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Can I Embrace Death?

1 Minute Read

I’ve just turned 49. I can hardly believe it. I feel young, often mischievous (close friends call me that) and alert in spirit, and yet, 49 is not considered young in body anymore and the evidence of age is becoming ever more apparent in my skin and around my eyes.

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve moved further into my forties, ageing, sickness and death have moved into my consciousness much more.

In March this year, I was forced to look ageing, illness and death straight in the eye with the death of my beloved aunt - a kind, patient and generous person (modest too) – aged 79. My aunt was like a second mum to my sister and I. She didn’t have a family of her own and was very much a part of our childhood, supporting my single mum and often holidaying with us.

During the last two years of her life she suffered unbearable emotional and physical pain, endured endless operations and was in and out of hospital. Despite a strong will to live, her body could not take any more.

I got a call from my mother just before Easter, saying that I needed to come. I was just about to go on a two-week retreat in the Scottish Highlands but I changed plans, booked a flight to Germany and went straight to hospital from the airport. I got to spend the final hours with her, witnessing her last breath just after 5am – something I’ll never forget. She was gone forever.

Death as we all know, is the one certainty we all share in life and yet it is something we find very uncomfortable to sit with, to talk about.

Can we find a way to turn towards that which many of us consider the most intolerable and painful experiences in life - ageing, sickness and death - with an open heart-mind? They are, after all, experiences that we all have to face - whether we want it or not.

Would we find it easier to talk about ageing and death if we learnt to relax into and accept that the life is a process, a continuous cycle of becoming and ceasing, embedded in a larger cosmic cycle of life and death.

Seeing my aunt’s suffering caused me enormous emotional pain. It also taught me a lot about myself. I discovered that the distress that I was experiencing came from not wanting to accept her suffering and from not knowing how to tolerate the unbearable. I wanted it my way; I wanted my aunt to be well again, I didn’t want her to suffer. I didn’t want to suffer seeing her suffering.

When I was able to see things as they were, when I was able to sit and see my aunt’s sick and decaying body, and the presence of her nearing death for what it was, I felt something in me relax and soften, which helped me to turn towards the experience with patience. I was then able to offer a loving attitude towards my own pain and discomfort in the midst of the unbearable.

Taking responsibility for one’s death

My aunt’s death was also a wakeup call for me to reflect on my own death and to begin to take responsibility for it.

My aunt had no will and this caused much difficulty for my family.

Shortly after my aunt’s death, I made an appointment with a solicitor to make a will. I asked two of my closest friends to become my executors. I asked another friend whether she would be willing to lead my memorial service. I decided to be simply buried in a green burial - to dissolve back into nature.

By taking responsibility for my death, I must face up to the fact that I too will die, that I too may suffer from sickness, that I too may need care, that I too will leave a life and affairs behind for others to deal with.

Taking responsibility for our own death is a tremendous gift to ourselves and to the people we leave behind.

Accepting the life/death cycle - turning towards what is intrinsic and inevitable in life, rather than pretending it doesn’t happen; to feel enriched and empowered by the cycle of life and death we are all born into.

seventysomething: Time Lapse

5 Minute Read

Pile of photos

Today, I feel the need, I'm sure you understand, to retreat into a safe haven of my childhood. I used to love to sit on the blue carpet in the living room and rifle through the wide, shallow drawer at the bottom of the breakfront where photographs were casually tossed. This was before the iPhone, before digital files, when photos were both more and less important than they are now. Some black and whites were lovingly mounted with adhesive corners into leather-bound albums and labelled in my sister's hand...Susie 1947, mother and daddy behind the counter in the family antique store 1952.

Read the full story here: seventysomething: Time Lapse

Nursing home looks normal on outside – Inside is designed to be a familiar 1940s neighborhood

2 Minute Read

The Lantern of Chagrin Valley, located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio is only one of three amazing facilities designed specifically for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. report this ad Designed to look like small houses with porches leading out to a golf course, the living facility feels like a community in the 1940s. With incredible attention to […]

Read the full story here: Nursing home looks normal on outside – Inside is designed to be a familiar 1940s neighborhood

Life in the Slow Lane.

