Jan 27, 2016

I can vividly remember the night that I won the experience at ARO HA – although at the time I was not sure I would  have called it a win. I was invited to Westpac’s Frocktails event, an end of year cocktail function for two
hundred of New Zealand’s most capable women.

John Kirwin and Samantha Hayes were the hosts that night, and part of their job was to pull twelve names out of this huge glass jar (for want of a better word) that was positioned on the stage.  Surprisingly, I was a winner – they had twelve prizes to give out (representing the Twelve Days of Christmas)  all wrapped in beautiful boxes and numbered. We simply went up as our name was called and picked a box.  Dreading the Liz Mitchell outfit (she’s another New Zealand fashion designer)  and equally ambivalent to the ARO HA  retreat, I cautiously picked – ARO HA it was. I left the stage feeling at little bit duped – I knew I would never carry this through as retreats just weren’t my thing.  For years I had watched my brother and his wife go to various retreats, and thought it was all too ‘hi de hi’ for me – the communal eating, the no alcohol and coffee, the planned days – did anyone seriously want to put themselves through this?

Eventually realising the  value of what I had received, I connected with ARO HA and asked if I could rain check until the following year – as always work was the priority, and I simply couldn’t see a gap in the coming summer months, and I certainly didn’t want to visit during winter as I’d  long since given up skiing,  because of my dislike of the cold and wet.

Finally, somewhere towards the end of 2015,  I knew I had to make some changes in my life – all this work was eroding everything that I knew was important. Whilst I pretended that I had the key to a good life, I knew that there had to be more.

I emailed to see if I could still take up the ARO HA opportunity – and the answer was a wonderful yes.  I booked, secured the flights, and thought little more about the pending retreat until the week I departed.  This week was a frenzy – what did the preparation email say? What do I need ? Given that my only form of exercise was Pilates, I was hardly likely to have the required hiking gear – so a quick trip to Katmandu (possibly the Glassons of the hiking world) and all I needed was secured for a pricey $500. Not so sure about the loud branding on everything, but as I didn’t intend to be in this space again, it was a moment  of ‘so let’s just get it over with – and the faster the better.’

I boarded the plane in Auckland after a huge week back at work, take to the kindle and read Donna Karan’s autobiography the whole flight down – unusual as I have so much work to complete and no knowledge of what awaited me regarding the digital offerings at ARO HA.

We arrive and I am met by Bruce, and with two enlisted others we jump into the Jeep to head  the thirty minutes to ARO HA – our home for the next 5 days. The place is STUNNING – locked into the hillside, overlooking the lake and  surrounded by majestic mountains. We tentatively enter (shoes off)  and after a delightful herbal tea and a leisurely welcome and introduction (accompanied by a plate of vegan snacks) we are taken to the spa where we are weighed, measured and our blood pressure taken. My normally low blood has taken to alarming new levels, and borders on one that needs to be reported (too high.)  Mental note to get this checked more regularly now that I am no longer 30.

We are taken to our minimalist designer, but incredibly comfortable rooms to prepare for the first hike – just a small two hour around the property – HMMMM ! This, I am later told,  is to sort the wheat from the chaff. I quickly become chaff as we climb hill after hill –  and think hell (literally) what have I done? I head back to a session of yoga and a divine dinner – this place is vegan and we are also  told we are in detox so the meals are light, all raw or dehydrated and absolutely delicious. It would have to be some of the most bountiful and tasty food I have ever encountered  and I know that I will love what this retreat has to offer – even if the hiking is a little daunting.

The morning arrives a quick email to the ARO HA team to let them know where I think my hiking imitations are, and I head for a 7am yoga class followed by  breakfast. The team connect with me, and convince me that this place is all about doing it at my pace, working out what I want to achieve, and they assure me there are options to modify the hike if I feel the need. Feeling a lot more comfortable, I tackle the smoothie that we are given as part of our communal breakfast – and wonder how this will sustain me all morning with the 13k hike to come. As breakfast ends we meet at the hiking room, equip up (snack and a radio)  and we are off.  We drive thirty minutes in the multi seated van, with the boys driving. The hike is moderately difficult but I manage most of it – but take the option to turn back rather than do a walk to the saddle.

With the completion of this day, doing 13kms on relatively steep inclines (something I never would have tackled,) my heart rate and some of the difficulties that I have had, show me that three days of Pilates is not enough, and now is the time to accept the offer to walk the dogs daily.  I also consider that the biking tour of Vietnam that we are contemplating is a real possibility.

The days travel fast,  they have a similar feel but the second day’s hike is considerably harder. The  mornings are Yoga and hiking, the afternoons are full with massage, yoga, pilates, cardio classes, time in the incredible spa, cooking demonstrations and other wonderful things.  I attend every class – surprisingly.

Yes, they have internet, but no cell coverage – so my nearest and dearest navigate Whatsapp should they need to converse by phone.

By the second day I have little interest in what is going on at work – the emails  all seem so irrelevant  (mental note to get the team to make more decisions) – my email is peppered with stuff that they simply had to resolve given there was no communication from me.

The  ARO HA team are divine, mostly male, all extremely cute and incredibly connected and caring, with just the right amount of push. Ladies  – these men are young and seriously good looking – they remind me of my  twenty five year old son, and work appears to be one big game of living a life they love, as the  group gets more and more familiar each day.

I guess I liken this place and the daily hikes (the difficult part for me)  to having a baby – I remember when I had my second child and the labour pain all seemed so manageable given I had such a wonderful result – it wasn’t! The hikes for me were similar each day – I’d set out thinking how bad can this be – and some were bad – but to complete them left me with an incredible high, and I woke up the next day ready to tackle a new expedition with nothing but good memories of the day before.

At 56 years of age I can truly say that this would rate up there as one of the best things that I have done for myself. 

I am still surprised that I was so compliant,  as were many others that came from strong leadership or ownership positions. All the pressures that time places on us were taken away – we had no idea what time it was or when we had to be somewhere  – this was all managed for us.

Almost in mockingjay format, an intercom system gave us a 10 minute and very gentle reminder that a class was about to start.  Seriously, I suggest it’s the only way for people like myself, who lead large teams and connect to some extremely capable leaders. To arrive, and trust that this process would get the many outcomes I sought was quite unique.

ARO HA  has created the fulcrum that was truly needed to balance my life – it reset my priorities, enabled me to really identify what is important to me, and what matters – and taught me how to truly be grateful for the life that I have, the days that I awake to each day. It showed me I can be more than the brand I have created.

They taught me a calm, a new way of eating, a new way of connecting, and mindfulness and appreciation of all  that is good about my life. I will be forever grateful for those five days  and that team of young men led by Damien. Yes, I am almost a kilogram lighter and have lost a few centimetres off my hips – but really there is so much more to ARO HA than fat farming – this place has redefined the way I will live my life for the next twenty years, God willing.

It doesn’t get much better than that!