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Spirit, Sexuality and the Menopause


4 Minute Read

At my own rather grand 50th birthday party, I found myself in a total physical and spiritual breakdown, culminating in being rushed into hospital with a kidney stone. Not what I had expected. This was the gateway to my initiation into menopause.

Since my early 20s, I had been running headlong on ‘superwoman’ energy, bringing my purpose to the world to change the damaging paradigms of the past 5000 years. I had hit the wall running and it became clear lying in the hospital bed that I could not continue like this.

Over the next months, I was shown again and again those places where I was not in my deepest truth about who I am, about how to relate or simply bring myself to the world. I was being asked to surrender to a new reality and I was putting up a fight. As a teacher and healer, I could no longer work in the world, nor could I take care of the centre I had built, Earthheart, nor the people who rely on me or the dreams that I held of the future. I faced the demons of potential poverty, homelessness and a loss of meaning in my life. I questioned the existence of ‘God’. I saw a landscape ahead with no map to guide me.

I was being guided however by a force beyond the mundane that kept saying ‘Let it all go and trust that life would take care of you’. Terrified, I argued and thrashed about negotiating for an easier passage but it was not to be. I was guided to take 13 moons out of my life, let go of everything, listen deeply inside and allow a spiritual death. So I put my caravan in the woods here at Earthheart in the Welsh Border, made a hearth and a nest in the surrounding forest into which I could sink, pray, listen, feel and surrender.

During my 13 moon passage, I asked radical questions about my life. What came back was powerful, potent, illuminating, terrifying and I knew it was truth, deep truth. And that I could no longer dilute what life was trying to speak through me and the message from the Mystery.

The message was that sexuality is at the centre of the menopause initiation. Having heard all my life that when menopause hits sex is over, women ‘dry up’, lose their libido and die a slow and boring death, I was
shocked!

I can say with absolute conviction that these stereotypes have not been my experience. I have found a connection to my sexuality on a totally new level.

It requires a willingness from a lover to show up in body, heart and soul, and that there is no compromise possible. If the heart is not in, I don’t want to know. Simply put, when I was younger ‘anything’ was preferable to ‘nothing’ in terms of sexual connections. But now ‘nothing’ is preferable to ‘anything’. Death and sexual energy are closely linked as they connect us to the Mystery and the Cycles of life. In this way ‘death’ is essential in order to claim this new erotic connection. We have to allow the old ways to die, so that something new in us can be birthed in connection both to how we express our sexual energy and to what that energy serves. Now my erotic energy is in service to Love, to the Mystery and to Truth.

Over these past few years, I have worked with many women who have come to the menopause work I offer saying they have gone off sex and have dried up. What soon becomes apparent in most cases – is that the
body’s intelligence is asking them to no longer compromise and when they/we were offered sex in the way THEY want, suddenly the body comes alive again. And it doesn’t end with lovers. How these women bring
themselves to the world has changed, they are speaking their unapologetic truth, and in that, they are truly changing the world.

Menopausal women are a powerhouse of erotic energy in service to spirit because oestrogen, the hormone which keeps us locked into a biological drive, drops away. Once this has gone – sexual energy and spirit unite to become an energy of transformation. Perhaps this is why the patriarchal system had to give us the idea that it would all be over at this time, so as to keep our power locked up just at a time when it was about to enter a whole another level of potency?

All kinds of things happen – women leave long term partnerships, leave their careers, no longer want to care for everyone in their family. All of it is a wake-up call for us to ask those deep and challenging questions about our own life; what is it we are truly longing for and can we claim it?

I’m back from my 13 Moons with a cauldron of offerings for this sacred passage and some significant insights as to how we can meet it as a powerful force of change in the world, simply by being who we are. As menopausal women, our light and radiance is both needed and wanted in a world where the old paradigms are crumbling and a new vision emerging.

Welcome

One 66 year old Man’s Route to Major Personal Change


11 Minute Read

This is about change, personal change, the desire for it, the need for it, the context of it, the possibility of it, and the experience of it.

I don’t want to come across as preachy, self-obsessed, needy, screechy, and so on, (as if!) and I am NOT a therapist, medical practitioner, psychoanalyst or expert in any way. I can only describe my experience.

I was born in 1951, a baby boy, in what was then Cumberland, a lovely part of the world. With friendly, open people, a strong sense of mysticism rooted in the dark hills, unpredictable weather, open countryside, the lakes, the moors, the ruins, the legacy of the Lakeland poets, standing stones, Roman occupation and invasion attempts from beyond Hadrian’s Wall. There was also immense potential for drama and isolation.

