The work: looking up from beneath the surface


You know when you’ve been knocked off balance?

When your rhythm of life, that maybe you’ve been working really hard to re-establish, gets out-of-sync again?

Like you just got knocked off your bike.

And however hard you try and stay on, there’s the moment where you know you’re going to fall, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your body tightens and with a sharp intake of breath you panic. Time slows down. And then there’s this moment – Do you grip more strongly onto the handlebars, or do you let go and try and go with it?

And even in that moment, you see it all in slow motion; you’re caught in the headlights of your own fall, suspended..

I’ve been knocked off my bike a few times over the last few years. We all get knocked off where we’re at. And I know I can tell myself it’s all some great spiritual gift etc etc. Yet at the time this thought never compensates for the fact that it really hurts like hell. Do you slice off half your finger with a carving knife and then immediately claim some newly conscious insight about the Universe? Not in that moment. No – you’re saying fuck fuck fuck and trying to stop the blood with some inappropriately named dishcloth. I’m learning to laugh more at my falling, but the visceral pain? That’s another thing entirely.

That’s just hanging on.

And yet these so-called gifts are how we continue to understand our humanity. They gently humble us when we allow them.

Yes, it still really hurts when I land. Especially when the fall knocks around that wound..

And I find myself back beneath the surface.

Beneath the surface

Can you relate to that? Your surface – that was you managing just about OK – when you were on it?

Maybe you’ve come off balance a little recently? Riding too fast? Or something came towards you that made you swerve..

Another person maybe? Someone you felt drawn to. Someone who finally might just be that person you thought you’d been looking for? A new friend who you made an emotional connection with and it was so reciprocated that you thought, maybe, just maybe I’ll dance the dance of life with you for a while. Even for a little bit?

It’s so tempting not to get out of the way. Especially if that something coming towards you comes bearing some of the gifts you thought you always longed for.

The Work: Laying down new stones

Right now I’m practicing putting down new stepping stones. Some of these stones have foundations already, others need time to embed. So every day becomes a new experiment in keeping my balance.

So, a few months ago I’d just worked hard to lay this new stone. I’d been working on this particular stone for a while and I think it’s secure –  so I tentatively put my foot on it and..


I lose my footing. It was only a tiny ripple on the pond, and yet enough to throw me off that stepping stone I’d just been practising how to lay.

So I’ve been hanging out beneath the surface.

A very challenging, familiar and strangely beautiful place.


Learning to fall

If you’re even a little like me you might get that we are all trying to practice acceptance of where we are at.

Every day.

I’m working a little each day at transforming my pain. This painful longing to evolve. Hope and longing. Richard Strozzi-Heckler alludes beautifully to this in his simply fantastic book The Art of Somatic Coaching.

We’re here because the longing of a single cell is to become two cells. 

How wonderful that a cell has longing! Of course it does. All these trillions of cells throughout all of time just all longing. Yes. YES! Why would it only be us so-called caretakers of the planet?  He speaks of how this longing thrusts us forward, innately, toward love, belonging, safety and contact.

Do you recognise this in your body?

Practicing awareness in my body

Practicing awareness in my body of being here, now . That’s how I’m transforming. It is slow and sometimes painful. (But honestly, how long does a garden take to grow?)

And I’ll slip and slide again, and I’m reminded that that’s the deal actually, to live in relationship with this sliding.  This learning to fall. And there, deeply there, a dance of joy calls out.  And I realise that this unspoken deep joy has been waiting for me all along and that my tears here are a dish at life’s table rarely offered.

Suffering is part of the deal, and we can choose to expand and keep on embracing it. Or not.

It’s all a different flow.

And yet – all these new stones.

The surface of my world is changing.

I’ve been dancing this acceptance for a few years now: a series of challenging nervous breakdowns set in motion rivers in me that still seek the sea. And as old patterns float up, patterns of the old me that died a few times over, they make life bumpy again – and there are times when I’m looking up to the surface, like a momentarily trapped assistant on Dr Who, wondering just how that bloody Doctor, whom I really trusted, got me into this stupid mess.

Do you know what I mean?


A few weeks ago I saw a screening of an intense documentary film called ‘The Work‘. It’s about a project with men at Folsom State Prison in the States by the Mankind Project and shows fruits of ten years work filmed during an intense bi-annual four-day workshop. Prison inmates are also facilitators in a programme inviting men from the outside into the prison. See the preview here.It’s an incredible piece of work, all the more fascinating when you realise how much time and investment has gone into creating conditions for it to be made. Although it’s a living, dynamic therapy session, with thunderously dramatic and confrontational encounters, it comes across as a gripping psychological thriller. There’s a full Indiewire review here.

It’s what these men are doing – calling out from beneath the surface of themselves – crying out. Because it doesn’t stop, the work, this work of healing. You can’t fix it.

You stay in relationship with it.

And the love. The love permeating that sweaty, visceral masculinity. The care they offer each other. And then the liminality that opens up. It’s spiritual. A porthole or gateway appears. Love renders something new, a hope, a desire to move on, and to stay alive.

The Work, maybe for the first time, also shows scenes of therapy-type work that is often kept uncovered, secret, for fear of it being misunderstood. You’ll have seen nothing like it. And Wow! The prison service that got involved with this. That trusted it. If only there were programmes and investment like this in the UK.

In one sequence, two men are face-to-face, and there’s such an electric edge to the moment that I think the first guy might just kill the other. But there’s been clearly been such investment in establishing safety. As a result, no-one who has been released from the prison having been through the programme has reoffended.

It’s a brave and important film.

Transformation here is not an overnight revelation at a conscious healing workshop or a weekend course with reiki healer on the personal development show. The film shows the fruit of a long term programme that needs firm foundations and takes careful planning. And bags of courage. Inmates within a prison programme or not, we’re all on a healing journey that we learn to take responsibility for.

The film is released in London on Monday 4th September here.

Keep your own healing barometer

Thus I’m practicing again beneath the surface. New practices. It’s the small disciplines that really help. While I recognise it’s the same body that’s healing, it’s a different breath each time.

Learning to fall becomes riding the bike. It happens in little increments.

And remember. No-one else will notice. I keep my own healing barometer now.

We’re all much better at understanding things we can see.


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