Refine Your Search

Cultivating A Flamboyant Mindset

4 Minute Read

This week I have been spending time contemplating my own relationship with flamboyance; Am I flamboyant enough to attend an event for ‘Seriously Flamboyant People’ I ask myself? In order to address this I thought I would begin with the

The Oxford Dictionary definition of Flamboyant, an adjective meaning:

  • (Of a person or their behaviour) tending to attract attention because of their exuberance, confidence, and stylishness.
  • Bright, colourful, and very noticeable - ‘a flamboyant bow tie’

Well I can do bright, colourful and noticeable some days. On those days when I wake up wanting to proclaim my positive exuberance to the rest of the world, or at least my fellow tube travellers, I will wear loud, outrageous clashing tones and revel in the attention. My eccentricity makes me all sorts of friends. But there are also mornings when the last thing I desire is high-visibility, does that mean that when I dress in Navy-Blue I am not being Flamboyant? Confidence I can manage only flittingly, exuberance after a glass of wine and I like to think of myself as subtly-stylish.

Self-differentiation is the process of psychologically distancing oneself from membership of one’s age group, and/or focusing on aspects of one’s self-concept that are different from the general consensus of how we should behave. I want to self-differentiate in my own way which will vary depending on how I feel when I stand before my clothes each morning. I may not want to look outrageously-flamboyant every day. However I want to feel flamboyantly-outrageous every day.

For me that is about viewing the world as full of opportunity, as making new connections, as being creative; sometimes it means I will act in a disgracefully extravert manner, with colourful language to match my gold-boots. However I can be flamboyant in my head without leaving my flat or getting out of my pyjamas. Is it possible that I can maintain the joy that flamboyance implies without informing the whole of London? Can I cultivate internal flamboyance? And what would that feel like?

I am fifty-two and I don’t have any intention of succumbing to Age Based Stereotype Threat (ABST), a theoretical viewpoint that states an individual feels threat when facing a situation that puts them at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about their group (Lamont,Swift, & Abrams,2015). So in other words, I’m not about to start dressing in an age appropriate manner just to fit in with ageist stereotypes. But I’m not always in the right emotional place to want to swing to the opposite sartorial spectrum and become an ‘Advanced Style’ advocate; I Love Ari Seth Cohen’s colourful characters, I just couldn’t carry it off personally.

‘You can’t challenge bias unless you are aware of it, and everyone is biased some of the time.... Consciousness-raising is a tool that uses the power of personal experience to unpack unconscious prejudices’ (Applewhite 2015)

Connecting with positive-aging-consciousness-raising groups, such as Advantages of Age, remind me of the gender politics of the 1970s and 1980s when I enjoyed becoming a feminist and bonding with subcultures through the way we dressed, as well as shared ideologies. I knew I was a real feminist because I wore dungarees, just as I knew I was a baby-punk because I had blue hair. Is there a dress-code for subverting the aging narrative? Does dressing against the ‘norm’, wearing flamboyance, signify our intention to develop a way for ‘older’ people to acknowledge their own internalized ageist prejudice and thereby transcend it? What if I don’t want to toe-the-line with this new dress-code?

Groups are able to offer safe spaces for the first steps of people’s probing the myths and stereotypes that they have internalized consciously or unconsciously over a lifetime. But does being part of this new positive aging agenda come with its own code of conformity? Can we develop an all-inclusive ‘club’ that is truly diverse, a place where it is encouraged to express your internal flamboyance without being coerced to step too far outside your sartorial comfort zone?

So my concern is can I belong without being outwardly flamboyant? How can I balance my desire to be accepted whilst holding on to my own style, which can veer towards the normal-boring end of the scale, and signify my flamboyant mindset?

I have suddenly realised this is an on-going dilemma for me, I have been here before. I wonder if it is my lack of commitment to a cause, or my insecurity. I have always wanted to be in the cool-gang, but find myself hanging around on the outskirts, a flamboyant imposter in norm-core clothing.

So if you see me looking less than flamboyant please try to see beyond my sensible skirt; Inside I have a truly radical flamboyant heart that occasionally plucks up courage to wear Gold boots.

