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Samm Short is one of those women that really has brought love and light to the world. The owner, founder and visionary behind Riverheart Retreats, she lives a lifestyle that appears to have and give it all. Yet like most people who appear to have such an enviable life, she’s worked hard to find herself here, and in the process not only grown and changed herself, but helped the people and places around her grow.
After the death of her grandfather a couple of years ago, she found herself with a deep desire to reconnect with her heritage and creative practice. After stumbling across The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, she began ‘a process of creative recovery, which led me to India to study yoga and meditation; which had me taking up jazz piano, starting a sculpture course, abandoning my fledgling copywriting business and pouring my heart and soul into setting up creative writing workshops instead. At the time I was still too unsure of myself to call myself an artist, but I slowly started to peel away the layers of doubt and self-restriction that had been building up over the years in my attempt to be a 'responsible' human being.’
Cameron refers to creative joy as being synonymous with the essence of life itself, and this is something that Samm has found. Her own spiritual and personal journey has been grounded in creativity, and so she sought to bring the same to others. ‘I saw a vision of a space in nature, where family members could come together to rest and repair; where they could engage in nurturing activities together and individually that would help them reconnect with themselves and each other, that would give them the tools to flourish back at home as a more happy, open unit.’
This was where the first dream of Riverheart came from - a space where the creative and healing arts could be allowed to thrive and shared with everyone. Not far from Malaga Airport, and nearby the old town of Coin, the space is beautiful. Waterfalls, mountain trails, lakes, space to get lost, enormous trees, giant ferns down in the river, and ‘the sense of nature in all its abundant glory. Flowers here are huge and vibrant, the birds sing constantly and there are so many butterflies it's hard not to bump into them!’
The centre is home to yoga, arts, painting, creative writing, tai chi and meditation and healing space, and much has only been possible by the support of other passionate individuals – not least Sam’s parents.
As she explains, ‘I've come to believe that the most beautiful and powerful things are created when each person involved works only from their heart, doing what they love the most. An action born of love can only create more love - just as an action born of fear or one of its counterparts - anxiety, doubt, loathing, etc - can only ever create more fear.
‘So it felt absolutely essential in the planning and visioning of Riverheart that it be founded on a group of people coming together to share their time and love - this is easier said than done when it comes to budgets, time planning etc - old patterns of fear and anxiety can so easily creep in unobserved. Fortunately I am blessed to have a partner who reminds me when I start slipping into these self-limiting patterns and beliefs, and so far the ethos is proving true - in the course of opening our doors to anyone who wanted to come and help us clear and create this place in exchange for yoga, meditation and food, we've met some wonderful people, and deepened existing friendships.
‘It's been the beginnings of a sense of real community here, one that spans time and distance - one of the loveliest things people say when they leave is that Riverheart will always be a home for them, and I honestly can't think of anything better than that.’
One of the clear manifestations of this connection and love is the Asya programme. As well as keeping prices low, offering a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets, running a work exchange programme for people wanting to offer a few hours a day on retreat in exchange for a reduced fee, they have recently t up the Asya Programme. This is a bursary scheme whereby where Riverheart offer a free place on each retreat to anyone who is struggling, physically or emotionally, who would benefit from being part of a healing community for a few days but wouldn't normally be able to afford it.
So what’s special about Riverheart compared to other retreats? It’s the passion and love.
‘We live here, this is our home. We are invested in creating a space that is nurturing and heartfelt for everyone who spends time here, and the teachers we invite in are those we know and trust - the people we would most like to learn from ourselves. In the beginning of my journey many years ago, I stumbled across a realisation that I've held close ever since - that the only thing that really matters in this life, is to give and receive love. That's it. All practices point to this same truth for me, and the dropping out of the headspace and into the heartspace is integral to this, and to everything we now practice and teach at Riverheart.’