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“And catch the heart off guard and blow it open”  (from Postscript by Seamus Heaney)

 Even mediators need a break. And that was before Covid-19.

A ‘retreat’ has connotations of organised religion, but in Ireland there is a rich tradition of spirituality, of connecting with nature, of ‘going with the flow’, that existed before Christianity. Our mediators’ retreat was based on this idea, and happened at the end of February just as the pandemic was starting to take off.

Re-nourishing, reflecting, being physical mindful, finding time for oneself away from work and family responsibilities all play a part in making you more resilient and better able to be there for others. How many in the caring professions never make time for themselves …… and end up with burn-out?

The idea for such a retreat developed from conversations with a great friend of mine, Eamon, who is both an architect by profession and a wonderful painter by calling. He also owns a house that he rebuilt from some farm buildings in Mayo, on the Wild Atlantic Way, in the far west of Ireland. To say it rains there is the epitome of understatement, next stop literally is America, and you can see beyond the cliffs towards Sligo Bay. Remote it is, and also full of history, both ancient and more recent.

We were treated to some of this history by local historian, Steve, who arrived in full military uniform from the 18th century, and taught us the dark arts of firing a musket…. which he later demonstrated in the back field. Our discussion brought forth many metaphors linked to musketry – keeping your powder dry, biting the bullet, lock stock and barrel, staring down a barrel, half-cocked and so on.

An afternoon of painting was strangely liberating and very different to painting classes in school. Concentrating on painting, on the techniques that Eamon showed us, meant that nothing else could enter the mind. Our discussions about creativity opened up lots of possibilities for ways to help clients in conflict to imagine different ways to reach good outcomes.

Apart from dinner in a local castle and traditional music in a crowded, jovial pub there were walks in the clean, fresh air with only birdsong to distract us. The few people we met stopped to chat, and to consider when the rain might re-appear. Everything slowed down. Everyone was calm.

People on the retreat had come from London, Brighton, Switzerland, Dublin and Tipperary. Trees had to be planted to offset carbon, and this was done with gusto. Latest reports are that the trees are doing well in the salty breezes and age-old soil. Heaney’s poem, Digging, was read aloud and a few acapella songs were sung.

We all left, reluctantly, with a feeling of warmth, of appreciation for each other, and the rejuvenating power of nature and creativity. In returning to the real world, we felt renewed and ready. We also had, using Wordsworth’s imagery, something to flash upon that inward eye, if we ever needed it.

To see some of Eamon’s paintings: