A Journey back to belonging

Dedicated volunteer to our Journey programme Tugba Kirhan shares her inner journey to acceptance and belonging.

by Tugba Kirhan
Yoga instructor and ‘backrow’ Journey volunteer

A few years ago I was recommended a retreat centre in Devon called Embercombe. When I checked out their website I came across a programme called “The Journey” – a mysterious self leadership programme which everyone talks about but no one ever reveals the details of. As soon as I saw the words “connecting with yourself, connecting with nature” I needed no more convincing. 

I’d been in search of something for a while but I had no clue what that might be.  Soon after I discovered it was partly because I was barely tuned into myself. 

“I don’t even know who I am” I said as my teary eyes caught another pair of eyes in one of the early sharing circles. There was a subtle acknowledgement in the way he blinked looking at me. I felt bare and vulnerable yet heard. That was day one. 

One of the most outstanding aspects of Embercombe is the land. The lush, green hills, meadows, mature oat woodlands, fruit orchards, apple trees, a herb garden and a calm peaceful lake. You don’t need much to feel at peace when walking among those hundreds of ancient trees. On my first day, as I started exploring this gorgeous habitat I kept thinking about the questions that we were invited to contemplate about before we arrived. I was stuck and shocked that I had no answers.  As I thought more I got lost more. Why was it so hard? 

What is it that I most deeply love?
What are my most profound gifts?
What are my most important responsibilities?

All my life up until the Journey I always felt a hint of “Oh I don’t belong here” and “Why am I even here?” especially when I participated in programmes and events of this sort. Some of those were so brutal, they cut you open and brought out all your emotions and feelings that you’d conquered, and left you raw and vulnerable. My tendency and tactic was to sit at the back and wait for a reason and/or opportunity to say “I’m out of here”. 

Things were different at the Journey.  There was no pressure or obligation but a gentle or occasionally strong invitation which you could still choose to refuse. Apart from the obvious there was something else that took my attention. Again something I never felt or noticed at other programmes I partook. I was sure of it but I couldn’t quite place it until I slowly started to notice all of those tiny little details that had been put together. As I became more aware of the things I recognized the big efforts behind their assembly and the kind hearts who were making them happen. There were times when I felt like I was being held by a silky web of arms and hands softly and carefully as I was going deeper in my journey. One of the golden values in my life is trust. If I trust, I can give myself fully. In order to trust I first need to respect. And I have huge respect for Mac, his vision and kindness. I knew I was in safe hands, and I could trust the process and follow the trail to see where it’d take me.  

Another thing that makes the Journey so special is the mystery of it, the unknown. The content of the week unfolds as you go. It’s structured very carefully and logically and while it takes you deeper and deeper, it never leaves you there. It guides you to find your way up by your own intuition in your own time.  Each step, each experience is also a preparation for the next one! When you don’t know what will come next you let go of any anticipation or expectation. It really is an opportunity to let go of the controlled and programmed mind and have time and space to practice just “being”. What a gift.

On a very personal level what surprised me particularly about my own journey was that the issues that I thought would come up never even crossed my mind. You know the ones which you’re fed up with thinking and feeling and hurting but still can’t free yourself from despite the rational and analytical thinking and all those efforts of healing. Sometimes we are so trapped in this limited view and version of our lives and selves that we can’t see the horizon. So one of my breakthroughs was seeing the bigger picture of my own life, seeing my world and the world at large from many other perspectives, and as a result things started to make more sense in life. In my self exploration there I started to find the missing and neglected pieces of myself; I rediscovered my spirituality, I recognized my ancestral denial and found a deep sense of belonging as I found my Shamanic roots. Then again during the Journey that fragile woman who was lost inside her own body discovered another side to her – a resilient and empowered woman who had never found enough room to come out. By the end of the week I started to find myself and, more importantly, accept myself as I am. I felt belonged. 

I’ve been to many other places and countries since my journey but I keep going back to Embercombe. I find so much wisdom, love and kindness on the land, and in the people there, that I’m called to go back whenever there’s an opportunity. Two years on and now I have found some answers to the questions that I was invited to think of. I now recognise my most profound gifts, I’ve found my purpose in life and I know what it is that I deeply love in life.