Guest Blog 'What I learned from Fools Retreat'

Nov 27 2019

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Neil Morbey

Introducing Guest Blogger Neil Morbey who attended our recent Fools Retreat in Dorset. Neil is a meditation teacher and 1-to1 coach. Over to you Neil...

“I am a beautiful fool, just like everyone else.” 

This is what I learned from the 5 day ‘fools school,’ back in 2017

When I was looking at this year’s retreat options I was excited to see that Holly Stoppit, one of my favourite facilitators of inner work, was running a 4 day retreat - THE FOOLS RETREAT - in deepest Dorset, October 2019, I booked it immediately. 

The week running up to it, I thought, “why the hell did I book this? I’m supposed to be going on a retreat to retrain my presence of mind, not run around like an idiot!”  However, I also knew the little vulnerable parts of me were scared to be seen. They often do this - they try and criticise in order to remain hidden. This blog post will give you an insight into my lessons and what happens at this unique retreat.

If you’re anything like me you can’t be bothered to read it all, so here are the 5 key learnings:

1.) Fooling is a process of embodying your moods and inner talk, in front of an audience. It is about ‘being’ yourself. Not performing or ‘trying’ to be. This is a subtle art of tuning in, turning up what you find and letting it out, to be seen. 

2.) It helped me to understand the way different parts of me behave and relate to other parts, as well as reminding me to give myself permission to ‘be’ myself. 

3.) I took these lessons and apply them in life, in situations when a strong emotion has been triggered by a present situation, using the following formula: Feel it, Reveal it, Heal it. Or, Tune in, Turn it up, Let it out! 

4.) We can let emotions move through us and learn in the process, by momentarily amplifying our emotions, allowing ourselves to be scared, angry, sad. The best place to do this is in a beautiful natural setting, but if you can’t find that then a car, or bedroom, or with a close friend may be OK - somewhere where it is safe to be outrageous for 5-15 minutes.

5.) We drop the ‘fighting’ and free up energy to move on, once we welcome and express the suppressed part. The reactive parts can also transform into more cooperative thought patterns. This allows us to savour our whole selves and life in general.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly Stoppit

So what was so good? Well here are some of the highlights in a little more detail:

Sitting, sharing and being
A key part of the weekend was arriving each day and meditating. This was followed by sharing what was visiting each of us, some wonderful sharing by Holly from her fabulous books (which she often kissed in admiration) and then she would put on some music and allow us time to just ‘be’ in our bodies, without talking or interacting with each other. I really enjoyed this structure and felt the ‘being’ time loosened me up ready to do some ‘fooling’.

Disidentifying from feeling by how we speak about feelings
As the Germans  exclaim ‘I have hunger’ we can use this way of speaking to break the identification with our fleeting feelings.  I am (feeling) implies it is who we are. I feel / have / notice (feeling), speaks more accurately of it as a fleeting visitor in our 'Guesthouse.' Then we remain mindful and able to handle it. 

Exploring the shadow
The point of the weekend was to play, take risks and explore what Carl Jung refers to as ‘The shadow’. This is the place where we hide or suppress parts of ourselves, which began in childhood, in order to confirm, to be safe. This can be anything, not just things like ‘anger’ or ‘fear’ but also ‘joy’, ‘pride in oneself’ etc. Until we become aware of the shadow these elements show up destructively. If we become aware, accept and reintegrate elements of our shadow, we can live in a healthier, more functional way. This is a process. The way that Holly facilitates this is by encouraging us to explore what ‘mask’ we are wearing as we stand in front of a loving audience - which I call the’ Fooling Arena’. 

So what is fooling? Expressing the shadow through ‘masks’
In the ‘Fooling Arena’ we find all kinds of social masks coming up - the need to impress, the inner critic, the good one, the rage, the shy one…the list is as deep as your soul.  We express them to the audience, allowing masks to interact. Through this ‘show’ the individual learns how the parts relate and are perceived. I love the process of amplifying the masks, like allowing a tantruming child to vent, before we engage with it, we fully allow and embody the language and emotion of the mask, as a process of acceptance, before we seek change. This often allows it to come and go quite rapidly, but also to be seen fully. We learn what it needs and how it affects us. The audience reflect positive feedback which helps the ‘fool’ to understand the process from other perspectives. 

Acknowledged vulnerability leads to empowerment
Gradually patterns emerge and these realisations can lead to strong, emotional outpourings and then revaluation. Much like the work of Brene Brown points to, I believe the sharing and expression of these vulnerable parts of ourselves is an important part of the process of empowerment. As we are seen, exploring openly, we learn we are OK, even in our darkest places, and we learn how to re-organise our inner parts, so they all serve the same purpose. 

