Self Initiation Workshops
Memories, Dreams, Initiations
Monty Oxymoron, 2001
In 1978 (or near then), I had a dream: I travelled out somewhere in the countryside and stayed with members of Gong in a cottage there. At that time the musicians I admired were either becoming pompous remote and boring, and or being washed away by the 'new wave' Being open to change and to real contact with people Gong survived all that (and still do!), yet I never expected that particular dream to come true (or any dream of mine come to that.)
In 1989 I heard rumours that members of Gong had returned to the UK and were active musically, rumours that were proved true when 'The Mystery and the History' album appeared. In the sleeve I found a 'What's Gong On' leaflet which proclaimed a resurgence in activity. I was delighted, especially when I spied an advert for 'The daevid allen Workshops' in the back; I was very interested! Gong were one of the bands that helped me survive adolescence giving me an imaginative space in which to retreat from the doldrums of mediocrity and angst that I had felt my life to be. However I felt that in addition to the quality of the music and the imagination there was 'something else' in Gong, something not quite definable. There was definitely more to it than getting stoned. Having had no experience of drugs psychedelic music had no such associations for me. Gong recaptured a spiritual essence that Syd Barrett had hinted at: a music that connected you with the cosmos. As Rumi put it "all of us has heard those melodies before in paradise". In the mythology the challenge for 'Zero' was to actualise his vision and audition of the beyond. To have a beautiful vision in your head is one thing, to share it, actualise it and make it grow without compromising it-that is real proof of the vision's power and legitimacy. This was the aim of the workshops: "Why Don't You Try?"
Shortly after reading the booklet, I went to see daevid who was playing in Brighton with Wandana and others: the gig created the same feeling of being part of a large family that the Euterpe gigs had done in 1976. I asked him about the workshops after the gig and found him to be as friendly and approachable as ever. Wandana gave me a leaflet on which it said, "welcome to the outer temple! And we celebrate your curiosity and intrigue about the mystery of the inner temple." The door was open!
I came to the workshops late in that daevid and Wandana had been running them for some time before I found out about them. daevid ran the workshops I attended with help from Jonny Greene and Brian Abbott as Wandana had returned to Australia by then. These three created a wonderfully balanced atmosphere between them. Brian had a youthful, enthusiastic light-hearted joyful spirit; Jonny, a potter, gardener and excellent cook, was earthy, and well grounded. He was a comforting stabilising influence in the group with some motherly qualities. daevid was the mercurial catalytic poetic and inspiring presence in the middle. All of these workshops took place in a homely cottage in Street where daevid was then living with Jonny and others who kindly vacated the space for the weekends we were there. The workshops started on the Friday evening and ended late Sunday afternoon but it was OK to arrive earlier and leave on the Monday if you needed to. Being near to Glastonbury was the perfect setting for these events and visits to sacred places there were an important part of the proceedings. I had never been there before, so for me the effect was overwhelming!
I prefer this word to 'rules' as boundaries, though firm by necessity, can be moved in accord with the needs of time place and people. Rules tend toward dogma and totem such as tends to occur in established religion. Nevertheless the boundaries of the workshop were clear: commitment to the process and participation for the duration, no drugs or alcohol for the duration and refraining from sexual activity. We also had a strong commitment to respecting one another while being able to discuss issues and negotiate around any arising difficulties. On one occasion someone was allowed to be present without participating due to having developed a bad cold (an example of the flexibility of the boundaries). Other than that I can only recall one occasion when they were actually broken, (I will describe this later). Also there was a willingness to 'get on with it' rather than a culture of trying to push against or break boundaries that I have experienced in psychiatric settings (I'm a psychiatric nurse). Here so often the whole process is taken up with trying to maintain the boundaries while looking at the compulsion to break them. This did not happen at these workshops: everyone was committed to making everything work, to putting in and taking out what was there for us.
Regarding the issue of dope: at this time daevid was on a complete fast from drugs and explained that as the connection between us grew over the weekend if someone got stoned the whole group would be effected by it. Everyone readily agreed to stay clear-headed: no beer for me until Sunday evening! (The tobacco smokers were encouraged to refrain but were allowed to sneak off for a quick fag in recesses in the recognition that theirs is the most difficult addition to control.) On another level of course, the workshops were about 'getting high' if by this you mean an elevation of consciousness into a space where compassion and love for the universe becomes attainable for a while: a taste of the possible. This was a very different situation to getting stoned or drunk with your mates; nothing wrong with that of course, but room needs to be set aside at times for something more expansive.
