A once in a lifetime experience immersed in balinese culture with a supportive group of like minded women whilst exploring personal and collective symbolism, mythology and stories - heaven!
— Retreat participant, Australia

Early in 2017 Square the Circle headed to the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia to run a Retreat using what we've learnt and shared in London and New York. The island of Bali is a hugely creative place, and full of rich symbolism that permeates every day life for all balinese, through daily rituals and rich festivals that involve the whole village. We stayed at the Indies estate in Sanur, a tranquil, walled space, ideal for containing and nurturing participants. One participant wrote of the Indies:"quiet, containing, wonderful staff, pool, birds, trees - a safe space and just very beautiful"

The Retreat was developed and designed around the balinese festival of Nyepi, heralding in the New Year. Nyepi day is a day of silence and reflection, where the island is purified of all the difficulties and evils of the previous year, and starts again, renewed. During the day no one is allowed to leave home, cook or work, and no light is permitted, plunging the island into total darkness and silence at night. Even the airport is shut, and from above it appears as if the island of Bali has just disappeared. The stars and silence are incredible! The night before this special day is called Tawur Kesanga, when huge effigies called Ogoh Ogoh, built over months by the villagers of Bali, are paraded through the streets, turned three times at the cross roads to confuse the evil spirits, then taken for burning at the beach. It a richly symbolic and important part of the purification of the island. You can read more about Nyepi here.

DAY ONE: Welcome

We began the retreat on the first Friday evening with an introductory workshop to discuss our hopes and fears for the week, using collage images and free association. This was followed by welcome cocktails and dinner by the pool.

DAY TWO: Ceramics, symbols and the mind

Our first full day started with yoga then breakfast together by the pool, before setting off in the mini bus to Kerala ceramics factory, in order to get our clay work created in timing for firing and taking home at the end of the Retreat.We were wonderfully looked after by the team at Kerala, who had given up part of their festival holiday to work with us. Participants had a chance to learn turning pots on the wheels, and to scroffitto their own balinese box, supported and guided by the skilled and talented staff, and supplied with tea, water and cakes throughout the morning!

We then shared lunch together down by the beach, and headed back to the Indies. The first workshop in the afternoon explored what we think is meant by symbolism, followed by presentations on universal sacred symbolism and Jung's collective unconscious, and the importance of myth and stories. We then explored these ideas creatively using templates of The Mind. After a break for relaxation we reconvened in the workshop space for a workshop on the balinese festival of Nyepi, linked to Jung's theories of The Shadow. We were taking our own Ogoh Ogoh effigy to the balinese parade, and spent this workshop writing what our own personal demons are, and thinking about our shadow aspect. We wrote these on tissue paper and pasted them onto the Ogoh, as part of the symbolic burning and puriication of Nyepi later in the week. We finished the day with dinner together by the pool.

DAY THREE: The forest and Ogoh Ogoh creation

After breakfast, our first themed workshop explored ideas and symbolism around the Forest. You can view the images produced here.

After a break for lunch, massages and relaxation, we worked together to decorate our Ogoh Ooh and get him ready fo the big parade. We had drawn names of body parts out of a hat to decide who painted what, and worked in small teams. This was a very rewarding shared piece, very uniting and bonding. Two of the participants had added fantastic spikes to the Ogoh in the morning before the workshop and this really enhanced the work. We also watched the Indies team building the traditional bamboo platform on which we would carry the Ogoh Ogoh in the parade.Some of us continued to paint into the night after dinner!