Black Sabbath lived in my hometown Carlisle for a while. Their doomy oeuvre is usually analysed in terms of bleak industrialism, soul-crushing factory work but I also hear their banshee call of the wild deserted moors that they would have crossed late at night in their van. There’s also the thrill of local supernatural legends, like the Croglin Hall vampire in their songs.

My childhood was spent in a society emerging from post-war shortages, attempting to rebuild Britain, with its new heroes, James Bond, Doctor Who, the rise of television and radio, the early days of multiculturalism. Into this world, shockingly to my parents’ generation, came the revolutionary force of teenage culture, rock and roll, hippies, drugs, permissiveness, Swinging London (it sounds so quaint now, it was so exciting then), and into this world, I emerged as a young adult, longing to be part of it, but not quite sure how to achieve that, and blundering along through a very large part of my life, a spoiled only child who threw himself at the brave new land.

Alcohol played a large part of my life. I regret that. But this is all history now but then there was a backdrop to a life of bingeing, yoyoing weight, car crash relationships, divorces, rock and roll, stressful work, money worries (yes, I know, it’s the same for pretty well all of us, but, of course, the world revolves around MEEEEEE), and a gradual slomo glide towards a final crisis. There was the slow dawning that I’d got a lot of things wrong, and harmed people I really cared about.

I had a full breakdown, lots of medical intervention (the NHS were brilliant). It was described as clinical depression, something I regard as different from morbid melancholia. My physical symptoms were – trembling hands, racing heart, gasping for breath, overwhelming feebleness (no driving, no socialising, crawling to the toilet, friends doing errands for me, even driving me to the GP), long, long periods of motionless sleep, hands folded over chest, periods of staring blankly into space for hours, no reading, no TV, no work, nothing achieved, no sorrow, no joy, nothing, but sudden attacks of helpless sobbing, coming out of the blue.

It wasn’t hell, or misery; it was just nothing. Nothing mentally, zoned out, blank, gone, withdrawn inside a feeble, trembling body overdosing on adrenalin. That was a few years ago. I recovered as my GP told me I would. She was brilliant, and she was right. But it didn’t dawn on me that the real underlying problem was still there. The horrible sense of guilt and regret that I’d conducted my life badly. I did share this with friends, but they dismissed my fears, kindly, compassionately.

I felt I was stuck in an inescapable prison, I just accepted it, and carried on with life, busying myself as my strength returned, business as usual, telling myself I’m okay. Really, I’m okay. And so it went on. With that lurking black cloud of guilt over divorce, financial loss. Things that would affect my son, not just me, but were caused by me. (I’m okay, really, I’m okay).

Still binging, still chaotic. My mother died, I had to look after my very old father for several years. That was pretty tough, but it did teach me that, well, sometimes, you have to face your destiny, and that life isn’t one long joke. He passed away in 2017, after years of decline. He was in the RAF in WW2, born during WW1. Imagine the difference between us; he actually had moral courage.

In March 2018, something happened. My son sent me a wounding, angry email (he lives with me, but he used email to communicate this message). He told he it was time I stopped messing around, harming people, blowing hot and cold, complaining endlessly but never doing anything to improve things. Brattish behaviour. Spoiled child behaviour. He said in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t sort myself out, within a week, then things would be unpleasant between us.

I love my son. He is everything to me, and I hadn’t realised how bad things had got, how oblivious I had been. He told me that he was worried about me, that other people were worried too, even though I thought everything was fine. So I did what he said. It was brutal, it was hard, but I tidied up a lot of loose ends. Actually, it was laughably easy. It occurred to me then that a metamorphosis can be easy. Even should be easy. Even actually is really pleasurable.

But how could I do it? I’d been on diets, I’d been to gyms, I’d cycled, I’d been slim, I’d been fat, up and down, round and round, precious little willpower (it seemed to me, making excuses yet again), I’d be drunk, I’d be dry … there was no consistency, no sense of real, long-term gain, just knee-jerk quick fixes, including lying, deception, secrecy, all those little monsters scurrying around in the spoiled little boy’s psyche, neglecting friends, disappointing people I cared about, losing their respect, all that stuff.

