There are so many aspects to the story of Huzur Vadisi… our motivation; our backgrounds; our relationships; the practical steps we took; the many and varied interactions with the local Turkish villagers who at first thought we were mad and strange – why on earth would we want to create a ‘hotel’ of ‘tents’ tucked away in a mountain valley. Why wouldn’t we want to build something shiny and new out of concrete on a main road, wasn’t that what ‘tourists’ wanted? They were friendly, but we would catch them giving us funny looks when they thought we weren’t looking. Or even when we were looking. Once they realized Ian and I could speak Turkish and had a Turkish business partner, Tanfer, we were accepted, even more so when we began providing work and buying local milk, eggs and vegetables. We have long been an integral part of the community, so much so that when the area was surveyed and mapped a decade ago it was named Huzur Vadisi – after us.
But to go back to the genesis of it all, the seed of the idea, how we planted it and helped it to grow into what was to become one of the best-known yoga retreats in the world. Or to put it another way, as a friend – a big cheese in advertising – put it ‘ You have created a miracle, turning a bunch of tents in a mountain valley into a world brand’. I would say we succeeded as we didn’t know how wet behind the ears we were when we started. We carried on regardless, against odds that any sensible person would have given up on. We had also sunk all our resources into this labour of love, so it was like riding a tiger – if we tried to get off it would eat us. This was helped along with our love of creativity and our passion.
The seed began with me. I was yearning to do something more meaningful with my life. I was in my late thirties and to me it seemed that the daily grind of nine to five, with weekends mainly given over to preparing for the following week, cleaning and shopping, and a bit of time left over for doing something nice if you were lucky, was no way to live a life. I was yearning for adventure. I looked ahead to the prospect of another thirty years knowing more or less what I would be doing every day, and it depressed the hell out of me.
It was probably more than a little to do with our itinerant childhood, living with my parents and brothers in countries all over the world, Burma, India, Kashmir, Turkey, Kenya. We had a wildly unconventional father, brilliant and modestly charismatic, people were drawn to him like moths to a flame. He took us on many great adventures and made us feel anything was possible. It didn’t make settling down easy, although I thought I had longed for stability and putting down roots, in actual fact it didn’t suit me. I had too many of my father’s genes. And to add to the glums, my brother Ian would return at irregular intervals full of tales of derring-do about his life as an alternative technology engineer, working on an ecological project with Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ladakh and Bhutan. (I actually entirely blame Ian for bringing on my meltdown, so when he blames me for catching him at a weak moment and embroiling him in my plans, I feel there is some karma at work!) But seriously my ‘meltdown’ was to be a major source of sadness and guilt for me, as well as a great liberation.
I was a mother of two teenagers, married to a kind and intelligent man, living in a lovely part of rural Wales, in a nice house, with a job in the local tourist board. What not to like? I was in fact riven with guilt over the fact that I had all these great blessings and yet I was miserable. I felt ungrateful and selfish. In later years, often at times of crisis and struggle having thrown myself in at the deep-end, I would reflect that I could feel unhappy, but that was a different feeling, an active response to difficulty which would pass and was quite different to the blanket depression I used to feel when I felt my life was stuck. But the price I paid, or rather my family paid, was high. Although now my children are proud of me and look at my example as being one of courage and going for what you want in life, I know that it was a difficult time for them. But at the time it was do or die for me. If I hadn’t made the move I don’t think I could have been a good mother, as I couldn’t fight the depression any longer. I also was very sad about inflicting pain on my husband. He very sensibly wanted no part in my hair-brained schemes, and actually is happily re-married and very comfortably off having responsibly served his time in his career and now reaping the rewards – unlike my trajectory of risk, thrills, and insecurity.
Throughout my thirties I had been suffering from M.E. I had terrible problems with my energy and general malaise. I tried remedies of all kinds, diet, acupuncture, rest, activity, flower remedies, crystal healing, hypnosis, yoga – as well as seeing doctors – nothing worked. Finally I was introduced to a remarkable woman, a zen sensei and Shiatu practitioner, Sonia Moriceau, who has sadly since passed away. This began a healing journey, with her phenomenal shiatsu sessions and also her residential self-healing workshops. It was one of the most enlightening periods of my life. I had several epiphanies, including the realization that my illness was because I wasn’t living the life I was meant to. I was blocking my own life force. I felt not unlike the Masai we had heard about in Kenya, who would die if put in prison. Not that my situation was anything so extreme, but there was something of the spirit about it, of the necessity of self-realization for survival.
I finally realized I had to do something about the state of limbo I was enduring when one starlit frosty night, I found myself face down in the field next to the house screaming at the top of my lungs. At first I even wondered who it was making that noise – it then dawned on me it was myself – venting the pain of years of self-denial brought to the surface by the healing work. It was freezing, but I didn’t want to go back in to get a coat. There was something about the elemental embrace of the night and nature that corresponded with my need for liberation. I found a horse blanket in the shed, wrapping it around myself, I stayed out for hours gazing at the sparkling night sky and white fields, pondering the whole meaning of life, the universe and everything. I had absolutely no justification as a wife and mother to change my life, but as a person I was dying, almost literally, for change. I adore my children and I think I was a good mother, but I was probably a mother too young and hadn’t had time to discover what made me happy before taking on the demanding and selfless role of a parent. However, as a side note, I’m glad to say both my children turned out well despite this hiatus, happy and creative and doing well. I sometimes joke that they did a great job of raising themselves. The truth is I was always there for them, as was my husband, parents and wider family, but non the less it is hard for a parent to know they have inflicted any kind of sadness on much loved children.
A friend of mine went through a similar transition at around the same time, and we often talk about our guilt and regret for the sacrifices others had to make on our behalf, but we have finally gained some peace – and forgiveness for our younger selves – as we realize at the time, rightly or wrongly, we really couldn’t have done otherwise and survived. I know she is warm and giving, and takes responsibility for everyone around her, and I think she would say the same about me, so for us to take such extreme measures was a serious thing not undertaken lightly.
So, having reached a decision that something had to give, I was primed for the next step in the story of Huzur Vadisi.