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


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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.

The ManKind Project: How programmes, politics and pop culture are addressing toxic masculinity | The Independent


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As I stood next to a man roaring with rage and wet with tears, in a community hall in deep west London, I thought – well, this is awkward. I don’t even like man-hugs, particularly those three-pat buddy jobs they do in Hollywood. Yet here was a real live male in distress, perilously close. Should I hug him, against the advice of my inner Brit?

Read the full story here: The ManKind Project: How programmes, politics and pop culture are addressing toxic masculinity | The Independent

Can You Get on Your Knees?


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‘Go you, sweep out the dwelling room of your heart; prepare it to be the home of the Beloved; when you go out He will come in. Within you, when you are free from self, He will show His Beauty.’ Sufi

I notice I have never been good at bowing. It usually takes a large piece of wood – or at least the emotional equivalent – to get me on my knees.

Even then I tend to get up too quickly, my ego returning, stronger than ever, like some tumour determined to spread to another, as yet unaffected corner of my being.

True surrender only seems to happen when we run out of road, our own defences, plans and trickery finally exhausted, defeated by a power greater than ourselves.

Self-preservation can do it. I discovered that when, aged 25 and a determined atheist, I found myself begging God to save me from the painful consequences of my drinking.

I was on my knees, and I should have stayed there.

But I didn’t. I got up and although I gave up drinking, my mind was most definitely going to stay king if not emperor of other important areas, not least sex and relationships. 

Although in truth, it was anything related to pleasure. Fear will only humble a man for so long. After all, I was only 25 and I needed to swagger a while longer.

Luckily, however, somewhere in the depths of me lurked a mystic who secretly longed for love and with it the sense of wholeness and completion that is our birthright.

The human task is to become divinised, to remember who we are beyond name and form. To upgrade has become urgent. Without it, we will almost certainly destroy ourselves.

The mirrors are now flashing endless reflections: Trump, Grenfell Tower, Isis. The world is dying and so our sacred task, what Rumi called the one thing, is pressing.

And the work is personal and calls us to stop looking in the world and turn within. This world, for all its glamour and show, is a realm of reflected light.

The light of pure consciousness is within the heart. The Sufis understood it and yet it is an understanding that lies beyond the mind:

‘The heavens cannot contain me, or the void, or winged exalted intelligences and souls: Yet I am contained as a guest in the heart of the true believer.’

This is the divine secret. The whole universe lives within the human heart. Our destiny is to realise it, to discover powers we cannot even begin to imagine.

But we only receive the powers of mastery when we no longer want the world. We only get them when we have been purified enough in the divine flame, passed through rings of fire and proven that all we want is love.

To be the lover, the Beloved, and finally Love itself.

How few of us are ready to give up all our secret longings, to become empty enough to receive the jewel the divine has for us. There is always something else to play with so, like me, we miss the opportunity to stay down, be humbled enough for grace to enter.

And we have no idea how tragic it is.

But then life presents us with another opportunity, if we are lucky. (I have seen many people who thought they could indulge their poison one more time leave this planet.)

The mystic Andrew Harvey describes wonderfully what he calls our addiction to stage two culture, where the rewards of the prevailing culture keep us smug and satisfied.

He goes on to recommend a nervous breakdown sometime in your 20s to catapult you out of it. As Rumi says, leave safety for in truth it is final danger. Complacency kills.

The difficulty is most of us do not want the work of purification, what the Sufis called polishing the mirror, so the divine sun can be reflected in it.

Yet that work is inevitable. We all have to do it and we have to do it willingly. If not in this life, then another.

But as I know from my own life and in working with clients, resistance is often dogged. Submission and obedience to a will other than our own takes collapse or the threat of the loss of something we are not prepared to live without.

And it is the smartest people, the intellectuals, those with a head filled with knowledge, who find humility so hard. But humility and its bedfellow gratitude, are qualities the ego-driven westerner need to assimilate.

Structures by their very nature carry a weight of unconsciousness that is often impenetrable and more so when combined with intellect.

The mind sits on the throne of consciousness and hoodwinks mainstream culture into accepting its dominance, despising the spiritual.

I’m also not in the business of martyring myself before the mob so I can only say I am a penitent man, after recent events.

I am in touch with my shadow, that which remains in need of integration. It does not make me bad, although others might judge me as such.

But it does mean there is more work to do on a road less travelled. (I will save my confession for a more private vessel.)

You can stay entranced by the rewards of stage two culture if you like.

I will do the work of wholeness, As Rumi put it:

‘Heart be brave, if you cannot bear grief, go. Love’s glory is not a small thing. Come in if you are fearless. Shudder and this is not your house.’