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About six years ago I joined one of those jokey, purposeless Facebook groups. We never meet up, we never do anything fun, we never did anything except bitch about how slow tourists walk. The group was called, “Get out of my way. I walk faster than you.” I think mainly geared at people going to Oxford Street, thinking it’s a good idea at the time, and emerging from the tube into an unmoving throng of people moving slowly, eating, texting, or pointing at planes.

I was the one totally not understanding why anyone under 80, with no bad health problems, would not do the left side of the escalator, the walking up the steps side. I was thinking, don’t you want to get out of the Hogarthian miasma of tube hell asap, don’t you want to join the huddled masses queuing for ill fitting bras at Primark, cos they are cheap? What I was noticing was that a lot of people on the left, walking side of the escalator were wearing fitfuckinbits. Trying to clock up their steps so they could feel scientifically fit at the end of a day. Wankers. The whole point of the left side is to get out of the tube faster, not to work your quads. The right side, the standers, OK if they had big suitcases, OK if they had mobility problems, OK if they had small children ( very OK, my son was horrifically injured as a child, going up the fast lane, where the moving steps swallowed one of his finger tips when he fell). Other than that, why?

But now, I see the world as a very slow walker, on crutches. I hate that I can’t get anywhere fast. The five minute sprint to Tesco Metro is now a 40 minute round trip ordeal, always ending in tears, addictive painkillers, and a bag of frozen peas (not to be eaten, but placed on gimpy foot) People are treating me as a proper old lady. Cars at zebra crossings actually stop as I hobble across the road, in the time it would take to say, move to North Dakota, raise five children and train as a rocket scientist. If I have carry a shopping basket, with the crutches, the surly, stoned guys on minimum, now security guards, will follow me around with the basket as I plunk in my embarrassing purchases – ice lollies, a trashy magazine featuring stories like “I thought I had tummy ache. Then I gave birth to sextuplets in the car park at Homebase, without ever realising I was pregnant” and frozen veg which will not be eaten but placed on swollen, post operative foot.

Is there any good news about being forced to slow down? Yes. You have to stop to rest every now and then cos walking on crutches is basically walking on your hands, full body weight transferred to your upper half, which in my case is fly weight. This means you get to overhear all the mobile phone conversations people have at bus stops. True sample: “I never. ( pause) No I never. She got proper trashed and wound up in the bus garage in Sarf London, and I was like, I didn’t abandon you mate, you puked on my Guess dress, I was like so outta there. I was like all sexy for my date and then he was like sorry love you smell of sick… I fuckin hate when that happens.”

And it makes me glad to not be young anymore. To listen to this stuff instead of live it. And people are kinder when you walk slow, on crutches. They don’t do irritated faces. They do “Take your time, love” gestures, and I do. I hobble over to the corner shop and buy old lady things, like Bigga processed peas and Smash. Open a tin. Just add water. This is the extent of my cookery skills, on crutches. The drug dealers who piss and smoke crack on the stairs say “Mate, you should take the lift” which is about right. I listen to The Archers. It makes more sense on crutches. I don’t know why. I shuffle over to the balcony on nice days and watch people wilfully ignore their pit bulls shitting on our few patches of grass and I think, oh wow I have crutches, I can do that think of pointing and shaking my crutch and shouting “Oi, I see you. I see Jay Z there dumping his crap on our greenery. Pick up after your dog, you lazy sod.” Except I don’t as I am only temporarily crippled and will have to face them again in real life again, when they will kill me. Life in the slow lane is different. It’s like playing a role that may be your real future life. I would take time to smell the roses but there aren’t any around here. Instead, I stand on the balcony in my unwashed dressing gown and watch the blue tins of extra strong brew sparkle like diamonds in the grass. Then I shuffle back indoors, place some frozen veg on my feet, neck a couple of Co Codamol and wait for sleep.

Redefining the Spiritual Journey…

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‘Spiritual life begins when seeking fails.’ Adi Da Samraj 

The freshness of the day glinted through the window, navigating its way through the small opening and spreading out like a fan made of silken butter, over the sheets and into my caress. I wanted to marvel at its honeyed wonder, but was instead wrestling a demonic hangover. One of the dread trials of the dependent drinker is waking. A febrile and sweaty worry greets the day, the only compensation being that it doesn’t matter if it’s rain or shine although rain does not carry with it the same burden of guilt; the guilt of time about to be wasted, already spent.

