How a life-changing retreat transformed this 60-year-old’s life

Seven visitors sat on the front steps of Kalukanda House huddled together smiling.
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Are you burned out? Feeling the need for change?

After a life-changing retreat to Kalukanda House, Harriet Forde turned 60 and ditched her 36-year career in interior design for an exploration of food and a more holistic lifestyle. We spoke to her about the transformational journey, and about the retreat. And now we want to go too.

Do you even know who you are anymore?

The emotional fallout over the last few years has made a retreat from the fast pace and crushing pressure of the ever-growing, extremely demanding, corporate world particularly appealing. But knowing whether to alter your actual career can be difficult to figure out.

The career change is something that had been brewing for a long time

Your identity may be rooted in a working environment if you have been in one line of work for many years. Discovering who you are, without that foundation, may seem daunting and make it harder to know when to move on.

Harriet Forde is an interior and textile designer, mother of two, wife, and founder of Harriet Forde Design. Approaching 60, Harriet felt that she was ready for change. But it was her stay at Kalukanda House that truly allowed space for reflection. And gave her a clearer perspective on the way forward.

“The career change is something that had been brewing for a long time,” she says. “Staying at Kalukunda house reinforced the need to let go of the old and create space for the new.”

Harriet’s experience

A portrait photograph of Harriet Forde, with her plaited and a flower at the end, wearing a white shirt, with greenery in the background.

Harriet Forde

While being a successful entrepreneur, Harriet has always enjoyed the moments of “me time” she has got from cooking, yoga, travelling, massage, meditation and reading. Yet it was her experience at this retreat that was the pivotal moment in her journey to her new career in food and nutrition.

She described the retreat as “perfectly put together,” and great for those who need some time out to be surrounded by like-minded creatives. Harriet explained that each activity had its benefits: “Doing yoga every day was definitely a plus for my body – I loved the stretch! The gong bath and cacao ceremony are still clearly in my mind seven months later. The massage was amazing too… I knew I needed this week of unapologetic devotion to my body.”

Harriet explained she took part in the Journey to the Heart retreat because it called to her and everything she craved. She had no nerves when embarking on this journey because she had so much faith in the people and the process. She knew one of the founders, Dee Gibson, and decided it was the right call for her.

“Dee described the programme and I felt it chime with me. I needed time out, and to be surrounded by like-minded creatives.  I have done several retreats before and so I had an idea about what works for me – this looked like it would.”

She described Dee as a good person and a top host for the retreat. Harriet recommends the experiences to all travellers, especially solo ones.

“I knew I needed this week of unapologetic devotion to my body.”

Ultimately, it is simple. The space gave her time to breathe, away from the chaos and emotional turmoil the past through years have put us through. The healing and revelations that came from Kalukanda House, and all that it has to offer and nurture, finally gave her the momentum she needed to plan her new ventures with the Slow Food movement.

Woman sat on the beach at sunset looking out to sea resting her hand on her chin.

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What is Kalukanda House?

Dee Gibson walking through the grounds of Kalukanda House.

Founder, Dee Gibson

Sri Lanka is a well-known hotspot for beautiful beaches to relax and unwind on, which can make it a rather busy destination. However, if you travel south to the sandy coast of Weligama, you will uncover many hidden gems, such as the shallow coral reefs, the prized Taprobane Island, and Kalukanda House.

Consciously crafted, Kalukanda House blends the magical effects of design and travel to enhance emotional wellbeing. It is home to the six-day Journey to the Heart residential retreat founded by Dee Gibson and her co-host Sala Watura. Dee describes it as an exclusive luxury villa surrounded by peaceful beaches designed for you to indulge in the delights of slow living and “experience the creative, spiritual and healing beauty of Sri Lanka.”

The designers have created decadent rooms to “nourish your heart and soul.” The handcrafted beds, fluffy pillows, organic toiletries, and deluxe power showers emphasise the importance of rest and rejuvenation while supporting local craftspeople. Every morning you can open the hand-carved shutters to reveal a jungle garden bursting with song and endemic wildlife.

The yoga shala and pool are great areas to uplift your spirit through exercise, conversation, or daydreaming, set against blue sky and palm trees or candle-lit dusk. The landscape is a slice of paradise, watched over by an ancient (some may say magical!) Bodhi Tree. It is a safe space in which to lose yourself, and a place where you ultimately find a deeper sense of who you want to become.

Visitors relaxing by the pool at Kalukanda House with drinks.

Relaxing at the pool at Kalukanda House

What happens at the retreat?

They apply a personally tailored program to dedicate your day to individual healing and guided wellness practices. You will be part of an intimate group of six to eight women. This will help you to find comfort, strength, and security during uncertain times. As you take part in consultations with wellness practitioners and engage in yoga, meditation, and body treatments, the aim is to listen to your inner silence to unlock your highest potential and find a new grounding for the new challenges ahead of you.

“It is a safe space in which to lose yourself, and a place where you ultimately find a deeper sense of who you want to become.”

You will spend your mornings engaging in yoga, meditation, and breathwork, followed by breakfast. Afterwards, they encourage you to converse, journal, and reflect with the others. You then have some downtime to explore the village via the abundance of tuk-tuks, or surf and scuba with trained professionals. Then it is time for lunch, freshly prepared by the on-site chef using locally sourced ingredients.

Your afternoons are spent having a massage or ayurvedic consultation, followed by a gong bath, cacoa ceremony, or reiki. Then there is time for more meditation and finally dinner, drinks, and snacks. It truly is the most luxurious dip into experimental travel.

Three women doing yoga in the yoga shall at Kalukanda House.

Yoga at Kalukanda House

How have things changed for Harriet?

In the spirit of taking each day as it comes, Harriet’s new plan is ever-evolving. Which, at the age of 60, she is delighted about. After taking a deep dive into herself and reconnecting her head with her heart, Harriet realised she needed a complete break from her old career in interior design to give space for the new.

“I have continued experimenting in my own kitchen with food, fermentation, and foraging. I have completed a short writing course with producing copy in mind. As well as this, I have joined the Slow Food movement and looked into a variety of NGO organisations in the UK to do with sustainability and food education to see what chimes with me.”

And, inspired by the vast array of delicious meals she enjoyed in Sri Lanka, Harriet has joined the ZOE nutrition programme. This has allowed her to better understand how what she eats, affects her body. Which will maintain the wellbeing she gained from her time at Kalukanda House.

Harriet’s essentials for the trip of a lifetime

We will leave it up to you to pack the basics. But here are a few extras you may not think of:

  • Noise cancelling headphones for the plane journey
  • An inspiring book
  • An idea for a piece of jewellery to be made in Galle
  • A set of very open senses – “the smells, tastes, and sounds of Sri Lanka need to be soaked up.”
Kalukanda House and pool lit up at night.

Kalukanda House at night

If you are looking to make a positive social impact, here are some more details…

Journey to the Heart December 2023

Register here:

Special inaugural retreat only price of $412 (per person)

Private room – $520 (per person)

Twin room – $260 (per person)

Note: $50 per guest is donated to a local charity empowering women and girls

Read all about it

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About Beth Pratt
Beth is one of Silver’s interns. She loves reading and studying literature. Entering her final year of university, Beth still finds time to dance, swim, and have a pint with friends. Her favourite hobby is going to coffee shops, if you can call it a hobby!

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