fools explore the human condition

Aug 21 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Lucy Heard

This is the only picture I have of the last two weeks at Fools School. Strawberries and Borage, from the final banquet of the second of two week-long fooling courses I've just run back to back in Bristol. One of the fools pointed out that strawberries are the only fruit to carry their seeds on the outside. Another fool told us that borage traditionally represents courage. I think this beautifully describes what's been happening at fools school for the last 2 weeks; 16 courageous fools wore their seeds on the outside in a glorious celebration of what it means to be human.

One participant captured the essence of Fools School with this feedback:

“Let’s say there’s a non-human being who comes from somewhere other than earth. And they don’t get it, this being human thing. And they say: “what’s it all about, this being human thing?” And I say (in the guise of some sort of wandering Daoist idiot/sage): “Ah, my friend. Watch this.” And I lift the curtain. And there they are, the fools on their fooling course. And the non-human being watches it till the end. And then they take a breath. And after a long pause, (s)he says: “Ah. Now I see”.” 

Safe enough in the fools cocoon, saturated in permission, surrounded by inspiration, the fools grew wings and flew. In their solo improvised performances, their multiple characters (or 'masks' as they're called in fooling) took us deep into the mountains, through flowing rivers and dry deserts, one inflated their head and floated through the sky like a hot air balloon, vulnerability appeared in a dark, wet cave, sadness was discovered lurking between two shoulder blades, where she quietly went about nurturing her three sad eggs, we were transported to an awkward tea party, a traditional funeral, a dusty boarding school, a bustling hospital, an achingly hip art gallery and all the way back to the source where we met a being of pure energy.

The masks that led us through these diverse landscapes, emerged in response to the compassionate witnessing of the audience. Each mask; a distinct part of the self, an inner voice, an archetype, came with a message from beyond, like Rumi's guests in The Guest House:

The Guest House - Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Another participant explains more about embodying masks in fooling:

“Everything you are, think and have is material for your fool to use, should you wish.... It's extremely liberating and empowering to give space to these 'masks' and guises we wear, to navigate the world, our inner guides or critics, and there is huge sense of wellbeing and release once expressed.”

Within the daily structure of guided sitting meditations, check ins, warm ups mask-embodiment exercises and solos, themes emerged and were explored from several different angles by several different fools, so that we could all understand more about the human condition. Here's some of the themes we grappled with over the two weeks:

  • safety vs risk

  • vulnerability, connection and boundaries 

  • that which we have in common vs that which sets us apart

  • being seen vs the masks we wear to protect ourselves from being seen

  • the impact of the inner critic / discovering what the inner critic is trying to protect us from

  • anarchy, freedom and responsibility

  • “I've got this” vs “I haven't got this”

  • Who am I without my plans? 

  • Just being

  • grief, loss, fear, sadness, anger, chaos, pain, shame and the containers that enable their safe expression

  • who is listening to all these voices?

  • The importance of pleasure, celebration, joy, calm, balance, love, self-care

  • The outsider 

  • gender

  • taking up space vs running away

  • the things that shaped us and the choices we now have

  • internalized family

  • the power of the compassionate witness

Giving the masks and themes time, space and focus allowed us all deepen our compassion for ourselves and each other as well as our connection with life. Back to those delicious strawberries from the top of this blog! This story, told by Pema Chodron in her book Comfortable With Uncertainty, describes what I saw happening again and again over the last two weeks:

“A woman is running from tigers. She runs and she runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are tigers below her as well. At the same time she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down and she looks at the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.”

That's exactly what I saw them do! Hanging off the edge of that cliff, tigers above and tigers below, the fools slowed down their breathing, tuned into their present experience and tasted those strawberries. Another Fools School participant richly explains what might happen to you if you ever fancy 5-days at Fools School:

“You will sit move and breathe. You will laugh and you will collect some tears. You will listen to your body and your emotions and your thoughts. You will respond to them. You will tell stories and watch, fascinated, your fellow baby fools' stories. You will touch and be touched; emotionally and physically. You will be in Holly's tender care. You will be open and transformed.” 

For more info about Fools School see the course description here.

If you'd like to attend Fools School, you will have needed to complete my Introduction To Clowning weekend first. To find out about upcoming courses, sign up to the mailing list below.

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