The recipe for Madre Tierra Retreat began brewing in 2011 when I visited The Hostel in the Forest in Brunswick, GA for the first time. I caught my first glimpse of the fundamental benefits of community living in a natural and ecological environment. The hostel became my safe haven, a place where I felt free and empowered, a place that allowed me to explore myself and relationships with others. I continued to visit this magical hostel year after year without knowing where it would lead me.
After completing my Master's in Art Therapy degree in 2015, I went out into the field as an art therapist. Lets just say it was a lot. I started running weekly groups at an eating disorder clinic, drug addiction rehab center, retirement home, and homeless shelter while working part-time in hospice and juggling 3 private practice clients all at the same time. What happened next was inevitable, I burnt out. I knew there had to be a different way of doing my work. I had found my passion, now I just had to figure out how to practice art therapy in a way that was fulfilling to me.
The hustle and bustle and grind of the city life just wasn’t working for me, so I decided to take a couple of days off to do some volunteer work and soul searching at the Hostel in the Forest. A talented hula hoop and yoga instructor named Katie AKA Pinto was managing at the time, and my job was to clear the hostel’s labyrinth which was made of leaves, earth, and rocks with a big beautiful “giving tree” in the center. The idea is that you ask the universe a question before entering the labyrinth, and hopefully find an answer when arriving to the center. I had none of this in mind, I was just doing my job. As the raking began, so did the soul searching. I spent two full days clearing the paths of the labyrinth, which took me about 10-12 hours total. As I arrived to the center, I plopped down next to the tree, and that’s when it hit me. I was to quit my job and go live somewhere in nature, and I was to create a wellness retreat.
When I got back to Miami, I did just that. I quit my job, cancelled all my contracts, and I moved to an organic farm hostel in the the Sierra de Santa Marta in Colombia where I hosted my first Madre Tierra Retreat. My intention was, and still is to offer eco-getaways in which people take a break from daily routine to quiet their mind, connect with nature, and tap into their inner peace. Madre Tierra continues to flourish and grow by providing a safe space which promotes well-being and self-care though various alternative, holistic, and expressive therapy teachings. Basically, Madre Tierra is what I so desperately needed before I burnt out, and what I believe many others need too. Next year, we will be hosting our 4th annual Madre Tierra Retreat, and although this project hasn’t completely become my bread and butter yet, it is my passion and soul. Madre Tierra continues to inspire and change people’s lives, and this is what makes Madre Tierra my most beautiful, fulfilling, and authentic creation yet.
-Ella Raphaelle Dufrene
Founder of Lila Art Therapy and Madre Tierra Retreat