In December 2018, retired Cape Town businessman, Hugh Winter, was thrilled at last to take transfer of the property he had bought in Betty’s Bay. It had belonged to the family of his son-in-law since the 1930s, one of the earliest homes in the village, and consequently held special significance for them all.
During the first week in January 2019, before he had even moved in, it was burnt to the ground. Not only was the house reduced to ashes, along with approximately 40 other properties in the Kogelberg fire storm, but also the pristine indigenous garden straddling 6 stands, from Clarence Drive to the ocean. The family was devastated. All Hugh’s plans for a peaceful retirement had literally gone up in smoke.
This was not the first occasion within a relatively short space of time that he had been faced with the challenge of starting over. When his wife of 40 years passed away after a protracted illness, it had felt as if the entire structure of his life had collapsed. He neither knew exactly who he was or where he was going; he was completely out of touch with his feelings.
Accepting an invitation from friends in India, he struggled to find a new path to the future. During his professional life, he had lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong and had therefore been exposed to a non-Western way of life. Yogic philosophies, developed over centuries, introduced him to the importance of self-awareness and achieving balance between the physical, cognitive and spiritual aspects of life.
“Amongst other things that I learned from the ancient sages,” he says, “was that events don’t happen randomly and no matter what crises might befall us, the core of who we are is unique and enduring. In fact, there are many ways of living, and the best path is the one where the choices we make achieve the greatest balance in our lives.”
Still mulling over these new insights, Hugh returned to South Africa, not yet sure how he was going to occupy himself. Then he was taken to see the Betty’s Bay property, and he fell instantly in love with it. He knew with absolute clarity that this was where he wanted to be.
Which is why the fire came as such a shattering blow. Just as he thought he had found the beginning of a new path, it seemed to have closed itself off to him. However, he decided that the property was worth saving and he was going to rebuild it. “So for the next year or so, I became a builder,” he says. “That was what I focused on, and the fact that I could shape this space around my values and needs. The buildings should be simple and functional and the emphasis had to be on conserving the beauty of the natural environment.”
And that is how the Conservancy came into being. Miraculously, the rich diversity of fynbos that had been there before the conflagration re-emerged and with the help of a landscape gardener, all Hugh did was to shape the garden and clean up the three small perennial streams that flow through the property to the sea. He planted new trees and built ponds and dams and pathways down to the rock pools at the bottom of the garden, and the birds and the frogs and the porcupines and the mongooses came. Hugh estimates that about 55 bird species regularly visit his garden.
“I had begun to notice that people were so caught up in the worlds of electronic gadgetry and materialism that they had become estranged from nature altogether. Actually, it’s not just that they had lost touch with nature, it’s that they no longer understood that they were part of nature, its rhythms and cycles, death and rebirth and the movement of sun, moon and stars. In fact, they had cut themselves off from an important aspect of what makes us human.”
With this in mind, he felt driven to create a sanctuary conducive to contemplation and meditation. In it he built a self-catering cottage for those with a thirst for peace and renewal, as well as a yoga studio, with huge windows facing the garden and the sea. Although Hugh had been practising the yogic asanas for many years and had even taught informally, he has recently completed a formal yoga teacher training course and is hoping to start yoga classes in earnest next year.
The studio is called the Five Petals Yoga Centre. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eight steps, or lotus petals, provide an holistic blueprint for living a meaningful and purposeful life. Hugh calls it the art of being human.
And this is at the core of the personal life coaching he does. He makes the point, though, that the role of the coach is simply to act as a guide and to create a safe and non-threatening environment in which the individual works towards greater self-awareness and understanding. Getting to recognise the values that shape our lives and the goals towards which we strive are the responsibility of each one entering this journey of self-discovery.
“As a coach, I can help to uncover personal insights; and as a mentor, offer suggestions and facilitate lifestyle balance. But it is up to individuals themselves to do the work; they have to want to find their own pathway. And it is never a quick fix; it’s a process. The good stuff takes time, but a growth in confidence and energy is always its own reward.”
For more information, Hugh can be contacted on email@example.com or 083 2254169.