It takes time to be able to meet any day after drinking and even in the hours before the first eye opens warily upon that day, a nightmarish fear would take me over in the dusky threshold between two worlds. I imagined that I did not have to wake as at sixteen – yes I was only sixteen – a familiar heart-thumping dread was hanging low in my belly and was about to climb into my chest. Generally, I turned over and tried sleep again.

Unconsciousness is always preferable to the alcoholic. If only I knew then how lucky I was and that my fear was only of my parents’ hostility and not yet the terror of waking in a soaked bed, occasionally with someone I had never clapped eyes on, with the sure knowledge of recent disgrace. Blackouts are useful but do not save one from repercussions, aftermaths and consequences.

But this, I soon remembered, was a big day, not one whose preparation best required a night on the town. I was about to be confirmed. Sweetly, a girlfriend and I had sought to cement our union before it was whipped away from us and it seemed right to have God’s blessing whether or not we believed. In a sense my two addictions had dovetailed neatly, drinking and love, yet this ceremony hinted at a purer wine, one that I desperately needed but was too young to understand.

I emerged and was, fairly, greeted with a certain frostiness. Relatives were coming, godparents, friends. I was looking bilious and quickly needed to find my sea legs before nestling into the backseat of a 40-minute car journey, hoping that I could sense the earth and see the road. It wasn’t long before we were pulling over. I flung the door open, threw up and crawled back inside, not green any more but white. It didn’t give me the sort of virginal innocence that could have elicited sympathy and we pulled up at the cathedral, soon all smiles after a lengthy silence, as the more sincere religious among us found us in the crowd.

The service stretched before me like some accursed desert, dry to the mouth and interminable, no oases yet an ending some way down the road. If I looked up into the cathedral vaults I got vertigo; if I looked down a wrenching sickness I struggled to hold down. The bishop, looking fine in his regalia, his fish-hat faintly ridiculous, his purple robes rippling under a moted shaft of sunlight. It was way too hot and he seemed to go on and on. Finally, it was my turn and I knelt before him, fighting hard to keep the dread blend of bitter and lager within my body. Rarely had I struggled so hard or had to endure so much. I got away with it – just. For years afterwards, I saw images of a jolly fat man in a fishy hat and a purple dress sprayed with projectile vomit, a thousand-strong congregation dashing for the exit. I often had the sense of getting away with it by a whisker, making light of my revelry in order to avoid the pain that drove it.

Outside, in the lee of the building that I loved and had attended every day while at school, I managed to pose for photographs, and introduce two families. We returned home for the celebration and I retired to bed exhausted and sick. Everyone wondered where I was and excuses were duly made. It was not my finest hour and while mostly I drank away from my family there were occasions like this one when it was out in the open.

I threw up in spectacular fashion that same year on a boat across Niagara, my sea legs more needed yet less available than ever. It was a pattern that progressed for another ten years, almost fatally. At 26, I was done and almost at once catapulted out of this shadow aspect – the addict – into the land of the lover. He had long lurked underneath the pain and chaos that drove me. I was, in short, a natural devotee and, as my focus turned 180 degrees I discovered that alcohol is called spirit for a reason. Like a drunken native American in many a western, I had been robbed of the conditions I needed to thrive, and so my spirit went underground emerging like a mad genie in a bottle.

It is nearly 28 years since I stopped drinking and began the search for what really ailed me and what I really wanted. I rarely think about it now except occasionally to give thanks. There are countless stories these days of ‘recovery’ with people wrapping themselves tightly in their new identity. It can be an important phase, yet as the ego calms down one that needs to pass, in my view, and life met again. So this is not really a story about drinking at all, but of a search.

When I was 18, a school friend – actually a girl I hardly knew who not long after died of cancer – gave me a copy of The Magus by John Fowles. It was my introduction to mysticism and it bore a quotation from Little Gidding by TS Eliot: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’

Eight years later when I came to, I fell in love with Taoism and Zen Buddhism and came to realise that I lived in a patriarchal culture where the effortless being that I was reading about – the feminine qualities of love and relatedness – had been driven out by a tyrannical masculinity that wanted only money, power and control. Later, as I explored Jung, I saw there was an evolutional power in the universe that sought wholeness and integration of the duelling opposites both within the world and in the psyche.

