Where to start? Ah la France Je t’adore!
I always believed I would live somewhere French-speaking. I spent time as an infant in Belgium where my Mum got a job, worked as an au pair in Paris at 19, a Modern Languages student at age 23 in Clermont-Ferrand and I also had other holidays there.
From an early age, I felt restless and knew I wasn’t going to remain forever in the UK but possibly live in Europe. I was going to travel far and wide, and possibly even become a travel agent. When I was 15, I undertook my work experience in a local travel agent’s office but then realised I had no interest in planning other people’s adventures. I wanted to organise my own. However, I didn’t end up moving to France after my studies. Life had other plans and led me to Australia at 25.
In 2016, I had an overwhelming sense of ‘returning to the beginning.’ I kept seeing spirals everywhere.
I’m completing a long cycle in Australia and have been in a voidal, womb-like space since last year. So much is percolating in the mystery. During 2016, I returned to France a few times.
This is the first of what will be a few blog posts about my beloved Sacred France and my experiences there in 2016.
Since delving back into focussed womb work, I felt drawn to connect with Anaiya Sophia, with whom I resonated with very much. I read a few of her books, including Womb Wisdom. I wanted to experience her Sacred Body Awakening week experience.
Here was an inspiring lady, working with the transformational energy of the womb, yet she knew that it was not her path to have physical children. (Listen to her interview on my podcast here). I knew I had to go and spend time with her and be immersed in the energy of the Languedoc region. This land is very much connected to Mary Madgalene and the Cathars. Such a rich region in France, full of mystery and history (and herstory!). I have to admit I didn’t look too deeply into the contents of the retreat, just following my inner knowing and booked it 6-7 months before!
I watched a couple of videos where Anaiya explained what does and does not happen in Sacred Body Awakening.
NB: It is not Tantra.
I felt a bit nervous at the prospect of being naked in front of a group of women I didn’t know. All sorts of questions started to tumble through my over-active mind.
“OMG was there going to be yoni massage? Not sure if I’m up for that. Is there going to be yoni gazing? Do I feel that’s necessary for me? No I don’t think so. If I object then does that make it seem like I’m ‘blocked’ or ‘not open’? Is this something I need to experience with another woman? Hmmm not really. But it was going to be massage right? Ok well that’s fine as I’m used to massaging.
Was it going to be all sleazy tantra style with too many naked downward dogs and everyone dry humping? Were there going to be Meg Ryan impersonations with everyone participating in over-exaggerated exhaling and panting to ‘release’ energy? Please no! Would there be too much over-sharing? What if it was all ‘too sexual’ and I enjoyed it more than I ‘should’? Did that mean I had leanings towards women? Could we all share an experience like this together and it be non-sexual?”
And on and on with my whirring brain…. 😉
I flew into Toulouse from London Heathrow. You can also fly into to Carcassonne (a must visit) which is closer to picturesque Puivert, where Anaiya lives and teaches in France. Located in the divine Aude region and also home to the River Aude.
It’s a pretty 45 minutes drive from Carcassonne, or around 1 hour 30 minutes from Toulouse. Occitania is your adorable retreat. We inhaled divine vegetarian food and some mornings, the delight of croissant delivery by a local baker in her van. Very civilised! The French take food seriously.
As we drove through the lush green hills, scattered with poppies, I felt myself deeply relax. Don’t you love it when a place you imagined visiting is EXACTLY the same as you dreamed? I felt so at home. Anaiya is generous with her time, presence and opening up her home in this way.
I was so relieved that she is the same in person. There’s nothing more disappointing then connecting online and then feeling let down when you meet, when she/he behaves like a pretentious arse. I’m happy to report this was not the case. We’ve all met those people who present perfectly on their website, utter ‘Namaste’ at every opportunity and have a ‘spiritual ego’ bigger than the moon.
Anaiya is a practical, grounded, down to earth Capricorn, whilst dealing in the spiritual realms. She is delightful, kind, vulnerable and real, whilst sharing her wisdom and experience. She also has a great sense of humour – essential.
There were plenty of giggles and some tears as we women, from all corners of the globe shared our experiences during the week.
No we did not all run outside at midnight with flowers in our hair, stark naked with bells on our toes, glitter on our nipples and bark at the moon (good suggestion for another retreat?). We worked with sacred touch from a healing perspective, much like the ancient priestesses in the temples. No part of the body was left without being acknowledged and held.
With regards to getting naked, we did not all strip off to Joe Cocker’s ‘You can leave your hat on‘ within the first few minutes of meeting, over a baguette with brie. It happened naturally as a gradual unveiling.