A safe space to be wild and curious
On this retreat we were all daring to explore ourselves, whilst also taking great personal care and treating one another with love and respect. Holly reassured us that we could bring it all out, it is all welcome, and we could therefore interact from these suppressed ‘masks’ whenever we choose to (including during lunch!) We knew this meant that we would be sometimes ‘triggering’ each other. People might feel angry or hurt, and so we were encouraged that if we had a particularly nasty mask that we should redirect that energy towards objects, not other people. The golden rule was: 

“Become curious about what it's like when we are triggered, allow it and express it safely, in order to explore it.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly Stoppit

Mindfulness and playfulness
Mindful walks and play in nature became a daily occurrence. I love these opportunities to see nature in all its glory. We sometimes slowly walked through the beautiful gardens, picking up leaves, examining anything that sparked our interest. Nature, when enjoyed in this way can be energising and revitalising. We made sculptures and played with presenting them, whilst also noticing how we were relating to others. It is great to reflect on the way ‘I’ am with others. 

One of the paired exercises we did to warm up was for one person to embody an object we found out in nature and the other to observe and interact with the ‘object’ by asking open questions like; "How are you? Where are you going? What are you up to?" This was very fun. It takes one away from logic and into creative openness. 

We played a lot! In one game, as trios we played ‘Yes, lets!’ A clowning game of agreeing with whatever playful game is suggested within the group. It’s like being a child again and creates an incredible dynamic between three people and the environment. We played balancing, jumping, leaf arrangement, throwing things, skipping, roleplay of a funeral, amongst others. Our imaginations led the way and we always responded with “Yes, let's!” 

Mapping our own masks
We used art materials and paper to map the masks that appeared during fooling and playtime. One of my favourite exercises was to take this map and use it to share how: ‘I can be... ‘ For example:

  • I can be worried what people think
  • I can be like ‘Yay! This is fun!’
  • I can be bored
  • I can be open and curious
  • I can be like ‘holding hands is lush’.

I loved how this is an inclusive way of honouring our multiple facets and complexity. We are never just one thing. We can be many things and that is wonderful.

Fooling feedback
We fooled indoors and outdoors. We always had a loving audience .One of the great things about Holly’s work - all feedback is positive! “What did you like, and how did it make you feel? What touched you? What did you want to see more of?” This helped us reflect on how our performance had showed us things about ourselves.

Learning how masks interact
In one performance the ‘interaction’ was between a sad part of me, longing for love and connection and an ‘advisor part of me,  firing off reassuring quotes and other advice. It was utterly awful and useless. It made me realise that this is how I often deal with my longing for touch and connection - I advise it!

Rearranging the bus
I decided then to stop that method of managing my longing, and instead I chose to hold it,  encourage it and let it ask others for connection (risky!) The concept Holly presented was that we imagine moving our masks, or inner parts, as if on a bus. You can choose who drives the bus.Create new friendships and break up dysfunctional ones. Don’t sit vulnerability and the critic together. I needed to befriend ‘longing’ and ‘encouraging’ and ‘asking’.

Honouring our protectors as ‘stars’
We all recognised that these inner parts, although sometimes dysfunctional, were actually our oldest protectors. They were needed as we grew up and the best way to integrate them is to honour them by sending them thanks. So that night we lined up under the starry night sky and shouted as loud as possible, all the things they had created, with a great big THANK YOU. For me this was:

  • Thank you for collecting loads of inspiring quotes!
  • Thank you for reading tonnes of self help books!
  • Thank you for making up tools and mnemonics to remind me of how I can be!
  • …(there were many more).

Savouring the end
On Tuesday it was time to leave, but first we had a whole day of savouring. I loved the concept of savouring endings. It challenged my ‘normal’ approach. I have often cut endings abruptly. I haven’t given much room to grief or sentimentality. Not today though. Today was a day of crying, sharing, food in silence, and creating an orchestra of ‘parts of the weekend we loved. 

My personal lessons
I left the weekend feeling incredibly loving and the top lessons for me included: 
1. Strength isn't cold and critical. Strength is loving and open, and emotional. 
2. My longing doesn't need advice. It requires listening, loving and encouraging. It needs touch. 
3. I can ask for connection. I can show people I want to connect, to touch and to be held. 

Taking lessons into practice
I took the lessons into my connection with my partner and my friends this week. I have been fully acknowledging the moody parts of me and I’ve found this a perfect compliment to my mindfulness practice. I will continue to integrate this into my own work, but for now I’ll keep training with Holly, with the hope of one day teaching close to her level of expertise. 

Thanks Neil for this wonderfully insightful blog! 

To find out more about Neil's work, head on over to Positively Mindful

We'll most likely run this retreat again in 2020. If you're interested in coming, you need to have completed our Introduction to Clowning weekend and 5 Day Fools School.

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