So how to go about it? Some lights started to go on. I read, I googled, I youtubed, I sought out the things I’d missed or sneered at, the pinnacles of human achievement, inspiration, courage and liberation. I reflected on the notion of self-reinvention, like Bowie or Madonna. If they could do it, even in the context of the music world, then why couldn’t I? I’d remember seeing a movie, with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, who were trying to survive in the wilderness. And Hopkins’ repeated mantra was: “If one man can do it, another man can.”

It stayed with me. But here’s the problem: I have got fit, then slid back; I have dieted, then gone back to large fries and chocolate shakes. It’s not just how to do it, but how to keep on doing it. So I youtubed, I read, I googled … self-help stuff, motivational stuff, this diet, that diet, and still I was blundering along, but things were slowly becoming clearer.

I knew I’d been very unhappy for a long, long time, and I couldn’t break the binge cycle of action and reaction, or so I thought. How to go about it? I’d look at drawers full of clothes that were too small and think I’d never be able to wear them, but not want to get rid of them, because that would signal the acceptance of final capitulation to a chaotic lifestyle, and its aftermath. I’d waste money, miss golden opportunities, break up good relationships. It was as though I was frightened of success.

It all came to a head last March, because that same weekend I’d seen Don Giovanni in Southampton, and I’d checked the dates. Strange that it was THAT opera. THAT weekend. Synchronistic, one might reflect.

In the course of youtubing, something clicked. Motivational clips are often quite boring, predictable, and usually they are angling to sell you something, but amongst all of that there was something. Two things, in fact. One was transformation. The other was toxicity.

Let’s do toxicity first. What my son was really telling me was – get rid of poison in your life! Get rid of it. Toxicity isn’t just about substances like alcohol, tobacco and so on. There is also social toxicity, emotional toxicity, moral toxicity and, for me the biggie: psychic toxicity. I’ve listened to people moralise about young people self-harming, and, yes, it is a terrible thing, but those judging these young people might be grossly unhealthy themselves, without realising that they are self-harming too, in a terrible, terrible way, blindly, with good intentions, and, (the most horrible thought of all), that I was like it myself. Quis custodiet ipsos custodiens? Is that how it goes? So true. I was poisoning myself with guilt, regret, overwork, dark thoughts, melancholia, rejection of society, negativity, introversion. I was a psychic self-harmer. We all are, to a greater or lesser extent. It was suddenly so clear and obvious to me. I could not become well, or at least better, until I stopped poisoning myself.

It seems to me that toxicity is very BAD for us, to put it simply, tritely even. But let’s think about it. Psychic toxicity is BAD too, banal though that might sound. You know, and you feel, how your body reacts to toxic junk food. That’s a given, I think, so … why did I do it? Some kind of post-Freudian self-flagellation thing? Probably. Nice flavour? Something like that. It’s the same with junk emotions, junk mindsets, junk values, junk irrationality, they poison you, and lead you to real self harm, to comfort eating, to retail therapy, as it’s jokingly called. To waste, to anger, embitterment, resentment, excess. Whatever. I became bloated, and limited in my choice of clothing. It was shit. Because of self-poisoning. Why? One thing is for sure: ultimately, you are the one who will pay for it. So don’t do it. It sounds banal and crude, and I do apologise for this, but I’ll still continue, even though you are already thinking about things you do to yourselves that are toxic. Do I need to name them? Do you need to throw them out, push them away like a raft that once brought you to safety, but is now allowed to drift off because it isn’t needed anymore?

It seems so obvious to stop. We beat ourselves up, and it is counterproductive. At this point I have to say this especially includes toxic relationships. Sorry. I apologise again for being preachy, I am truly sorry, but I am describing a life-changing experience. I am NOT telling you what to do.

Now is when you are really going to hate me. There is one thing that is not optional. We all know that, don’t we? Again, it’s obvious, so simple, but it seems so hard to keep going. Let’s think of it this way: not exercising is in itself a form of toxicity. You have the option. And all of this can be done at home. It is an incredibly exciting thing to experience, trust me. I’d say one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced, (in a very clunky, bedraggled life that has included clinging terrified onto a horse bolting through strange woodland), is to see the world this way, then react accordingly. You’re NOT on a diet, you’re NOT slogging painfully away. You are relaxing, and you are not beating yourself up any more. THIS IS THE KEY.