Psychotherapy Without Soul Can Fuck You UP


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Without an appreciation of the soul’s radical desires, psychotherapy can interfere with psychological and spiritual maturation and promote a non-imaginative normality that merely supports people to be better-adapted cogs in a toxic industrial culture’

Bill Plotkin

There is a marvellous moment in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by the pioneering Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood when a client finally hits the ground of infinite possibility. The truth is, she says, that right now I am a completely fucked up human being and cannot be otherwise. This revelation was no doubt preceded – as it is for many of us – by years of therapy and workshops, potions and pills. From that moment of crystalline authenticity doors began to open as she sank into the richness of her own being without judgment or concept.

One of the cavernous blind spots that snag the seeker lies in the poisoned nature of the ground in which she seeks healing. Without the soul as companion too many therapies are simply confounded by what is presented. How can that which is devised within the confines of ‘toxic industrial culture’ – that which fails to incorporate blessings and curses, ancestral hand-me-down wounds and individual karma – bring cure to what ails?

Again and again I have seen clients struggling under the weight of a geis, or what I call conditions on the soul, failed, inevitably, by systems that don’t get them, don’t want them and finally throw up their hands in confused failure offering another diagnosis by way of compensation and to save professional face.

Soul sickness does not respond to that which is soulless. It does not seek a fix, although the personality which accompanies it will. It cannot be touched by much in this world. For what has taken root in a human being, what has found a home there, is both incurable and a reflection of what is not right in contemporary culture. This sickness comes from being separated from the beauty that has been lost and which the soul now desires as a matter of urgency. The individual holds both the illness and the answer for that which lies outside the Self.

It is almost that after the soul’s journey over many lifetimes the pressure builds to a point where only death or breakthrough matter. It has to be one or the other. Nothing else will do. I am either going to find the beauty within or I will return to it in the Otherworld, the realm of the ancestors. The mood is pressing and the initiatory circumstances both more terrifying and exciting.

In Zen, it is said that the nature of dilemma is like having a red-hot coal stuck in the throat. It can neither go down nor out. You can neither cough it up nor swallow it. This stuckness or impasse is common in both individuals and society, and as Jung said it represents a preparatory period before significant breakthrough, even an evolutionary leap.

We are too quick to want to get out of this wasteland. In these days of sound bites, quick fixes and instant communication the thought that the soul might have its own agenda and desires is abhorrent. That it might want you to grow sicker and sicker until you are beyond human aid is unpalatable. This is where insight into the mythological level of life is critical. Without understanding and accepting the soul’s need for slowness and to sink into its own depths it is too easy to think a life is no longer worth living.

But the soul is calling you down, deeper than you would go on your own, farther than seems necessary to the conscious mind that only wants to ‘get on’. It takes a long time and much flailing about looking for ways out of our dilemma before accepting, like the client above, that perhaps there is no cure, at least none that we can see. If you study mythological tales, this image of the fall from grace, the wasteland, and the kingdom once abundant now in ruins is everywhere. And it is a necessary part of being alive.

For the sickness pulls us down into territories of great learning, a brush with death, and strips us of all we have known thus far until all that is left is the vision with which we were born and which has been forgotten. ‘The only way to treat the condition,’ says mythologist Michael Meade is to get everything out of the way and allow the sickness to speak for itself. It can only be heard when all the possible cures have been eliminated and its incurability has been admitted. The soul sickness needs permission to be the strange story that it declares itself to be.’

The only way at such times is to understand we have ingested soul sickness, that it is purposeful and contains great gifts, and to go further into it. In other words we have to follow where the sickness leads and where it leads is often to a threshold we don’t even want to see let alone cross.

In modern times, I see this happen most often in relationships. Everywhere I turn I hear people stuck on the horns of dilemma: should I stay or should I go?; I love him but I’m not in love with him; I just don’t feel anything any more. As soul, that feelings of passionate aliveness, most often enters us in western culture through our romances, small wonder that is where we will feel its absence.

People stay miserable within these dilemmas for years, for the sake of the children or a myriad of other sensible reasons. Yet soul is not interested in common sense or material security. It just keeps pressing in on you until you give it its due and it won’t let up until you do, ever. That does not mean the solution is to break with relationship. That may or may not be the case. It does mean you have to find a way to attend to your deeper life or get sicker.

In a sense, the more soul sickness you’ve imbibed the better equipped you are to heal what is within and without. In turning towards what is dark within the Self and the culture we increase the possibility of bringing some of the beauty trapped in the Otherworld back over the threshold. It is as if we have to risk death to step over and beyond ourselves, but what we bring back can alone illuminate that which has fallen into forgetful chaos.