Notes from a Gentleman Walking into Retirement

10 Minute Read

Pilgrimage - originally a journey to the shrine of a saint or holy person, undertaken alone or in the company (think the Canterbury Tales) to give thanks, worship, ask them for something or just taking the time to work things out at a turning point in life. Some hardship is usually involved - travelling on foot for example - and the separation from everyday life is an important element. The journey itself - or the spirit in which it is undertaken - is as meaningful as arrival at the destination.

The origins of the pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostella was to visit the tomb of St James, one of the 12 apostles, who is said to have journeyed to Spain to preach the gospel. In the last 30 years, this has become a very popular pilgrimage largely due to the Council of Europe in 1987 declaring it as the first European cultural route. Consequently certain parts of the route - particularly the Camino Frances in Spain - have become the pedestrian equivalent of a pilgrim motorway.

July 2016. A hilltop basilica filled with light, a sacred spot in fecund Burgundy. My first thoughts of retirement - letting go of one (long) stage of my life and a starting point for the next. I decide I will walk to Santiago de Compostela. My wife objects to me calling this a ‘pilgrimage’. Catholic by upbringing but certainly not by inclination. It’s just a long walk, she insists.

Only two fixtures in an otherwise gossamer plan. The start point: Vezelay. The start date: 21 June 2017. My 61st birthday. The summer solstice, when a pathway of light runs down the centre of the nave of the basilica (those clever medieval builders). But how long will I take? And how far will I walk? Do I go it alone or invite others to join me along the way? Does anyone believe I will really do this? Do I?

First step. Negotiate terms. We agree I’ll take one month, with a plan to meet and walk together somewhere towards the end of that period. Next step. Plot the route, my route, on an old road map of France. I underline in red, the towns I will pass through. I pin the map on my wall so I can see it, remind myself that it’s real. I order my pilgrims’ guide book. I get my credential, my pilgrim passport. A few steps further. My retirement date slips from the end of April to the end of May. But I will hold to my schedule.

20 June 2017. I’m packed and ready to go. A sense of dislocation, unreality, before leaving home. A send-off dinner in the garden with my family. I imagine they think I may never return. A broken night and an early start the next morning. New walking shoes and unfamiliar weight of the rucksack on my back. I decide to leave my carved stick at home, not sure if I can get it through security. I’ll find another along the way.

At Vezelay station, I have my first encounter with another pilgrim. We share a taxi into town. The taxi driver complains about the heatwave. It’s 36 degrees, not good for walking. I’m lodging at the Centre de la Madeleine, my first pilgrim hostel. This is all very new to me. I’m bewildered, and very hot. As I register with the hostelier, I accept the offer of a pilgrim blessing the next morning in the basilica. Casually.

I sleep badly and wake before dawn. Just in time I get to the basilica. Two other pilgrims are there for the blessing. Mark, a tall bearded American who appears to have fallen out of the sky. And Helios, a young man wearing a flat cap and a beatific smile who has walked all the way from Aachen. I am transported by the ritual, the transcendent ancient chants. The blessing is heartfelt and heartening. I leave with a copy of Luke’s Gospel and tears streaming down my face. My journey has begun.

The first day of walking is tough. I’m not prepared for the heat. By mid-afternoon, I collapse under a tree outside a cemetery where there is a water tap. My head is pounding and I have another 5 km before I reach my lodgings. I have no energy or will to move. But I have found myself a stick, a piece of coppiced hazel. It’s pleasingly crooked and I start to carve some marks on it. Eventually, I summon the energy to get up and stagger on. I arrive at my lodgings, exhausted and slightly delirious.

On my third day, I walk 31 km in sultry weather and mostly on tarmac. Too soon to be so ambitious. I lodge with Claude and Bernard on the outskirts of Nevers. Claude sends me to the pharmacy to have a couple of ticks removed from my leg, hopefully averting Lyme’s disease. Next day on my way into town to visit the cathedral, a Moroccan shopkeeper looks at my piece of hazel. ‘This is the stick Moses used to part the Red Sea.’ Later, I find myself in a side chapel called ‘La Chapelle du Passage de la Mer Rouge’. How do these things work, I wonder?