Techniques both ancient and new were explored: creative visualisation, psychosynthesis, psychodrama, yoga, ki-gong, work with the chakras, the amazing full moon temple dance and many more. To ensure a smooth flow daevid Jonny and Brian would introduce exercises that would keep the mood from getting too bogged down or unbalanced; for example if the atmosphere was becoming too serious an extremely silly game could be played to lighten it. On one occasion I recall daevid suggesting we babble nonsense for a whole minute as we had been talking for a long while: it cleared the head! On other occasions dancing would be introduced if we had been sitting for a long time; changes of mood were created with the impeccable timing improvised music calls for and reminded us that the weekends were work/playshops.
The weekends began with fun exercises designed to help us relax with one another and begin to build a group consciousness. Then a rough plan of the weekend was drawn up and some duties such as cooking, shopping keeping background music playing, etc were shared. I was not able to cook at this time so I washed up. Food was included as part of the fee, (50-60 pounds, very reasonable!), and was vegetarian. I recall Jonny producing some wonderful soups (yum!)
In between sessions we sang devotional songs from many different traditions; daevid played harmonium and we joined him with drums folk had brought with them. This was a most enjoyable aspect of the workshops: we gave it some!
'Right time, right place, right people'
Between 1989 and 1992 I attended eight workshops, the last of which took place in London without daevid in attendance. (However it took place the day before I started studying Art Psychotherapy: good timing!) Being situated at the end of the 1980's the workshops were for me, the perfect antidote to the pessimism and futility induced by the endless Tory regime "resistance is futile!" By contrast we were encouraged to be as outrageously positive as possible. We could take hold of our lives and redefine reality using creativity and imagination: the birthright of all human beings. Freedom can be made real while fear itself may be 'false evidence appearing real'. The workshops were a means for ensuring the freshness of visions hopes and aspirations: dare to dream, to hope, to believe that things can indeed work out well. Affirmations such as these we took home with us as reminders into the world of everyday life.
When they functioned at their optimum the workshops could induce a change in consciousness: a space in which you felt happier, lighter, open to change, open to others, forgiving and expansive. For me the difficulty was, and still is one of maintaining such a condition: to harmonise oneself whatever is going on. This is perhaps a task for life. At least the workshops showed me that such a state does and can exist. This then was the setting, atmosphere and aims of the workshops: now for the juicy bits!
The climax of the workshop was the rebirthing (or revivification) which took place on the Saturday afternoon. This was the most obviously dramatic and powerful process of the weekend. By this time a feeling of safety had been built up: very necessary as this experience involves a certain vulnerability and lowering of the usual control mechanisms we employ to keep ourselves stable.
The rebirthing session began with the group dividing into those who were rebirthing and 'sitters'. The sitters would be there to encourage and support the rebirthers through the process. Initially the sitters were the group leaders who would spend some time with each person. Later the practice required the group divide equally: one sitter for each rebirther after which they swapped places. For reasons I shall explain later, I found this arrangement much more challenging. The rebirthers are made comfortable on the floor and are taken through a progressive body relaxation. After this they breathe deeply through either the nose or mouth. Gradually oxygenation increases and an altered state of consciousness emerges, one in which thoughts, feelings and sometimes images spontaneously and irrepressibly take hold of your being. The process is similar to dreaming or to altered states induced chemically except that if you cannot face the intensity you only had to slow the rate and depth of the breathing. In the climate of the workshop we were encouraged (but not forced or coerced) to go a little further than usual.
It was quite acceptable to express the effects of this powerful process in any way you felt you needed to. You could cry, shout, laugh hysterically, make vigorous movements (while being aware of the physical safety of those near by!) I always have been a very rigid and self-controlled person where feelings are concerned. I usually only allow feelings to be expressed when I am playing music or when drunk. To be able to release these was a very liberating experience. I particularly enjoyed crying and having a really good laugh in those sessions! Sometimes the laughter became contagious and the whole group would be roaring and making farting noises; it was like being a kid again. The whole process took about two hours per rebirth.
