set in the picturesque hills of the byron hinterland, soma is a sanctuary built for wellness and health retreats designed to allow patrons to reset and recharge. a friend and mentor of bassike co-founder and creative director deborah sams, we recently visited soma co-founder gary gorrow at the byron oasis to talk about the inspiration behind soma, what led him down the path of vedic meditation, and the ever-growing importance of practicing meditation and mindfulness in modern life.
the art of mindfulness
deborah sams: how did you come to be a meditation teacher – what life events or learnings led you down this path?
gary gorrow: I never intended to be doing the work I do now, it naturally evolved. from a very young age, I was drawn to spiritual teachings. I was always fascinated about understanding the layers of myself and how I could shift them to a higher place. once I learned vedic meditation it shifted so many things for me. it became clear in those early days that at some point in the future I would dedicate myself to sharing this art and helping other people with their evolution.
deborah: how would you describe your approach towards meditation and mindfulness, and how is it unique?
gary: I consider myself to be an innovative and creative guy, but the essence of my work is grounded in the wisdom tradition of the veda. this knowledge has been cherished for millennia and passed down through very caring hands. I consider myself one of the many people who incorporate these wise teachings into our modern world. for me, meditation is a way to get beyond the chaos of the mind and generate a felt connection with the inner self. mindfulness is a way in which we learn to maintain that state of grace in our everyday lives.
deborah: what was the inspiration behind soma?
gary: for a long time, I have dreamed of creating a place where people could come and immerse themselves in a whole new world – a place that is modern, inspiring, and offers deep and authentic practices that can support people on becoming the rendition of themselves that they aspire to be.
deborah: my experience at soma was a transformative time. it is such a beautiful, gentle place to create space for thinking and feeling. soma was designed by balinese architect rieky sunur and your brother, george. what did you want to communicate and embody within this space?
gary: my brother and rieky are masters of their craft. george had such an incredible vision for what soma could be and I was in awe of his proposal, it really took what I originally had in mind to a whole new level. that is what my brother does, he thinks big and never does anything to a standard other than the highest. so, I let him be the guide. it was such a joy to collaborate with him.
the vision was for a modern contemporary masterpiece that felt homely yet had a spiritual radiance. we have 22 acres of truly magical land here. soma is continually evolving and there are surprises around every corner of the property. my practice from the beginning has been to listen to the land and see what will complement the place. we don't want to impose ourselves on this land, but rather augment the wonder that already exists here. I am happy with what we've done and think we are on the right track.
for a long time, I have dreamed of creating a place where people could come and immerse themselves in a whole new world – a place that is modern, inspiring, and offers deep and authentic practices that can support people on becoming the rendition of themselves that they aspire to be.
meditation is a way to get beyond the chaos of the mind and generate a felt connection with the inner self. mindfulness is a way in which we learn to maintain that state of grace in our everyday lives.
deborah: why did you decide to make the byron hinterland home to soma?
gary: byron has always been regarded as a place of healing and deep spiritual significance. the energy is truly unique in this region, and I believe that is why many people feel so drawn to travel and live in this area. to me, it was the most obvious place on earth to create soma.
deborah: why do you think that there is an ever-growing demand for health and wellness retreats, such as those that soma offers?
gary: I think there are numerous factors that are contributing to the rise in demand for retreats. one of those is the increased incidences of stress and anxiety, as well as the growing awareness around the importance of mental health. the world is a busy and demanding place which can take its toll on us. by necessity, people need to step out of the grind and create time to reset and balance themselves. I also believe people there is a natural evolution taking place within the value structures of our society. it was once laudable to work hard, strive to own a home and have all the modern trappings, but it seems people are re-evaluating where true value resides. we all know of successful and wealthy people who are still dissatisfied. clearly, we need more – we need connection, freedom, a clear and radiant mind. we all crave for a rich inner experience, but most people seem lost as to how to create that. the trend is certainly changing, people are seeing the value of investing in experiences that enrich their inner life. retreats are certainly a wonderful means to go all in and do something that makes you feel elevated on many levels.
deborah: the soma retreats are powerful and transformative. I like to do at least one a year to reset my mind and body’s energy. how would you describe your general life philosophy?
gary: if I were to attempt to distil it, I would scribe something along the following lines – that life is a sacred gift, and we are here to enjoy it. we experience the world in accordance with our state of consciousness. so, my focus is on enriching the connection to our core being or our inner self. when we are connected to that place in us, the rest of life unfolds in a truly unique way. intuition takes over, fear recedes, and support comes from many unseen sources.
deborah: why do you think that meditation and practicing mindfulness is so crucial to a life well lived?
gary: I think meditation is for the mind, what exercise is for the body. what many people don't realise is that reality is relative. we experience life not as it is, but rather in accordance with where we are at. the reality for those at the summit is not the same reality for those at base camp, yet it is the same mountain. life lived in a holistic manner requires that we enliven all its aspects, the inner and outer, the mental, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual dimensions in us.
deborah: for me, meditation is a daily practice, I look at is as the book ends of my day. in the morning, I wake up, have a stretch and then sit and meditate for 20 minutes, and I do the same thing in the evening. it is the first thing I do when I get home after work – I get out of my work clothes, see my family and then go upstairs and meditate. I don’t think I could function on the level that I do without my practice.
gary: meditation and mindfulness are technologies that elegantly awaken the value of our heart, mind and spirit. life can be demanding and burdening at times. we need methods that plug us back into sacred time, to our sacred selves.
when we are connected to [our inner self], the rest of life unfolds in a truly unique way. intuition takes over, fear recedes, and support comes from many unseen sources.
gary gorrow and deborah sams photographed by dave blake at soma byron bay.
soma byron bay is located in ewingsdale, byron bay. find out more about soma wellness retreats here.
listen to deborah sams, peter ostick and gary gorrow on the soma collective podcast.