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Date: April 2014
Author: Lucie Rose
Title: Finding a Sense of Place in Paradise
Lucie Rose shares her experience of a recent adventure to Con Dao in Vietnam and breakthrough healing session with Katrina Love Senn.
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Article written by Lucie Rose French: American entrepreneur living in Paris, in love with Vietnamese food and travel.
I spent nearly three years pining for a heaven on earth I had once glimpsed at for a few fleeting minutes.
In January of 2011, I visited the Vietnamese archipelago of Con Dao, jutting out of the country’s southernmost waters. Something about this place had struck me: the blend of incredible nature, a haunting past, and the sight of normal people leading their everyday life, perhaps. What I couldn’t get out of my head, however, was a gem in luxury sustainable hospitality that had just opened its doors.
As a young business school student, the price of a villa (pure luxury indeed there are only villas, no rooms) for even a single night was unattainable. Nevertheless, I kept dreaming of the elegant wooden villas and peaceful bay I had seen, riding by on my rented motorbike.
After a few days of sightseeing and lounging around, it was time to leave for the mainland. Leaving Con Son Island, the main “hub” of Con Dao, I knew I would come back some day. I felt it. Paradise would wait for me, and it was right there, a village amidst turquoise waters and fishing boats.
Only three months after that first visit to Con Dao, my life experienced its first major twenty-something whirlwind (more would
come). After a good six years of college education in Paris, all of those spent with the same French boyfriend, I started my first full-time job in marketing for a top French cosmetics brand. I was boyfriend-free, having been left on the side of the road, so to speak, by e-mail while I was far away in Mexico on an amazing family trip to the picturesque towns of Puebla and Taxco. I had held it together during mother-daughter cooking classes and quaint dinners, surrounded by loved ones.
Back in Paris, single and swarmed with new responsibilities at work and as a full-time adult or so I thought I was both lost and elated. My reverie of Con Dao seemed far. I didn’t want to bring it up in my mind, associated as it was with past love. Somehow, though, I was constantly drawn back to pictures of the sea and cloudy skies over the busy and party-fueled months that followed.
Everything was spinning around me, and Con Dao was a mirage. Con Dao was still, through it all, where I imagined one day finding a sense of place.
Time flew by in Paris and I enjoyed my daily work. I had struggled with internships that left me unsatiated, feeling like something was missing. A few months in, developing makeup and colors seemed like the right place. Around the same time, I reconnected with a business school classmate I knew only vaguely. We chatted for hours, discussing our shared passion for food, pastry, and cooking knives. I also learned one of his childhood dreams, so far unlived, was to visit Vietnam.
I believe in fate, and in signs. Con Dao’s sleepy roads popped up into my mind. Was someone trying to tell me something?
As far as signs go, this was one of many, and we were engaged by July of 2012. Just like many children grow up hearing the same bedtime stories over and over again, relishing every new detail added as the weeks roll by, I spoke frequently of Con Dao. The sleepy town, luxurious jungle, eerily calm atmosphere.
Con Dao and my dream accommodations stayed planted firmly in my mind as 2012 and 2013 brought a new crop of career challenges. My job turned into a rut: I tried to evoke the need for new management and opportunities and was constantly met with the plea to “wait a few more months and things will change”. As it became a pile of disappointment, a constant nagging I had had for years came shouting back. Starting a new business had always been somewhat of a dream, left aside to learn the ropes in a large company. I finally felt this was the right time: I had a solid idea, developing high-end children’s amenities for luxury hospitality channels. I was young, unburdened by the stress of having to support a family. My fiancé prodded me and helped me think, re-think, and question every aspect of my concept, providing financial support along the way.
I leapt forward, quit my job, and managed to get married at the 7th District Mairie all by the end of 2012. As my husband and I set out on our new married life, we spent an increasing amount of time away from each other, both physically and in our minds. He works three hours south of Paris and only returns on weekend and for the odd meeting in the city. We were both obsessed by our professional projects, and moments together often perspired stress and tension.
We had another, larger, wedding ceremony with all our family and close friends. The weeks went by at a pace I couldn’t keep up with. Con Dao’s slow, leisurely lifestyle felt galaxies away.
Soon, Summer nights gave way to crisper Fall days, and a sense of looming settled in my heart. I started having doubts as to the long-term potential of the business model I had set up. Worst of all, my days were spent talking to myself in the home office I had set up in our bedroom, in our small yet cozy 400 square foot apartment. In my past career, days were spent gossiping and sharing newly uncovered information: who looked pregnant, who was about to resign, who was getting promoted. It was a never-ending conversation of high-school-level drama. Now, here I was, alone. I missed having a team to work with, yet thought better to hide the feeling. Panic started taking over, and my reaction was...to plan my honeymoon.
I was faced with the realization that having a business on my own just wasn’t for me. One dream down. What was I to do now? Go back to cosmetics? Marketing? The type of workplace I had been relieved to run away from?
My feeling of dread whenever I considered the coming months turned physical: I was plagued with bouts of hives several times a day.
