I've been considering the possibility of retirement from my 38-year professional career for some years. The first mention of it in these pages was in 2007. Last year I decided upon an end to my serious income-generating in 2012, and I announced my decision in January to retire from professional consulting work with OSIF this summer. It's a strange experience of entering a long limbo: seven months is too much notice to give; sustaining the energy for creative work over that period is too difficult to manage in any consistent way.

It's particularly interesting to notice the reactions of other people to the announcement. Most ask: "What are you going to do next?" It's as if I were moving from one job to another. There is a default assumption that if you are putting one thing down, you must be simultaneously taking up another. In recent months I have been doing considerable preparation work on myself to make this transition, not least with the Death Lodge in May. Of one thing I am very clear; retirement is very much an ending and not a substitution or replacement. It is a life transition, from work to non-work, from earning to enjoying, from accountability to others to accountability to self, from commitment to freedom. There is nothing that I plan to 'pick up' and start doing. Sure, I will use my time in different and interesting ways. But this next phase is all about how I am in life, not what I do with time.

Another interesting observation is how the announcement begins to make you less visible to work-related colleagues and friends. It's almost as though, if you're leaving, you don't "count" as much. There are many complimentary expressions of regret at my leaving, of envy for the freedom, of appreciation for what I have been doing, but underneath this there is also a pattern of gradually being "dropped" from conversations. The volume of emails and calls is going down. At times, it feels as though my remaining contribution is somehow less important or valuable. People are already moving on, and looking beyond my departure to the context and relationship-building with others in the future. A part of me feels resentful at his bi-passing; yet at the same time a part of me acknowledges that my energy and focus has dropped, that I don't want to take on new responsibilities, and that I'm content to ease out quietly and unobtrusively.

There are four weeks to go until R-Day. These reflections will grow and change. It's a day to look forward to. Yet also a day when the fundamentals of life and Being continue unchanged.

Dear friends,

This issue of my periodic e-newsletter brings some responses to the question of how we cope with change. Many of us are surrounded by constant and ever-faster change. But change in itself on replaces one set of circumstances with another; it doesn't alter the fundamentals underlying the situation. Our experiences only fundamentally shift when they are transformed; when, quite literally, how we experience our life in the world is perceived and 'formed' in an entirely new way. And transformation tends to happen in liminal space, when we go to the very edge of our comfort zone, away from the customary physical and emotional environments that trap us in safe familiarity. Here are some great opportunities for transformative change in liminal space:

Entering the Silence: a desert experience

entering the stillnessIf you've never been to the desert, this is a wonderful experience. Throughout history, so many men and women have discovered deep insights in the vast empty stillness of the timeless deserts. In September, Freya Kennedy and I are leading this retreat across the Atlas Mountains to the Moroccan desert. With comfortable accommodation, good food and company, it will be a deeply memorable experience. This is a space to 'empty out' whilst being nourished at all levels of our your being. Come and join us and feed your soul. Click the link for more information.

Men's Rites of Passage 2012

There's just time to enrol still on this year's Rites of Passage being held in Scotland from 13 June. Male initiation is an ancient tradition of bring out immature nature into full male-hood and elder-hood; most men never make the transition. The Rites embody ancient wisdom teaching to connect men to their true selves.

Living in liminal space

death lodge wildernessMy own process of transformation and growth requires me to keep stepping into liminal space. Earlier this year I lived for two months in SE Asia, a region I know well, but where I always feel deeply out-of-control, where nothing is predictable, and where I am made to live in the present moment. More recently, I undertook a four-day Death Lodge in the Scottish Highlands, where I experienced 40-hours of solo wilderness living and contemplation, without food or distraction, in order to lay-down and release aspects of my life that are finished and no longer serve my purpose. For me, the focus was the ending of my professional career and all that this has meant in terms of achievement, status, income, driven-ness, goals, etc. I've written an extended reflection on the Death Lodge experience.

Natural Body, Natural Being

In September I'm part of the organising team for this week-long event at Laurieston Hall aimed at helping gay and bi-sexual men reconnect with their bodies and with nature. The programme weaves together intimate time in nature, bodywork, creative expression and ritual.

I trust you will find something to bring transformation to your life amongst these ideas. As always, you are welcome to be in touch.