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


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“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 goldenopportunities.org.uk, shadwwork.eu and shadowwork.com

Past Lives: An Unconventional Route to Deep Healing.


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‘Our story…is much older than its years, its datedness is not to be measured in days, nor the burden of age weighing upon it to be counted by orbits around the sun, it does not actually owe its pastness to time.’ Thomas Mann

Years ago, if time exists, I found myself roaming the streets of a dismal, faded Willesden, looking for an Irishman.

He seemed to have declared a republic, his small flat a minor citadel, its gated entry a bulwark against whatever lay in wait outside. Perhaps we started with small talk about a recent spate of burglaries. I had come from a verdurous Kew and was, I recall, feeling spoilt.

I sat in a recliner and he threw a blanket over me. He then clipped a small microphone to his shirt and we began. He was mesmerising, but he was supposed to be and, in short order, I found myself under, straddling worlds as the hypnotism took hold.

It is hard to remember exactly what brought me to his door; I was already a therapist myself working in addiction, had scratched the addict to reveal the co-dependent, had scratched the co-dependent to reveal the trauma victim, but what next?

What I noticed were recidivists. Every rehab has them. They appear regularly, often tragically, presenting the sort of conundrum that any institution would rather disappear.

I was no stranger to pain myself and felt myself pulled by an invisible thread into Pluto’s realm, the dark domain of the unconscious, seeking answers that could only be found at the bottom of the well.

This was my first regression and soon, in an alternate reality, I was staring at my buckled feet, following that same thread into 17th century England.

My rational mind balked for a while, employed my inner cynic to dismiss what I was seeing but, encouraged to trust myself, I let go and allowed the unconscious to lead me.

I saw myself as a monk seconded to the local squire’s house to teach his children, but managed to fall in love with his wife. With no money nor anything worldly to offer, she refused to come away with me. I returned to the monastery bitterly dejected, was told I had to leave, wandered some sparse common land, finally attempting to end it all in a lake, when the squire’s men arrived and dragged me back to the manor’s keep.

Then something remarkable happened. As that life came to its premature close with a quivering hypothermia, I felt a great wave shudder through my body, while sitting in my chair, which felt like an enormous healing light. It was utterly unexpected and totally blissful. I knew immediately that death could be a wonder.

But before that, something else had happened. My collaborator asked me a simple question: ‘What’s the name of the woman?’ I answered without hesitation, ‘Lady Alicia’.

It is important to say at this point I am not a proselytiser for the veracity of past lives, have no concern if people dismiss my account or possess scientific theories that can explain away such arcane phenomena. I do not waste time on conversion, which is an affront to individual dignity, neither am I interested in debate.

Dr Roger Woolger, the founder of Deep Memory Process, which works with past lives, wrote this on the back cover of his book, Other Lives, Other Selves: ‘It doesn’t matter whether you believe in reincarnation or not. The unconscious mind will almost always produce a past life story when invited in the right way. Even if the conscious mind is highly sceptical, the unconscious is a true believer!’

I can only tell my story, and it is this: I had never heard of a Lady Alicia from the 17th century, nor any other era for that matter, yet after investigation found myself sitting in The Eclipse Inn in Winchester.

The old pub was the site of the final days of Lady Alicia Lisle who, it is said, walked out of her upstairs bedroom window on to the scaffold specially prepared for her execution, where she died by axe on September 2, 1685.

Her crime had been to shelter two state rebels defeated and on the run after the Battle of Sedgemoor at her home, Moyles Court near Ringwood in Hampshire. Dame Alice soon found herself before Judge Jeffries at the Bloody Assizes, he condemned her for treason and sentenced her to be burned. There was no clemency shown, but due to her social stature, King James 11 commuted her sentence and she died with dignity.

She is the last woman to have been executed by a judicial sentence of beheading in England. The judgment against her was later rescinded.

Shortly after my session, I told a friend about it. We were both silenced when she told me that she had been at a conference in Winchester on the anniversary of Lady Alice’s death and had experienced a powerful burning sensation on her lips and face.

It was an arresting development, an easy distraction, but would have been a cul-de-sac; my interest was in the healing power of working with the deep unconscious.

Healing is a word that seems to bamboozle people, is often confused with cure, and is often subtle and hard to quantify. Like meditation, it works on inner planes of consciousness, bringing results not always immediately apparent. What is noticed, often by others first, are changes in demeanour, more contentment, feelings of happiness and life improving.

