You can’t open a paper, a magazine or turn on the television these days without seeing a feature on mindfulness – now even the wealthy and successful are concerned with leading more meaningful lives. It’s becoming something of an obsession. After the antics of Phillip Green and others, definitely a step for the good.
The 2017 Condé Nast International Luxury Conference held in Oman in April focused on Mindful Luxury. Hosted by Vogue’s International Editor and the Conference Chair, Suzy Menkes, Oman was, she told the invited audience, ‘an oasis of calm and a model for the rest of the world with a thoughtful attitude to luxury which is less about showing off to the world and more about what we find meaningful’.
A couple of weeks ago an article in the International New York Times, ‘Training the Brain to think positively‘, written by Jane E.Brody, extolled the benefits of positive emotions. Starting the day with a smile and deep breathing will produce a beneficial feeling of general well-being, she observed. It all sounded a bit ‘touchy feely’, something TheEye cannot claim to be, but it did offer some interesting observations.
Research at the University of North Carolina by psychology professor Barbara F. Fredrickson, claims that accumulating ‘micro-moments of positivity demonstrates the extent to which we can generate positive emotions from even everyday activities (a walk in the park, watching a play, a movie or TV show, even sharing funny moments with friends, and there is nothing to beat a ‘good laugh’). According to professor Fredrickson, they can determine who flourishes and who doesn’t. At the other end of the spectrum are those people who are permanently negative. Their glass is permanently half empty and their response to seeing the sunshine will be a gloomy prediction that it will probably rain soon. Chronic negativity is an illness.
Dr Fredrickson offers good advice to those who share her beliefs. How one can become happier and healthier, and more in tune with other people by making the effort to appreciate the world around us, developing and bolstering relationships, practising mindfulness and resilience, and maybe just learning a new skill – a language, an instrument or even a game. Many people of ‘a certain age’ are taking up the piano, learning to play bridge and discovering the joys of gardening and growing their own vegetables. The popularity of television programmes such as Bake Off, The Great Pottery Throw Down, and others associated with making and craft, demonstrates how people are starting to enjoy using their time for more meaningful activities.
A stay at Vana, a retreat near Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas, was a restorative experience. Although Vana had been highly recommended, TheEye, a natural born cynic, went a little reluctantly in a last ditch attempt to get her spirits back on track after a difficult year. A week seemed a perfectly reasonable length of time, but it took a couple of days to ‘orientate’, wandering around somewhat lost in an endless series of tranquil spaces. By the time she knew where she was supposed to be (wellness centre, Ayurvedic centre, yoga sala, Tibetan healing centre, spa) she felt she would have benefitted from a compass. Once orientated, life was a joy and the slowing down process really began to do its job.
A high powered friend and frequent Vanavisa offered some sound advice – ‘You have to suspend the idea that you know best. Relax and let them do it their way’.
There is a suggested dress code. Kurta pyjamas, woollen capes and cotton tunics are provided hanging in your closet – the staff miraculously anticipating your size. In natural fibres, the clothes are in a palette of beige and white, designed by Abraham and Thakore, Delhi-based designers who, coincidentally, TheEye has known for many years. They have a strong design ethos which pays homage to traditional Indian handwoven textiles, techniques and craft skills. Easy and comfortable to wear.
Fearing an overdose of beige, TheEye occasionally felt the need to ‘accessorise’ with something bright and colourful, and was thrilled to find a lovely acid green silk scarf in the drawer of her desk. It certainly perked things up.
Her visit coincided with Holi, the Indian Festival of Colours, which is celebrated by hurling coloured powders at one another. Spraying, hosing and dousing water as people entered into the spirit of the occasion and became less inhibited.
Of course, there is much eating (lots of dainty very sweet sweets), drinking, music and dancing.
In cities, it can be quite scary, with revellers getting drunk and out of hand, but in the elegant grounds of Vana, it was a gorgeous, colourful, fun party.
Special white garments were provided for the occasion, and silk scarves in ‘Holi’ colours of shocking pink, orange, green and yellow for guests to drape around themselves.
Sitting at the communal table for meals was an opportunity to talk and hear other people’s stories. Many were staying for two, three and four weeks to achieve their goals – the ultimate treatment being the Panchakarma programme which lasts a minimum of 21 nights – a stiff endurance test producing exceptional results. Those that made it felt and looked wonderful and, most of all, it gave them a great feeling of achievement. It was heartening to hear different experiences. The communal table was an opportunity in learning to listen. The food is healthy, much is grown on the premises or locally sourced, imaginative, creative and so good for us I managed to convince myself as I greedily tucked in.
Every creative detail counts at Vana. Art – paintings and sculptures – are everywhere, and most special for TheEye, Siraj Saxena’s subtle ceramics. Very in keeping with Vana’s environment.
Guests are assigned a medical consultation shortly after arrival with one of the Vana doctors, and a personal programme is designed to suit their personal health issues.
Vana is a place to re-evaluate and leave the outside world behind. No mobile phones or iPads (all prohibited in public spaces) – such a pleasure – no ringing, no pinging, and no one walking around zombie-like glued to their annoying devices. Dressing in ‘uniform’ takes away any snobbery or sense of rank because everyone looks the same.
It’s precisely what the Condé Nast Luxury Conference would describe as ‘Meaningful Luxury ‘ – the choice between meaningless ostentation and a meaningful luxurious experience.
Of course, you don’t need to go to a retreat in India to learn how to switch off – it’s pretty obvious. In the words of Simon and Garfunkle (“Feeling Groovy”, 1966): ‘Slow Down, You move too fast, You’ve got to make the morning last…’. If only it were that easy – but TheEye is trying…