Slowly, as the fog cleared, I realised that the conscious life was meant to reflect the wholeness of the Self, which could only be achieved by doing the work of integration, which meant dredging up the long buried contents of my unconscious, facing my shadow – both its darker and more golden aspects - and making peace with it.

It is a monumental work and so often traumatic events are the springboard that propel our seeking. Without pain, where is the spur? Some people are drawn to the essence of love, to what Rumi calls the root of the root of loving, a place where all other desires have been seen through, cleared away. I realised, with a start, that my longing made me a mystic and that I would never be satisfied by the rewards of society.

‘Love draws us back to love, and longing is the fire that purifies us,’ writes the Sufi master Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Andrew Harvey, another mystic, recommends a good nervous breakdown in your 20s to propel you out of what he calls Stage Two, where we settle for the reward and bribes of the culture, continually fulfilling the false needs of the false self.

My breakdown had been spectacular, my false self – that scaffold we erect to stave off the wounds of childhood – utterly ruptured and a beam of light had hit me between the eyes, smack in the third eye. A portal had opened, my longing had found its proper context. I was a natural mystic and I wanted soul union and that was that. My ego, however, had other ideas.

I was given to over-indulgence in sensual pleasures and was charged with the task of embracing both my humanity and my divinity. I felt in exile all of my life, but again realised without that sense of exile, of not be-longing, I would never have had sufficient longing to travel the journey I have.

That journey took me into living in various communities, becoming a travel writer, re-training as a therapist, studying with different spiritual teachers, travelling to India to study yoga and meditation, finally becoming an initiate of an ancient inner mystical pathway that showed me clearly that the physical world is a realm of reflected light – all its pleasures and pains cul-de-sacs and dead ends that herald our awakening.

The light of pure consciousness can only be found in the heart by turning within. Like everyone else, I spent years looking in this world of reflected light, chasing shadows. Alcohol was only one dead end. There are many others of course: work, sex, food, drugs, gambling, success, achievement. Remarkably, on a bad day I still fall into some of the same old traps.

‘When you extend yourself frenetically outwards, seeking refuge in your external image or role, you are going into exile. When you come patiently and silently home to yourself, you come into unity and belonging,’ wrote the late Catholic priest John O’Donohue.

We are all addicted to exteriorizing our lives, living in our false selves or egos. The more pain we carry, the more we live outside ourselves, for the first thing we encounter within is our distress. Ask any therapy client.

Somehow, we have to learn to be displeasing to ourselves. One of the great deficiencies of The New Age is its emphasis only on love and light and its denial of the shadow. The ego always wants pleasure without pain, happiness and high vibrations linked together in some happy clappy harmony. But I like the dark as well as the light, sadness as well as joy, pleasure and pain. Freedom is letting go of the need to feel good all the time.

If you notice, most of the many programmes for self improvement – often costly – are popular precisely because they appeal to the false self which is predicated on the belief that there is something wrong with us that needs changing. In a sense that is true, but it is the false self itself that is erroneous. There is nothing wrong with our true nature, but most of us are not living in it.

As it says in Alcoholics Anonymous, self will cannot overcome self will. Instead the will has to be surrendered, the false self relinquished entirely not improved. Yet of course, like everything else in this realm of reflected light, the game goes on and people keep buying it. It is, after all, what makes the world go round.

I realised there is nothing wrong with the game just so long as you know it is a game. I have my own place within the game and yet I know it is not real. Success and failure are both impostors.

Finally, seeking is seen through and starts to wind down and then we are in a place of unknowing.

For a time, I followed the teacher quoted at the start of this piece. He said this: ‘The childish individual wants someone to save him; the adolescent wants to fulfil himself absolutely and independently. The true man simply serves good company and surrenders to Truth, the living God.’

I can be in any or all of those states in any one day and I find that quote a good and true barometer for my being. Today, I am doing the deepest inner work of my life, which involves facing more pain yet I know it is not real and that the veils between worlds are parting.

‘Do not stray into the neighbourhood of despair for there are hopes: they are real, they exist. Do not go in the direction of darkness – I tell you, suns exist.’ Rumi was referring to his experience with his own spiritual teacher, Shams of Tabriz, the sun that eviscerated Rumi’s darkness.

In some ways, the 16-year-old boy that I was has come a long way; in another sense, no way at all. For in truth there is no journey, although the mind can only conceive life so, only a gentle swerve into an innate rhythm long forgotten that waits patiently for its own rediscovery.