Soooooooo easy, soooo obvious, really. I’m ranting. Forgive me, I don’t want to piss you off. It gets worse though. It’s almost like … well, it actually is … a psychedelic experience. Seriously, your perception alters, things just seem to intensify. This is just what happened to me, between the ages of 66 and 67. I dropped from XL to M, waist from 44 to 36. Without feeling I had to do something, had to join a gym, had to get on a bike, had to limit what I ate, had to take supplements … once I stopped agonising (ie psychically poisoning myself), I just did these things naturally, with really very little effort, as though they were happening to me, and all I had to do was go with the flow, let it wash over me.

It’s boring to read this, I’m sure. I have zero willpower, but something stirred inside me (honestly, stop laughing) and I found myself going to a gym, then, imagine it, this hot summer of 2018, cycling nearly every day, off-road, in open countryside, along route 23 on the Isle of Wight, amongst rabbits, squirrels, herons, jays, woodpeckers … stopping for a pot of tea at Pedallers’ cafe (highly recommended). It was utter, utter, joy. It just was, and it still is. I even whistle sometimes. But exercise doesn’t seem like a task, it’s more like a pleasing ritual for me, doing crunches with music or a lecture playing, so I’m not exercising, I’m listening, and learning. I just do this and that while I’m listening. This has been my journey since March 2018. At some points before that, I did lose track, but life seems better now.

Interview with Emma Meadows from the UK’s first woman-only Festival – WomanFest!!!


1 Minute Read

Please Introduce Yourself

My name is Emma Meadows and I am 46 years of age.  I am a Shamanic Womb Wyse Practitioner, Healer and Teacher and I work closely with women both individually and in groups. I heal, teach and facilitate women to enable and empower them to self heal and reconnect with the truth of who they are, in deep relationship with their personal Womb Wisdom and Spiritual Allies.  The combination of these energies makes for a potent mix of uncovered ancient wisdom within us – which we can all tap into – and the strong powerful awareness of who we are in ourselves as women as we step forward together in these changing times to bring our gifts and knowledge to the world today.

Largely inspired by my own Womb Wyse journey, involving life, death and all the in-betweens – my training and experiences have lead me to work in various ways over 20 years with Womb Wysdom, including Shamanism, Healing and Teaching,Art, Tantra, Fertility, Birth and Death, Writing, Voice and Visualisations. I have worked with many women supporting them in various ways, eg; fertility, to regain Womb Power following a hysterectomy as well as Soul Retrieval, Healing Womb trauma and harnessing Womb Energies, developing and strengthening these for personal empowerment, spirituality and deepening self-knowledge.

It was through my work as Shamanic Womb Healer and Teacher that I came to be involved with WomanFest and as part of the Core Team I am really excited to be holding the Women’s Circle for the four days.   The festival is being held this summer in Frome, 16th-19th August and tickets can be purchased via the website www.womanfest.co.uk or our Facebook page. There are still some concessions left at £165…a bargain!

How did WomanFest come about?

From the desire to gather together as women in a safe held space where we can celebrate our all our juicy ‘womaness’ in many varied, colourful, wonderful, beautiful, magical, gentle, loud, wild, crazy, innovative, creative, sexy ways!  Women have always gathered together in love and friendship, to share their wisdom, visions and experiences and pass knowledge from generation to generation.  Through hundreds and thousands of years of oppression, suppression and patriarchal control still we have found ways to come together and now the veils of this oppression are lifting and women are stepping into a new paradigm together in love and sisterhood in a way that hasn’t been seen before, bringing our deep knowing and wisdom carried through our DNA into these times we find ourselves in.

Why do you think now is the right time?

This is why it is the perfect time for WomanFest!  We are standing together again visible, stepping into our power, pushing boundaries, declaring what is and isn’t ok for us, hearing our voices, speaking our truths in new ways to meet these times we are in. We come with all that we bring from our ancient ancestors, our mothers, our grandmothers, their mothers and grandmothers, aunts, great aunts and so it goes on back through the ages, as sure as it runs through our veins today.  We are the elders of tomorrow and this festival gives us space to show this and to shine in our power and wisdom.

Traditionally mothers were honoured and celebrated for bringing human life into the world, There was no greater doing than birthing new life.  Wombs and Vulvas were known to be magical places of sacred depths, the great universal mystery held in every woman.  Older women, the elders of the community were honoured for their teachings, their healing knowledge, plant spirit wisdom, blood wisdom, the magical universal ways and they had many stories and ceremonies to share, passing these teachings to the community and younger generations.

