‘In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me, there lay an invincible summer.’ Albert Camus
I’d had some crazy times. At 43, I split with my long-term partner and headed straight into a number of relational car crashes.
In my mid to late 40s, there’d been the psychotherapist who drank dangerously; he’d make phone calls from telephone boxes declaring that he was yearning for me, and I’d do dreadful journeys up and down to Slough in order to participate in wild nights of bacchanalian sex. Yes, Slough! My ex looked after my nine year old son on these occasions. Poor boy would ask me if the lights were on when I got back. And they definitely were not.
Then even worse was the charismatic alcoholic entrepreneur who would ring to inform me that he’d been on a five day bender and was literally eating the carpet. Off I’d pop to help out. Nurse Rose to the rescue. Incredibly, I convinced myself that this was an adventure. Sorry Marlon. This gentleman also professed that he was a tantric master. That was not my lived experience.
Of course, there were heady moments in both those relationships. There were melting kisses in the moonlight, exciting ideas exchanged on summer evenings, our own absurd performances of Hamlet in Holland Park and the sometimes ecstatic, often painful dance of push and pull. And not a hint of a committed relationship on the horizon.
What was interesting – was not the blaming and judging of these men – but rather why I was insistently making these choices. Where did my compulsion to be with unavailable men come from? It took a few years more for me to look at my own unavailability.
During the one year Courage To Change group therapy course with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern, I learned how difficult it was to show my vulnerability to others. I also practised diversionary tactics by having a relationship with a younger male participant. The high drama of this relationship – at the time, he’d started something with another woman in the group – allowed me to sidestep any underlying grief/pain of my own. Instead, we had our very own soap opera. This man was a delight and we did manage to meet on Planet Playful, which was idyllic for all too-brief-a-time.
In my early 50s, my relationship life plunged to an all-time low. Somehow I allowed myself to ‘fall in love’ with a former neighbour who not capable – there was deep trauma in his past – of the kind of intimacy that I longed for. It became a dark, persistent secret that was shameful to me. I told no-one how far I’d descended. In fact, I have him to thank for eventually stopping all contact between us. That was the only way.
The workshop years followed. I’d already done the Hoffman Process, which made me aware of those behavioural patterns learned from my parents and became the ideal place to forgive them. I did the New Year’s workshop Passion, Power and Love with tantra teacher, Jan Day. It was restorative, fun and flirtatious. For the first time in months, I inhabited myself in that richly embroidered fashion which made me feel excited. At Easter, I did Jan’s seven day Living Tantra 1, which was all about sexual healing. It was a blast. Challenging and nurturing in equal measure. There was a lot of boundary work – learning when to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ basically when it came to loving touch. There were extraordinary moments of letting go in dance, in grief, in anger, and in pleasure shared with others. We were a community of emotional explorers and it felt like a healthy place to dwell for a while.
Funnily enough, I was expecting to meet a man, ‘the man’ on these workshops; but instead I met a woman. Not in a pansexual way, but in a loving, intimate way. I found a new woman friend, Jayne, that I could share my deeply hidden and shameful sides with. Without fear of recrimination and judgement. That was such an immense liberation, and continues to be. At last I could breathe freely without having to put myself into a socialised repressed straight jacket. The act of sharing my darker nooks and crannies with her was/is a gift that opens my heart every time. My fragility was/is my strength. I still have to remind myself. I’d much rather be seen as warrior woman.
And I faced into what drove me to make those sorts of choices in men. I acknowledged my own complex relationship with my father. I understood that I was unavailable on an intimate level because I was still trying to rescue him from his depression and therefore ignoring my own needs. I wept and screamed like a banshee. It didn’t help me find a partner but it did help me feel more relaxed in my own skin.
A women’s group – the Wild Women – came next. Lots of emotional sharing, too much drinking and not enough boundaries meant an intense experience every time but it was inevitably short-lived. Another more structured one – simply called the Women’s Group – has lasted six years. It is a safe place where I can collapse in tears, where I can ask to be hugged and stroked, where I can show sides of myself that I do not show anywhere else. It’s a safe container to allow the depths of winter emotionally without a need to feel that the invincible summer has to come. It’s a sigh of relief.