TS Eliot had it right.

© simon heathcote


A Shadow Work Weekend in Warwickshire

14 Minute Read

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” Carl Jung

For quite a while, I’ve been the sort of person who recognizes my inner Hitler. Seriously, I do not pretend to be little Bo Beep. I believe that I’m on most spectrums from love addiction to violence.

I also see that separation – it’s you over there that is mentally ill, not me – is the key to a culture of blame. I don’t want to be part of that. I want to be part of relationships, friendships and a society that cares deeply and takes responsibility for our own fuck ups.

Which is why I was attracted to going on a Shadow Work weekend with my partner, Asanga. Him again! I’m blessed, I know, with a partner who is equally drawn to these kinds of conscious explorations. Going with a partner meant for us both - an extraordinary opportunity to witness each other in a way that we had never done before.

What is Shadow Work? Well, it was developed over 25 years ago by Cliff Barry and Mary Allen Blandford. They integrated and correlated their work with other disciplines such as Gestalt, Voice Dialogue, Accelerated Learning, Metaphor work, Bio-Energetics, Family Systems theory, Addiction Recovery work and other personality systems such as the Myers-Briggs Type indicator and the Enneagram. They are also indebted to the pioneering work of Robert Bly, Robert Moore and Doug Gillette, David Grove, Ron Hering and Hal and Sidra Stone.

What is the Shadow? The shadow parts of ourselves are the aspects of our behaviors and feelings that we have put into a compartment labeled not acceptable, that must not show or express in everyday life. They are not all negative, there are often positive or golden parts that we are repressing.

And so one July afternoon, I find myself driving down the lanes of Warwickshire. Although I have never done Shadow Work, I have done a fair amount of group process work – from the Hoffman Process to the Path of Love to Malcolm Stern’s year Courage to Love to Pesso Boyden – so I have a certain faith in what is to come. However, I know I will be dealing with something to do with my jealousy – an aggravating old wound which lurks painfully within me – and that will mean revealing desolate parts of myself, so I am also nervous.

And guess what - a situation has arisen that very week to intensify the Rose shadow fest. It is to do with the despairing place that I visit when, for instance, Asanga flirts with my friends. Perfect material for the weekend.

The house is called Holycombe in Whichford. It is an idyllic location, useful in terms of soothing fears. There’s an assistant, lovely Jane, who helps me with my bags. I love being helped with my bags. It’s the legacy of having been a single mother. Asanga has already arrived and is sitting on the hill near the labyrinth. We live five hours apart by car. He’s in North Wales and I’m in Harlesden, London. We keep in touch via text, email and sometimes phone. And there is trickiness re communication from time to time. This week has been one of those weeks.

Meeting each other after a couple of weeks’ apart is also often challenging. We have to find a way to come together again. Somehow we manage it this time with sweetness and a tender walk around the grounds that are full of love seats, tree houses, yurts, a pond and meadow flowers…

The group are gathering – nine participants, six men and three women which is unusual – and we meet at 4pm with the facilitators, wife and husband, Nicola and John Kurk who have been teaching this work for over 20 years in that time-honoured fashion. The circle. A talking stone is passed round. We introduce ourselves and say a bit about what we’d like to happen here and what’s important to us in our lives and how we’re feeling. Oh, yeah, that bit.

“I’m Rose,” I say, “and I’m here because I want to take off some protective clothing in my relationship with Asanga, I’d like to melt more of my heart towards him. I’m a writer, I’m passionate about my walks around Unsung London. I’m a mother. I’m feeling nervous but excited. I used to be a rock n’roll journalist.”

I mention the latter because John mentions that at heart he’s still a rock n’roll guitarist, and then Nicola adds in that she’s a classical pianist, and it becomes a theme. And makes me laugh.

As for the others, I promised not to divulge anything about them as part of the confidentiality agreement, but, of course, they have come for all sorts of reasons – from marriage difficulties to wanting more confidence in relationships to dealing with past abuse.

And then it’s straight into learning about the Four Quartered Model– Cliff Barry chose four of Jung’s archetypes as the basis of this work, they are the Magician, the Sovereign, the Lover and the Warrior as an aid to self-awareness - and also creating a safe container for the group through various partnered and group exercises. It is full on for a Friday evening.

