After completing the Path of Love intensive retreat in June this year, I was catapulted into a shiny new space of awareness and healing. Granted, I had about a hundred emotional crashes along the way, but that’s part of the process, isn’t it? This work we do – this lovely inner work – just like everything else in nature, is cyclic. I’ve worked that much out, for sure. No matter how much we learn and grow, or how wise and enlightened we think we become, at the end of the day, it’s just the same old shit over and over again. We start off at the top or bottom, and travel through all the ups and downs, ins and outs, triumphs and failures, laughter and tears, grief and joy of the whole cycle. Then, just as we think we’ve got it in the bag, Life reminds us not to get complacent and throws another obstacle our way, which sends us right back round the entire cycle again!
WHAT? Are you serious? I mean, who’s in charge here? Because I for one, would like to write a strongly-worded email to God / Mother Earth / The Divine / Jehovah / Allah / The Universe / Grace / Higher Self / Whatever you wish to name this omnipotent source of energy that governs this journey that we call Life. Unfortunately, though, there’s no formal complaint procedure in place when it comes to faith. So, I find that prayer is the best option we have. Personally, I only have two forms of prayer: ‘Thank you’, and ‘Help!’ For me, simplicity is the key.
So, after my retreat in June, I asked for help and prayed for guidance, and then allowed myself to really surrender to the nitty-gritty adventure that I was on – in all its painful glory, sadness and beauty. I have completely accepted the on-going cycle of growth, death and rebirth in all areas of my life. I’ve not worked out how to manage any of it (all tips welcome!), but I’ve accepted it wholeheartedly. And in doing so, I was able to hear that inner voice of wisdom; those little soul whispers that led me right back to working with Path Retreats once again.
This time, I would be participating in a course that has been designed as a sort of follow-up to Path of Love.
Walking the Path is a 4-day groundbreaking new process for all graduates who have done the Path of Love seven-day retreat. This is a chance to revisit all that you learned at POL, but to now take a more psychological approach and learn how to really integrate it at home, in your relationships, at work and in general everyday life. It gives you the chance to examine the insights, breakthroughs and realisations that you had during your Path of Love retreat, and that you’ve undoubtedly continued to experience since. Held in different locations, Walking the Path is the next natural step after Path of Love.
I arrived on a September day at Pax Lodge, where the course was being held. Pax Lodge is the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ World Centre in London, and it has recently opened its doors as a hostel to accommodate the general public on their travels. At first glance, Pax Lodge has a warmth to it that reminded me of a primary-school setting. Although it was run down in places, there was something about the energy of the building that took me back to that safety and sense of adventure that I had as a child venturing on a school trip away from home.
This time, I found the venue, rules and general set-up to be quite symbolic of the next natural step from Path of Love to Walking the Path. It was almost a metaphor for the reality of adulthood, where you have to actually learn to do things for yourself. For example, in Path of Love, you have to give up your phones and laptops so that you can commit to being fully present on the retreat. Whereas in Walking the Path, you can keep these gadgets, because you’re trusted to handle them with care and learn to be fully present even when you have them. The level of self-responsibility goes up, just as it would do as you grow from childhood into adulthood.
When I did Path of Love at Buckland Hall in the summer, part of the magic of the experience was the way that the participants were taken care of so tenderly in such a beautiful environment. The wonderful food, service and setting was crucial to the retreat. Participants were almost taken back to a child-like state where all their needs were completely met and tended to, so the only thing they had to focus on was the essential work.
With Walking the Path, it was a little like the evolution of the natural ageing process in life. As you grow and mature, you have to move into the older self and start to become more self-sufficient in your journey. This means being able to feed yourself, take responsibility for yourself, soothe yourself and work through your own thoughts, emotions, reactions and issues in a more independent and mature way.
When you’re doing Walking the Path, although you have the support and guidance of your horseshoe and facilitators, you’re very much encouraged to start implementing what you’ve already learned in POL, and to really examine what’s going on inside, so that you can independently guide yourself into alignment in any given moment. Walking the Path is not about being cradled through your problems – it’s about helping you to psychologically spot the patterns that cause your problems, and then process what all that means, as well as coming up with realistic tools to work with it all.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the course, in all honesty. Let’s face it, Path of Love would be hard to beat! But I really wanted to continue my work with Path Retreats, because I wanted to experience the other steps along the path, so I can see for myself how the mission goes on and goes deeper. Path of Love is such a transformative retreat, and from my own experience, I know how much it can genuinely help people and really open their hearts. But the truth is that once you’ve completed the retreat, you have to return home to normality – to your loved ones, friends, people, your work, chores, domesticity, bills, taxes and all the ups and downs of everyday life. And for me, that’s where the real work starts.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I personally struggled with the integration period – I felt that just as I was on the brink of something really powerful, just as I was about to take off, I was sent back home to real life. I’d had a taste of something really profound in Path of Love, and it transformed me at my core; it really did. The whole experience had left me with such an open space in my heart, and I instinctively knew there was no going back. But how would I fill that space when I had to return to such a limited lifestyle? The thought of it filled me with panic! When that happens, you haven’t necessarily got the time, energy or courage to really focus on the work, stay dedicated to your inquiry and be active in your approach to it all. And you certainly haven’t got the support network that you had in the retreat. So, the temptation is to go back to old habits, dismiss some of the breakthroughs and eventually resign to the fact that maybe this is just as good as it gets.