In peace, Tim

Welcome to the May issue of our Gay Spirit newsletter, distributed this time to 281 like-feeling men. In this issue, we focus on a couple of events specifically for gay men, plus a couple of events with which we are involved for a wider audience.

There's still just time to book onto the Men's Rites of Passage 2012 where Tim is part undertaking a role as both a teaching elder and a wilderness elder. This event is open to all men (not just gay men) and runs from 13-17 June at a retreat centre near Perth. This is a powerful 5-day life changing programme for menwhich has been undertaken by over 5000 men across the world. It's not about religion, but about spirituality.  About age-old traditions that guide men into manhood.  About coming to trust that there is something much greater at work in your life than you could ever imagine. Taking you sometimes OUT of your comfort zones, but more deeply back into your own life. During the 5 days you will be held by an experienced team of male elders. As the Elders take you through the process of the Rites you will experience drumming, ritual, fire, silence, small groups, wilderness, solo-time, teaching ... and more.

natural body natural being

Andrew and Tim are part of the organising team for a week-long event for gay men on the theme of Natural Body, Natural Being, running from 1-8 September at Lauriston Hall, Dumfriesshire. This residential week for up to 35 men is offered as one of the Edward Carpenter Community events this year. The week will offer a supportive, stimulating space for a deep experiential process of transformation. This will enable a gradual raising of awareness of our physical body, senses, thoughts, self, and soul which in turn can create expanded consciousness. As we explore this gentle process together, we may reach a place where we can acknowledge and release restrictive, disempowering beliefs. The falling away of unhelpful, habit/story patterns frees our awareness and this, in turn, raises consciousness and enables powerful connection.

At the same time as the MROP, Urs Mattmann and Ray Andrews are running a three-day residential event at the Othona Community in Dorset on Simply Divine - a retreat for gay and bisexual men which they describe as  “an opportunity to discover where we are as gay men on our journey as spiritual beings in this world. We will connect with and re-discover our potential as people who are loved and capable of loving others with a contribution to make to the world. We will also focus on the integration of your sexual identity and spiritual self. What does it mean for gay men to live a sacred life?"

saharan desertAnd on 26 September to 5 October, Tim is co-leading an extraordinary 10-day desert retreat for both men and women called Entering the Silence in Morocco. Join us in a soul journey to the desert and experience the paradox of inner emptiness and fullness. Space and time become present in all things around you, under you, above you, below you, within you. The sands stretch from horizon to horizon under a sky that is vast, empty and still. We stay in a peaceful, comfortable haven on the edge of the Saharan Desert where the Invisible and Silent Divine Mystery can be embraced. This is a space to ‘empty out’, whilst being nourished at all levels of your being. Enjoy LIGHT – sunrise, clear skies, bright sun, sunsets, stars, and brilliant moonlight including the full moon.

With love and blessings to you from Tim and Andrew

A Death Lodge is a native tradition in which a person consciously goes out alone into the wilderness in order to lay-down some established aspect of their life that no longer serves them. This aspect is released; it receives a ritual death. In sacred terms, this is a 'dying before you die' and is one of many deaths that we must necessarily experience in life before our eventual physical, bodily death. The Death Lodge is a way of spending an intense period of time reviewing and fully experiencing all that this element has meant before it is laid-down in a symbolic ritual of dying, release and opening into whatever is to arise next in the void that follows the death.

I took myself off to a Death Lodge in May 2012 to mark my imminent retirement from a professional career and working life of over 38 years. I wanted to not only let go of my working life - something that I had been toying with for over ten years - but perhaps more importantly, I wanted to release myself from so many of the patterns and behaviours that had arisen and taken hold throughout this career. This particular Death Lodge was guided by Dave Bingham and facilitated for a small group of men over four days in a remote highland glen in Scotland.

During the first day we prepared ourselves for the solo wilderness experience. In an opening ritual, we picked up a stone that for me represented the burden that I had come to lay down; a stone that was to be carried at all times before and during the experience, until it was finally released in the laying-down ritual. On the second day, we each set out in the wilderness of this remote glen to find our spot for 40 hours of solo wilderness camping and contemplation, without food.

death lodge glen death lodge camp

The weather throughout the solo camp was unusually cold with night-time temperatures down the freezing, and day-time temperatures rising to no more than around 7 degrees with a northerly wind adding a wind-chill factor. Without food, and being relatively immobile in a contemplative state, these conditions proved challenging and added to the seriousness of the experience. At the same time, I was very conscious of the presence of both life and death in the natural environment all around me: a dead sheep; old pine cones; fallen trees; a new-born lamb; leaf-shoots; birds of prey; ancient crofts and enclosures; falling and melting snow.