And then there was the simple contentment and the positive aliveness of being alone. Okay, my son was still around but there wasn’t a man around. I began to realise that I relished this state. I could spend time reading and writing poetry. I started the four year project where I had walking adventures around Harlesden which eventually turned into the book, A London Safari: walking adventures in NW10. I danced 5 Rhythms. I played tennis. Every year for eight years, I went to the ten day Field of Love camp, which provided a loose community of like-minded people to hang out with for the rest of the year. I spent precious time with my women and men friends. I no longer hankered for a committed relationship, I surrendered to the idea that it would either appear or it wouldn’t.
Of course, there were still sexy interludes. There was the not to be missed International Tantra Festival in the foothills of Catalonia. This consisted of a marvellous mixture of raunch, hilarity and tantric structures. I went with my friend, writer, Monique Roffey. She recounted one of our experiences during this week at the feast on the last night, in her memoir With The Kisses of His Mouth –‘A man was being carried in, on the shoulders of some of the cooks from the kitchen. He was brown and glistening. I stared, trying to train my eyes to see correctly. Yes. He was glistening – with chocolate. His body was prone, arms held outwards as if preparing for a crucifixion. His torso was laden with fruit. Mangoes and peaches, pears and strawberries. Blueberries. A majestic Himalaya of whipped cream rose up along the centre of his body, from neck to navel. His cock was decorated with baubles of passion fruit, cherries, meringue puffs, purple pansies. The second course was announced. Him. The young cook was dessert.’ The Spanish women got going first, but eventually, we, the English women got going too. We emerged with our faces smeared with shiny chocolate and laughing copiously.
Then the age of 60 appeared on the distant horizon and I decided it was time for a change. That it was time to put some of these workshop love tools into practice. That it was time for that elusive committed relationship. I’d tried Guardian Soul Mates and joined in with pretending to be ten years younger than I was. Which was oddly distressing. I met a shamanic lecturer with a wolf skin on his bedroom door and a litany of men where I went into journalist mode to cope with my own or their lack of interest. The internet didn’t work for me.
So I made the decision to invoke a man into my life. I did all the things that I swore I would never do. The same ever-willing woman friend, Jayne, spent time with me while I concocted a list of attributes for this future partner and our future relationship, and then, horror of self-help horrors, stuck it on my bedroom wall. That illustrates the level of my determination. Jayne also bought me a little sculpture of a man and a woman embracing lovingly, I put it the centre of my bedroom shrine of jewels, photos and shells.
Ah ha and then there was Carlos. Most of the tantric practitioners in London, I found out, frequented the extraordinary massage land that is Carlos’ home in Highgate. If you want to be prepared for a juicy sex life, Carlos is the masseur of choice. He is incredible. Unafraid of his animal self and yet entirely trustworthy not to cross any unwanted boundaries, every massage is a journey into the wild. I surrendered myself completely to the experience. I once half-opened one eye to witness my entire foot in his mouth. He is fearless. And it’s wonderful.
Finally, I’d heard about the seven day Path of Love from a psychotherapist friend. It’s a group process where you can choose the issue that you’d like to address during that week. I made my mind up that this would be an ideal place to face into all the shame that I felt around not having a committed relationship as well as the messed up attempts along the way. In a grand stately home in Wales, I threw myself into this task like long distance runner with my steely eye on the prize.
And yet the week was more about sinking into my heart than anything else. We moved our bodies a lot. We shook ourselves into presence. We shared courageously. We ate in silence. We danced our pain into oblivion. And we surrendered to prayer – the kind where we ask for help outside support. I became a soft ball of melted mush. My brain disappeared. Oh the divine pleasure of just being there in all my emotional nakedness.
Magically, all that invoking had an effect. The invincible summer of hope showed itself. The man appeared. He heard my call. He was actually on the staff (volunteers who have already done the process) at the Path of Love and we’re still together three years later. Although the actual getting into that relationship is another story in itself!
Rose’s little red book of workshops, massages, etc.
Malcolm Stern still runs his One Year Group, The Courage To Change – malcolmstern.com
The Hoffman Process – hoffmaninstitute.co.uk
Jan Day’s Passion, Power and Love and Living Tantra 1 – janday.com
Carlos’ massage – shaktiman.me.uk
The Path of Love – pathoflove.net
The Field of Love Summer Camp – 5th – 14th : Field of Love. Dorset