I cross the bridge over the Loire. It feels significant, a passage pilgrims have made through the ages. The weather gets cooler. I am heading into rural France. I start to notice things. Place names that make me laugh. The daily yellow post vans. Carefully tended vegetable patches. Barking dogs in every back yard – why so many? Romanesque churches, elegant and almost Protestant in their simplicity. The depressing frequency of derelict and abandoned houses in the villages. And the speed of traffic – why is everyone in such a rush?

Gradually I’m finding my own rhythm and I feel well in my body, like a sturdy little pony. But my legs and feet are aching. I get my first blisters and chafing in my arse. I start to develop a small love affair with French pharmacies. After my first week of walking, I take a day off and stay in Chateaumeillant, once a Gaulish settlement and Mediolanum, now just a provincial town with a small museum. My lodging is a mobile home in the vegetable garden. I think I could grow roots, stay a while.

I have a sense of slipping out of time and entering into an altered state. My thinking mind is on vacation. Not much in the way of concentrated or systematic thought. Half thoughts, thoughts for nought, wisps that pass against the backdrop of mind. Background noise, low static. Sometimes it gets in the way and I miss a turning, distracted, abstracted. Remembrances and fantasies. Ear-worms - tunes that are stuck in my head. As I walk I hum, sing out loud the bits of songs I can remember.

I’m alive to sights, sounds, and smells. The Wind in the hedgerows. Birdsong. Cloud patterns. Sunlight on fields. Fresh cut hay. Old green lanes, Roman roads, forgotten byways, hollow ways, scooped out tunneled tracks through the woods. Each day starts on an up, those first few steps. Twirling my stick, heading off down the road. For the first time in years, I feel free, in a sort of ecstasy. The joy of not knowing what comes next, where I will sleep at night. An adventure.

The road, walking, becomes my meditation. I feel connected to land, nature, spirit. A force that flows through everything. My intuition feels much sharper. In churches, I pray, clumsily because I can't find the right words, silently and out loud. Where the acoustics please me, I sing or whistle my own music. I understand these are sacred spaces. And so are the hedgerows. Which gods do you worship?

The Vezelay route is a solitary one. For the first two weeks, I meet no other pilgrims along the way. I’m happy in my own company. But solitude can feel like loneliness when I’m the only one sleeping in a hostel. One night I lodge with Paul, an elderly widower, in the damp, musty wing of his large house. After falling asleep, I wake up to torchlight and muffled sounds downstairs. I lie there for ages, frozen in fear, before dozing off again. Come morning - I realise that what I heard in the night was Paul laying out my breakfast. I feel foolish and a little ashamed.

Being alone for long periods, I get lost in myself. Imagination becomes more potent than reality. What might it be like to go feral, live in the wild? Naked, unaccommodated, instinctual. Walking through great silent woods, I expect any moment to stumble upon a writhing, orgiastic mass of bodies. Pan and Lilith hold sway here. Feverishly I make up lurid stories and scribble down notes in my journal. Is this how the devil tempted Christ in the wilderness? Is this how Mara tempted Siddhartha, the soon to Buddha? Am I also being tested?

I take another day off walking. A combination of blisters and the heat of the road has made my feet swell up painfully. I rest, v get a massage, leave offerings at a menhir. I meet Sylviane and Albane, grandmother and granddaughter walking together. It warms my heart to be with them. I start crossing paths with other pilgrims. Bernd, who has walking poles and a purposeful stride. Vanessa, who has lost her God. Patrick, who has written a sequel to Lord of the Rings. Bärbel, who wheels her tent behind her on a trolley. Mostly we don’t walk together, only meeting in the evenings. We are nodes on a line, pearls strung out on a long necklace.

Heading slowly south the landscape has been changing all the while. At walking pace, it’s subtle, details you wouldn’t notice flashing by in a car. Walnut gives way to chestnut, chestnut to fig. Cows become fewer, maize and sunflowers more prevalent. In the Dordogne, the countryside is still green. But the ground underfoot is harder, drier, rockier. I hear crickets for the first time. There is fruit in the hedgerows though not yet ripe. This is still deep country but there are more foreign registered cars and holiday homes.