I never realised how much hard work breathing could be! My friend Rod Paton likened it to a long hard climb until you reach a kind of plateau. There the changes began: tingling in the hands and sometimes a curling of the hands (tetany). Once I felt my hands were like arthritic old hands, like those of old people I had nursed. However we had been warned about this temporary side effect so it did not cause too much anxiety. Tingling also spread to the face and sometimes the top of the head; it felt like your head was sparking with electricity. Alternate feelings of heat and cold and sometimes spots of light, and then the emotions started to flood in: joy, sadness, humour (but for me never anger, I had that well wrapped up!) Finally a feeling of being in paradise usually followed-it was attainable! All those wishes for a really meaningful and happy existence were within reach. It was so simple! In this glimpse of the enlightened state you were free to feel a deep and real love for all things and people: those at the workshop, folks at home, anyone you had ever known. It was easy to forgive, to appreciate all of them for being a part of your life's journey and wish them all well. It was a great letting go of all restrictive self-imprisonment.
Afterwards I felt a bit 'spaced-out' but content and, ravenously hungry! Toast and fruit juice seemed like a celestial banquet. We gradually came back to the circle and shared our experiences. After one session we wrote ourselves letters that were sent off to our addresses to remind us of our experiences. I wrote this to myself:
Well Monty me old bean, Well you know the ol' Fats Waller song - here's how it is 16-6-90 having just been through rebirthing: Remember that you've promised to love and appreciate everyone! Well done! But now keep showing it by acknowledging them. Keep positive though all around are miserable as sin and remember: THE UNIVERSE IS BIG ENOUGH AND LOVING ENOUGH TO PROVIDE EVERYTHING WE NEED. OK! Give thanks everyday & Best wishes Your Loving SELF.
All kinds of experiences emerged in the sharing: visionary imagery, possible glimpses of past lives, buried memories & daevid was usually a sitter, but rebirthed at one workshop I attended. He told us that he became absorbed in a rich textural sound like the overtones created on a bass guitar when put through a flanger that seemed to soak into the walls of the room. One woman experienced an orgasm; in the relaxed context of the workshop there was no embarrassment or awkwardness about this, it was just one of the things that can happen when rebirthing. One time I experienced a terrible dark state: it was pure despair. All the meaning in life and the universe was gone, All was lost. All was futile forever, no hope, nothing - the soul of the world had died. I embraced my sitter and ran from the room to hide upstairs, I felt I had to protect everyone from this terrible darkness and carry its burden on my own. Eran came up to fetch me back down. I had a contract, he said, with my sitter and the group to remain until the process was complete and to share it with them. Head down I was escorted back to the sitting room: I felt like a psychiatric patient who needs an escort, not to be trusted one his own in case of self-harm suicide or escape. (This is not meant as a criticism of the way it was handled, in fact it was useful to feel what this was like.)
In the sharing I spoke of my ordeal. I realised that it embodied something I was dreading but repressing out of awareness in my personal life: I knew that my relationship with Sally was coming to an end. (Sally was my first girlfriend, I met her at college where we were studying Related Arts. At 30 years it seemed truly terrible to lose the happiness I had had waited so long to find, it was as unacceptable as death to me.) However, I was relieved that the loss was mine and not the end of everyone else's world - it was not the death of the cosmos after all! Everyone was very supportive in the group and I received some very beautiful messages from the 'post-box'. daevid told me, "whatever happens I know that the Mad Hatter will continue!":(referring to my Alice in Wonderland tee shirt.)
Sure enough, I did split up with Sally soon after. At the next workshop, which was the last in Street, I was so afraid of what might arise in the rebirth session that I couldn't allow myself to have anyone sit with me, not even my friend Rod. In the end Natasha Morgan said she would sit with me. (She was an amazing woman: a Russian Jewess who specialised in the Caballa and was helping daevid run that particular workshop.) No world destroying anger came up however, lots of tears of course. At the end Natasha rocked me in her arms like a baby and I felt a kind of peace; it was like being in a huge dark but protective womb. (It was Natasha and Eran who led the workshop 'Be-bop and Rebirth', presented by daevid but not attended by him just before I started the Art Therapy course.)
