A year of Wandering in the Wilderness

Jun 16 2024

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Beccy Golding / taken from the top deck of a bus window, Holly in bright clothes, looking up and waving

It’s been two years since I packed up my Bristol home, jigsaw puzzled all my belongings into a storage unit and moved to Devon to volunteer as a coordinator at The Barn meditation retreat centre. I am astonished to realise it’s now been a whole year since I left The Barn!

This is the story of the last year of my life.

Post-Barn Life

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Lindsay Alderton - The Barn retreat centre at sunrise

Living in community at the Barn for a year, meditating three times a day, slowing down and simplifying, changed me significantly. I emerged last June, softer, quieter, even more sensitive, even less tolerant to bullshit and even more determined to live a life free of burnout. I had no idea where to put this new version of myself or what to do with my days, so I committed to staying in The Unknown until things got clear…

Eastern France

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly emerging from her reflection process in France

I trundled over to eastern France where I spent a month hanging out in the sweltering heat of my dad and step-mum’s attic, going through my journals, mapping out my Barn year with felt tip pens on huge rolls of wallpaper on the floor. This process helped me find clear direction for my work; I wanted the focus of my workshops to be playful / embodied / creative reflection and I wanted to offer one-to-one creative therapy, supervision and consultancy online. That felt super clear, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to live. So I decided to spend a few months putting my body in various different environments, hoping at some point I’d experience a big, clear, full-bodied YES. 

South West England

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ben Murray / Holly in bright clothes posing with a weird pig-chef statue

I came back to the UK in August to train in Internal Family Systems (IFS) at the Penny Brohn Centre, in Pill, just outside Bristol. Then I followed the flow, marauding around the southwest of England, staying with various friends in and around Bristol and out along the coast in Devon and Cornwall. I had a lovely time catching up with my dear pals and feeling out some possible places where I could live, but no clear YES did I receive.

As the autumn leaves began to fall, I was getting exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, I KNOW how lucky I am to have so many warm-hearted friends with spare rooms, sheds and caravans in such an array of beautiful places. I am WELL aware of my privilege to have found myself with time on my hands to be able to linger and pause and explore. But the near constant movement and house-guest-fatigue was beginning to take its toll! Besides, it was time to start back at work and for that I needed a stable base, so I took my mum up on her invitation to stay in her spare room in Cardiff for a while.


Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ben Murray / Holly on top of The Garth Mountain

Gosh it was a relief to pause! I swiftly found my way into a steady routine. My days began with morning movement and meditation before having breakfast and a catch up with my mum. I sat with four or five clients a day on Zoom, tuning into their unique frequencies and marvelling at the magic of what we could create and unveil together. I’d stand up and stretch in between clients and burst out into the crisp autumn air at lunchtimes for a cycle ride and a coffee in one of the many gorgeous Cardiff parks. On my non-client, admin and planning days, I’d stick to the same schedule and I limited my weekend workshops to two a month, giving myself time for adventures, connection and rest. To someone who has always prioritised work, these new boundaries felt radical and wonderful! 

At this point, my mum had been waiting for a hip replacement operation for five years. Staying with her let me see how immobile she’d become and how that was impacting her physical and mental health. In December, wanting to offer my feisty, Northern English, independent mother some regular support, I found a little Holly-house to sublet just round the corner from her house, for three whole months. 

It was soooooooo nourishing to have my own space, after living out of a rucksack for six months and in close community for a year before that. I raided my storage unit for colourful, soft cushions and blankets, candles, books and art materials and made myself a little nest for the winter. I began creating a life for myself in Cardiff, rekindling old friendships and making new connections in dance studios, meditation halls, theatres and protests. I reconnected with the mountains and the sea and my ears and heart began to remember the odd Welsh word and phrase. 

I wondered whether this might be the big YES I’d been waiting for?

Then in March this year, as the daffodils began to bloom, my mum’s hip operation finally came around! Looking after her, post-op, was not dissimilar to caring for an injured wild cat. When she was well enough to take care of herself, she dismissed me from my caring role with such ferocity that I was catapulted out of Cardiff!

Back to Bristol

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: "Bristol is always a good idea" written in Pink Neon Lights

I hurtled my way back to Bristol, the vibrant city that had been my home for 22 years. I found a beautiful flat to sublet for two months, in the higgley-piggledy hobbit-like ‘Yard’ in St Werburghs. I had hoped to nestle back into my community, to be embraced with open arms. But everything in my system shouted, “NO!” 

