01 May Am I A Workshop Junkie?
I’m talking personal development here, not a coffin or a chutney-making one. These emotion-evoking workshops are all about transforming oneself in order to go out and transform the world. It starts with the self and expands out into the world. That’s the idea – love, love, love.
And I have done a fair few in the past 20 years, it has to be said.
From a year group with a psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern to the Hoffman Process to Jan Day’s Tantra groups to 5 rhythms dance to the Path of Love, a seven day group process which runs globally. And lots of women’s groups too.
I am a fan of group process rather than individual therapy. For me. They have the potential to accelerate change because the room is always full of other uncomfortable mirrors. I might instantly dislike someone on first sighting. The idea however disagreeable/uncomfortable to me is to look to myself and see what it is that that I’m projecting on to that person. What am I not looking at inside myself? What part of my own shadow do I dislike? Easier said than done, I am eternally resistant, however it’s a great opportunity. Always.
Also I have an ongoing difficult relationship with my own vulnerability. I would rather be argumentative, defensive, win the debate and project onto my partner all sorts of false blame than face the vulnerability that lies just beneath that conflict. Often it’s simply his situation seems difficult and even dangerous to me and that distresses me, so I attempt to impose a solution because it seems untenable. But often only to me!! Now he understands that dynamic and lets me know that he is okay and doesn’t need active support.
Am I a workshop junkie? Not really, I see workshops as a way of connecting me to significant parts of myself that otherwise, I might be ignoring. Like my tenderness. They are also a way of being nourished, being seen and being acknowledged at one’s fullest, and importantly continuing the struggle to evolve in that emotional intelligence way.
And so one Saturday morning, I find myself getting up at 7 am to go and do a Path of Love Day on Relationship at a swish venue in Shoreditch. Run by co-founder Rafia Morgan, a psychotherapist originally from San Francisco who used to live in Osho’s Ashram in Poona and then on the ranch in Oregon. Osho is the Indian philosopher and guru – there is a series on Netflix at the moment called Wild Wild Country, which recounts the controversial events around him – who created much of the tantra and meditation work that has become popular in the West. He was also a non-conformist in the spiritual world – he called it rebel wisdom – which attracted a lot of followers or sannyasins. The other facilitator today is Abigail Iquo Isuo Peters, a charismatic psychotherapist who zaps the day into action with her humour and energy.
First of all, there is the optional Dynamic Meditation. It’s optional because it’s hardcore in its physical demands. Today I’m in but with the intention not to overdo it. I am 65, I will go for it, but not over-go for it. That was my former self.
Dynamic Meditation has five stages – chaotic breathing, catharsis, jumping up and down with one’s arms in the air shouting HOO, stillness and celebration. The idea is to remove you from your comfort zone and stir up all those feelings that lurk just below the surface. This is an Osho invention and I’ve done it a few times before. I’m dreading the Hooing, but I’m looking forward to the rest.
I opt for a gentle version. For the chaotic breathing, we breathe only through the nose and the aim is to disrupt ourselves. That’s fine. I do a quiet disruption. The catharsis is the opportunity to rage and scream, to let it all go. This is something I don’t have a problem with. I can shout and cry until the cows come home. My difficulty is more around the opposite. I would like to be more contained when it comes to anger, sadness etc. Which seems like a heresy but isn’t. I shout and scream for a while and then find I don’t need to.
The jumping up and down with my arms in the air shouting Hoo in a fast rhythm is as hard as I anticipated, but I approach the task in a sanguine way. I do what I can for as long as I can, then, I have a rest, and carry on. Really it seems to me to be about the capacity to keep going through whatever life throws at you, about keeping the tenacity going and to be honest, I have got a proclivity in that direction. There is a reason that my close friends refer to me as a terrier.
Next comes stillness and silence for 15 minutes, which is are blessed moments although I do reach up and wipe the trickles of sweat away as they cascade down my neck and forehead. Finally, there is celebration, some sitar music stirs us into emerging. That is my favourite part, that feeling of the butterfly leaving the chrysalis. And dance. I can never resist free movement in this way. It is like spring time in music.
There’s talk of an intention and cementing an intention for the day. I’m thinking beforehand that mine is more engagement politically. Silly me, this is all about the heart. Rafia takes us on a trip around the heart in a guided meditation. How does your heart feel? Is it hurt, mistrustful, open, numb?
‘Remember,’ he says, ‘the heart loves truth, it relaxes the heart.’ This really is the mantra for the day.
