01 Oct Find the REAL YOU
Can taking herself away to a beautiful country mansion to participate in a week-long, spiritual soul searching course help actress Aoife Nally attract genuine relationships?
What area of your life are you hoping to heal through this experience?
I had a traumatic experience in my twenties, which made it very difficult for me to trust men. I’ve done a lot of healing work and conventional therapy to recover, but was still finding it impossible to trust. I was nervous about being alone with a man, tended to avoid eye contact and didn’t like to be touched without warning. I felt vulnerable letting others in. No surprise then that I’ve been single since that time.
In the theatre, relationships can be close and intense, but very transient. You have plenty of company while avoiding true intimacy, except with the audience. I realised that I wanted to have deeper relationships and a romantic partnership.
Why were you drawn to the seven-day group process, the Path of Love?
I met a woman at a retreat, and she was so genuine that we chatted for hours. It was the first time I’d shared on such a deep level. She told me about a course she’d taken called the Path of Love, created 18 years ago by psychotherapists Rafia Morgan and Turiya Hanover, who were keen on developing a transformative group process.
This woman explained that some participants come after a divorce or serious illness, while others simply want to find more passion in their lives. One of the great things about this process is that there’s one-to-one care given to you on a daily basis by a voluntary member of staff. They’re people who have come back to help in the process because they got so much love from their own Path of Love transformational experience.
The woman described the unconditional love and dedication of staff and trained facilitators. So I signed up for the next session, at the beautiful Buckland Hall in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
Do they check to see if you’re emotionally in the right place for this course before you get stuck in?
At the pre-process interview they make sure you’re emotionally and physically able for the Path of Love. They asked me about my family history, my health, the issues I’d like to work on and the challenges I face. This conversation really made me dig deep. It was confidential, and the questions were very personal, but the level of listening was very special, and I felt hugely looked after.
How does this process work?
For me, the most effective part was working in a smaller group of nine (there were 29 participants). I learnt to share, trust and be vulnerable with others. I have a terrible habit of entertaining, of weaving a tale when I talk about my life, like I’m talking about a character – not myself. I can be detached, but the group made me sit in the emotion, feel in the body where the issue was trapped, own it and then release it. It was a glorious moment halfway through the second day when I dropped my mask and just let the others see me as me.
I remember telling my group about the previous week when I’d become ill suddenly, and the doctor insisted I go to hospital for some scary-sounding tests. I realised that my life had become so isolated I had no one to call to keep me company in the waiting room. I had created a very vulnerable situation for myself. No one was in my life because I hadn’t let them in – a huge revelation. Nothing was nicer than to look up and see the shining eyes of my group, my caring facilitators and the angelic staff holding me in love.
What did your average day look like?
We were up at 7am for dynamic meditation, which involved intense breathing, emotional release, stillness and free movement. Then there’d be breakfast in silence. Questions from the facilitators would shape the day and create a rich ground to work with emotionally – questions such as, ‘How would you feel if you died tomorrow?’ We’d spend the mornings in our groups sharing, and the afternoons dancing, either energetically or quietly, depending on how we felt. The evenings would be spent together in gentle meditation, or listening to spiritual wisdoms. And then there were our workbooks to fill with insights we’d gleaned from the day.
What did you discover about yourself?
I had this idea of myself as a weak person. I was constantly suffering from injuries on stage – sprained ankles and chronic pain. On the first day my stamina was awful. I thought I’d pass out. But as the week progressed, I got physically stronger. Everyone was reminded to care for their body and only push as far as they felt comfortable.
Every day, we’d do personal work, meditations and exercises within the larger group. This would help issues come to the surface. I felt that, as I cleared emotional blocks and past trauma in my small group, the more free and passionate I became physically. It was like I’d been unchained. We had a lot of time and space for meditation, silence and reflection. We were also given probing questions to write about in our personal journals to help us deepen the process between sessions.
How did they bring the spiritual element in?
Later in the week, when we’d got through the initial problems and down into core issues (in my case, trust), we were encouraged to reconnect with the divine, however we chose to acknowledge that: God, universal energy, our higher self. It was up to us to invite the power of prayer into our process.
I really resisted at first as I was raised a Catholic and not keen to return to the Church. But as I redefined my relationship with prayer, I grew to love it as a precious resource. One of the questions in the process is: ‘What are the barriers between you and freedom?’ For me, it’s about needing to let go and have faith. We explored our dreams and longings, and I realised that to create the romantic relationship I craved and the career I wanted, I’d have to trust the divine and myself.
‘People say that I’m glowing, I must be in love. I am in love!’
The final and most fun part of the process was celebration and ecstatic dance. We had an incredible DJ, who would lead us to emotional landscapes for us to move through, however we felt. We had every kind of music, for every feeling you can imagine. She would respond to us, and we to her – I’ve never felt unity in a group like that. I had no idea I had such capacity for joy. I danced like a soul reborn. I felt emancipated, beautiful and appreciated. During the process, they showed us that joy was essential, so there was quite a lot of celebration.
How did the Path of Love address your problems?
Sharing with my small group taught me to be genuine. I realised that I’m quite shy and introverted off stage. I also learnt that vulnerability is a strength and how to be comfortable in my discomfort. I discovered many aspects of myself I never knew before: my masculine voice, my shadow, my victim, my warrior, my flirt… It was such a relief to explore my fears of physical intimacy. Rafia and Turiya created situations where I let male members of staff embrace me. I felt celebrated and honoured as a woman. I got lots of compliments, and on the last day many men asked me to dance. I not only accepted but was also able to ask a few to dance myself.
The major revelation was that I knew how to give love – to my audiences, to friends – but I’d never learnt to receive it. I learned that when my group gave me loving feedback, when I danced with a trusted man, celebrated with the group or in the beautiful solitude of prayer, I could open up and drink love in with no effort at all.
What positive changes have you noticed in yourself after finishing the Path of Love?
At the end, we created a poster of our insights, commitments and future intentions, which I keep on a wall by my bed to inspire me. Thanks to the healthy food and exercise, I’ve lost weight and gained strength. The illness I was tested for has disappeared. I’ve joined a 5Rhythms dance class and meditation groups. I also have a community of like-minded people around me. The Path of Love has a virtual noticeboard for each group and we’re all writing messages of love and encouragement from all over the world. Those of us who live close to each other are meeting up, and we’re planning a reunion in a couple of months.
I do sometimes feel that I don’t fit into my old life any more. I want to connect more deeply and I have little patience for small talk. But amazingly, people are thanking me for my honesty and glad that they can share, too. Mostly I’m less critical, more patient and more appreciative of myself. I have very clear boundaries and I feel safe.
I’ve noticed the way I walk is more confident and feminine. People say I’m glowing, I must be in love… I am in love! It’s a deep love for myself. But what inspired me most about Path of Love, what I’m passionate about, is that it encourages you to transform yourself first and then take it out into the world. I’m already benefiting as an actress and playwright in that I’m creating from a more internal, genuine place.
Photos Rebecca Windgrave