I have just returned from a blissful weekend break at a beautifully peaceful place called ‘Volmoed’ (meaning ‘Full of Courage’ in Afrikaans), and I can truly say I feel as if my batteries have been recharged!
Set in 130 hectares of fynbos in the Hemel-en Aarde Valley near Hermanus in the Western Cape, Volmoed is actually a Christian retreat, but it turns out that even yoga-freaks like me are welcome. My sister (who accompanied me and is herself a Christian) found out about Volmoed when she went on a silent retreat there a while back, and when we discussed our burning desire to just take some time out after the madness of the festive season, she suggested that we go there. My initial feeling was one of slight trepidation, thinking that perhaps it would be too ‘full on’ and that there would be a bunch of Bible-bashers waiting to pounce on me and beat me into submission until I burnt my yoga mat and conceded defeat.
As it turned out, it was nothing of the sort – just a truly peaceful venue for individuals from all walks of life, for retreats, for family holidays or even conferences. It is silent, pristine, and has a very special energy about it, perhaps from all the people who go there to seek a bit of peace and downtime, and possibly to deepen their faith, whatever it may be. There is a lovely prayer hut up on a rocky buttress, there is a meditation grotto, and numerous other spots created specifically to invite one to take some time to just leave the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The thing that struck me most of all, upon reading some of the Christian meditations in the prayer hut in particular, was how clear it is that, whatever you call your faith, we are all looking for the same sort of thing – some sense of spiritual safety, belonging, meaning, protection, answers, explanations, acceptance, truth, a way forward. My sister and I have had a long and interesting tug-of-war since she decided (whilst at University) to become a reborn Christian and I decided to rather (continue to) find my own way (our parents are deeply spiritual people who nevertheless are atheists, and felt strongly that they would not advocate any religion but rather leave us to make up our own minds when we were capable of doing so). For a number of years, she was very sad for me that I didn’t see things the same way that she did (and I love her for that, because she has always just had my own best interests at heart) and I was deeply sceptical of the organised religion that she chose as her path. Perhaps it’s time that has mellowed us both, but we now are in a very comfortable place of mutual acceptance and respect – each to his own, with neither of us trying to proselytize to the other.
We were only there for two nights, but it felt like a week (and how I wish I could have stayed for at least two!). There were so many highlights: waking up early to do yoga on the lawn out the front of our cottage as the sun came up, and once again as the sun started to set and the sky was painted in beautiful shades of red, amber, orange, purple and blue; the peacock that came to visit us and eat our supply of muesli out of our hands; the huge troop of baboons that made their way past our cottage, scaring us half to death with their shrieking and squabbling; the 2 hour hike we did to the top of the mountain on the next door property, Camphill. The chance to catch up with my reading, to just spend time thinking, meditating in such a stunning environment, and of course catching up with my truly wonderful sister who has been around all my life and who I see regularly but now that children have come along, we somehow never seem to get more than a few snatched sentences between nappy changes and the inevitable chaos that surrounds small children. All in all, a magnificent and restorative weekend, hopefully to be repeated in the not-too-distant future.
About Volmoed (from the website www.volmoed.co.za): Tucked away in it’s own little valley within the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley lies a peaceful place called Volmoed. As the Onrust River makes it’s way from the heights of Babylon’s Toring through De Bos Dam it tumbles down into this little valley with a waterfall and lovely natural rock pool, setting the scene of tranquility and natural beauty that are the hallmarks of this Retreat and Conference Centre.
It all started in the early eighties when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra felt called to establish a place that would minister to people who felt shattered by their life’s experience. After sharing their vision and buoyed by the prayers of their supporters, they formed a Trust and moved onto the property in April 1986. The property has always been known as Volmoed (meaning full of courage and hope) and the previous owners asked that we please keep the name – and what more appropriate name for a place of healing and wholeness! The valley first came to prominence as a place of healing during the 18th century when a leper colony was established here, and more recently when Camphill (next door) opened its doors to the sufferers of Downes Syndrome.