“I am a beautiful fool, just like everyone else.”
This is what I learned from the 5 day ‘fools school,’ back in 2017.
When I was looking at this year’s retreat options I was excited to see that Holly Stoppit, one of my favourite facilitators of inner work, was running a 4 day retreat - THE FOOLS RETREAT - in deepest Dorset, October 2019, I booked it immediately.
The week running up to it, I thought, “why the hell did I book this? I’m supposed to be going on a retreat to retrain my presence of mind, not run around like an idiot!” However, I also knew the little vulnerable parts of me were scared to be seen. They often do this - they try and criticise in order to remain hidden. This blog post will give you an insight into my lessons and what happens at this unique retreat.
If you’re anything like me you can’t be bothered to read it all, so here are the 5 key learnings:
So what was so good? Well here are some of the highlights in a little more detail:
Sitting, sharing and being
A key part of the weekend was arriving each day and meditating. This was followed by sharing what was visiting each of us, some wonderful sharing by Holly from her fabulous books (which she often kissed in admiration) and then she would put on some music and allow us time to just ‘be’ in our bodies, without talking or interacting with each other. I really enjoyed this structure and felt the ‘being’ time loosened me up ready to do some ‘fooling’.
Disidentifying from feeling by how we speak about them
As the Germans exclaim ‘I have hunger’ we can use this way of speaking to break the identification with our fleeting feelings. I am (feeling) implies it is who we are. I feel / have / notice (feeling), speaks more accurately of it as a fleeting visitor in our guesthouse. Then we remain mindful and able to handle it.
Exploring the shadow
The point of the weekend was to play, take risks and explore what Carl Jung refers to as ‘ The shadow’. This is the place where we hide or suppress parts of ourselves, which began in childhood, in order to confirm, to be safe. This can be anything, not just things like ‘anger’ or ‘fear’ but also ‘joy’, ‘pride in oneself’ etc. Until we become aware of the shadow these elements show up destructively. If we become aware, accept and reintegrate elements of our shadow, we can live in a healthier, more functional way. This is a process. The way that Holly facilitates this is by encouraging us to explore what ‘mask’ we are wearing as we stand in front of a loving audience - which I call the’ Fooling Arena’.
So what is fooling? Expressing the shadow through ‘masks’
In the ‘Fooling Arena’ we find all kinds of social masks coming up - the need to impress, the inner critic, the good one, the rage, the shy one…the list is as deep as your soul. We express them to the audience, allowing masks to interact. Through this ‘show’ the individual learns how the parts relate and are perceived. I love the process of amplifying the masks, like allowing a tantruming child to vent, before we engage with it, we fully allow and embody the language and emotion of the mask, as a process of acceptance, before we seek change. This often allows it to come and go quite rapidly, but also to be seen fully. We learn what it needs and how it affects us. The audience reflect positive feedback which helps the ‘fool’ to understand the process from other perspectives.
Acknowledged vulnerability leads to empowerment
Gradually patterns emerge and these realisations can lead to strong, emotional outpourings and then revaluation. Much like the work of Brene Brown points to, I believe the sharing and expression of these vulnerable parts of ourselves is an important part of the process of empowerment. As we are seen, exploring openly, we learn we are OK, even in our darkest places, and we learn how to re-organise our inner parts, so they all serve the same purpose.
A safe space to be wild and curious
On this retreat we were all daring to explore ourselves, whilst also taking great personal care and treating one another with love and respect. Holly reassured us that we could bring it all out, it is all welcome, and we could therefore interact from these suppressed ‘masks’ whenever we choose to (including during lunch!) We knew this meant that we would be sometimes ‘triggering’ each other. People might feel angry or hurt, and so we were encouraged that if we had a particularly nasty mask that we should redirect that energy towards objects, not other people. The golden rule was:
“Become curious about what it's like when we are triggered, allow it and express it safely, in order to explore it.”
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com