I now feel as if I could walk forever. Come rain or shine, blisters or no. But soon, all too soon, my journey is coming to an end. I've lost a few kilos and I feel fitter than I have for ages. I've got a magnificent farmer's tan. I feel a fresh sense of purpose and identity. The plan to meet my wife and walk some of the ways with my daughter for the final few days is abandoned. Relief for all of us as the logistics are tricky, and the late insertion into such a personal journey even more so.

18 July. I arrive in Perigueux, my stopping point for now. A large town, busy with tourists. I feel the tug back into everyday time. A new sense of dislocation. Fear about reintegrating, settling down again. I'm going to miss so much of this.  My companions who are continuing their journey to Santiago. The welcome relief of the pilgrim hostel at the end of the day. Conversations with strangers along the way. The friendliness and respect for those who make this journey.  The simplicity of just walking, eating, sleeping.

The joy that has fuelled me along the way stays with me. This journey will continue. Ultreya!

Small children are really confused about the link between birthdays and ageing

3 Minute Read

Small Children Are Really Confused About The Link Between Birthdays And Ageing

Which follows which?

Imagine if all you had to do to avoid getting a year older was to not have a birthday party. Simple, right? It turns out that a good number of young kids think these parties are what makes us older.In a study of 99 kids aged 3, 4, and 5, nearly two in five of the youngsters thought that birthday parties were somehow linked to ageing. Don't have a party, and maybe you can stay the same age.

While the older children seemed to have a better grasp of age and how we get older, the confusion over the link between parties and moving up a year was spread across all of the kids – which is understandable, as they suddenly find themselves one year older after blowing out candles on a cake and singing Happy Birthday.

Results indicate that young children understand certain important biological aspects of the ageing process but exhibit confusion regarding others, including the causal role of the annual birthday party," write the researchers in their published paper.

Jacqueline D. Woolley from the University of Texas at Austin, and Amanda M. Rhoads from the Community of Hope in Washington DC, ran through three stories with their young volunteers to explore how they understood ageing.

The first story was about a kid who didn't get a party, the second was about a kid who got two parties, and the third was a more general, control story about a child turning 3.Nearly 20 percent of the toddlers thought the lucky child who got two parties would be two years older; meanwhile, around a quarter of the kids thought the child in the no party story stayed the same age.

A repeat of the study with a different group also produced similar results.A previous study has shown this way of looking at parties as the causes for ageing can last until kids are 6 or 7 years old, though that earlier research wasn't as specific in the questions it used – instead the children were polled on whether having multiple parties to try and get older was "a good idea".

Of course, even though these results are fascinating, the relatively small sample size and the fact more than a quarter of the kids got the control question wrong, makes us cautious about drawing any major conclusions here.

But we can't imagine a much cuter concept than staying the same age until the cards and presents are rolled out - and why wouldn't young children think this way?The effects of ageing are largely imperceptible to little minds, and then in a flash and a flurry of jelly and ice cream they're a year older.For the current study, the youngsters were also told a story about a woman who didn't want to get older. More than 70 percent of the 3-year-olds thought adults could avoid ageing if they so wished, though this dropped sharply with the 4- and 5-year-olds.

And perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise either, as us grown-ups spend so much time talking about wanting to look and feel younger.The researchers behind the study say it's an important look at both how we come to understand the passing of time, and how much significance our society gives to birthday party celebrations, especially when we're little."

Anyone who celebrates birthdays or who wonders about children's minds should be interested," Woolley told George Dvorsky at Gizmodo."Our culture is obsessed with the concept of the birthday party. Parents should enjoy their children and their children's questions, and discuss these issues with their children as they arise spontaneously."

The research has been published in Imagination, Cognition and Personality.

Read the full story here: Small children are really confused about the link between birthdays and ageing

My Battle Cry For My Mother and the Future

10 Minute Read

My mother, Anna Patricia Doyle had the joker card handed to her at birth. Rheumatic fever that kept her bound in bed for two years and left her with the legacy of a heart murmur, and prevented her from participating in anything physical in her childhood. This came back to haunt her later on in her life, she also had febrile convulsions.

