The Gift of St Francis

How we eat determines how the world is used.

Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

GeoffPilgrimage280“Health is more than just the absence of disease,” holistic health practitioner and intuitive healer Anneliese Cowley insists. “It is an embracing of life. It is also about reconnecting mind and body and discovering your soul – the real you!”

She’s the Austrian-born founder of the St Francis Health Centre where unconditional love is recognised as being the best medicine of all.

It is here in the beautiful Kleinemonde Valley, near the coastal resort town of Port Alfred in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, that people from all over the world come to escape the stresses of everyday live, to detoxify body and mind, lose weight, stop smoking, learn to eat correctly or simply take time to get in touch with themselves.

It’s about making a life rather than a living. “Healthy living is a way of life,” she says. “By learning how to incorporate and balance a healthy and nutritious diet with exercise and relaxation each day, we function more effectively. Our lives become much less stressful, our relationships improve, and we gain a greater sense of control over our life and health.”

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Anneliese Cowley, founder of St Francis

I wholeheartedly agree, having made a pilgrimage to St Francis no fewer than nine times in the past 11 years. It helps me unwind and find the focus and clarity to face challenges ranging from summiting Mt Kilimanjaro, leading an overland expedition to Timbuktu or going from Petrolhead to Pilgrim, as I did during 2011 with my decision to walk with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth.

Here, in a safe and nurturing environment, I conquer fears and focus on my hopes and dreams.

I’ve once again made myself the gift of healing massages, steam baths, aqua aerobic classes and a gentle vegetarian cleansing diet as I prepare for what promises to be an exciting and intense year at Findhorn. A highlight is likely to be my support role for a global Findhorn gathering known as the New Story Summit: Inspiring Pathways for our Planetary Future. It will be a journey through inner and outer landscapes and now I feel refreshed and ready for whatever 2014 dishes up.

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Hanli Rautenbach and Nico Weeber

Homeopath Hanli Rautenbach says that St Francis is a place where we can step off the treadmill, stopping for a while in the way that all the ancient cultures did, especially with the onset of winter. It is a chance to rest the digestive system and then start again slowly and gently. “You can’t separate mind and body and this is an opportunity to enjoy some physical and emotional detoxification. It allows you to see life differently and make the changes you need to make.”

Part of my daily ritual involves walking the labyrinth at St Francis, the circuitous path having been likened to our journey through life. Unlike a maze which can be frustrating with its barriers and dead-ends, the labyrinth is an ancient tool of prayer and meditation that has no tricks, a single path guiding you to its centre and then out into the world again.

Of course, just as in life, some people attempt shortcuts without following the path, denying themselves valuable insights and inspirations.

Hanli’s husband Nico Weeber, a neuro-linguistic trainer and former minister of religion, explains: “Walking the labyrinth is a journey to the deepest part of yourself and then out again. On the way in it is an opportunity to let go, while in the centre there’s a chance for prayer, meditation and being in the Now.”

For me the walk out is always energising and I often experience greater clarity about whatever issues I’ve brought into the labyrinth.

GeoffPilgrimage283Always I wish that more people could have the healing benefits of a place like St Francis, perhaps also calling on healing modalities like shiatsu, reflexology, aromatherapy, acupuncture, cranio-sacral therapy and neuro-linguistic programming.

For many the greatest gift is a personal consultation with Mrs Cowley, who is blessed with an intuitive healing touch, her selfless work having taken her to such remote corners as the Andes in Ecuador, and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, before she established St Francis in South Africa 21 years ago.

The cornerstones of her philosophy are a nutritious diet, exercise and daily relaxation.

“We are what we digest,” she says. The detoxification diet is a healthy vegetarian diet that allows the gastro-intestinal system to have a rest, rejuvenate and start functioning better again, producing the right enzymes for digestion.

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The labyrinth is an ancient meditation tool

“Your first day is a liquid day which is not a starvation day as most people get more nutrition absorbed out of the vegetable broth, herbal teas and fruit juices than from a three-course meal which takes a lot of energy to chew and digest.

“Around 80% of energy produced by the food we eat goes back into digestion, so the better prepared the food is the more goes back into our cells,” she says.

Perhaps as important as what we eat is how we perceive the world, bringing fun, laughter and a sense of childlike wonder into it. “Attitude is the paintbrush of the mind – it colours any situation.”

A popular highlight for many is her guided colour meditation with all participants comfortably stretched out on mattresses, while she talks us through the chakras or energy centres in the body, filling the room with an atmosphere of love and caring.

GeoffPilgrimage285We’re invited to visualise ourselves in a bubble of light that’s safe like a mother’s womb, letting in only what’s needed and shielding us from anything that doesn’t serve us.

It’s all about unconditional love and that starts with loving ourselves. Her invitation is to: “Give yourself permission to love, respect and accept yourself just the way you are.”

Geoff Dalglish

Geoff also writes for Odyssey Magazine as their Earth Pilgrim At Large.

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