In an effort to make some sense of the wreckage of my life, and to come to terms with my own “inner demons” and how they led to that wreckage, my wife recommended that I consider the Hoffman Process, an eight day residential and extremely intensive “boot-camp for the soul” (my description; not theirs).
I opted to undertake my Hoffman Process in the United Kingdom, which was conducted at the very quaint Florence House bed-and-breakfast in Seaford, a small town on the English coast about 90 minutes by train from London. It is a spectacular natural setting: rolling, lush green hills; manicured country fields; the roofs of Seaford’s houses strategically located in a valley with quietly smoking chimneys peeping out; and brilliant chalk-white cliffs as far as the eye can see, literally calling out for you to go on long walks on the path that runs along the cliff-tops.
“The Process”, for me, was very satisfying. I won’t describe the details to preserve the experience for those who may wish to consider it, but it met its promise: a radical, transformative experience that I feel gave me a new awareness and understanding of what has been, in the process reconnecting me to long forgotten feelings, aspirations and dreams. And, a valuable “tool-kit” of concepts and techniques which will hopefully allow me to remain connected going forward.
One of the aspects of the Hoffman Process is that is it is conducted in a small group environment, 24 participants in total and three full-time teachers. At the end of eight days of living together and doing focussed psycho-spiritual work for 14 hours each day, you and your group mates are buddies. I formed connections in a few days with complete strangers that are of a depth I didn’t think possible.
I formed a strong connection with a very special woman from Germany – “Inga”. She and I wound up doing a lot of group work together, and outside of that, we went for long walks and spoke about the issues in our lives, our pasts, and our futures. It was amazing and quite therapeutic to share with someone who had no knowledge of me; no “axe to grind” or preconceptions about me; and no vested interest in the subject of our talks or the outcomes, other than that I should improve my life and find the happiness I seek for myself.
At one point during the course of the Hoffman Process, you are challenged to step outside of your comfort zone and do something you wouldn’t normally do. In my case, it was dancing in front of the entire group. I have long had a morbid fear of dancing in public – a mixture of awkwardness, pride, and self-consciousness – no wonder this was chosen as my “stretch task”.
So on the Wednesday night, my head bursting with a potent cocktail of fear, nervousness, embarrassment and adrenaline, I made my public dancing debut in front of the rest of the group. The applause when I finished was something special to me that will live with me forever. For the next few days I was like “twinkle-toes” – I just couldn’t stop dancing everywhere I went.
The Process concluded on Friday morning, and I did not need to return to London until late Friday night. After eight days enjoying the company and support of our Hoffman group, I was not ready to be alone. Inga and I decided that we would go to nearby Brighton, to the famous Brighton Pier. We made a pact that we were only going to have fun – to be like kids, and take whatever came our way at face value, and just “go with the flow”.
We began at the fun-fair rides. We went on the haunted house ride, which was decidedly unscary and so we just laughed and laughed. We went on the Galactica, spinning up and around and then dropping down into that falling feeling in the pit of our stomachs, and we were screaming like children. We played video games and old-fashioned carnival games. Brighton Pier is dated and run-down and was cold and virtually empty, but none of that mattered: by agreement we were behaving like two ten year old kids, and everything was so much fun.
The sun was setting at 4.30pm, and we pulled up two blue and white striped deck-chairs, and just watched the setting sun. It was an almost cloudless day, and the sun cast the most stunning pathway of orange light onto the sea, and we could see all the way to the horizon as the sun dipped below it. As if on cue, flocks of birds started forming and in the most wonderfully synchronised way, danced across the blue-orange sky for 30 minutes. It was breathtaking.
We walked around Brighton’s pretty little lanes and alleyways, and eventually stumbled across a brilliantly lit up ice-rink in the shadow of the Brighton Pavilion, which is an impossibly out-of-place confection of a building – a strange cross between a Russian Church and a Mosque plonked down on the English seaside. “Go with the flow” was the mantra, and thus we found ourselves ice-skating for 45 minutes, alongside mainly teenagers and rapturous kids, and a few of their stumbling parents.
After the ice-skating, we walked through a dimly lit park. Standing alone in a small puddle of lamplight was a busker, playing saxophone. Inga said she loved saxophone, and so we stopped to listen. Somehow, my recent dancing experience during the Process got the better of me. I bowed, and asked Inga to dance. There we were, alone in a Brighton park, under a cloudless night sky, dancing to a sax solo. A few people walked past, broad smiles on their faces as they saw us dancing.
As we were leaving, I asked the saxophonist where he was from. He replied: “Sicily”. Inga asked: “what are you doing here in Brighton?” His answer: “My wife and I recently separated, and she moved back to England with our two kids, and so I am here, for closure”.
I mean, really. Talk about the universe, providence, God, fate or whatever you want to call it fucking with your mind. How utterly bizarre that I should be in a nameless park in Brighton, of all places, dancing in public, of all things, to music played by a saxophonist from Sicily in exactly the same marital situation as me, and for that saxophonist to talk to me of the need for “closure”.
Dancing there in Brighton to the sound of a soulful saxophone, beneath a canopy of twinkling stars in the cold, clear night air was just extraordinary –one of the most “present” moments of my life. It is a gift from Inga that I will never forget.