know one’s fool : my experience of training with jonathan kay

'Pilgrim Fool' by Cecil Collins

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.

Tarot Fool (Rider-Waite deck)

     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

know one's fool : my experience of training with jonathan kay

'Pilgrim Fool' by Cecil Collins

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.

Tarot Fool (Rider-Waite deck)

     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

two books I loved this summer

It’s September! If you’re reading this in the UK then it’s a pleasure to be sharing these ‘gosh-it’s-fresh-out-there mornings’, turning leaves and rainbow-filled skies with you! If you’re further afield, warm greetings to you from here to there! I spent most of the summer being a french-speaking tour guide and re-writing and editing my forthcoming book (which I’m still doing now – hence my absence over on facebook!). Happily, I managed to make time to enjoy a few great books too. Here are my two favourites from Summer 2011.

Mark BoyleMy bathroom companion for the past two months has been ‘The Moneyless Man‘ – a book (not a person) all about, you guessed it, living without money. It’s written by Mark Boyle and I must admit, for a shopaholic, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. As is often the way when we need to hear or learn something, it came to me at a time when I’d been going through some changes surrounding how freely I give – of my love, my time, my energy and my services. I’d had an amazing day presenting for a charity in Devon, and was learning valuable lessons about the energy of service – namely that it makes me feel really good, as well as being really good for the people and planet. A few weeks later I was asked to interview Mark, the founder of the freeconomy movement (check that out if you haven’t already – it’s amazing!) who knows all about the energy generated through giving, at a festival for an online TV show. So that’s how I, a self-confessed shopoholic, ended up at his very inspiring talk, and went on to read his book. (I would never had read a book on living without money had I not seen first-hand what a loving, well-meaning, open-hearted and often self-deprecating guy he was.) Whatever your relationship to money, love it, hate it, see it as energy – whatever – I recommend reading the book. It’ll make you think differently about money. It’ll restore your faith in human kindness. And even if it doesn’t make you buy less, you’ll have learnt loads about living off grid and had lots of laughs along the way. Read more reviews of this book and buy it here

 

My bedroom companion last month was been Isabel Losada’s ‘Battersea Park Road to Paradise‘. (Don’t ask me why Mark got relegated to the bathroom and Isabel got the bedroom.) Despite loving her books ‘Men’ and ‘For Tibet, With Love’ in the interim, I’d been eagerly awaiting Isabel’s follow-up to ‘The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment’ for some years. And, so, ten years on, we catch up with Isabel’s journey towards being a more enlightened human being. She’s even more funny, wise, open-minded and thought-provoking than before and in this book takes us on journey through the pitfalls of feng shui, the high-energy of Anthony Robbins, the silence of vipassana, the peace of advaita and the mind-spangling, reality shifting world of ayahuasca. It’s a whirlwind of insight and practical tips – have a notepad to hand and save yourself a fortune on self-help workshops as Isabel’s brought you the best of them. On a professional level, Isabel’s one of the few author’s I’ve met who works tirelessly to ‘be a good author’ – she’s true to her fans, a gem to her publishers and, in my opinion, a shining star of inspiration. Read more and buy it here.    

 

If you like the sound of these books, you can see all my book recommendations (some with reviews) here.

why having your buttons pushed is a good thing

Few of us will get through life without our fair share of mishaps. Actually, few of us will get through a day without them, let alone a lifetime. But this, according to Buddhists, is a good thing. In fact, they say we’re in trouble if we don’t have mishaps; that ‘being born with a silver spoon in your mouth’ is perhaps the greatest misfortune as without mishaps we’re not challenged, and without challenges, we don’t grow.

I’m not Buddhist, however I can’t deny that it’s through consciously dealing with the difficulties life presents that I grow. Yet that statement causes a certain level discomfort in me. Can’t I grow through love? Through the joy of being alive? Definitely – so long as I’m not attached to my perception of what love and joy feel like. It seems that the joy, love and the typically ‘good’ stuff that I experience come as a direct result of me being present, relaxed and less attached to things being a certain way. And without doubt, these qualities automatically increase in me each time I deal with a challenge in a conscious way; that’s to say doing my best not to react blindly but to respond in a way that gives me energy instead of draining it. The discomfort I feel in ‘needing struggles in order to grow’ comes from my perception that good times (feeling happy and relaxed) are better than hard times (feeling challenged). But just because the good times feel better doesn’t necessarily mean they are better. If we look beneath the surface, we can see that the difficulties we encounter are simply life’s way of bringing us what we need in order to evolve; to give us the opportunity transform our pain, addictions and fear into something beautiful. It’s still loving, even if it feels like we’re being repeatedly hit over the head.

Challenges may appear ugly, mean or unnecessary on the outside, but our response to them can unlock their real value; the gifts of higher awareness, healing and love. The buttons that get pushed, the pain that surfaces when someone says or does something that upsets you are life’s way of showing you your wounds, the places where your love is needed. Each time our pain is triggered we can either feed it with yet more pain by reacting in the same way we always have, or we can do something different and give it our love instead. It’s not an easy task, but it’s the best possible use of our love; the ultimate investment we can make with our lives.