Don’t Nicola and John realize that we’re meant to be doing some quiet movement and a little light sharing for starters? No, seems not! Here we are, thrust right into the flames… Each corner of the room has an archetype in it.

Firstly, we visit the wizard’s hat and the Magician who represents taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Strategy, analyzing, perspective, they are all characteristics. I’m instantly – as the overemotional one in my family – attracted to the Magician. In personal development work, the mind often gets a bad rap, dismissed in the mad rush to find the body and feelings, but in Shadow Work, it is lauded. Hurrah. There’s all sorts of extra information, for instance, fear is the gateway emotion so facing it ushers in the Magician, and if you have an overinflated inner magician you might be hyper-vigilant, or deflated, you might be confused and therefore blinkered. The core shaming belief is – I am rotten to the core.

We do some partnered work to help create a safe group environment, which is vital for this kind of deep sharing group work. This exercise is Tell Me Who You Are. One person keeps on asking Tell Me Who You Are, and the other sits and speaks spontaneously. For two minutes. It’s an unraveling. You can be as honest and untamed as you choose. I say – “I’m a mother, I’m a lover, I’m a wild woman, I’m shy, I love poetry, I’m afraid that my partner will abandon me etc.” It’s always a privilege to hear from the other person.

And then on to the Sovereign which is that place of authority within ourselves, the one with the vision and the moral knowledge. The sparkling crown is in this corner. The Sovereign also is the heart and the service and the blessing. This queen/king figure is represented by fire and the gateway emotion is joy. The core shaming belief is I’m not good enough. The inflated Sovereign always knows best while the deflated is unsure of her/himself.

The next exercise is one where we kneel and are blessed by two of the others. I go first. They put their hands on my bowed head and I imbibe their gift gently. Then I stand and they kneel while I bless them. One of the men is in tears at the enormity of the receiving. It’s a place where we can practice giving and receiving. And nourishment of all of that. It reminds me of the six of pentacles in the Rider Waite Tarot pack where there is a gentleman with scales, and there is a person on either side, one is giving, and the other is receiving. In balance.

We do manage to fit a gorgeous evening meal in here. It’s all lightness and Nicoise salad. Perfect for this sort of emotional/spiritual work.

Last for this evening comes the Lover. Fragrant sweet peas, a bowl of exquisite chocolates, another of grapes and dazzling textiles are all in this sensual corner. Play, spontaneity, the senses, sexuality, connecting to the body and feeling. Creativity. Intuition. Relationships. This is all that Lover energy. The gateway emotion is grief, tears lead to that opening that let the melted heart in. Listen up, Rose. Surrender. Listen up, again. If overinflated, then life is a rollercoaster of emotions. And there will be addiction in there. Deflated is a lack of feeling and connection, isolation, physical self-abuse. The core shaming message is I don’t love right.

Before bed, there’s a visualization taking us from birth to the future. For me, the most important part is enjoying the lullabies that my father sings to me as he’s getting me ready for bed when I was about three. Somehow, those innocent, splendidly playful times have been cast aside by me. This time, I get time to appreciate them.

In the morning, after one of those fruity/home-made bread breakfasts, we’re back in the room and on to the Warrior after a quick sharing of how we are. The Warrior is the perfect archetype before we go into the ‘carpet work’ – basically a one hour-ish process that includes role play– because he/she is the doer, the- make-it-happen part of us. And also the gateway emotion is anger, which propels us with its dynamic force.

I identify powerfully with The Warrior. The Warrior is the rebel too. It’s about boundaries and courage. The Warrior does what needs to be done. In inflated form, they are bullies, and deflated, they are victims. I know both intimately.

Not everyone – especially of course, the British, can do anger – I can. And sometimes I can overdo it. So in the exercise – Tell Me What You’re Angry About – I’m loud and full of the outraged anger that I feel when Asanga flirts with one of my friends. The anger of betrayal and abandonment. In fact, it’s often good for me to practice containment. But in this case, it makes me feel alive and ready for the group process work.

There are nine of us and so that’s at least nine hours. We start before lunch on Saturday and then it’s go, go go. Funnily enough, fuelled by his anger at me – I criticised him on the Friday evening after the sweet reunion and as a result he slept in the car - Asanga goes first. He’s in Warrior mode. John asks if he would like me to leave the room as they don’t want partners to cause an editing or censoring of what they say. Asanga says wants me to stay. That’s what we’ve both agreed. And to be honest, we don’t edit ourselves much in our ongoing relationship. We’re not polite.

