A woman who suffered from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks from everyday life went off the grid with her children in search of serenity, even becoming a monk in the process.
Mum-of-three Kirsty Bortoft, from Scarborough, decided to make the move from Britain to a remote mountain in Spain, after years of suffering with severe anxiety and bad mental health.
Kirsty was having regular panic attacks and said her mental health had been declining after a split from a “toxic” ex.
So she decided to give up material possessions for the peace and quiet of the off-grid life.
In 2005, Kirsty was trying to juggle life as a single mum with three young children, a two and three-year-old, and a six-month-old toddler.
Kirsty said: “It was extremely hard; breaking up with my partner, along with having next to no money.
“I went to the doctors and they were lovely, but they’re trained in drugs and pharmacology – a drug would numb it [my feelings] but I knew it wasn’t the answer.
“Then, after my appointment, I had this inner, small flickering of hope.”
In a moment akin to Eat Pray Love, the biography written by Elizabeth Gilbert, Kirsty realized that she needed to find a new path.
She was miserable in her office job and wanted to do something that would reignite her zest for life.
The mum started by going on a free weekend course to become a life coach – which, in a roundabout way, would soon see her jet off on a journey to Spain.
Kirsty said: “During a class, I had this awakening where I realized that my life was like one big jigsaw puzzle but there was one piece missing.
“I’d been trying to ‘fix’ myself on the outside for so long, when really, that one piece is where I need to fix myself on the inside.
“I needed to go on a massive, soul-searching journey.”
Kirsty had become interested in mediation, and while researching her next step stumbled across the Ishayas Monks.
The monks, who live in Reus in the Mont-Ral mountains, are dedicated to consciousness and ‘mastery of the self’ – the inward journey of ‘letting go’ or surrender.
Instead of Gilbert’s Italy, India and Indonesia, the mum opted for a closer location – taking her children along for the ride.
She said: “I felt so drawn to what they were teaching to the point where I took my two youngest out of school and drove to Spain to study the working of the mind and the mastery of the self with a load of monks!
“It may sound like a crazy decision but my extended family were really supportive.
“Plus, it was great for my oldest kids, who were eight and 11 at the time, as there was a little school there and loads of opportunities for adventure.
“It sounds crazy but I wasn’t scared at all.”
Kirsty and her children shared a house with another family, and everyone followed a program each day including sunrise yoga and meditation.
There were three other families from the UK and Australia, and a school and pool for the children to learn and have fun.
Kirsty said: “Our children would be taught by monk teachers and go on incredible nature adventures while the adults learned their teachings.
“The house was beautiful, fairly big and open and with incredible views over the mountain to the coast.
“The breakfast would be pretty normal with porridge and lunch would be salads, soups, cold soups, fruit and then dinners were more hearty.
“It was a very clean diet, so no alcohol, no rubbish and it was almost all organic.”
Kirsty remained with the monks for four years, in the end studying to become one herself.
She graduated as an Ishaya Monk in 2015 and was christened as Rudra Devi – meaning The Goddess Who Removes Pain.
“It’s not about meditating 24 hours-a-day anymore, bald heads and big cloaks – it’s a new modern way!” she said.
“It’s about bringing something back into the community and using it in real life and that was what really excited me about it.
“We were on top of mountains, surrounded by people who wanted to be more, still, present, loving, kind and helpful. It was the best experience.”
While in Spain, Kirsty had kept her house in the UK and once a fully-fledged monk, decided to head back home to share her wisdom with stressed-out Brits.
Now a mindset coach too, she helps people suffering from anxiety and mental health-related issues using the techniques she learned while living with the Ishaya Monks.
“Moving back to England, I was so excited to tell everybody about it and teach but then I realized that not everyone was ready to hear it,” she said.
“I knew I needed to share what I’d learned with the world and after a while I started to get more and more clients, and now I work with people all over the UK.
“I believe and teach that we get so busy with stuff that’s generally external to us; such as what ifs, bills, work stress what-nots, that we get confused, worried, and don’t sleep because of them.
“Life is for thriving, not surviving, it’s one short life and we need to find that part inside of us that really helps us through.”
Up until lockdowns happened due to Covid, Kirsty dedicated some time every summer to go back and visit the monks in Spain.