 

 

And so, those of us who choose this steep and winding yet profoundly fulfilling path meander along, often falling flat on faces. Yet time and time we get up again, and we begin to realise there is no rational alternative; either we transform what pain we’ve got, or we keep adding to it. The choice eventually fades away as the realisation becomes part of our experience, and we discover what it means to fall – and rise up – with grace. We come to see our mishaps and misfortunes as the path’s way of making us stronger, and as we become so, we fall less. We learn to be present to all that crosses us, pleasant or unpleasant, and instead of tripping over it, choose to welcome it into our hearts and accept the gifts it has to offer.

The mistakes we make can indeed make us more fortunate. All we need is to be inquisitive enough to ask why we tripped up, humble enough to listen to the answers and willing enough to act on what we discover.

 

being the change, from the inside out

A few years ago I became aware that the biggest form of pollution in my life was me. My reactions, my furrowed brow, my stressing. I saw how these things often caused a negative chain of events around me; something annoys me, I blame someone for it, they feel bad, they blame me or someone else, and more bad feelings go rippling out. So I started working with Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I was frustrated about the environment, but could see that if I wanted a greener planet, I’d have to start going green on the inside first – and taking responsibility for my stress. I wanted my child to grow up in a harmonious home, and take that experience out into the world, and to do that, I needed to be actively creating harmony within me. Except that for the most part, I didn’t feel harmonious on the inside. I felt stressed out.

I used to think of stress in terms of work pressure or external circumstances, like divorce or moving house. But through my training I began to see it more in terms of energy, and realised there was more to it than ‘fixing’ what was happening out there. I learnt to perceive the effect that stress has on our energy body – the foundation of our mental and physical well-being – and was fascinated (and less stressed) by the results.

Basically, anytime we feel out of balance, for example feeling frightened, angry, hurt or confused, we’re experiencing some kind of stress – a contraction of our energy. And when you feel stressed about something, it can be read as a sign that part of your energy field is in need of strengthening. Our life brings us what we need in order to grow. For example, if you’re overly fearful about your child falling over and hurting themselves, you need more energy at your navel – the seat of your courage and trust. If you can’t stop questioning your partner over where they’ve been and who they’ve been with, you’d benefit from more energy at your forehead – the home of clear thinking and bright moods.

Every form of stress we experience corresponds to a lack of energy within ourselves. It’s a pretty radical way of seeing things, as suddenly no-one else is responsible for how we feel. Sure, someone can be acting in a negative way towards you, but does that mean you have to get angry or feel hurt? No. Because if your energy is strong you won’t feel stressed by their actions. If you feel stressed then they’ve done you a favour by showing you a part of you that needs to become stronger. And the stronger your energy, the more appropriate your response to any given situation will be.

I remember a time when my partner told me that, for reasons out of his control, the romantic weekend away without the kids wasn’t happening. I felt uncontrollably emotional. But I knew in that moment that I had a choice. Either I could wallow in self-pity and make him feel bad for not taking me away, or I could do something to change my energy. I sat down to meditate and calm my breathing, bringing my attention to my breath, but I was too disturbed to concentrate, so I went for a power walk (a walking meditation taught by the School of Energy Awareness to eliminate stress from the energy body). After power walking for about 25 minutes I was much calmer. My energy had changed. I still felt some stress over the situation, but I was able to see what I needed to do. The power walk had given me the clarity to accept the situation, instead of feeling bad about it. I wasn’t angry anymore.

Another time I was rushing out of the door with my son to an appointment. Just as we shut the front door he said, “Mum, I need the loo!” So back in we went, and I stood outside the bathroom door, telling him to hurry up, while feeling annoyed at him for ‘making me late’. Then I noticed my energy. I felt stressed. Why? It wasn’t my son’s fault (when you gotta go you gotta go) and these things can’t be hurried. So I said “It’s ok, take your time” and went to meditate in the lounge. In that moment I decided to stop the stress and use the time in a positive way. Both my son and I gained from me having made that choice.

It’s these kind of choices that can successfully transform the stress being experienced into positive energy. And if you want to live a peaceful existence and not let yourself be knocked about emotionally by other people’s actions or stressed by the amount of things you have to do, then you can practise making this choice in times of stress. Do I carry on losing energy and feeling bad? Or can I do something to increase my energy and feel better again?

When you live your life in this way, things change. It’s not something that happens overnight, it’s a process, full of ups and downs. There’ll be times when you scream and shout ‘It’s not fair! It’s not my fault!’ but those times get fewer and fewer as your energy becomes stronger. Slowly, you notice that even though you’re still affected by things, it doesn’t last as long as it did before. And then, over time, you realise that you’re less affected by what’s happening around you. Eventually, you stop being at the mercy of your circumstances. It’s a bit like going to the gym. You expect to have good days and bad days, but you know each time you go you’re getting fitter. And that’s what’s happening when you start trying to change your energy. It may feel like you’re getting nowhere, but every time you choose to not react in the usual way, and instead choose to act in a way that helps your energy, you’re making a big difference to your future. You really are creating (or revealing!) a happier, peaceful and more balanced you, which of course goes a long way to creating a happier, more peaceful and balanced world. Which to me is what ‘being the change’ is all about.