In my mother’s late 40s, another isolated convulsion came out of the blue and at the age of 59, my mother was dealt the cruelest card in the pack. After two minor injuries to her head, my mother suffered a stroke. It was a major stroke, no actually, it was the mother of all strokes. This ‘stroke’ was not a stroke of good luck or even a stroke of misfortune, it was a stoke that would keep my mother in hospital for the next three months, first as a vacuous body in a coma and then as a person who had fundamentally changed. She might put on other people’s clothes, after mistaking their wardrobe for hers. Or she might wander phantom-like through the corridors of the Stroke ward at night, answering the ward phone whenever it rang (she was an ex nurse).

After three months, the hospital needed their bed back and so a meeting was held with the pre-decision made that it was in everyone’s best interests that my mother should be sectioned. My mother had won a one-way ticket to hell with no hidden extras, no upgrades or returns. My sister and I, who were both present at the meeting, knew that out mother would not survive this journey, we knew that she would end up marooned, a foreigner in a strange land. We knew that the waves of dementia inside her head would quickly drown out any remaining sparks of rationale.

And so, the decision was made that my mother would go home, the home that she had left three months earlier, the home where one night she went to bed a feisty, independent, attractive, vibrant workaholic at the age of 59 but who never awoke. That night, my mother, that is, my true mother died. A death before death. The Grim Reaper’s younger brother, Dementia had come a-knocking and now she was gone.
We attempted to carry on as normal, my mother after all was still a grandmother, a mother, a sister, an aunty and a friend. But it was not ‘normal’ nor would it ever be again. My daughters, who were 7 and 12 at the time, were on their own with her once. After a dramatic scene on a bus, this was never to be repeated. My sister lived in London, working full-time and I was a single parent, doing three jobs to make ends meet. My mother’s two sisters lived in London and had their own lives. My mother’s friends appeared to drop off the edge of the world’s surface, the last one made a hasty retreat when my mother, out with her one night, became ill in a restaurant.

Life from that point, appeared to be a continuum of endless telephone calls - from the police who had found my mother in a strange place; or from members of the public, reporting her as a drunk because she was behaving in a weird way; or from nurses at the local hospital saying that my mother had been found ‘fitting’ in public (the stroke brought with it mass epileptic episodes) and that she was now in the emergency department. These calls would come at all hours, whilst I was at work, (called out of classrooms); while on dates with sympathetic suitors and I would jump into my car and race off to the hospital to find my mother with her clothes cut off, tubes feeding life-fuelling medicine into her veins, her face and body covered in blood and bruises from where she had fallen. For a period of time, this happened so regularly that I stopped rushing to the hospital, I realised that I would be of more use to her when she awoke. Eventually, medical professionals managed to make my mother’s medication stable. The falls and blackouts decreased, my mother was able to stay in her home for another nine years.
When my mother was 60, she moved into a warden-controlled flat. There was a warden on duty five mornings a week and emergency pull cords. In addition to this, after one particularly severe relapse, (which resulted in an extended stay in hospital and a period of respite in a nursing home), social Services organised a carer to come in twice a day to aid my mother with her medication. And she is still in this flat.

What you have just read is a very brief history of my mother’s illness. Some information has been erased from my mind during the past 18 years, other information has been omitted to prevent it becoming an article that would rival War and Peace. And yet, my job here is not yet done.

You see, there is a job that needs doing, a mission if you like, and it is a serious kick-ass mission, not suitable for the meek or for the mild. It is a mission to make people listen, to rip off the invisibility cloak from the unheard old and sometimes young. It is a voice, in this case, it is my voice yet the words that I speak do not belong to me, they belong to others, they belong to my mother and the 750,000 people in the UK suffering with Dementia (Alzheimer’s Society) and these words need to be heard.
My battle cry, for I do not wish to whisper, starting forming 18 years ago, when my mother lay in a coma, (my sister remembers it being a weekend), in a hospital bed, lips cracked from thirst. We asked the nurse on duty if my mother could have a drink as she was obviously very thirsty, but she was not allowed one because there was no medical professional on duty to check my mother’s swallow reflex.