I had first come across Dr Woolger in the 90s while living at a retreat centre in rural Dorset, was curious about his course and, years later, decided to sign up.

A brilliant academic and free thinker, with a PhD in comparative religion, Roger later trained at the Jung Institute in Zurich as an analyst and followed his own thread after seeming to hear fragments of memory from other lifetimes from his analysands. Finally, he tied all the threads together, in one powerful synthesis that included bodywork, spirit release, psychodrama and more into a powerful cocktail easing trauma release.

Although I met him because of his training, we became closer when I wrote a magazine piece about his work he wanted to use in the reprint of his book.

His method does not involve hypnosis rather the embodying of the past life character which, as I soon discovered, is not always easy to achieve.

It was spring, bluebells blanketed an expanse of ground nearby, dog roses climbed, prettily, around a large yew, but we were in the hut, in pairs. The atmosphere was anything but spring-like.

Working with art, I had found myself aware of another lifetime yet, lying on the ground eyes closed, with my partner taking her turn facilitating, I was aware of being stuck in my head. Embodying means just that but I was – rather than being in my body – out of it, something not uncommon for those who have experienced trauma.

There was a palpable stuckness as any progress ground to a standstill; my partner had slowed to a depressive silence and did not know how to move me forward.

Suddenly, I received an almighty slap round the face which instantaneously shot me into my body, and there I was at The Somme, a teenager collapsing while confronting the unspeakable horrors of war. All around me were dead, all of my friends, the carnage was unbelievable, worse still was the terrible aloneness amplified by loss. I was there and it was impossible to stop sobbing.

Roger’s slap was both unconventional and courageous and I continued to release a deep pain. Often in past life work, one looks for connections to this time and for those souls who may be here again, companions who may play different roles over many lifetimes. The revolving nature of the Self as victim-perpetrator-rescuer was noticed by Carl Jung who termed it enantiodromia.

As a young boy at a time of heightened anguish, I had been sent to a penfriend in France, near Le Mans, and had spent a week in bed, distraught and sobbing. Yet although life then was tough, I had never quite understood why I had been in quite so much pain. Suddenly, the cosmic dice came tumbling down. At last, it made sense. I took a breath. It can be hard to describe the bodily experiencing of certitude but this was it.

Often, when we are able to re-contextualise our trauma, we experience deep relief as the veils between worlds are lifted. Returning to my recidivists, it struck me that it is perhaps impossible for people to heal while looking in the wrong place. Both belief and experience tell me that childhood is a time when all that lies hidden from us, in our deeper self, is hinted at and carries echoes of our earlier experience. There is then no tabla rasa, we come in pre-loaded with our karma which obliges us by unfolding over time.

What I have found again and again is that I attract clients of two basic types: those, like myself, who experienced severe intra-uterine or childhood trauma and cannot seem to find a way out of their suffering through conventional therapy; and those who cannot find reason or explanation for their symptoms in anything that has happened in this life. Both groups, I believe, are suffering from wounds to the soul that have happened in other lifetimes: research would indicate the clients who experience trauma in early life are in a sense starting where they left off in another life and quickly find themselves entangled once more in the same old drama. The second group are more unconscious and have fewer clues to help them from the life they are actually in.

Both feel stuck, desperate and hopeless, unaware the problems lie deep within the soul’s long experience and that they are endlessly incarnating into lives where their particular complex (samskaras to use the Hindu term) will intensify until they find resolution. Clients can be helped whether they believe in past lives or not. The unconscious and physical body stores the memory of trauma, which moves from lifetime to lifetime within the etheric body. Just like in conventional therapy the process of remembering, recollection and reunion has to happen for a complete healing to occur.

Sadly, Roger died before I completed my training and I decided not to continue, although my belief in the efficacy of working with the deep soul continued and I pursued an interest in a soul-based astrology.

What I am certain of is resolution and the relief of unhealed physical ailments are remarkable when people choose to work in their own depths. Unfertile, hopeless women become pregnant, physical symptoms disappear, guilt evaporates when understood and success descends on a life after years of abject failure not supported by conventional means. It is one of the great ironies that psychotherapy, which originally meant study of the soul, does not attend any more to the part of us that it names as needing healing. The soul is missing from modern therapy, which is why I despair when I hear about the perpetuation and popularity of the CBTs etc. We continue looking in the wrong place with a limited view and we fail through a lack of vision that is not our own but a culture’s that has ditched meaning for meaninglessness, replacing soul with sound bites.

Who knows, perhaps that understanding is the parting gift from a woman I once loved, a lady who died on a scaffold in a life long ago.

© simon heathcote

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