It is deeply moving to watch your partner work in this way. And informative. I could really see now how like his mother I could be, in my unpredictable anger. And that made me reflect about my own behavior. It was a privilege to be there.

I decide to wait until the next day before I do mine. Majorly because I’m someone who can get overwhelmed by my feelings, and when I’m triggered, I long for some rational perspective. So I make my mind up that I will wait and let my feelings of anger subside a little.

On Sunday, I’m ready to rock and roll just before the sumptuous lunch. I’m full of anticipation rather than nerves. I stand up and walk into the middle of the carpet. Nicola asked me – “What would you like to have happen here”

“I would like to take off some of the protective layers around my heart with regards to Asanga, I want to allow myself to melt more in love,” I say.

And what is preventing you from doing this?

“I don’t feel safe. I feel often overwhelmed with feelings of fear, despair and abandonment when Asanga flirts with my friends?”

And then we’re off into role-play and the dynamics of the process. Nicola asks me to choose someone to play that little girl part of me that is overwhelmed. I’m invited to put her in a position and also to choose some material – dark green in this case – for what energy she emanates. I ask her to crouch down on the floor and take up very little space. I’m then invited to say what she will be saying.

“I’m overwhelmed and helpless,” I say, and my little girl performer repeats this.

I’m invited to choose someone to play Asanga. I do. And then demonstrate what he would be doing physically. I demonstrate a kind of dancing looseness and his sentences are – “I’m available to everyone else but not you.” Obviously, this is my subjective perspective when I’m triggered rather than the ‘reality’.

And then, quickly it goes back to my raging father – I pick someone for him and wrap him in bright orange – and his apoplectic violent anger against me, in other words, I felt abandoned in this place as a ten year old child and so this is still a place I travel to. I felt in those days as though I was going to be killed so this father says – “I’m going to fucking kill you” as though he means it.

Just as I’m getting carried away with that violent force – as of course, I have it within me as well - Nicola invites me into my Magician energy (in other words, to use my intellect for a bigger picture and perspective) and to the Lover corner of the room for relationship.

Who else would I like to be there? I say that I’d like other parts of my father that tend to get forgotten – to be there. The tender father who sang sweet songs to me when I was three. I choose someone for him. And the inspiring father who taught me about books and debate. So someone comes out to be him.

And then there’s me, as the pre-teen who physically fights my father. Out comes another participant.

This is a key moment. Nicola asks me if I’d like to push him – ie the angry father - out of the room. I am immediately clear that I don’t need to. That I have done this already in other group work and that’s not where my focus needs to lie. It would be better spent on the positive parts of my father and getting the cherishing that I need.

She asks me what I would like to happen? I say that I would like to be held by my father, and explain that my ideal father is actually the raging one at the moment.

“Realistically, he would never hold you, so we’ll have to de-role him so that he can become your ideal father.”

Magic can happen here.

First of all, I get to hold my own overwhelmed little girl and tell her all the wonderful aspects of herself, and stroke her hair and face. It’s exquisitely tender.

“You’re gorgeous,” I murmur, “You’re a great mother, you’re beautiful.”

Nicola asks what advice I can give to this little girl. I tell her that she can call upon those positive parts of her father in times of need and abandonment, and that they will be there for her.

Finally, I get to be my own little girl and I dissolve into the willing body and arms of my ideal father. I cry and breathe deeply. I drink in this gift of nurture and relaxation. It’s such a huge, huge relief.

John calls on everyone to join me and gently touch me. Again I breathe it all in. It is divine – floating in that sea of unconditional love. Plus Asanga is there somewhere in tears himself.

I realize that Asanga can also be this ideal father to me from time to time, when I need it. He has that energy. That’s reassuring.

I get up in bliss and dance with them. That’s my way.

Finally a couple of hours later, after incredibly intense group processes, we gather again for a graceful goodbye. Our sharings of how it has been for us. Our honouring of the group and the incredibly skilled facilitators.

What have I taken away? A sense of new calm around this, the nourishment, the witnessing and the knowledge that I have been seen in these places by my partner. That is a Big Wowee…

You can find more information about Shadow Work and weekends led by Nicola and John at, and

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