It continued during the months spent in the Stroke Unit, when I would visit her during my lunch breaks and again after school in order to bathe her and to ensure that she was wearing her own clothes.
It crossed the ten long years spent in her own home with no care or interventions set in place, just an ambulance collection service, a streamlined service where they would pick my mother up from some local gutter, patch her up and send her off on her merry way.

Then finally it arrives at her warden-controlled flat. A warden, whose job description I am led to believe is: ‘You are obliged to socialise with the hale and with the hearty’. A compassionate warden who, when my mother has problems with her electricity or plumbing is informed by her that she must phone her daughter.

Then there are the carers, organised by Social Services. Carers, who left my mother in the dark after a power cut for two hours. Carers who left my mother (who had accidently caused herself serious burns on one of her hands) with terrible blisters where the skin was ripped away for two days before informing me that my mother had a single blister on one of her fingers. One carer who helped my mother to dress for the day in a bright pink fluffy night top, some stained jumper and trousers with yesterday’s tights still caught up in one of the legs. Carers, who whilst I was away helping my sister to scatter her husband’s ashes, did not venture out of their way to assist my mother with washing or bathing - I was informed ten days later on my return that this was due to my mother not having any hot water (my mother has an electric shower). The list goes on.

My mother now has new carers, again organised by Social Services, and again a catalogue of errors is already building. I can no longer communicate with them and have handed over the reins to my sister, for I have forgotten how to speak and now can only shout.

My mother has a case worker, who believes that my mother is independent and more than able to stay in her own home. Medication is locked away in a safe, spare keys securely hidden outside, newspapers delivered, white boards emblazoned with the days of the week and the months and seasons of the year. My sister talks to my mother every night; I visit a few times a week, clean and look after her money and she survives.
Teenage-like now - knickers, tights and dirty clothes adorn the floors, evidence of fish and chip dinners lay around the flat and fag-filled ash trays wait expectantly on the smeared coffee table. But unlike the average teenager, who chooses solitude as an expression of self or as a vacation from a super fuelled life, solitude has chosen my mother. There are no friends who choose to visit, no clubs to be assimilated into, no books to get lost in. She is alone. She is lonely.

The population of the UK is ageing. The proportion of people aged over 65 rose from 15% to 17% from 1985 to 2010, an increase of 17 million people; this is projected to reach 23% by 2035. Elderly people account for most of the adult social care service users and of public spending on adult care. In the UK, the cost per year of residential care is on average around £29,270 rising to over £39,300 a year if nursing care is available. These figures point a crooked finger towards why the majority of the focus of health and social care services for elderly and vulnerable people is based on the promotion of independence.
Yet, this independence comes at a cost, not a monetary cost but a cost, which holds much more value. If we place someone who has scaled the entire dizzy heights of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ as rich, my mother is poor, overdrawn, bankrupt, just scraping at Maslow’s heels, her basic needs of food, water, warmth and rest barely being met. This surely illuminates that this promotion and ‘gift’ of independence, has grave implications when it comes to vulnerable people living on their own.

According to statistics, we will be slinking around as silver foxes for longer than our ancestors (80 is the new 50 and all that). Yet, don’t dust off your disco pants just yet as skulking in the shadows is Grimm’s younger brother and he is rather excited by this news. You see, the risk of dementia increases with age (he is now clapping his hands in glee) with The Alzheimer’s Society’s figures showing that 98% of the estimated 750,000 people in the UK with dementia are aged 65 or over.

And so we need a call to arms, we need to make a noise, we need to shout, we need to peer over care-givers’ shoulders and question those in authority. My mother’s story and history of care (or more accurately lack of care) is not isolated. We have all read the horror stories.

We, as a society, need to fight, we need to fight for the provision of tailor-made care, tailor-made for all individuals, not just the privileged (as we all know that one size does not fit all especially if like me you are a curvy sized 16). We, as a society need to ensure that care, as we get older, provides the relevant footholds to enable all individuals to pat Maslow on the head with all basic, psychological and self-fulfillment being met. We, as a society need to ensure that those who manage the care of the vulnerable and older are held accountable and that they keep a close check on its relevance, quality and the manner of delivery.

