The first few times I was in Jonathan Kay’s orbit I took a wide berth. Happily those times were at festivals so I had plenty of ways to avoid him. I’d heard rumours. Not unpleasant ones, but ones which made me feel uncomfortable. Twitchy even. Words, whispers and knowing looks that gave me the impression I wouldn’t be able to blend in and watch – that I’d have to be prepared to join in and leave my comfort zone. But I loved my comfort zone, and I was at a festival! I just wanted to relax, not be challenged! So I kept away. Little did I know, had I joined in things would have become far more interesting. Nowadays I’d pay to go to any festival just to see him in action – but it’s taken me a few years to realise it.
Around the same time that I first heard about Jonathan’s work, I was becoming increasingly aware of the archetype of the Fool. Aside from fleeting visits in Tarot readings, my first formal meeting with the Fool came via my ongoing training with the School of Energy Awareness (SoEA), when it was depicted as a path on the Tree of Life. On the nature of the importance of the Fool as a vehicle to higher awareness, co-founder Stephen Kane writes, “Our self-concerns fundamentally obstruct our progress. Our endless good reasons for not doing anything “foolish”, “irresponsible”, or anything which takes us beyond our usual comfort zone, prevent us from sometimes taking profoundly necessary steps into the unknown.”
That same month in 2009, at the Tate Gallery in London, I was to meet the Fool again through the work of artist and poet Cecil Collins. On seeing his paintings, a bridge was made between my inner and outer worlds. I began seeing the Fool within and without – a relationship was formed – and felt that on some level he was now holding my hand.
“I believe that there is in life, and in the human psyche, a certain quality, an inviolate eternal innocence, and this quality I call the Fool. It is a continuous wisdom and compassion that heals with magic and fun. It is the joy of the original Adam in men.”Cecil Collins 1908-1989
By 2011, my orbits around Jonathan Kay were becoming increasingly shorter, whilst my willingness to step outside of my comfort zone had grown stronger. So when I was invited to one of his five-day workshops, I said yes. People’s reactions when I told them I was going varied from looks of horror to wise and knowing nods of approval. But still it remained a mystery as to what the workshop was actually about. Or what would happen. Not unlike the depiction of the Fool on the Tarot card, I was walking into the unknown.
And unknown it shall remain. Sorry about that. But six five-day workshops and a decision to train with the Nomadic Academy of Fools later, I believe not knowing what happens on a workshop before you go, and not sharing the details of what happened is part of the magic. But I can tell you how my work with Jonathan is changing me. How it’s touching me. How it’s persistently throwing me off the ledge only to teach me how to fly. And I can give you a glimpse of my revelation that came with the realisation that the thing I was avoiding, the thing beyond the ledge, was my greatest gift.
As for who it applies to, this work and the benefits thereof, the answer is anyone who longs to create instead of be created. Anyone who wants to become free of the thoughts, patterns and behaviours that keep us trapped in a limited experience of who we are. In essence, anyone who is willing to notice the shackles that bind us, to unlock them … and make a run for freedom! Of course, with its roots firmly planted in performance and improvisation, it’s perfect for performers and speakers of all kinds – which was the deal-breaker for me to attend one of Jonathan’s workshops. With a book tour coming up, I was painfully aware that I really didn’t want to do ‘talks’ anymore. I wanted to share experiences, not to talk at people but to engage with them and have some fun. The Fool seemed to me to be the perfect companion.
My experience on the first two workshops was light, flirty and fun; a reflection of how I then saw myself perhaps. Only they were a reflection of my surface; of the superficial. In the first workshop, ‘Know One’s Fool’, I watched as other people boldly went deeper, and noticed something waking up inside of me, something that wanted to be discovered … seen. The part of me that had been scared of being seen was actually my superficial self, what some might call the ego. Underneath that, squished away in a dusty box in the attic of my psyche, another part of me was longing to be heard. Hence I booked onto a third workshop, and subsequently signed myself up for the whole year.
Initially people around me, friends, family and colleagues, were keen to know how this would benefit me. How could I justify spending time and money fooling around? Didn’t I have a new career to focus on? A child to single parent? Yes. I did. But I resisted explaining and asked them to trust me. Or not. But at least to watch what unfolds. Already, after just a few months, their questions have been answered without words. As have mine. (I had doubts too.) I could write a book about all the ways it’s affecting me, but I’ll try to summise the highlights for you here.
I’ve become a better mother. That has to be highlight number one. I’m more present with my son, more creative and more attentive – more ‘mother’ than ever before. He thinks so too – it’s not just me being self-congratulatory. Honest. Call him up if you want.
My relationships have grown stronger. I’m more tolerant, forgiving and can see much more clearly how I was creating the difficulties I was experiencing.
I’m less stressed. My tendency to split myself between roles: mother, writer, presenter, lover, daughter, friend etc., is easing. The discoveries I’m making on the workshops are sewing them all together; a rich tapestry of activities and relationships to be present with, instead of a series of tasks that need doing.
I’m learning to accept my shadow. Something I denied for many years. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that, but I really thought if I didn’t look at it and focused on the light it’d go away! Thankfully the Fool is helping me to see things another way. Jonathan frequently uses the phrase ‘an affectionate alliance‘ – and it’s this attitude that I’m beginning to foster towards my shadows.
I could go on. But I realise I’m in dangerous territory: that of the nauseatingly positive workshop convert. So I’ll balance it out with the other side. (See how I’m getting the hang of this shadow stuff?) Many nights I’ve come home from the workshop in tears. Other nights I’ve been so shattered, emotionally and physically, that I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa before putting my son to bed. There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit, run away and pretend it never happened. But I can honestly say the good stuff – the process of awakening and homecoming, the unravelling and the discovering – far outweigh the challenges. Which is why I’m still loving it, despite the reluctance that sometimes springs up courtesy of the parts of me that resist change. The rest of me, the part that longs to sing, dance, create and fly is beginning to wake up. I don’t think after a year I’ll be done, I see this journey as a part of my life now, not as something to complete or tick off the list. Each year, the new intake of fools join the Nomadic Academy of Fools at the ‘Eternal Great Beginning’ at their theatre in Spilsby, Lincolnshire. The name of this event sums up the energy of Jonathan’s workshops and also of the other Fools, that there’s no end to this work, that we can simply begin, and begin again. No one is a teacher, no one can qualify and no one can ever arrive. One can only begin to know one’s fool, and share in the love that knowledge brings. And it’s in that spirit that I shall too begin. Again.
To find out more about Jonathan Kay and forthcoming dates for his workshops in Glastonbury, visit jonathankay.co.uk
For more information on trainings with The School of Energy Awareness visit energizeyourlife.org