milky Way in between the stars. That’s when I mentally decide to book in for a winter weekend here, no excuses.

“Been in a day spa for five hours, can’t complain”, is the (obnoxious) text message I send to my friend when she asks how my Tuesday is going, sometime during the next afternoon. I say ‘some time’ because actually all sense of time and dates have left my brain, somewhere in between in the aroma-touch massage, the infrared sauna and the zero-gravity chair, where I listen to a clinical hypnotherapy track recorded by Marie, only to wake myself up with a gentle snore.

Earth Energies Sanctuary normally caters for a couple of people in the treatment rooms but Marie choreographs three sleepy adult females around the range of therapies like a pro. As someone who loves a treatment but manages to squeeze one in about twice a year, it is a new and joyous experience to have hours of back-to-back sessions of Extremely Relaxing Things. Because she started the day talking to us about how our minds and bodies are feeling, Marie has tailored the day’s therapies for each of us. At one point, my brain feels so empty that if you could take a snapshot of my thoughts, it would be like this:


See? Nothing. The highlight for me is the float therapy, where you are cocooned inside a glowing white orb (stay with me) that holds a warm pool of water that includes 500kg of Epsom salts. As someone who – pre Auckland drought – considers Epsom salt baths to be a spectacular wellness tool for fighting colds, this is heaven. However, I am also a claustrophobe, so I thought one might rule out the other. But I needn’t have worried – as soon as I closed the lid over me, I felt warm and cosy as the inside of the lid lit up with stars and the sounds of New Zealand nature started playing through the speaker.

Because the water is so salty, you just float and with the water at the same temperature as your body, it feels like you are just a warm little cloud. The highest praise I can give a wellness treatment is when it makes you feel like you are both a millionaire AND a baby and that is what I felt in this orb, as I floated around under some stars and thought “Is this what hallucinogens are like?”

This is your brain on Float Therapy

After we all wafted back down the hill from the therapy house to our chalet, it was time for some very relaxed brainstorming before whipping out the BBQ and cooking the, again, chef-prepared food. Persian beef skewers, kimchi pumpkin, salads, grilled vegetables and garlic bread helped us power through that night’s activities of – you guessed it – more baths and reading. By the time we check out the next day, we’re feeling like rested and hopeful people – two states that have felt pretty out of our grasp for the past year.

Bath of dreams

Up at the product room, where Marie makes her own kawakawa and essential oil products, she sits us down to ask us how our time has been and what we’ve learned. Throughout the two days here, Marie has kept checking in with us about our forced job transition and how we’re feeling about it now. It’s a path she knows well – after a career spent in mining, she talks about how it feels to know that so many of the mining projects she worked so hard on are no longer operational. When she left that field, she was burnt out and needed to find a new purpose and a new source of joy.

That is exactly the state we have been trying to work our way out of over the past year – as have so, so, so many people who were already under time/work pressure well before the effects of Covid-19 made life that much more difficult. It is therefore pretty extraordinary to know that the power to recharge and relax can be found in our own backyard, in beautiful spots like this one, and there are people like Marie and Duncan who take their difficult journeys and turn it into a pathway for others to find a way through to a healthier, happier life.

The Capsule team’s trip was courtesy of Earth Energy Sanctuary, for more information on this retreat please visit their website

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