In our society today, we have lost much of this way of living, in particular through organised political and religious structures. We have forgotten how to celebrate and honour all ages of life, all forms of wisdom and as a result, we are significantly dominated and subsequently disempowered by corporates and systemic constructs which serve only themselves.  The way of women is to serve life in all its forms, the all and the everything in love, compassion and cooperation – WomanFest gives us the freedom, time and shared space to do this.  Here we will be opening ourselves up to each other again, serving each other with our offerings while receiving from each other in sweet gratitude, bringing what we know deep within ourselves as women, to the world today.  For some women, this will be the first time they have shared their gifts with others and we celebrate this, we welcome this, we are encouraging this – we have so much beauty to enrich each other with!

At WomanFest, everyone can safely offer a workshop or a song or a prayer in a safe space in which it will be received with love, joy, thanks and open hearts.  WomanFest is a space where we can share our gifts, strengths and talents while opening up to new experiences, learning from each other and having an amazing time enjoying ourselves in our womanliness!

What is the vision for WomanFest?  

We are so strong when we are united in love and a shared vision of healing the world with love and ceremony- we are leading the way and WomanFest gives us an awesome platform for all that juiciness to come together and grow, be nurtured, gain strength and momentum for us to remember who we are and stand true in ourselves and with each other.  In this way we are beginning to dispel beliefs that we may have been raised with such as we must compete and compare ourselves with each other, that we are bitchy and catty with each other, that after having children we are not so employable, that when we reach ‘a certain age’ (whatever that is!) we have nothing more to offer society, that old people – our elders – should be separated from the whole community and place in homes away from those who are dear to them and places that are familiar to them.  We want to dismantle these structures and co-create new ways to be together rooted in old traditional ways such as our gatherings.

When we take each other’s hand and share our gifts, we enter into the space of lovingly giving and receiving and this is what Radical Participation is all about in WomanFest, that we are all coming and co-creating this gathering together – we are sharing our gifts and receiving each others’ in mutual love and support! Wow, that’s radical!  So everyone buys a ticket or volunteers and shares their gifts in Workshops, Ceremony, the Arts, Spirituality, Healing, Stallholding, Music, this is a Festival of Co-Creation!  In this way it is clear to see how older women are so vital in this process – we have so much to offer and share with our younger (and older!) sisters, it is an intergenerational Festival where we can share the gifts of our experiences and heart knowledge gained over the years, our sacred stories, prayers and songs and the footsteps of our ancestral pathways, journeys that have brought us to where we are today.  Just as our ancestors would have done we now have the opportunity to pass our knowledge onto younger generations.

WomanFest is open to women of all ages, from those young women who have come through the sacred passage of their first moon cycle to the elders who have passed the sacred passage of their last moon cycle and those years beyond the gateway!  We are all bringing something to WomanFest as we Co-Create a new way for ourselves as women in this world.

What will be happening at the festival?

We have got So much going on at WomanFest! Music of many flavours, Shamanic Ceremonies, Yoga (clothed and Naked), Kundalini Meditations, Dance workshops, Movement workshops, Goddess workshops, Bodywork – sensuality and Sexuality Workshops, Art, Crafts, Writing and Song.  All these take place in a variety of tents -the Women’s Circle Tent, The Women Rising tent, the Embodiment Tent, the Creativity and Expression Tents. There is also a Woods Tipi to rest and relax if the mood takes you.  We have wonderful stalls for women to sell their offerings.  There will be the Awesome Cunty Cabaret – a sizzling sensation of music, theatrics and Radical Participation performances.

I heard that there will be yoni steaming? 

I will be holding the Women’s Circle throughout WomanFest where, amongst other things, we will enjoy the Shamanic Ceremonies – one of which I am co-holding –  the Jade Egg workshop, Gong Healings, Womb Wyse Stories and the Sex Magic Ceremony.   WomanFest women will also enjoy a Yoni Massage Demo in the Women Rising tent and Yoni Steaming in the Woods Tipi.  Yoni steaming being an ancient practise of healing and cleansing the vagina and womb using a blend of herbs infused in hot water.  The steam from this infusion can amongst other things, release toxins, calm and/or relieve menstrual pains, support a healthy moon cycle, tone the vaginal and uterine muscles as well as bring deep relaxation, improve general circulation and bring about a greater sense of wellbeing.

Why is it important on a wider societal level?

