Planting a Healing Seed

By Sophie Jackson (UK)  – Overcoming MS retreat participant, May 2014

Living Well Magazine Summer 2015

How can I begin to share what has been one of the most amazing and wonderful adventures of my life? Well, I guess that I should start at the beginning. In July 2013 I was lucky enough to attend an Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) conference in Brighton UK. Having never before heard of Prof George Jelinek or OMS until that week, I launched hook, line and sinker into the OMS lifestyle program.

That day in July when I heard Prof George Jelinek speak, I thanked some higher power somewhere that George’s diagnosis of MS had made him so determined to search for answers so extensively and to share all that he found. My life changed dramatically that day, and very much for the better. I had hope; I had a future again.

I went home to my family a new and reawakened version of myself, full of excitement for the path that I was about to take. The OMS retreat at The Gawler Foundation in Australia had been mentioned, and I just knew that it was something I really wanted to do. If I was going to spend the rest of my life following this regime, I wanted to be sure that I was getting it 100% right.

Mmmm, now, how do you manage to get to Australia when you have 4 children, a job, and the odds (like cost and time away) are stacked against you. Well…

  1. It helps if you have a wonderful sister-in-law who tells you that this is undoubtedly what you deserve, and jolly well should make happen. I (like many of us) am not good at putting myself first, and had it not been for my sister-in-law, I probably would not have given myself permission to go.
  2. I have an incredible husband who supports me in all that I do.
  3. 2014 was my 40th birthday year.

So, my trip down under was to be my 40th birthday present. I was booked and I was actually going.

I knew nobody in Australia and I was looking forward to taking 13 days out of my life at home, and being just with me until it was time for the retreat when obviously I would be with others.

I left the UK on a rainy Tuesday evening, and arrived in Melbourne early on a bright Thursday morning. I had 4 days in St Kilda learning to exist on Aussie time, ready for a Monday morning pick up at the Hilton on the Park. I was quite nervous, I was off to the Yarra Valley to share a room with five other women and a week with  a group of people that I had never met before, and knew nothing about, apart from the fact that they, or someone they loved had MS.

A group of us travelled out to The Gawler Foundation’s Living Centre on a mini bus. So far, so good! When we turned into the long driveway, we were greeted by literally hundreds of kangaroos and joeys scattered around beautiful parkland. This for me, being from the UK, was beyond exciting. The Gawler Foundation is a little hidden gem, when you arrive, you immediately get the feeling that you are safe, cocooned in a way, from the outside world. It is a total haven, a refuge in which to work on you and your healing.

The shared accommodation option I had booked was lovely and bright. I had been a bit apprehensive about sharing, but it was no bother. If anything, I think it helped us to become firm friends, and to support each other through the week. It was actually rather fun!

The amazing location and team at The Gawler were a big part of the 5 days. Both gave me a place to be myself and heal myself in many ways. An equally important part was the group. We were a group of 26 people all living with the effects of MS, some more than others.

We came together at the start of the week as strangers, and left as friends. We shared our fears, our losses, our sorrow, our sadness, vulnerability and more. We laughed together, we cried together, we hoped together. But mostly, from our time together, I remember smiles and happiness and hope. Stepping so far away from my life, to the other side of the world, to this beautiful patch in the Yarra Valley was medicine for me.

Meditation was the part of the lifestyle recommendations that I felt I hadn’t quite cracked. I’d done an 8-week Mindfulness course before my trip, but slotting in my half hour a day? Well, I was failing. The Gawler Foundation’s meditation sanctuary for me must be one of the most special places on the planet. What a beautiful, calm and inspiring space. Set up high, with glass windows all around, you have a sense of being up in the trees, as that is all that you see when you look out of the windows, beautiful trees tops all around. There is something very special about that room, and if you want to get a good start on meditation, that is definitely the place to do it.

Then there was the food – wow. Fresh home-made wholefoods at each meal. Freshly made bread, porridge, pesto, delicious salads, and all so nurturing and nourishing. That really is how I felt all week, that I was nourishing myself wholly, with the meditation, the support of the amazing group, the wonderful food and the dedicated, genuine team that worked with us. Wow, it truly was that good! I learnt how to prepare new dishes, Susannah in the kitchen was always happy to share her secrets; The Gawler Foundation cookbook has flown home to England with me, and is rarely on the shelf.

I cannot thank the team who ran the five-day course enough: in particular Siegfried Gutbrod, Keryn Taylor and George Jelinek. They all taught me so much. Keryn shared her medical knowledge of MS with us in layman’s terms so that everyone could get a good grasp. Coupled with George’s knowledge I could not have asked for more to help me understand the OMS regime. I get it, I believe it, I am living it, and I feel great. Siegfried taught me so much about myself. His lessons helped me see certain valuable things more clearly. One of the most precious things that I heard in those five days was from Siegfried, near the end of the course. He said, “Think of what you have learned, and the start that you have made here as being like a vulnerable seedling which needs protecting and nurturing to grow.” That is just how I felt on the last day, that I had been given the gift of this fragile beautiful delicate seedling, but also the tools to care for it and nurture it so that it can continue to grow into something vibrant, beautiful and strong.

I truly believe that if I put the skills that I was taught that week into practice, that I will be well, fit, strong, and healthy for a very long time, as well as happy, calm and content and with a strong sense of inner peace.  I am eternally grateful that I found my way across the world to The Gawler Foundation and I would do  it all again in the blink of an eye!