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 Aziza Healing Adventures and Personal Growth Retreats for Women, couples, individuals and corporate groups


Interview with Laila Ghattas


What is the nature of your business?

Providing creative personal growth opportunities. Gentle eco journeys, meaningful vacations, self-discovery retreats for women, couples and mixed groups. Designed to nurture the whole of you back into focus. To awaken and empower through nature and personal insight in breathtaking local and international locations.

What services or products does your business offer?

Personal growth workshops, getaways and retreats. Meaningful Canadian and international vacations. One-on-one Gestalt therapy, expressive art and Reiki sessions. Custom-designed retreats. Corporate presentations on Stress Reduction, Productivity and Leadership.

Who is your target market?

Anyone open to personal growth. Individuals, couples, groups who:

  • seek a different, more meaningful vacation
  • desire more clarity in life
  • are bored or stressed and ready for positive change
  • want to enhance their self-image and esteem
  • want to explore a new career direction
  • feel stuck or at a crossroads in life
  • are experiencing a relationship crisis
  • feel creatively blocked

    What is your business mission statement?

    To deliver life-enhancing opportunities which ignite creative, emotional, physical and spiritual self-expression while re-connecting to nature.

What first sparked your interest in this business and why are you passionate about it now?

This actually was a long time coming. Originally, my training was in art and education, and eventually I landed in sales in the Graphic Arts. During that career I concurrently trained in Reiki, Gestalt therapy, and Expressive Arts.

For my 40th birthday I went on two sea-kayaking trips that ignited my soul. That year an intuitive friend suggested I put my passion for art, healing, adventure and nature together and create something new, opportunities where people can remember who they are. I’d spent 14 years of retraining till that moment and I've been building the company ever since.

Who inspired you?

I can't list all the people who influenced my decision to do this- there will be a book one day. I think Joseph Campbell summarizes it well when he says all the decisions, people, places that have happened along the way have all led me to this moment of finding my bliss. It helps to have parents who enjoy athletic activity, travel the world on a series of adventures, who are creative and spiritually active. Who encourage my vision.

Why did you pursue your own business vs working for someone else?

Doing something meaningful and making a difference had been burning in my belly for years. I also wanted to create a new lifestyle, not a job. Modeling it in part on my retired parents and their friends as they traveled and had great experiences, I decided not to wait till I was 65 to enjoy that way of life.

Aziza is the sum total of the parts that make up the whole of me. As artist, therapist, athlete, nature girl and business woman, I get to express my whole self through my company, putting all those parts together for a holistic healing and fun experience. I also work in partnership with others who offer the accommodations or services like yoga, meditation and sea kayaking that I include on the retreats. I like partnership and collaboration.

Not having to ask for permission when a new idea inspires me is particularly delicious. I thrive on self-determination.

What are some of the obstacles you've faced and how did you overcome them?

Discouragement is a big one. It's quite debilitating. I started backwards, deciding to follow the premise "if I build it they will come.” What does success look like, what does progress look like? These are elusive, subjective and yet we are so used to seeking quantitative results to justify or measure by. It took me a while to understand that having small groups gave me a chance to learn and experiment, and get to know the people I was starting to partner with. Any other company would have cancelled these small retreats, yet I continue to reap rewards from my investment.

Beginnings are hard yet we have to start somewhere. It was important to notice the money I needed to pay my bills came from unexpected sources, not necessarily the opportunities I created. It became clear to me that it was the healing which manifested on the retreats that was important, not whether I'd filled the group or not. I experienced a series of small miracles:

First, my intuitive friend put it all together in a vision for me to consider, then someone gifted me with a Web site design, another offered to edit and optimize my web pages. I met outfitters and lodges willing to forego deposits to help me get started as I marketed to fill the groups. Someone gave me a used computer for my home office, another set it up and taught me Web page editing basics so I could independently make changes. I remind myself of all these things when I wonder if I'm doing the right thing; they all demonstrate beyond a doubt that the universe is supporting this vision.