But it was in that moment - when I was faced with that familiar feeling of resignation – that I decided to just not lay down. It was as if my awareness was on fire! I just knew that I had to keep moving forward. Something in my gut told me that the life I wanted to run from, was the very life I had to fight for, because it’s just as important as the one I had a taste of in the retreat! My everyday experiences were equal to the experiences that I’d had in Path of Love. My life, in all its limited, tedious, funny, loving, painful, joyful glory was exactly that – my life. And I’d be damned if I was going to waste it!
So, it was a welcome surprise when Walking the Path offered a very different approach to Path of Love. I found myself learning about complex personality structures and psychological archetypes that live and breathe in every single one of us. For me, the one that seemed to have the most power was my Saboteur. Ah, yes. We are old friends, my Saboteur and I. We have spent many years sitting on the sofa together, comfortable in our passivity and laziness. Chuck in a glass of wine or a nice cup of tea with some chocolate biscuits, and we’re practically untouchable! So, you can imagine my irritation at having to actually work with her, because that’s not an activity we usually partake in - we don’t work; we sleep.
My facilitator Simon had other ideas for us, unfortunately. He wasn’t going to let us just sit on the sofa with our munchies, watching a cool film or reading a good book. The swine. Simon and my group seemed intent on pissing us both off, and although it did actually piss me off, it was so good! I was forced to confront my weakness, my laziness, my emptiness and my resignation. I found myself once again trying to protect my stomach and my ovaries from that old familiar pain as I explored, exposed and confronted the thoughts and emotions that battled forward from my subconscious. I had one of my biggest ever breakthroughs during a sharing exercise when it hit me that the reason I don’t allow myself to have and enjoy the very freedom, time, energy and good health that I have been craving for so long, is because I’m deeply afraid that if I get it, then it will be taken away from me. When I really surrendered to this insight, the tears came flooding as the lifelong weight finally started to lift from my shoulders; a heavy burden that I’d carried since childhood.
Fortunately, as well as the new methods, exercises and workshop materials, Walking the Path also delivered those lovely tried and tested favourites, like the Burns. So I was able to express and release the pent-up energy from all that work I was doing. And this time, boy was I ready for it! I shouted, screamed, danced, sang and laughed out loud during these wonderful cathartic sessions; tuned in to a part of myself that just wanted to let go. I now knew what a luxury it was to have the space to do this. When I did Path of Love, it took me a while to allow myself to really be at one with the Burn experience, but when I got home and realised that it wasn’t appropriate to scream swear words at the top of my voice while kicking the shit out of a cushion, I really wished I had made the most of the freedom to actually do it! So this time, I embraced the opportunity much more!
At the end of the course, I felt different to how I felt when I finished Path of Love. This time round, I felt more mature, somehow. Steadier in my journey. I have carried the archetypes with me since, and I’m not ashamed to say that we are still old friends. There are ground rules now, though. I figured that we have to live together, no matter what, so I have fully accepted them as part of my entire Self, and something about that feels very empowering. I now feel that as life unfolds the way it is meant to, and as I grow and discover more about myself – light and dark, good and bad - I can genuinely sit with myself. And through this acceptance, there stands the doorway into my awareness.
The best way I can describe it is that Path of Love was the process that blasted open my heart, and Walking the Path was the process that blasted open my mind. Although the courses were very different in one way, the level of guidance and teaching were of the same excellent standard on both, and Walking the Path really does feel like the next natural step after Path of Love. I am a truth seeker by nature, and I can honestly say that there is more truth in these retreats than any other personal development work I have explored before. I have no doubt that I will continue my work with Path Retreats, because I feel very connected to their mission and I genuinely believe that the world really does need more of this.
So, I will try and walk this path as best I can. Will I stumble? Of course. Will I fall? Absolutely. Will I get back up and carry on walking? I always do. I might need to take regular rest breaks along the way, to sit down and have a cup of tea with my Saboteur, but you know … nobody’s perfect! :-)