Meet Elshadai, a Black expat from Ethiopia who has created mindful retreats in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Elshadai invites many across the diaspora to experience the ‘bliss state’ and reconsider what else luxury could mean.

Once meeting Elshadai on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, I was impressed by their ability to create a life that seemed worlds apart from their previous reality in DC. One of the first questions Elshadai asked me was if I knew about the history of Puerto Viejo. They were ready to fill me in if I did not.

Having learned more about The Intuition School and Elshadai’s commitment to respecting the land and local livelihood, it now seems less surprising. The relationship and respect between the Jamaicans and the Indigenous of the land is something that they widely speak about. Six months later, we sit down to discuss how it has blossomed into something truly unlike other retreat spaces. This is what to expect from a community-centered, mindful retreat in Puerto Viejo for Black bodies.

Related: The Black Expat: I Moved Out Of The U.S. And Have Been Living In The Tropics for 6+ Years

Tell us about yourself

Courtesy of The Intuition School

My name is Elshadai, my friends call me El. I’m of Ethiopian descendency. I was born and raised in the United States in the DC area. About two years ago, I moved to Costa Rica and it’s been a transformative experience here. It’s changed so much of who I am and it’s developed so much of who I am. Primarily one of the biggest changes is that I identified as an educator, a high school teacher, and I’ve kept that label as an educator, but I’ve transitioned into more of my meditative practice. I have always been an educator while working as a high school teacher and it feels good that it has maintained. 

Why did you choose Puerto Viejo?

How do you care for your Highest? 🥰✨💅🏽 #spiritualretreats #meditationforbeginners #spiritualblackgirls

♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

I wanted to be my full self, fully Black and fully non-binary, and invite my Black non-binary friends. I searched the world trying to figure out which community was ready for all of me and ended up with a short list. There were three options, but weird coincidences knocked out the other two. I was actually trying to buy a flight to Bahia in Brasil, and it was the morning of the Great Conjunction in 2021 and the flight sold out as I was pressing “Confirm.” The other was Havana, Cuba and the borders closed. I’m thankful for closed doors.

When I got to Puerto Viejo, I realized quickly that it is magical. I’m thankful to the Afro-local and indigenous communities who have, for generations, nurtured healthy relationships with the natural world here. Since, we’ve been working to become an activation site. As we learn how to step into the Oneness of this space, we activate and illuminate ourselves, each other, and all other natural life.

And when I arrived, I began to wonder if I came across as an asylum seeker. I didn’t realize how difficult in my previous life it was to access my basic needs. I thought that way was the only option. Honestly, I still haven’t come to a conclusion on that.  

What was your relationship like with retreats before deciding to curate your own?

Courtesy of The Intuition School

So when I want something I generally put a lot of effort towards it. However because of the strength of my intuition, I have learned how important it is to be guided by my divine feminine spirit first, and then move into divine masculine, aligned action. And so because of that, I’ve learned the importance of the loudness of my spirit, my intuition to make sure that any steps that I take are guided, and one of the ways that I had to learn that was through the power of intentional rest, mindful rest actually. I want to call it mindful rest. And mindful rest began to unlock a lot for me. It activated a lot inside of me, and it became the way that I would bond with my spirit and with my intuition. Mindful, natural, luxurious rest, you know? I began to understand that my spirit’s preference was mindful, intentional, naturally luxurious rest. She taught me what she wanted and it went from there.

How do you go about creating your retreats in the way that you do?

we cant wait to host you 🥰 grab your spot by signing up for an interest call! #meditationretreats #higherself #blackspiritualtiktok #spiritualblacktiktok

♬ cola – user19192570443

I think the process started long ago, even when I was teaching in under-resourced high schools. It came from a place not only of my own needs but deep intuitive desires. I would say that The Intuition School was born directly from that. 

We began with our ethics and what was right for us while also serving the natural world. We were guided by our spirit’s wants and desires: pleasure, bliss, joy, play, and ease. We’ve designed an experience that lets guests embody natural luxury. Through blissful immersion in nature, you’re guided to reconsider what you think of as extravagance, richness, and satisfaction. Here, we believe that to live in “luxury” is to live in your intentionality, to be able to do what your spirit says. We’ve essentially created an experience that allows guests to embody their fullness for the week and beyond. Through blissful immersion in nature, they’re guided to reconsider what they think of as extravagance and richness.

Where else in the world have you contemplated having a retreat?

Courtesy of The Intuition School

My family is Ethiopian so the number one next spot to be able to focus on Afro-indigeneity and begin to tap into the wealth of the whispers that are in the land of Ethiopia. As the birthplace of humanity, there is a lot to be heard there. And so that’s exciting but the first on a long list.

Primarily, our focus right now is to begin to conceptualize what it means to be providers of a lot of activation sites. Right now we’re going through a process of getting our ethical branding down really well. We have a really incredible brand strategist who is helping us with this. The intention is to be so well rooted in all that we do that we’re able to take the same concept of activating the land through the activation of ourselves and each other. Of course, we want to multiply and be able to provide lots of spaces where Black women are at the center of that reconnection of oneness between humanity and the natural world. We don’t have a list of locations down, we want to be guided to whatever land pulls us in, in the same way that Puerto Viejo did. It’s more a matter of waiting for them to come rather than scoping them out. 

That's so incredible. I can see this in the content you've shared online about the retreat space. It all feels very aligned. Would you say that you personally feel the call, then feel it out and then start envisioning the site?

Courtesy of The Intuition School

I actually think that it’s less about the site and more about the guidance of the people who are connected to that land. I am very focused on making sure that the curriculum is really rooted in our ethical standards because there are a lot of tourism and retreat spaces that I don’t believe are deeply rooted in the same ethics that we are.  To connect with a new space is finding individuals that have a connection with that land and also have a connection with us, like a mycelium network forming, and when we find rituals that have the same depth of commitment to the land and depth of commitment to the same parallel ethics that we have, then we allow for that mycelium network to source them with all that we offer. We are going through a process of training with them now. We then tend to allow that activation site to grow from itself.

What is the feeling you want guests to have as they leave the retreat?

Courtesy of The Intuition School

I want guests to remember. Not necessarily to change or to heal who they are. I just want them to remember what it felt like the moments they were in the bliss state. What it feels like to be comfortable in their body, flowy in their emotions, calm in their minds, and passionate in their hearts. Just to remember, and to remember that they can always remember. The embodiment of the bliss state is enough to reconnect.

Find The Intuition School’s website for updates and keep up to date with retreats on Instagram and TikTok. Help grow The Intuition School by supporting and sharing the fundraiser campaign.

Related: Travel To Heal: Tips To Make Any Trip Feel Like A Wellness Retreat