Accepting that this is my calling and focusing on that with intention, helps when mundane tasks and obligations of self-support provoke fear rather than trust. When I bother to notice, I see that everything works out exactly as it should. When I bother to remember, I see that there are real benefits and wisdom to delays. Self-employment can feel isolating at times and brings up old insecurities. It's important to have good friends to talk to who believe in your vision.

What is your business's proudest achievement so far?

It is also one of my most poignant experiences. I'd thought long and hard about the name Aziza Healing Adventures. Aziza means Beloved, Cherished One in Arabic. It's a palindrome, in perfect balance; it holds the concept of alpha and omega—A and Z—beginning and ending. There's so much to it and, being without children, I named this brainchild like a daughter.

I received a phone call from a man who had been referred to my Web site by a friend. He wanted to know more about what I offered because he was coming up to the first anniversary of his only child’s death, and her name was Aziza. It seemed so fitting to him that he should look at finding some comfort in a company with her namesake. This extraordinary encounter with someone who was seeking help—an encounter only possible as a result of the birth and naming of my Aziza and the death of his own—is a true testament to the mysterious power of healing.

Since then I am privileged to witness the insights and awareness that women and men experience on retreat. Their generous feedback on how their lives are positively affected light my way forward.

What are some of your future goals?

My intention is to hold an exotic international retreat each year to enable people to enjoy a meaningful vacation annually with Aziza. Many don’t have suitable travel companions and Aziza fits a real need out there. Retreat locations include Australia, Bali, Mexico, North America, and eventually the South Pacific, Africa and Europe. My monthly Women’s Weekend Getaways in Ontario will be a hailed far and wide as THE retreat to attend when seeking personal clarity.

Impeccable Leadership is a workshop that developed out of an epiphany I had on my first retreat in Bali. It outlines a logical way to achieve self-acceptance and compassion. I present it to the corporate world and other public groups. The handbook by the same name will be out soon.

Publishing the experiences on these retreats will inspire individuals and therapists alike- written articles are ongoing. I speak at events about personal growth. There’s a series of books in the works. I’ve been invited to participate in a documentary featuring my approach to exploring Relationship patterns, which prompts my curiousity about TV as a means to reach a wider audience. Darlene Montgomery’s book Conscious Women, Conscious Careers features the story on how Aziza came into being. Opportunities and invitations that cross my path constantly amaze me.

What 'Pearl of Wisdom' can you offer to help other women starting out?

"There are two important days in a woman's life: the day she was born, and the day she finds out why." Elaine Cannon

It's important to know what is in your heart, and how you want to live your life. I believe self-knowledge is critical for a company to succeed in a way that is satisfying. Determine what is truly meaningful to you. It's hard enough starting out, so if you're doing it for the money, or glamour or to prove something, it will be a long dark road.

If you are doing something you have been called to, no matter what, you can find some sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. All the drudgery of the dry stuff, like bookkeeping and marketing etc., all the disappointments that come with the territory, are balanced by knowing that all your efforts are going towards something you want more than anything. Keeping motivated is critical and that comes from believing in the very thing that is requiring all your energy.

A valuable lesson I've learned is to foster a reaction of curiosity instead of defaulting to a negative interpretation of the situation. There's a reason for everything that happens, and it's usually a good one, even if it's hard to swallow, even if it's not what you expected. Work with the given. That way you are flowing with the current rather than fighting it.

Check in with your body; close your eyes, be quiet, imagine each option and be aware of your body’s reaction. You’ll know exactly what to do by listening to your innate wisdom. Follow that voice.

Do you have a favorite quote you'd like to pass on?

Early on I recognized that Aziza is the manifestation of this poem that has taught me and kept such good company since my 30’s. It's from A Passage to India by Walt Whitman.

Sail forth! Steer for the deep waters only.
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee and thou with me
for we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go
and we shall risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave Soul
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!

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