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Live Your List - Unplugged in Cambodia

With her boys finished school and embarking on their adult lives, this Whitebridge business development director knew she wanted to leave Canberra. However, she felt a bit directionless. Her only certainty was she wanted a sabbatical to consider her next stage of life.


While doing some internet research, one place kept coming up. So, following her gut instinct, she signed up for a two-month yoga and meditation retreat. Leaping to explore the unknown had seen her leave Wisconsin, then Texas to relocate to Sydney.

In October 2016, Leslie Peters boarded a plane for Cambodia with some trepidation, as she had never travelled alone in Asia. Now, she was about to embark on a three-month stay, which included the retreat at the Vagabond Temple in the coastal city of Sihanoukville. Leslie’s time at Vagabond Temple changed her perspective on life.

"In hindsight, it was a true midlife crisis. I was an empty nester with the freedom to go anywhere or do anything, but what and where? I realised I didn't need too much, and what mattered were my boys, friends and family," says Leslie.

One of eight people on the two-month program, Leslie described it as "confronting, super tough, and fantastic".

"Here I was - in my 50s, sharing a room with a 30-something bloke and other random people. It was basic accommodation with rats and stinky toilets."

Her days were structured, with a two-hour yoga session at 6.30am followed by breakfast, karma work (cleaning), lunch, free time, course work, more yoga, dinner, meditation, and finished by 8pm.

For the retreat's duration, they mostly needed to stay within the Temple's confines and accommodation. Although, once every two weeks they could go out and visit the beach in their free time.

With mobile reception limited, Leslie’s contact with her sons was restricted to a patchy call twice a week.

"I was really unplugged, and it was wonderful to have the downtime. There was no television, only books. I hadn't realised how exhausted I was. I slept from 8.30pm until 6.30am and often had an afternoon nap. After constantly being busy - raising the kids and working - I slowed down, rested, and rejuvenated."

In slowing down, she pared back, released a lot of ego and realised she was caught up in the wrong stuff.

"In Cambodia, life is simple. Three generations lived together in a tiny tin shed next door to the Temple. They had little and were happy – I found it amazing. It struck me that people can have little and be happy, kind and beautiful."

Leslie and a fellow student decided to explore the local region on their days off. Her favourite was Koh Rong Sanloem Island. So captivated, they returned after the retreat.

"It was amazing with the most pristine beach, only four places to stay, and two places to eat. The water was crystal clear with no junk in it, unlike so many Cambodian beaches. You could meditate on the beach, and no one would walk by or disturb you. It was so serene."

Landing back in Australia on Christmas Eve, she was excited to see her sons.

"It was phenomenal; I had really missed them. And it was lovely how our relationship had matured. My sons realised I had challenges and needs and was not just mum."

As a child, Leslie travelled a lot with her family. Her favourites were the river rafting down the Grand Canyon, spring breaks in Florida with her grandparents and seven months in Europe.

She continued to explore the world as an adult, with one memorable trip to Egypt. As for other bucket-list activities, one significant tick was studying to be a yoga teacher, which led her to live in Newcastle.

She wants to continue to travel; see more of the Australian coast, Morocco and Turkey.

"My sister, who lives in Utah, and I hope to travel together next year. With Nick playing rugby in France, we plan to catch up with him, then do either Morocco or Turkey."


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