Although I loved returning to teach my 5-day Fooling course and co-facilitate a new IFS/Fooling lab, I spent two months lurching in and out of total collapse, body heavy with lethargy, aching and depleted. It all just felt too much; the noise and the pace of the city, being surrounded by memories of the lives I’m no longer living and ghosts of the family I’d longed for, whilst being in this in-betweenie, undefined limbo state. It was all just too much. 

Hmmm. Not Bristol then!

Dreamwild Retreat

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: A pink shelter, next to an ocean, made by Holly on the Dreamwild retreat

At the end of April, I dragged my battered and bruised heart to Earth Spirit, for a ‘Dreamwild’ Dramatherapy / IFS retreat. I had no option but to show up in my authentic, exhausted state and this gave me a rare opportunity to compassionately explore my barren inner landscape through artwork, movement, embodiment and nature connection. It became clear that my inner child was reeling and really in need of somewhere to have some quality time with me. 

In the closing circle I said, “I’m looking for somewhere to stay, maybe somewhere out of the centre of Bristol,” and someone replied, “Oh, I’m going away in May for a couple of months and you could stay in my house if you like? It’s in Glastonbury!” 


Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly's legs and feet, on top of Glastonbury tor.

Well, I wasn’t expecting to live in Glastonbury! But it kinda made sense, considering all the pilgrims who have been drawn to the healing properties of the water and the land for thousands of years. Why not me?

My energy shifted as soon as I arrived, I felt lighter and more open than I had done in months. My inner child felt right at home in the big, light, airy attic, with all the space she needed to breathe and rest and play. We've spent the last 5 weeks hiking up the tor and gazing at the big views, splashing around in the healing waters, making spells on Bridie’s Mound, hanging out with friendly sheep, snuffly badgers, flappy bats, curious cows and our new ancient tree friends, Gog and Magog. We've been held by an excellent IFS therapist, met by fellow travellers at ACA, tickled by the parade of random weirdoes that populate the high street (I am one of them!) and cherished by the steady stream of good old friends who have come to stay.

A changed woman searching for home

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been hauled up in the attic here in Glastonbury, reading back through this years journals and mapping the themes and learnings with felt-tip pens on huge pieces of flip-chart paper on the floor. 

Looking back over the year, I see a clear coherent narrative of a changed woman searching for home. It didn't feel this clear as I was living it! The constant search for the next place, the packing and unpacking and working out how to transport my stuff (I don't drive), the fear of asking for help and the fear of things not working out and ending up on the street, all brought a lot of tension and suffering. But now looking back, I can see that this process has been a necessary learning journey. It's shown me that I can trust the world, I can trust myself and I can find home wherever I am. 

Home is my body moving and stretching,
Home is sitting on my meditation cushion,
Home is walking in nature and being with trees,
Home is the rain and the sun and the breeze,
Home is the clackerty clack of a moving train,
Home is the low thrum of a car engine,
Home is routine and clear structure,
Home is spontaneous wild adventure,
Home is connecting with old friends and new,
Home is cooking delicious healthy food,
Home is a good pen and the pages of my journal,
Home is the music that touches my soul,
Home is soft, multi-coloured clothes,
Home is fun hats and bright painted toes,
Home is my role as a holder of space,
Home is being held by people and place,
Home is right here, wherever I am,
Home is right here, wherever I am.

What is home to you?

In two weeks time I'll weigh up anchor and set sail again, scaling back down to a backpack and a wheelie suitcase, as I begin my summer teaching tour around Cardiff, Bristol, Germany and Devon. What happens after that is anyone's guess.

A Tarot Reading

Yesterday, in amongst the hubbub of the local craft market at Glastonbury Town Hall, between the miniature steampunk art and the heart-shaped handmade chocolates, sat the mystical Danielle. 

I chose the angel tarot deck, she placed a protection spell around me and offered me three questions. I asked about home, she quickly flipped a flutter of cards and told me what she gleaned.

Good news: I WILL find a home to rest my weary bones!

Bad news: It might take 5 more years!

Right then. Five more years of wandering in the wilderness it is... 

Watch this space or sign up to my newsletter at the bottom of this page for the next development!

Other Holly-blogs you might be interested in:

How To Stay In The Unknown

How To Stay In The Unknown Part 2

Internal Family Systems and Me

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