Even though the workshops have come to an end their residual effects continue. While studying Art Therapy I was required to be in psychodynamic psychotherapy for the duration of the two-year course. In the end I continued for another year with this as it was very useful to me. I was able to continue to work on what had come up at daevid's workshops: my self-doubt and negativity, my lack of spontaneous emotional expression and feeling 'at odds' with the world. I also continued to experience rebirthing. At home after some meditation and gentle breathing, I felt the need to express my love for my mother who was in the next room. I went in and said, "I love you because you're my mum." And hugged her. This might not seem particularly revolutionary but in our family at that time it was! We never expressed affection for each other in this way; now things are much better!
I also attended two workshops run by Mora Mackintyre in Brighton. She had been a follower of Osho and used some familiar techniques including rebirthing. At the first workshop I fell in love during the rebirth (though a relationship did not follow.) At the second my sitter was angry with me for not being able to anticipate her needs in her rebirth. I felt really awful, I had always been proud of my ability to empathise when nursing, indeed it was the only thing I valued myself for! I had failed! I wrote every horrid self-hating reproach I could think of on a piece of paper. Mora suggested I burn it in the middle of the circle. This I did to much applause. I was sceptical, surely I couldn't get rid of a lifetime's old crap that easily. However, this and the therapy I was in together have proved effective. At last I feel free of the compulsion to put myself down. Now I keep a close eye on not going the other way. A little fellow sits on my shoulder, and if the ego is swelling says "remember you are a complete and utter wanker!" This works great! Thus the work begun in Glastonbury continues-
Nuclear Mystery Temple
One process that was ongoing throughout the workshops was the creation of the Nuclear Mystery Temple. This was perhaps the main theme to emerge from the Gong mythology: Zero was taught how to build an imaginal temple at the end of the Radio Gnome trilogy. (Generally the mythology was not referred to at the workshop, however the odd PHP and banana moon would appear on notices. One warned of a wasp's nest that had formed above the front door!) I remember reading about the structure of the N.M.T. in the 'What's Gong on' pamphlet in 1979: a double cone or tepee of coloured light produced by united imaginations. The structure was also reminiscent of the protective 'angels egg' and a kind of three-dimensional virtual Gong mandala. At the workshops we experienced this for ourselves.
We sat in a circle holding hands; left hand up right hand down and imagined the energy flowing around the circle. Next we began to visualise the colours as if the structure had corresponding chackras. The base of the first inverted cone stretched deep into the depths of the earth and glowed: a rich red colour. Next a vibrant orange above it. Next a bright yellow: the 'solar plexus' of the structure. This completed the inverted cone. The upward pointing cone sat on top of it; it's point stretching high up into the sky. The first colour was a rich soothing green: the 'heart' colour at the level of our hearts. Next at the 'throat' level a sky blue, then a dark ultramarine: the colour of a twilight sky at the level of pure thought. Finally reaching up into the infinite expanse, a glowing purple almost ultra-violet above our heads. Sometimes we sang the colours into being or breathed into them to intensify the image.
daevid explained that there was nothing sacred about the NMT in the way that rituals, objects and beliefs become fixed in mainstream organised religion. It was purely a practical structure that could easily be replaced in time by something else. You could create the structure in your own at home, indeed daevid suggested that it could be used to protect you in a bar room brawl: I haven't had the opportunity to try that out! However the NMT definitely provided a feeling of protection, focus and togetherness throughout the weekend: it became our crucible: the hermetic container for the sometimes volatile chemistry that took place. Art therapy training always insists on the importance of providing a safe space for creative work. The NMT added to the exoteric structure of the cottage providing the feeling of trust and 'holding' we needed to proceed.
The Order of Things
The workshops varied one to another in terms of what happened when. However there was a pattern of events that tended to be repeated. The Friday evening was used for setting things up, getting to know people through games, music, dance and beginning to build the NMT. Saturday morning began bright and early at five-thirty AM! daevid tiptoed around us with a Tibetan bell to alert us gently into awakening. After this a tape collage was played on the theme of waking up including the song 'Good Morning' of course. I also recognised a segment from Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love' where a voice says, "you must wake up!" (A great deal of the post trilogy Gong material seems to be concerned with awakening alertness and a sense of urgency: "we ain't got no time left to amuse you!")