There was no yoni massage or yoni gazing on my watch, although we did discuss. It was unnecessary for us. However, each group will vary, depending on group dynamics and there’s an important place and purpose for these practices in a sacred, safe space. These can be extremely healing experiences.
There was much releasing from the body of old trauma and woundings that had been stored. Sometimes we didn’t know what the story behind the release was – and we don’t always need to know. Maybe it can be enough to feel it and release it in a safe space. It was a VERY gentle and safe space. At all times boundaries were squeaky clean. There was no sleaze or dodgy behaviour. I did not have any ‘hang on a minute‘ uncomfortable moments. We were graced with the presence of the Christed Cat, who ran up and down the stairs at hilariously opportune moments.
Sacred Body Awakening is a whole body initiatory process into the revival of the Sacred Arts.
It’s the mystical feminine way of permitting the Sacred Mother energies to flow ecstatically from one being to other, whilst facilitating the journey from human to divine, from (wo)man to God/dess.
There was Kundalini Yoga each morning focussing on a different chakra, which connected in with the theme of that particular day. There were also meditations and transmissions with a perfect musical playlist to accompany them. Some of the questions we explored were:
How can I transmit love to every part of this body (right in front of me) through sacred touch?
Imagine if this person had just come back from a war zone (for example), how could I communicate through loving touch?
How would I touch this person embodying the energy of the Maiden/Mother/Lover/Crone?
How does this intention change the flavour of my touch and connection?
This week was deeply nourishing in ways that are indescribable. I felt honoured to be a witness to the other women’s experiences for this short time in our lives. There was a sense of sisterhood. We had all experienced life losses, heartbreaks and disappointments.
What happens in the temple stays in the temple. I can’t divulge more detail without sharing that which was private. That magical stone cottage, Anaiya Sophia and the other attendees, have a special place in my heart. I will return there. Of that I have no doubt!
I left there feeling lighter, freer, more connected and comfortable in my body. Who doesn’t want to feel more light, free and connected? I can only speak for myself, but it was a sisterly, sensual experience, but not sexual. I was aware of the erotic and sexual energies that we were interacting and playing with, but it never felt uncomfortable or inappropriate in any way.
If this is resonating with you strongly, then I encourage you to go. (This is not an affiliate post). Find out more here.
There was an excursion to a local market at Esperaza, a gorgeous town on the banks of the River Aude.
Esperaza market is full of wonderful organic food, wine, crystals and all sorts of goodies, as well as live music. I even looked at house prices in the area and let me tell you, it’s extremely tempting! The market takes place on Thursdays and Sundays and so if you are staying in the area, definitely add a visit to your itinerary. It is also a part of the famous pilgrimage that you may have heard of, the Santiago de Compostela. A great base for sight-seeing, particularly if you are interested in the Cathars history.
The Cathars were a religious group, who were active in Europe in the 11th Century onwards. The Languedoc region in France was home to many and the Cathars had a predominant stronghold. They referred to themselves as Christians and believed in duality: good and evil, in simplistic terms. They were vegetarians, believed in reincarnation, perceived men and women to be equals (many believe this trickles down from the teachings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene) and practiced love, compassion and tolerance. The Occitan cross was a Cathar symbol and is still very apparent today in the region.
Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church perceived them as a huge threat and called them heretics and followers of Satan.
Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against them, ordering mass killings of more than half a million, from 1208 onwards. Figures vary. There was also the persecution of Jewish people in the Languedoc, together with other minorities in the region that had sympathy with Cathar concepts and beliefs. Today you can visit many Cathar castle ruins in the area and signs of their teachings are still visible, with many claiming to be Modern day Cathars. The Aude region calls itself Cathar Country.
If you are a keen walker/hiker then you may be interested in also visiting ‘L’Auberge des Troubadours’ in Roquefixade. We hiked up to see the ruins of Château de Roquefixade, followed by an amazing lunch here. Do not be deceived by the simple exterior. We feasted like Queens from an elaborately decorated table and drank from locally made goblets. I bought a couple to bring home from the onsite store which sells all manner of hand-made local artisan wares.
Upon arrival we were serenaded by a modern day Troubadour.
A Troubadour was historically a poet-musical performer. The earliest mention of this goes back to the 12th century in the region. Of course much of this tradition died out, but the Auberge hosts Troubadour medieval banquets and celebrates these traditions. An ex-pat Chef from the UK, Jenni certainly knows how to tantalise the tastebuds. I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit here and look forward to returning and staying here for a few nights to soak up the atmosphere and views (and amazing food) more deeply!
I will continue on with more stories of my French travels in following posts, coming shortly. I hope you enjoy a snapshot into my experiences and that it inspires you to follow your own intuitive nudges. Where are you being called to visit – or revisit on this beautiful planet of ours?? I would love to hear below.