DAY FOUR: The sea and the ceremony

Our thematic workshop today was The Sea, and we explored our symbols and feelings about this beautiful subject after yoga and breakfast by the pool. You can view the images produced here. After lunch we were taught how to make the exquisite offertory baskets by Nyoman, who runs the Indies Estate. These baskets are ubiquitous across the island - you will see them every day and everywhere, on the road outside houses and shops, down on the beach, and crowded onto shrines and in temples. They are daily offerings to the Gods, and larger versions are created for big festivals. We were making ours to take with us on the parade. Nyoman also taught us to tie a sarong properly, as we were wearing traditional dress in the parade and didn't want the sarong falling off in the night! After changing and an early supper, we set off into the evening, following our effigy on his bamboo platform. The night of Tawur Kesanga is like nothing else on earth. Almost the whole of Bali is out on the streets, with the oldest grandparent and the youngest child involved in some way - young men dancing, teenagers playing traditional music, and a team carrying the vast Ogoh Ogoh effigy built by the village. You can view video of the spectacle here. We had the very special and privileged chance of parading an Ogoh Ogoh, not something that Westerners usually do, and by special permission from our local Banjar (village Head). It was a truly amazing night an not your usual tourist event. We retired back to the Indies for celebratory drinks on one of the villa terraces by the pool - tired and inspired!

DAY FIVE: Home and silence

Today was Nyepi day, with a skeleton staff at the Indies, cold buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner as no one can cook, and we were confined to the villa -  a day of peace, reflection, reading and painting by the pool. The silence is incredible. There are no traffic noises, no police sirens, no noise from the street, just birds singing, dogs barking and cockerels crowing. The themed workshop in the morning was based around Home, and we carried out the creative element of the 3 hour workshop in complete silence. You can view the images of home here. We ate dinner early while we still had some light, then watched the night slip into total blackness - no ambient light from the street and no lights in the villas, just small torches to guide the path. It was a very intense and unusual experience for our modern way of living, and the stars were absolutely spectacular. It was a beautiful and special day.

DAY SIX: Mother, father, wood carving and Mount Agung

This morning's workshop, following yoga and breakfast, was themed around mother and father. You can view the images here. After the workshop we took a packed lunch straight onto the mini bus and headed up the east coast of Bali towards Ubud, the islands great artistic centre. We drove through rural villages, down bumpy tracks and grazing cows, to the wood carving centre set in the middle of waving rice paddies: it felt like being on an island in a swaying green sea. We had two hours of expert tuition on the basics of balinese mask carving, and were served tea and delicious deep fried plantain snacks, before heading off again up North to the more mountainous area of Bali, and the imposing and sacred volcano Mount Agung. We were the guest of a unique restaurant called Bali Asli, set amongst the rainforest, with a balcony facing breathtaking views of the volcano, where we drank cocktails, then were served a balinese feast, before the sleepy drive home through the villages and towns of east Bali.

DAY SEVEN: The shadow and shopping

After morning yoga and our usual shared breakfast by the pool, we explored the shadow in our themed workshop. You can view the images here. This was an intense shared experience, and the rest of the day participants could wander out into Sanur for lunch by the beach, some shopping, rest and relaxation. Everyone had a free massage included in the Retreat, so this was a good opportunity to book this in. We shared dinner together by the pool.

DAY EIGHT: Spirituality, purification and the palace

Today was another very special day. After a morning workshop around the theme of spirituality (view the images here), we set off up the west coast of Bali, heading for the sacred and exquisite temple of Puri Anya, an ancient 17th century balinese temple set right up against the volcano and nestled into the rainforest, full of scampering monkeys and birdsong. We were guests of the Crown Prince of Kerambitan, who arranged for us to take part in a traditional purification ceremony  in a quiet part of the temple, right in the jungle. This is not usually on offer to Westerners. It was very peaceful and magical. From here, we drove to the palace of Kerambitan, where we were welcomed like royalty by balinese dancers and musicians, and were the guests of the King at a feast of babi guling (spit roasted pig). We danced and watched the traditional trance dance, that was originally created at this palace. We were part of a true, Balinese experience.

DAY NINE: Endings

Everyone was slowly leaving for home throughout the day after yoga and breakfast. Our ceramic boxes arrived back, fired and complete, from Kerala, for everyone to take home, along with their wood carved mask and a portfolio of 19 very personal images, showing a journey through the symbols of life, and hopefully many memories of wonderful experiences and some new friends!

If you are interested in hearing more, or would like information about our Retreat next year, please e mail