I feel there has never been a better time for WomanFest – We are living in changing times, all around us we are now seeing women gather together and claim their power both individually and collectively. The Feminine Energy is rising and we are standing together in juicy strength and potency. We are standing in our true power, reclaiming our voices and most importantly, we are gathering in love, because in the end that is all there can be to co-create the new ways. In love, we can co-create new ways that no longer tolerate separation, division and pain. It is our time to lay down the swords of defence, attack and intolerances and pick up the flag of compassion, kindness, tolerance, understanding and love.  In this way, as older women leading the way and as younger women coming with fresh eyes we hold the threads of our ancestors and gather together to weave a new cloth for the times we live in and for the generations to come and this, I believe, is the essence and magic of WomanFest.

An All-Woman Radical Participation Festival, Frome, Somerset
Hurry! Tickets selling fast.  Click here to buy.
16-18th August 2018

Neha Misra Tries Out Her First Workshop – Naked Dating!


1 Minute Read

I have a confession to make, until last weekend I was a virgin in the realm of workshops. Despite being an intuitive life coach and healer, the word ‘workshop’ and the thought of all that navel-gazing with a load of strangers has always made me want to run for the hills. Maybe because I am such a rebel and that it seemed almost ‘de rigueur’ that by a certain age, 53 in my case, with a certain lifestyle, one ought to have attended some kind of self-development workshop/course/retreat.

However, I came at Jan Day’s workshop ‘Meeting without Masks’ in a back to front way that sidestepped all my knee-jerk reactions. I went to a talk she gave in Portobello Road’s Electric House one rainy night in February and was immediately struck by Jan’s gentle energy and the powerful content of her conversation. She discussed intimacy in a way I had not heard spoken about before – with really intelligent observations around consent and about when ‘yes’ truly means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ truly means ‘no’.

I was totally hooked in and wanted to know more, because in the months post the beginning of the ‘Me Too’ movement, I was predominantly working with clients wanting to heal and release their sexual traumas. I liked the way Jan talked about how critical it was to explore one’s own boundaries first, and how vital boundaries are in a trusting relationship.

Of course on the actual day, I wasn’t so keen to go. We were having a rare moment of stunning sunshine after the Beast from the East plus it a was the London Marathon and it felt like the entire world had stepped onto my tube platform, it was worse than any rush hour scrum. Consequently, I was a bewildered hot mess when I arrive a few minutes late.

However, Jan and Frieder, (her husband and co-workshop host) couldn’t have put me more at ease with no judgement. In fact, the moment I walked into the room, I felt the loving playful way in which they were holding the space for everyone. Participants were already sitting down in a circle and the only place left was between Frieder and rather fortuitously the best looking man in the room.

The icebreaker in the first exercise was designed to loosen us up and inspire playfulness was actually my idea of hell, plus it didn’t help that Mr Good Looking was my partner. I was even more flustered. Thankfully, he seemed to find it equally awkward and I sensed a mutual rebellious spirit against anything contrived to force merriment. He had a droll deadpan humour and I couldn’t stop giggling. The group was gender-balanced with ages ranging from mid-20s to early 70s. As we moved onto the next exercise, I could see how cleverly they were designed to subtly yet skilfully lead us into exploring true listening and being present to our partner. I know from my marriage of 18 years that this is an area that gets woefully neglected in long relationships.

Meetings Without Masks or Naked Dating (in other words allowing you to remove your social masks) is not created for participants to get to know one particular person, but more to look at one’s own interactions and to get us accustomed to interacting in more heartfelt ways. As I worked with different partners, it struck me just how many men hadn’t considered what kind of relationship they really wanted. I actually started to really appreciate and respect the courage it took for everyone in the room to articulate this. It wasn’t easy to pull masks off that had built up over the years of self-protection. True intimacy requires vulnerability and that requires courage and most of the people I worked with seemed utterly frozen in their fears of rejection.

As the morning continued, I felt that shifts occurring. That maybe some of those shackles were loosening. Jan and Frieder were pushing us gently yet firmly to move out of our comfort zones. We had been asked to write notes of appreciation about everyone we encountered which would be put into envelopes with our names on it to take home. At one point Frieder even came up to and asked if I had written a note to Mr Good Looking and I recoiled in fear at the mere thought of it. I told him if I ever found a man attractive, it actually made me want to run away or even leave the room. Then to my extreme surprise, he asked me if I had been abused a lot by men, which I had. Having done decades of healing on myself, I was shocked to realise there is so much residual trauma left which still impacts the way I behave in a relationship. This workshop shone a torch into all my dark crevices making me see right into those areas that had yet to be healed.

