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Elegance & Evolution in the Back of Beyond!

By Jane Riddiford & Rod Sugden


As I sit in our flat in the middle of London, I think back to the wonderful time my partner Rod and I had at the Awakened Life Project in Portugal ….experiencing elegance in the back of beyond!

Cynthia & Jane

Cynthia & Jane in front of rustic elegant bathroom

We arrived at the Quinta late in the evening and ventured down the track under a full canopy of stars.  First stop was a tasty raw food meal, the first of many, served in one of several slate buildings that are being beautifully restored in the traditional Portuguese style.

Life here is all very raw and real; the back wall of the kitchen is literally the exposed rock face of the mountain!

Kitchen with mountain backwall!

Kitchen with mountain backwall!

After much animated conversation by the wood burning stove, we made our descent by torchlight down to the bottom of the valley floor. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realised we were picking our way along the edge of an ancient series of terraces.

Even though it was significantly cooler here, we were warmly welcomed in our glorious accommodation; a traditional felt lined Mongolian yurt, complete with its own toastie warm wood burning stove.

I thoroughly recommend the yurt for a writers retreat

As a new pHd student, this turned out to be the perfect place for me to write (a thorough recommendation to anyone who is planning on a writing retreat!)

October 27th

As I write this paper, I am sitting in a yurt in the hills in Portugal, a wood burning stove is radiating beside me, the light is fading and the rain is coming down. I have the sense that I could keep going forever even though I don’t really know what to write it seems that I am being driven by a push from the universe….

The sense of being aligned to a deeper dimension of life permeates the Quinta.  It’s a brave thing to do to take on a piece of land that is completely off the grid…. in more ways than one! It could all sound a bit like a hippy commune but my experience was far from it.  In the most natural way a community of shared purpose is being built, informed by Andrew Cohen’s teachings of Evolutionary Enlightenment. People from all over Portugal and beyond, have come to help, to find out what it means to live and inquire together. Along with an impressive programme of building;  each day there are early morning meditations, attended by everyone and throughout the day discussion and discovery about life’s big questions.

Evolutionary Enlightenment discussion group

Evolutionary Enlightenment discussion group

Water is a major feature of the Quinta. Soon hydro electricity will be installed at one end of the valley, at the other end, a series of mountain fed waterfalls create swimming holes that provide a refreshing start to the morning …apparently dipping goes on year round! Just to balance things out I also enjoyed the luxury of candle lit showers, all heated with a wood burning water heater, that stands in one of the most stylish bathrooms I have come across for a long time 🙂



Early one morning, carrying my torch in the darkness, I crept into the meditation room. As a long time meditator with over 35 years of experience, I was struck by the very still and powerfully charged atmosphere in the room – this was early morning meditation at the Awakened Life Project. As the session came to an end the sun rose and revealed the splendor of the valley that the meditation room was perched above…the terraced  landscape, a winding stream gushing by, which I later discovered was going to be the source of an exciting project to create hydro-electric power for the Quinta.

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The Awakened Life Project is not just an environmental permaculture project but one in which the cultivation of a higher consciousness amongst those present is also the goal. Indeed, I found that there is a powerfully spiritually charged atmosphere to the whole valley that is, no doubt, created by the intention of all those present in the community.

After two nights of staying in a very atmospheric hand painted Mongolian Tent I headed off with Pete for his – “On the road, Meditation & Evolution tour”. Over the next two nights in Porto and Lisbon Pete expertly lead all about 30 participants through a guided mediation and introduced everyone to the teachings of Evolutionary Enlightenment. What was particularly striking was the keen interest, vulnerability and lack of cynicism of all the Portuguese people. Those attending clearly wanted to find out what Evolutionary Enlightenment was all about and how they could benefit from its study.


The evenings had a strong emphasis on the importance of meditation and how foundational this is to bringing about real change in the world. Furthermore, in the ‘evolution’ part of the evenings Pete stressed that  each one of us is actually the ONE who started this whole evolutionary journey at the time of the Big Bang! With this in mind Pete made the poignant point that it is really up to each and every one of us to make evolution happen through our own conscious intention. After these two nights we went back to the beautiful town of Coimbra where we met Jane & Cynthia  for tea before Jane & I headed back to London. Pete traveled on to give a weekend meditation retreat near Coimbra.


My whole time at the Awakened Life Project and ‘on the road’ with Pete was quite magical. There is the very real sense that Pete and Cynthia are really on the edge of consciousness and culture.  Creating something very NEW and HIGHER. Something that this world that is in crisis, desperately needs. And despite the economic depression gripping this small country, it was so inspiring to see the evolution of consciousness finding receptive hearts amongst the Portuguese.

A big thanks to Pete, Cynthia and the team and we look forward to coming again!

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