We are the voices of the future, we are the voices of our mothers, fathers, loved ones, and we need to make ourselves heard, we need to stop talking in whispers and instead daub ourselves in battle paint and practice our roars. It will be us next.

My Personal Route to No More Bullshit – The Path of Love

4 Minute Read

I should have known that something like this would happen. I know that my life operates in seven-year cycles and it was true that I had been wondering what was going to happen on the next stage of my journey as I hit 49. I just hadn’t seen this one coming.

I got fired from the job that I loved. I was bereft. So much of my identity had been wrapped up in this role that I had enjoyed. I threw myself into other activities and rebalanced my working life to take advantage of new opportunities, but I was rattled inside and my body was acting up. Problems with my teeth and gums erupted, a sure sign that all was not well in my inner world.

In the midst of this an old friend from Australia came to stay with me. ‘You need to do The Path of Love,’ she said. ‘What is it? I asked not unreasonably. ‘You don’t need to know…I’ll sign you up.’ - came the response.

Six weeks later, I found myself outside a country house retreat centre in Somerset and somewhat nervously registering for the course and handing over the course fee. I didn’t know (didn’t want to know) much about the process, but of course that part of me that resists change and totally prefers the comfort of the known was tugging at me and imploring me to drive back home to London.

As I stepped into the seven-day residential retreat, I felt a familiar mix of terror and excitement. Even though I do this work for a living - I am a psychotherapist - the prospect of stepping out from behind that convenient mask and showing up with all my fears, feelings and failings was daunting.

I was right to be daunted because what transpired as the process unfolded - was that I had somehow been guided to what must be the most challenging, terrifyingly beautiful and transformative pieces of group work in the world today. There was nowhere to hide. My customary bullshit wasn’t any use to me.

My fear is that if I show people who I really am and what truly happens inside me then I will be judged, rejected and even scorned. But what actually happened was the more I and the members of my group revealed the truth about ourselves to each other (and especially the dark bits) the more trust developed between us. The more that trust developed, the more able I felt to go deeper. To be able to stand in the truth of who I am and to be received with no judgment and with love and compassion was extraordinary.

Then there was my body. Like a lot of men, I have a somewhat distant relationship with the seven eighths of me that resides below my neck. Like a lot of men, I was brought up and educated to believe that my brain would be the organ of my salvation - the doorway to life satisfaction, wealth and learning. I was mistaken.

Over the seven days of the Path of Love, I learned that my body has wisdom of its own and of course had been my constant companion for the last 49 years. A lifetime of repressing emotions - a survival strategy learned at boarding school at eight years old - meant that a lot had been stored in my body. Powerful meditations involving intuitive movement and inspiring music allowed me to start releasing some of these feelings - I cried, I ranted, I prayed, I rejoiced.

Finally, I reached an ineffable place of such deep stillness and calm that I honestly felt ready to die. I remember thinking about my wife and children and how they would miss me, and I them…but the pain associated with that thought was so slight that it felt like I had been given a glimpse of a liminal space between life and death. It was a profound gift that has stayed with me to this day.

I was so impressed with the work and the people who delivered it that I applied to join their team and was accepted and trained. Over the last five years, I have facilitated and then led the Path of Love process. It challenges, excites and delights me, and I find it a privilege to accompany other people through their journeys of transformation…each person different…each path unique. There is still no room to hide, as the course leaders and everyone who works with us are constantly working on ourselves and showing up in truth and authenticity. How can we ask others to do this if we are not prepared to do it ourselves?

What I have discovered, and what I take away each time I lead this process, is that human beings are wired for connection and cooperation. We need each other. We need to share our inner fears, wounds and darkness with each other, and it brings us closer together. It creates bonds of trust, compassion and love. We need these things. Separation makes us sick, and sickness is all around us.

The first Path of Love to be run in London is March 1 – 8th 2018. More info
Simon Matthews is a psychotherapist and Path of Love Leader.

Show me more
Surprise Me

Hear more from us

Subscribe to our newsletter