I am one of life’s cynics, naturally sceptical, and untrusting of much of modern wellness. So, a retreat focused on self-improvement was always going to have to work hard. But, as we lay on the warm ground, surrounded by olive trees and the sweet-smelling air on our skin, after days of self-improvement workshops, I had to concede the trip had been life-changing.
It helps that Tapestry isn’t any old wellness company. The firm was founded by former-politico Maren Ashford, who was hired under David Cameron’s government to revamp the Tory party’s ailing image and is widely credited with replacing the Conservative torch logo with the tree, and Rosanna Ruff, who had a high-powered financial career, which took her to Singapore and then to the Morgan Stanley investment bank. These women have run with the fastest. They know what it means to be busy and to expect a lot.
Their paths first crossed in 2017, when Ashford and Ruff attended a women’s empowerment programme, but Tapestry wasn’t established until later – a “Covid baby” – when they hit upon what they wanted to tackle together: the issue of disconnect, from ourselves, each other and the planet.
Trained as coaches, the pair have devised a programme that combines neuroscience, mindfulness and art therapy, with the ultimate purpose of helping participants better understand themselves. A modest-sounding, but ultimately massive goal.
On the three-hour flight to Morocco, I was still a little unconvinced. I’d read the brochures, I was briefed on the top lines, but would it all be too much to wrap my head around? Especially in a few short days.
The first expectation-shattering moment was the location. The retreat was at Jnane Tamsna, on the outskirts of Marrakech, a hotel owned by Meryanne Loum-Martin and her husband Gary Martin (also phenomenally impressive individuals, she a former lawyer from Paris, he an expert botanist and conservationist from the US).
On a nine-acre plot of land, there are five villas, five swimming pools (some of which are saltwater) and a tennis court
To simply list its facilities does it a disservice. This is a magical oasis – the type of place you would fantasise about being transported, a dream location you mentally conjure up on the yoga mat when trying to bring about a sense of inner peace. You have to believe it to see it. The bright pink bougainvillaea draped over every surface, the towering palm trees, the bright colours of the buildings wrapped up by the expertly-landscaped gardens. There was even a tortoise marching around for good measure.
Even under uncharacteristically cloudy Moroccan skies, it was awe-inspiring. We sat on the roof and watched thunderstorms roll in, bolts of lightning darting through the night sky, ate delicious dinners on candle-lit banquet tables that stretched out under the vines (Loum-Martin is someone who understands the power of great lighting), and swam in the pools at dusk to the sound of the call to prayer ringing out across the city.
Their small walled world was a million miles from the fast-paced hustle and barter of the city’s fortified Medina just 5km away.
It was the ideal setting. If anywhere was going to bowl over my cynicism, it was here. The programme began by asking us about our values – who are you? What makes you… you? As someone who found this a difficult question to answer, the methods used by Ashford and Ruff were a revelation. They encouraged us to “blurt our intuition”, to just say what came to mind without overthinking it. They proffered reassurance – they do not have any of the answers, everything we need to know is within us, they’re just helping us tap into it.
As the hours passed, I increasingly believed them. The exercises we cycled through as a group – there was a combination of solo work, partnered periods and then whole-group discussions. Sharing intimate stories and information you were uncovering yourself – perhaps for the first time – felt natural, not forced.
We moved onto “mind mastery”, getting to know our “inner saboteurs and sages” – some of the language used is novel but all made sense as the building blocks of the programme fell into place – essentially these are our false selves that hold us back (saboteurs), and our greatest selves (sages), the ones we need to embrace and nurture.
The atmosphere created by Ashford and Ruff felt genuinely supportive – they were caring and attentive.
As time passed I noticed how a gradual and delicate rewiring of our mental pathways was taking place. We looked back at our lives so far, breaking them down into chunks and asking questions about the lessons learned before looking forward to the story we want to tell of our future selves. Where would we be in 15 years? 30 years? 45 perhaps?
In spite of forcing introspection on some of the less flattering parts of ourselves, or the more difficult chapters of our lives, the journey felt positive rather than a therapy-esque digging over old wounds.
The workshops covered a lot of ground but fitted together in a cohesive package. I went down rabbit holes I didn’t know I needed to, let alone wanted to, and came out with a much clearer vision of who I am as a person and where my life is heading.
In a modern environment of overwhelm, the space and guidance to get there was a gift. To not only step off the hamster wheel but find when you go back, the view from the treadmill looks slightly different.
Professor William James once said: “Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake.” Jnane Tamsna and the Tapestry retreat certainly woke me up.
Tapestry’s next Marrakech wellness retreat is in November 2023. To register interest and find out more about Tapestry’s range of offerings, with prices starting from £90, visit tapestrydesign.life
Jnane Tamsna is in the Palmeraie, just outside Marrakech’s Medina, jnanetamsna.com