We wandered drowsily down to the sitting room where we were taken through some stretching exercises derived from yoga, ki-gong and tai chi. After this daevid took us through a guided visualisation followed by silent meditation. We faced 'the altar': a small table on which the perfume oil was wafting away as he took us on a journey up a mountain to meet three beings: our physical, emotional and mental selves. We were their teacher: the spiritual self valuing each aspect in turn, embracing them and uniting them into the common life project. During this session the suffering associated with such an early start was long forgotten. After this there was more suffering however-a morning jog through the streets of Street! I found this hard as it reminded me of PE at school: the lesson I most hated! I remember running behind daevid when we caught sight of Glastonbury Tor. daevid lifted his arms up as if energy from it had given him a renewed burst of strength: he looked like he was going to run all the way there! I had to stop for a while at that moment; I may be younger but I'm not that fit!!
What often followed this was the Sufi greeting, though this occasionally happened on the Friday evening. Us British are, as we all know, very reserved. For what or for whom we don't know but we are reserved. Now, add to this cultural handicap some mildly autistic or schizoid tendencies such as I have and any intimate encounter becomes a challenge. The exercise forces you toward an intimate exchange with another human being, who was a complete stranger to you before the workshop began: shock horror! We stand in two circles, one inside the other in such a way as to permit face to face access to everyone in turn. Next you look long and deep into the eyes of your partner and, when feels right you put their hand on your heart. In a variation you also say: "I saw you coming from afar-you are beautiful, I love you." After this you give them a hug. For someone as deficient in expression of feeling (and even awareness of feelings) this was initially terrifying and then liberating. "After all why not?" I thought to myself, "What terrible thing is going to happen to me do I imagine?" All of us have a commonality below the surface; and all have, we are told a hidden divine essence however well covered. Look for THAT!
There was a related exercise that I only experienced at one workshop. In this we sat opposite someone we new least well, held their hands and again looked into their eyes without looking away or closing them while daevid read out an amazing statement. I really wish I could remember it in all detail for it was a truly inspiring text. In essence it said something like: "Know that this person before you has lived through, seen and felt sufferings and joys more numerous than you can imagine-" It stripped away all superficial notions of who you felt that person to be leaving bare the existential marrow. I have a secret belief that I alone have the most important life experience of all; no one knows this 'gold' that is within me except God. And, guess what? Here is another equally valuable to me!! What a delicious and delightful scandal! Each and all are a whole world of dreams, memories, hopes, and experiences. If only we could see this always…the old woman with a moustache chatting to the bus driver holding up the journey; the vomiting yobs yelling obscenities down Western road on a Friday night; the pompous old Duke. (Maggie Thatcher??? No, I'm not that enlightened!) If we could see the inner worlds of each and all, then they are indeed 'other versions of ourselves'. YOU ARE I AND I AM YOU
I habitually used to avoid the gaze of 'the other' where a rather negative 20th century philosopher located Hell itself. In these exercises I had to look beyond the surface of my own projections into their essential human core. I had to do it whole-heartedly, genuinely and without reservation. Then I dissolve in sight and I see as I am seen before imagined differences and prejudices cause me to retreat, to reject and turn away-
After this and other processes we experienced the rebirth as I have described above. After the sharing and eating and singing we retired to bed: it had been quite a day! Sundays were more relaxed in comparison. We spent the morning on a trip out to Glastonbury Tor. This gave the whole weekend the dimension of pilgrimage. We have all but lost the experience of travelling to a sacred place as established religions have monopolised these places and declared them to belong solely to their belief systems. Glastonbury remains somewhere open to anyone who has a spiritual need. Sacred to Christians and Pagans alike it is indeed a place like no other I know. The whole process of ascending the Tor is somehow like 'coming home'. daevid taught us to hold on to the stone entrance gates, close our eyes and ask permission to enter. The first time I did this I felt a bell like 'sound' at the level of my heart: YES! (And I was afraid it was going to tell me to piss off!) Being there, in that very home place made you feel a real connection to the planet that sustains us in spite of all our abuse of it: we were filled with gratitude and awe.