Whenever I had a discussion involving the thematic of “So, what’s next for you?”, my arms and cheeks flared up. Talk about bothersome. During late night itchy hives sessions, I had a personal mantra in the form of mental pictures of my paradise island. Antihistamines were more effective for the red bumps and patches, but my imagination was well worth a Rescue Remedy.
I was counting down the days to Vietnam. This was more than a honeymoon. Con Dao was supposed to be the answer to all my issues, and that was my deepest hope. I had spent nearly three years wishing for a return to the island and an accompanying sense of peace. I could now feel how close it was, and how needed it was as well.
A few weeks later, after a lovely trip down Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, we were finally settled into our propeller plane enroute to Con Son airport. As the plane sped up and lifted us up and out above the sea for the hour-long ride, I was hit with more doubt.
What if I was disappointed, like realizing that a mirage is only just that? What if I didn’t find any answers to my career rut in the glistening waters? I downed my bottle of water and wrung my refreshing towel in anticipation.
My fears began to subside the moment we were met by the Six Senses team and drove along the scenic route the only route, actually towards our home for four days. The sun found a way out of the clouds and made the water glimmer in shades of green and blue, emeralds and sapphires as a welcome gift. It truly was a dream come true. We were shown our villa, a long awaited inside look at what I had fleetingly observed long ago. Settled into our room with stunning views of the waves rolling in, I began to feel my dread subside. A rare occurrence, I had a sense that this was where I was meant to be, at this specific moment. Now was my opportunity to turn this feeling into a fresh foot forward in the way I had been considering my next steps in life.
The Con Dao islands are laden with history and often a very harsh one. The sixteen-island archipelago was settled by the British in the early eighteenth century and given off to the French in the Treaty of Versailles (although the treaty failed to be held up). The French ended up controlling the islands mid-nineteenth century when they debuted their colonial rule over then-Indochina. Poulo Condore, as it was then called, was notorious for the torture that played out in the Indochina and Vietnam wars. Visitors to the main Con Son island today can witness the sheer horror of the “tiger cages”, prisons built by the French, and the Americans after them, where prisoners were kept in cramped cages, like dogs, often unshielded from the scorching heat and sunlight.
The archipelago today has a population of roughly five thousand, where military personnel mingle with shopkeepers and fishermen.
The town of Con Son is sprinkled with remnants of the war, a maze of sadly fascinating history. As a short-time dweller on the island, the slow pace comes as a welcome respite from the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City, only 143 miles away.
As calm as the town is, nothing beats retreating to a peaceful wooden villa to indulge in some homemade ice cream and fresh coconut juice.
Perusing through the various activities on offer at the resort during out stay, a blurb caught my eye. It introduced Katrina Love Senn, expert in natural healing and yoga. She would be the ‘featured’ healer at the property for a month, inviting guests to experience the vibrant techniques she employs for healing in all its forms. I am generally open to alternative forms of mind-body remedies, and decided to take a leap of faith and put my hive-riddled body and fear-laden mind in the able hands of Katrina. She does a lot of yoga admittedly not my thing and also helps those with weight loss issues, yet I felt she could also give me some much-needed insight on these other problems that were mine.
Katrina and I spoke before getting started, settling on a session that would involve light touches and discussion. She encouraged me to be playful and chatty during our interactions, which proved to be quite easy given her approachable character and fun personality. For ninety minutes, we worked through fear, dread, and anxiety using Katrina’s methods of speech and touch. Her background, an unsatisfied marketing professional who got in touch with a deeper and more spiritual self, gave her a unique understanding of my situation. Her insight and input was spot on, and she held my hand through realizations of where I wanted to go that ten sessions of therapy wouldn’t have helped with. As we plowed through, I took a deep breath in. Others often mention moments when everything around them feels inexplicably lighter and they are finally liberated from paralyzing anxiety. I used to be dubious, but I experienced just that.
In one breath, I let it all go, overwhelmed by a feeling of something flying out the window. Good riddance!
After the session ended, Katrina and I chatted some more and exchanged contact information. Her empathy and understanding had had a profound effect.
As I trotted back to my villa, everything around me seemed different. I was finally completely aware of my surroundings. Acceptance of myself as I really was totally lost and on a search to find out where I wanted to go next made it all of a sudden easier to appreciate the beauty that was absolutely everywhere. The jungle, backdrop to the setting sun, became alive with bird songs and rustling trees. The waves took on a musical quality, and the sand seemed smoother than ever. Being here held so much promise for the past few years, a true promise of a sense of place. What I never hoped for was a new beginning, born of the acceptance of the uncertainty of life.
You always hear to stop, take it all in, and smile. It isn’t always simple, even in your own personal paradise. It can take a helper. Once you’re there, though, starting anew gives you young eyes with which to admire the amazing world you’re in. Once you’ve taken it in, take a deep breath, and be grateful there’s a life of surprises ahead of you.
Entering the villa, I looked at my husband.
“I feel so much better”, I said.
He smiled, as if this is what he had been waiting for, for months. We looked out at the sea, shrouded in darkness, fishing boats twinkling in the distance. Beauty was definitely on the outside, all around us, and I now felt it was on the inside, too.
I was here, in Con Dao, and I knew I was truly in the right place. A paradise found, a dream fulfilled.