In another exercise, we had a fabulous opportunity to start an honest dialogue with the opposite sex, which is so rare and precious. We were divided into sexes and invited to think about three questions. Firstly, we were asked to think about one thing that we appreciated about the opposite sex, then to consider one aspect that aggravated us, and finally to ponder a question that had always intrigued us about them.

I found myself in front of Mr Good Looking again and despite my lack of comfort, I forced myself to look into his eyes and tried not to get flustered as more masks came off. His answers were surprising and yet confirmed what I had already realised, we are all scared of getting rejected, and we all just wanted to be accepted, heard and loved. The vulnerability of showing these feelings of fear and discomfort – is real heartfelt intimacy.

By lunchtime, I had a lot of insights to mull over. For a small extra amount of money, there was a delicious vegan and gluten-free buffet.

The kindness and nurturing energy emanated by Jan and Frieder throughout the workshop, reminded me of my doula (trained birthing assistant) when I gave birth. They know that this isn’t an easy process and they hold the space in a strong, loving and supportive way so that participants can push through the layers of social masks to give birth to themselves safely if they wish.

It felt as if time was slowing down as we dived deeply into examining our responses to exercises, which encouraged us to practice vulnerability and openness. We went from less talking to more experiential work. In a very simple exercise where we could explore consent, we walked towards a partner after they had indicated their consent with an open or closed arm gesture. This became a moving, revelatory and extremely powerful experience for me because as someone who was brought up with the ‘disease to please’ simply taking the time to check in with myself that I was okay with moving forward, was an alien concept.

I had to consciously stop myself going on doing what I thought my partner wanted. Although a total stranger, my partner displayed extraordinary kindness by waiting patiently and holding the space in a non-threatening manner. I felt safe so I eventually was ready to move forward. It was the first time in my life that I felt that kind of patience from a man.

Having said that, when I was about three feet away from him, I felt the energy between us dramatically change. So much so that I had to go backwards in a knee-jerk reaction and take a moment before I stepped once again into that challengingly intimate space. It was almost too much for me and even though we hadn’t exchanged a word yet I knew he could feel it too. When I caught his eye, we both burst out laughing with the surprise and intimacy of it all.

The second version of this exercise became even more interesting as it required us to look at what was leading us to make the decision to move forwards or backwards. Was it our head or our sexual desire? Jan knows this is an enormous challenge for most of us and I loved the way she gently introduced it – especially to the men – as a way of unapologetically standing in and embracing one’s own sexuality.

As the day ended, we left holding our envelopes with the notes of appreciation and there was no doubt many masks had been removed. I felt tired but lighter. As I left, Mr Good Looking asked me how I had found it? The energy between us felt different. We had both just done the workshop and it felt as if there was another quality to the communication. I felt as if my words were truly being listened to, as if my words were falling into a deep pile that softly held it.

The truth is that I felt a bit discombobulated after the workshop. I was shocked that at 53 and after an 18-year marriage, I didn’t know how to respond to an attractive man. My traditional response had been to run away. Yet now I could look Mr GL in the eye without needing to control the situation. I could be instead present to the connection we were making.

Therein lies the beauty of this day course. Its tools are so accessible and immediate. Perhaps we were still in the bubble of the workshop, however, I think there was a difference to the quality of our communication as we walked and talked and got to know each other better in the beautiful back streets of Belgravia bathed in spring sunshine.

Later that night, I read the notes of appreciation we had been encouraged to write. Mine were touching and sweet. They reminded me of the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. True intimacy is so scary for so many of us, especially for those who have never had it. The last note I opened was from Mr GL, it said; ‘I loved your infectious joy, positivity, sense of mischief and curiosity – and your jewellery which was nearly as plentiful as mine.’

As for what happened next with Mr GL, well that’s a story for another time…

The next Meetings Without Masks is on June 17th in Belgravia. More info on meetingswithoutmasks.com or janday.com

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

Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self


8 Minute Read

It’s hard to start any article written on the day I turn 60 without resorting to clichés and platitudes, so I thought I’d try a different approach. After spending a fair amount of time reflecting on life on a recent sojourn to Greece, I thought that I’d actualise some of those reflections and put myself on the casting sofa and attempt a few ‘Q&As to self’

Read the full story here: Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self

Can You Get on Your Knees?


1 Minute Read

‘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.’

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