We are invited to share about our hearts afterwards with one other person near us. I divulge that my heart is more open than it used to be but that it can always do with more practice around melting. I tell my partner, a tall American, that when I did the 7-day Path of Love, that’s what it was all about for me, I became like a soft jelly, a birthday card kitten, in fact, I was schmaltz itself and it was delicious.
I’m already moved to tears by my partner’s heart story. Oh, it’s going to be one of those days. Just what I needed. Tuning in and turning on to love in the overflowing sense.
After a quick break, we’re immediately into the soul of the workshop – an exercise where we become our mothers and our partners become us, and we see what that brings to us in the way of feelings and actions. I do it first. I have a decision to make – shall I be my mother now with Alzheimer’s or my mother before? I decide on the former. For me, it’s not so much about discovering family patterns but about seeing where I am with my mother now after 15 years of working in a healing way on our relationship.
So I am looking at the world as my mother with Alzheimer’s and that’s a very vulnerable, open, and needy place. I find myself looking in a plaintive way at my partner who responds by backing away and looking away. I move towards her in complete openness and need and she resists for a while, and then she opens to me, her mother, and we tentatively hold each other’s hands with love. It’s awkward but there’s a lot of love there.
For the next part of the exercise, my partner becomes my mother and I am myself. This seems a lot more straightforward, she comes forward and then we embrace for a long time. It is so beautiful and healing. I bathe in being held by her, I imbibe the nurture, I giggle at the wonderfulness of it and so does she.
I am also aware of the surreal aspect to this – I am much older than my partner, and she is both younger and much taller than me. However none of this matters in this endearing embrace.
Afterwards, we share what happened for us both. I say how amazing it feels to explore the nature of my relationship with my mother now that she is 91 and has Alzheimer’s and how much softer our relationship is now than it was 20 years ago. How I feel her trust in me, which I never did before. And how profoundly healing it feels to be nurtured by her because in reality there hasn’t been much of that. There are tears and laughter.
Finally, before lunch, we do the same exercise around our fathers. My father is dead and our relationship was loving as a young girl, then violent as I grew up, then passionate round debate as I became a teenager, then conflictive again as I got older. Again I get to express what was underneath. Although I start off as my father and being in the frustration I feel with my daughter, I quickly move to wanting to connect to a safe loving place. When I’m myself, I am able to accept love from him, which feels like a gorgeous place to be. I didn’t find that place with him when he was alive so it feels nourishing to find it now he’s dead.
I have a gut instinct that this will all help to be more open to love from my partner. And more loving towards him. That has somehow arrived as my intention for the day.
Lunch is informal with people bringing their own lunches or going out to a local café.
Afterwards, we are directed into cushion-seated circles of nine and invited to participate in a cyclonic inquiry. The Path of Love facilitators love inquiry. And me too. Especially about our shadow selves. They believe that the more that we can accept our shadow selves and declare them ie all our unpalatable traits – the deeper we will be able to connect with others. And the more relaxed we will be as human beings.
We’re asked to repeat the sentence; ‘If you were in an intimate relationship with me, you would find out that I am’ and the answer is all of that secret stuff. Mine are being over-expressive around anger, insecure and jealous, eager to win at arguments, scared of real love, protective of my vulnerability and therefore more often seen in defensive mode, easily distressed by your emotional distress.
And the next one, which goes round and round the circle from person to person is; ‘What I need from you in a relationship is… and that is my need.’ Mine was to stand in the fire for me around my insecurity and jealousy, to make me feel sexually be safe and on an adventure at the same time, to come forward in love so that I can move myself. And there are more! Then the important part is to own them all as my own needs.
The day finishes off with some pulsing breath work which again was to get us back into our bodies and integrate feelings that might have come up, but to be honest, didn’t do much for me, and then finally celebratory dance with everyone in the room which I always love.
What did I come away with? A feeling of joy that I can be calmer on these sorts of days now, I don’t have to return to the trauma of my upbringing. I can connect to my heart without connecting to great grief.
And finally, the knowledge that my partner and I have unveiled and exposed every one of these shadow parts to each other. I realized and messaged him on the way home, and then thanked him again on the phone the next day. We really do have a truly reciprocal intimate relationship and that I feel blessed in that. It was something that I had yearned for, for a very long time. I felt moved to clearly declare this to him. Of course, we still have dramas and difficulties but we know how to get through them. I couldn’t want for more than that.
For more info about the Path of Love: pathretreats.com