From an office desk in Lancashire to a native village on the Amazon… the contrast could hardly be greater. But that’s how Debra Brown changed her life and became Debra Sofia Magdalene along the way. She spoke to Northern Life about how she swapped the nine-to-five for spiritual development and is preparing to lead other people to do the same in a rainforest retreat.
Changing your life is never an easy thing to do, but Debra Sofia Magdalene has done just that and aims to encourage others to do the same.
After her marriage broke up, she reevaluated where she was going in life and went down the path of personal and spiritual development.
She sold her big Victorian terrace house in Burnley, gave away most of her possessions in an effort to become less materialistic, and has never been happier.
Next year, Debra will be back in the Peruvian Amazon to run a retreat intended to help others change their lives, just as she has done.
Debra, 54, changed direction ten years ago after her marriage broke up. At the time she was in a responsible and demanding job as executive director of Burnley Enterprise Trust, helping new
After attending courses run by American life coach Tony Robbins, she decided to leave the security of her wellpaid job, gave the board nine months’ notice and set up Global Hugs Ltd, a coaching and training practice. HUGS is an acronym that stands for Hunger for Unlimited Growth of Self.
Magdalene Spiritual Journeys was born from Global Hugs after Debra spent almost a year travelling alone in South America. After experiencing life with the Shipibo tribe at a spiritual retreat deep in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, exploring plant medicines, she then followed her heart and spent more time in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.
“I wanted to go travelling and I didn’t want a house around my neck,” Debra says. “You accumulate so much stuff when you’re in a big house, and I’d lived there for nearly 20 years. It was a really big fivebedroom Victorian house. I gave all the furniture away, and I kept very little. Now when I come back to UK I stay with friends.”
“I’ve run events for a long time and this retreat it’s the first one I’ve done in Peru. I went out to Peru for a retreat in the Amazon myself in September 2013. I bought a one-way ticket because
I’ve travelled before, and every time I buy a return ticket I end up not coming home. So now I just follow my heart and see what happens.
“I wanted to go to Machu Picchu because I remember being inspired years ago by an article in the Burnley Express about a woman whose husband had left her, and she’d gone by herself to Peru and walked the Inca trail. I’d cut the article out and kept it, but I could never imagine how it could happen. With the mortgage and bills and working, you get caught up in the hum-drum, the hamster wheel of life. So that article really inspired me, and I created a vision board for that. It was on my vision board for a few years.
“I was really wanting to go travelling and thinking ‘How can this happen?’ Besides that I was going to downsize. I wanted a smaller house and live by myself. When I turned 50 I decided it was time to start looking after me first and doing whatI wanted to do rather than looking after everybody else. I decided to start doing things differently.”
Debra’s first ‘Amazon Ascension’ retreat was scheduled for May 30 to June 15, and the 17 spiritual seekers who chose to participate alongside Debra and two facilitators were expecting the experience of a lifetime, although it’s certainly not for the faint hearted.
The party is seeing the Amazon how it was meant to be seen, by boat, and then spend 15 days in a tiny remote Shipibo village, experiencing tribal life, participating in sacred ceremonies, learning about plant medicines and themselves in the process.
The village where they are staying is a seven-hour boat ride from the nearest sizeable town with modern facilities.
“There’s no running water, no electricity, only basic accommodation, so you’ve got a bed, a mosquito net, your own private space, but it’s really living in complete harmony with nature and appreciating how the Shipibo tribe live,” Debra says.
“The retreat centre that we go to isn’t available for the public to book into. It’s a village that’s only used by people who have previously been on retreats with the Children of the Sun Foundation. It’s only when you’ve been there on a retreat that you can then become a retreat leader, so there are very few who take people there.
“Spiritual tourism is an increasing market but you won’t find this on the spiritual tourism trail. So it’s very basic but it’s absolutely beautiful, and the Shipibo people are wonderful. I’ve never ever received such a warm welcome anywhere in the world. They’re so loving and friendly.
“The children came running out to greet us when we got there. You have a bit of apprehension wondering what it’s going to be like, completely going into the unknown. There’s no telephone signal,
you’re completely away from the Internet and any mod cons. It’s also really exciting. You’re thinking ‘Oh this is an adventure’. It was an amazing experience and I just felt so blessed to be able to go there. When I got there all my fears were allayed immediately I set foot off the boat. It just felt so right. I loved every minute of it.”
The Shipibo people have their own language but also speak Spanish, and their simple life is reflected in their diet.
Debra says: “Before we go we prepare our bodies by cutting out things like processed food and refined sugarst. The Shipibo have no salt and no sugar, and what we’ll eat is plain boiled rice, fish caught from the Amazon, there’s tomatoes, cucumber, lentils, plaintain, yucca, fruit, herbal teas and coconut water. You don’t go hungry; there’s plenty of food.”
People who apply to go on the retreat have to be fit and healthy. It’s a seven- hour boat ride, and at best five hours in a fast boat, to the nearest town with medical facilities.
So what do Debra’s friends and family think of her new life and her adventures?
“Friends love following my adventures on Facebook. The family are the ones who get concerned about the things I do. They’re the ones who worry about me.
“I like to inspire people to do more of the things they’d love to do. So many people are in 9 to 5 jobs, and they don’t like their job. They spend most of their time at work, and they’re stressed when
they get home. That affects their relationships and their health, so I want to inspire people to do what they love and to lead healthier lives. That’s why I set up the Detox with Debra group programme to inspire people to have healthier diets. I’ve made all the mistakes myself. I’ve been on the treadmill, I’ve had other people bringing my children up when they were babies because I was too busy with different jobs, and I know what it’s like.
“I know how hard it is to lose weight when you’ve a toxic body and you’re being ill because of your diet. I’ve made those mistakes but now that I’ve come out the other side and I can see where I went wrong and I can see what helped me. I just want to be able to share that knowledge with other people, to give them hope and inspiration that they can change their lives too.”
As for the future, Debra says: “I tend not to plan too far into the future. What I’ve found is that you have to be flexible so you can adapt when you need to. I’ll just tune in to my heart and if something feels right I’ll go with it I follow my intuition, my gut feeling.
“One thing i do know is that travel will feature a lot in my work and my Magdalene Spiritual Journeys is a vehicle where I can combine my love of travel with my love of my mission helping other people to grow.”
You can find out more about Debra’s courses and journeys on her website www.mastery-path.com
New Life, New Name
Debra explains how she acquired a biblical surname despite not being a religious person…
“In 2011 when I was going travelling, I needed to apply for a new passport. I’d kept my old name of Brown and I didn’t want to take my old name into a new chapter of my life. I wanted a new start.
“A friend of mine is a numerologist and when I told her I wanted a new name, and I didn’t know what name to take, I went to visit her. I sat in front of her software that she uses for her numerology and I typed in the first 20 names that came to me, like Debra Joy, Debra Bliss, Debra Hugs and so on, then out of nowhere Debra Magdalene popped out. I put in those 20 names and
when she looked at the numerology of it all it was perfect for the energies that I wanted to bring in.
“My family were somewhat taken aback by the change and my son pointed out it was the name of prostitute or fallen woman in the Bible. But I think I’ve actually been given that name to raise
awareness that she was in fact a very highly regarded as a spiritual teacher in her own right.”