It’s 10am, and I’m lounging around in my PJs. This isn't that surprising – but I’m on a retreat.
I’ve not had to get up at dawn to salute the sun, force anything green down my throat, engage my abs, lift my pelvic floor, pretend to be a cobra, a cat, a dog or, thank the heavens, a Buddhist monk. Neither will I have to go on midday forest bathing walks, evening talks on mindfulness, or try to become my "best self".
In fact, all I’ve got planned for the next day and a half is… zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Diddly squat. Nada. Because this is no normal retreat – it’s a Do Fuck All Weekend, run by The Elbowroom Escape.
Four weeks earlier I’d been schlepping through a to-do list that would see me through this life and the next, when an old song by the crooner Bing Crosby floated out of the radio and stopped me in my tracks. “We’re busy doin’ nothin’/Workin’ the whole day through/Tryin’ to find lots of things not to do/We’re busy goin’ nowhere/Isn’t it just a crime…”
As far as words of wisdom go they’re hardly up there with Socrates and Aristotle, yet their inanity belied a fundamental truth I’d been ignoring for years: my body and my brain needed rest. What I wanted was to do nothing, yet the options offered by most wellness retreats ranged from the action-packed to the austere. I didn’t want self-improvement and I certainly didn’t want silence or fasting – just space and time away from the relentless daily grind.
That’s when Google threw The Elbowroom Escape’s website my way: “Are you wiped out, knackered or just plain fucked?” it asked. “Then join our Do Fuck All weekend.” Based in Donard, in Ireland's County Wicklow, the weekend offered forest walks I could do, mountains I could climb, bicycles I could borrow, and yoga if I asked for it. There was also a hot tub for soaking weary old limbs and a gin bar for weary old soaks, but what really sealed the deal was that blank itinerary.
Three Friday evenings later, there I was in the bewitching Glen of Imaal, meeting my co-do-nowters. Among our group was Jenny, a 32-year-old Steiner school teacher; Sarah, 36, a global account manager; Jacinta, a 60-year-old florist, who’d come with her grown-up daughters Becky and Lynsey; Annmarie, a 43-year-old psychology student; and 52-year-old me.
On the surface we were a disparate lot, yet over dinner (all meals are veggie, plentiful and delicious), gin and wine (guests can bring their own or buy it from the honesty bar), the one thing we all had in common came to the fore. We all said it in different ways and in different accents, but the message was loud and clear: we were all desperately in need of some free time.
“I’m terrible at doing nothing,” said Jenny. “I chose this because I wanted to have ‘nothing’ imposed on me. It’s like I need the validation that comes from finding a bona fide retreat that offers me a day devoid of to-do lists and having to be somewhere at certain times. It’s a total novelty to have an afternoon nap, or to sit around chatting.”
Annmarie came for the first time last year and is a convert. “It’s like a hug from granny. You’re surrounded by nature, which is healing in itself, but more than that it’s the people you meet. I wouldn’t claim to have made life-long friends, but I’ve felt totally at ease and totally accepted. Even sharing a room with someone I’ve never met before hasn’t been difficult. There’s no judgement – no, ‘How could you spend the whole day in bed?’ or ‘Is that your fourth gin?’”
For my part, I loved how good it felt to do (almost) nothing. I couldn’t resist the call of the forest and joined a few of the others on a gentle stroll through its thousand shades of emerald – but aside from that, I stayed at the house dozing in the hammock, sharing stories over cups of tea and playing on the swing.
Of course, time is precious and shouldn’t be squandered, but sometimes the most useful thing we can do with it is nothing. Far from being a waste, this retreat is an investment in my mental and physical health.
The Elbowroom Escape runs regular Do Fuck All Weekends throughout the year, from €250 for a three-day, two-night stay, full-board.
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