It’s only on reflection that the irony of speeding heedlessly towards a mindfulness retreat becomes apparent to me. But at the time, I am oblivious. Instead, I derive a perverse satisfaction from honking at the driver who weasels their car in front of mine — despite my best efforts to cut them off — and grit my teeth as they give me a cursory ‘thank you’ wave. Stuck in traffic, my thoughts turn to mindfulness. While I wholly believe in its benefits — it’s hard to argue with neuroscience — I am somehow sceptical of it. Rather, I am sceptical of my ability to do it. Feeling trepidation bubble to the surface, I wonder what on earth I’ve got myself into.
As I jump out of the car at Billabong Retreat, the gravel crunches beneath my shoes, and I notice for the first time that I’m surrounded by lush greenery: towering red gums and shrubby banksia.
Aside from the chirping of birds, I’m met by silence — a rarity for a city-dweller such as myself — and I feel the sanctity of the place infiltrate me somehow, as though just being here has enabled me to divest a layer of tension.
Located just forty-five minutes from Sydney, Billabong Retreat attracts the whole gamut of clientele, from stressed-out urbanites that need a place to reconnect and refocus, to verifiable yogis whose very pores ooze tranquillity. In fact, this is one of the things that founder and owner of Billabong, Paul von Bergen, likes best about what he’s created; that he can bring people from such different walks of life together. “I love seeing the guests connect with one another,” he says. “At the end of the day, we are all just human, and when people are in an environment like this — where all the stress and pressure is taken away — they seem to really embrace that.