In the afternoon we became sensitised to our magnetic fields and to the chakras. Moving your hand very slowly toward another person you can feel very subtle variations of heat and cold, push and pull at various points on the body. Once on my return to college Sally asked me to show her what we had been doing at the workshops; she said that I looked 'all polished up' after them. Moving my hand very gently and slowly toward her 'third eye' area but without touching she suddenly flinched. "I thought you had poked me there!" she said. (Generally Sal had no time for 'Hippy New Age nonsense' but she seemed genuinely impressed.)
Finally after completing the Nuclear Mystery Temple once more we stood in a circle and sang a very silly but enjoyable song celebrating everyone in turn which always began: "OM Jonny, celebrate Jonny sing it with an open and a joyful heart!" The workshop was at a close-hugs all round!
To Blow it is to Know it
In case we OD on positivity (and why not?) and in case I should be accused of being a biased witness, I must recall the one workshop I attended where it all seemed to go a bit wrong. At this workshop there was a woman there who was having a relationship with daevid at the time, and obviously felt that she was filling the space left by Wandana: she wanted to be a co-facilitator with the other three. This could have worked had the relationship been stable but, as this was not the case there was some strange political jostling going on. To make matters more complicated still there was another person who admitted to alcoholism and did not really want to be there. The climax came during the rebirth when this person decided to leave the workshop and could not be reassured enough to stay. This broke the fundamental boundary of staying with the process to it's completion. To some extent I could understand, as I did not feel safe that weekend either. However it created a hole in the group which was exacerbated by a friend taking her to the station: we had to wait for her return to be a complete though ruptured circle once again.
It got later and later and we were all very tired as an argument raged about whether the sharing of the rebirth should continue or if it should wait until morning. Obviously we could not start until our absent friend was once more with us but we could see ourselves up all night if the sharing continued after her return. To me it seemed too rigid to proceed with the sharing: we could not have given a good account of it by that time. It is the established religions who insist on ritual times regardless of human needs. On the other hand it can be good to push yourself occasionally by fasting or by a vigil for spiritual reasons. Our friend returned and I jumped up and said "That's it, we are complete!" And that settled it!
What would happen? Would the whole workshop fall apart? The next day we had the sharing. I can't remember what I experienced, but I do remember others having particularly spectacular visions as if there was some sort of competition going on. (Reminds me of the Nasrudin story 'Eat the Halva!') We also did an exercise called 'emotional fitness' which meant putting oneself into extreme emotional states at will like actors have to do. (Eat your heart out Antonin Artaud!) I felt this, in the context of that particular workshop was de-stabilising, ill advised and potentially dangerous. However we made it to the end of what was a very interesting learning experience. I am glad I was there! Still, one difficult workshop out of eight ain't too bad!
Imagine your future
The last workshop I attended included an exercise in which we imagined our possible future: we were, as usual encouraged to be as outrageously positive as we wanted, projecting all our hopes and dreams forward. Several themes emerged from mine: the successful completion my degree and to get onto and complete the Art Therapy course, to do something with my music and to start a new relationship. I also imagined getting my own place to live and being involved with a centre for arts and alternative therapies. These last two are yet to materialise, as I have not found any work as an Art Therapist since I qualified.
I have a new girlfriend of course: the irrepressible Kirsty Quickwoman, well known at recent Gong gigs! Also my wish to do something with my music has come true beyond the way I imagined, as I am now keyboard player with the Damned. Over the last five years I have played all over the planet and we have a new album to be released immanently, fantastic! I am convinced that without all the positivity injected by the workshops, these things would not be. I look forward to more diverse musical projects and being involved in some way with Art Therapy again in the future.
The climate feels very different now to the 1980's and early 90's. I don't know if workshops like those could work now, they definitely happened at the right moment. Since the workshops I have found it possible to overcome the terrible social phobia that kept me locked away from people. This makes working in a group context, such as I now do a lot easier than it would otherwise have been.
When the workshop's over…
One final fond memory: the workshop's finished and we find ourselves up Glastonbury Tor in clear moonlight banging drums and singing songs. After this, at my request we visit the Rifleman pub for a well-earned and most enjoyable pint! daevid sez: "You're just here for the beer!" Who, me?