‘I was an unfulfilled lawyer. I listened to the wind and last year moved to Portugal’

Dublin woman Sarah Shannon on feeling wild and free in the Algarve

I first heard the phrase “the north wind” in the film Chocolat when the heroine describes hearing a stirring in the trees and a pick-up in the breeze. She knows then that it is the north wind telling her it is time to move.

I loved the concept and silently wished that I had a life guided by the wind taking me to new lands. Kind of like Pocahontas, another free-spirited woman.

I felt the north wind in the winter of 2021. I listened and it took me to Portugal

I have since discovered that the north wind is a real thing; it is an internal stirring, a feeling of discomfort and I have found ways to be guided by it. I felt the north wind in the winter of 2021. I listened and it took me to Portugal. I moved last year to set up my life and work in the Algarve.

Last September, I welcomed mainly Irish women for a five-night retreat. The venues here are stunning and I invite local healers, chefs and therapists to work with me on the retreats. I also run weekly yoga classes in the Algarve - on the beach in summer and in a studio during the winter. I found a lovely home near nature and I met a wonderful man - also an Irish person abroad.


I’ve learned that the north wind and the heart work together. They are always urging us along to find our highest path. At 31, I was a dissatisfied corporate lawyer working long hours in an Irish law firm. I felt the stir of the north wind and I went travelling on my ow, backpacking in Asia for a year. On this journey I learned ways to listen to my heart.

I started a simple practice of writing in a journal. At the back, I left one page blank and wrote at the top “Things That I Like”. If I noticed something I liked or was interested in, I wrote it down on this page. It was blank for the first few weeks. You might remember that I was an unfulfilled lawyer and I had used socialising to distract myself. I was embarrassed to put down “beers” or “parties” as the things that I liked, so the page remained blank until I could find something I felt I could put down.

The first word that appeared was yoga. It was followed by incense, spiritual books, nature, sea swimming and mantra music. The page was filling and I was beginning to see myself as a fascinating woman who had a lot of interests (and who also happened to love a beer and a party). The world was opening up and my interests took me all over Asia. I was going on extraordinary adventures; like when I went on a 10-day silent retreat in Malaysia and hiked up a volcano in Indonesia with torn runners and no hiking experience.

As a woman in my thirties, I had finally got to know myself. I had created a strong bond between me and my heart. We were fearless and we had got a taste of what it felt like to follow desires. I had also learned to get curious about discomfort and unsettling feelings, knowing they may be the north wind urging me to make a change.

Wild & Free is the name I give to the collection of spiritual tools and practices that I have gathered so far. My retreat here in the Algarve is a space for women to connect with themselves and each other. The tools are yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, journaling, sound healing, cacao ceremonies and simply gathering with other women.

These methods and practices helped me to find my purpose and create a life that I love. Most of the women who come on the retreat have done some yoga and are experiencing the other practices for the first time. This year I have women in their thirties to their sixties booked for the same retreat. There are seven retreats running from January to October ranging from three to five nights.

My tips for beginning to listen to your heart are: start a journal and write at the back the things that you like; make time to do some practice that gets you out of your head and into your heart, such as yoga or meditation; finally pay attention and get curious about things that your heart is pulling you towards. In my experience, my heart has never been wrong.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do