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Am I a Workshop Junkie?


10 Minute Read

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 who is a psychotherapist originally from San Francisco, and 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 one. 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 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.

More info about the Path of Love on pathretreats.com

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


1 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 www.pathretreats.com
Simon Matthews is a psychotherapist and Path of Love Leader.

Sex in My 70s – at last, the pressure is off!


1 Minute Read

Much of my life, despite discovering meditation in my 30s, has been about achieving goals – either physical ones in different sporting activities or intellectual ones in my medical career. Although often denying it, I was very competitive. I competed in sports at school and university and later on became obsessed with achieving improvement in performance as a rock climber and mountaineer. Even during meditation competitiveness could creep in, in the form of achieving good results.

And as a man this applied in the field of sex as much as anywhere else. The goal of course was to achieve that desirable yet elusive ever-more earth shattering orgasmic ejaculation; and not only that, but to make sure the woman had the same, simultaneously. It was even my responsibility that she did, or so I thought – what misguided arrogance to think that I should be in charge of her body. No matter how hard I tried this scenario was doomed to fail and end in frustration and worse: projection and unspoken recriminations towards the other – familiar picture anyone? And putting oneself under pressure can inevitably lead to the issue of performance anxiety with burn out and even physiological failure, i.e. erectile dysfunction.

I would like to think that now in my 70s life is more laid back but am not sure this is so. What I can say is that I am less obsessed with achieving goals and happier to enjoy the landscape along whatever way I travel. Of course there are still goals but they are simple, practical, everyday ones: when cooking a meal I want the result to be pleasing – both on the eye and palette. Also I am less concerned with impressing others and happier to be me: eccentric, opinionated, flamboyant, insecure. Of course, I still catch myself slipping back into old habits around wanting to be the best but I am not perfect and have come to realise that to pursue perfection is pointless!

And along the pathways of getting older – my mountaineering accident, the death of my wife – I have chosen to face the nooks and crannies within myself. I have attended personal development workshops in which I have had to face and own my shadows in public. I have taken risks exposing sexual and emotional issues around shame and weakness to strangers. I have dared to ask for what I want from another person while showing them who I am and seeing who they are – without masks. And as a result I have re-discovered a zest for life, my big heart and how much fun I can have. It has definitely been life-changing.

I am blessed by finding a strong-willed, like-minded woman to share in this. When I asked her to be my “tantric sex goddess,” after some hesitation she said it was an offer she could not refuse, but then spent months backtracking every time I came forward. I had to learn patience, to respect another’s boundaries and compassion. She had to learn how to show her vulnerability. In any case, I had no idea  what I meant by such a request, which although was what I thought I wanted, was also a fantasy. I was soon to find out the nitty gritty of real relating. And it has not been a particularly smooth ride but a real and honest one. We choose people to relate to intimately because they mirror ourselves and press our buttons. Accepting this, however difficult, can be a springboard to deeper intimacy.

We first came to know of each other’s existence 4 years ago in a seven-day group process known as the Path of Love which is about getting in touch with our potential to be in our hearts. It is not about sex as such but sexual energy is our life force and this process is also about taking risks and living life to the full. Participating in such groups together can be scary but also bring a deeper intimacy and tenderness between couples. Partly in order for our relationship to survive, we have taken part in several residential events including Path of Love as staff, and as participants in a Shadow Work weekend and a seven-day Making Love Retreat where the emphasis was on Slow Sex, a flowing, organic, playful immersion into consciously sharing body, mind and spirit. Basically, it includes spending sweet loving time together. Another discovery was how it is possible to do soft penetration: the penis entering the vagina while only semi-erect! I believe relating to another has to be worked at and this applies to sexual relating. I prefer the word “relating” to “relationship” as I think it gives the impression of something dynamic rather than static.

Gradually, over the last four years, my partner and I have found a way to become slower and less expectant in our sexual life. And I have been able to – after quite a few red hot battles – give myself something more organic. Somehow it now no longer matters whether she has an orgasm, or I do, or no-one does, we’re on a continuum of sexual pleasure which in traditional terms might be considered foreplay. With penetration added. But no pressure.

Something we use as a resource when there is friction between us is to sit facing each other, holding hands starting with eyes closed focusing on breathing into the belly, and then when ready opening the eyes and gazing softly at the other’s face with no judgement, being passively receptive, not actively looking. Then taking it in turns to share what we appreciate about each other. This avoids the mind’s tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and projections and inevitably dissolves the friction. And it is always nice to feel appreciated and not taken for granted.

So, whenever we can, we bring little rituals into our love making as part of setting the desired scene: giving a sense of erotic sacredness. Like slowly undressing each other to a backdrop of lyrical, meditative music and then having a bubble bath together and washing at least each other’s feet and legs – slowly and lovingly, while lying facing each other. In the past I would resort to candles and incense but that was it. Now there is no rush or goal to be achieved and in this way everyday actions become part of making love – even going for a walk or drinking a cup of tea together.

This period of intensive self-exploration has happened over the last five years of my life probably as a result of having more time on my hands to reflect on my real priorities and want I want out of life. This includes making a commitment to make it work between me and my woman.

But the pressure to achieve unrealistic goals is off, which means we can enjoy the adventure.

Is it said that life begins at fifty? Well, I know that life begins whenever you choose a new beginning. It’s never too late.

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