For the first day, I gave my attention to a thorough review of my professional career: the different jobs I had undertaken; the various employers; the range of roles; the qualifications gained; the status that work had given me at different times. My working life has been very varied. I explored each of the main projects, their successes and failures. Of equal significance was the focus on jobs and roles that I might have taken - either if they had been offered to me, or if I had been successful in my applications. I wanted to sit with the regrets about work - both the things done and the things undone - as well as an awareness of what might have been, if other circumstances and decisions had prevailed.

I've always felt confident and fulfilled by my work, but I wanted to explore the motivations and drivers that had underpinned each of the different roles. I asked myself questions about what had really led me to take each role, and what had kept me in that role, sometimes beyond the point when I wanted to stay. This led to a 'ranking' of all the work roles in terms of how much satisfaction they had really given me at a deeper, soul, level. I found some uncomfortable truths here around money, security, status and earning, that I had been aware of but were more pervasive than I had previously realised. It was the deeper level patterns and behaviours that had arisen through work and had come to be so influential in my way of life that I wanted to reach.  Some jobs and roles revealed themselves to be in complete and natural integrity with my inner life; others I discovered to have shadow layers that were now seen to be less healthy and less genuine that I had realised (ignored?) at the time. They included saving, possession, driven-ness, and delayed gratification. It was deeply uncomfortable and yet satisfying to reveal and sit with all these aspects of my life.  Each such role, achievement, regret, attitude, and aspect found its way onto a card and into a piggy-bank for use in the main ritual.

After a full day in the wilderness, I got ready for my self-devised death lodge ritual. On the bank of the river I created a ritual site, with a clear intention to lay-down, release and move on. I opened the piggy-bank and cast all the little cards into the flowing river to be carried away and dispersed. I laid the piggy-bank itself on the ground and smashed it open with the largest stone I could lift, symbolising the breaking of the old patterns. The remains of the piggy-bank were then burned and destroyed in a small fire. Finally, the stone that I had carried for so long was hurled with some force into the depths of the river, from which it had originally come. This was the laying down and the death of my professional career.

The rest of my 40 hours in the wilderness was easier without the burden. I could be still again in the awareness of both Nature and my own Presence. The cycle of life and death continued all around me. I began the opening into the void that follows any death. There is no need to plan and create, for what follows will emerge when it's ready. I have a sense of freedom, spontaneity, generosity, recklessness and presence. It has been a 'good death'.

reclining buddhaMore than six weeks of living in liminal space here in Asia. It’s inevitable. Even after around 15 trips in seven years, it’s not possible for the western mind to comprehend the eastern cultures. Yes, I can understand the different elements of the food, the Buddhism, the local customs, the politeness, the respect ... but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: you need to be ingrained in this culture to know it from the inside out. Making appointments with people is not about confirming a date, time and place. A smile, a ‘yes’, and a handshake does not mean that the other person agrees with you. Making a plan to do something does not mean that anything like that will actually happen. For the mind steeped solely in western logical thinking this seems entirely frustrating and non-sensical; these thoughts arise out of the western approach to rationality and control. The eastern attitude is far more deeply rooted in ancient traditions of respect, truth, middle-way, non-confrontation, mutuality, peacefulness, listening, generosity, and merit.

Having an awareness of the eight-fold path of the Buddha is a good starting point to understanding aspects of this culture. Hence my continuing sense that this time is one long sangha.

To live in liminal space is to live at the very edge of your comfort zone. The word derives from the Greek work for ‘threshold’. It’s the place where you have left the known world and are on the edge of the unknown world. The prophets, mystics and teachers all sought to live in this liminal place of unknowing. That’s what Thailand is always like for me. I just don’t know what is going to happen next. This unknowing is totally literal: you go to meet someone, and you don’t know if you will see them; you go to visit somewhere, and you don’t know if you will actually get there; you go to socialise, and you don’t know if others will turn up; you become involved in a friendship or a relationship, and you don’t know how reciprocal it is or whether it will be sustained. Such unknowing often creates fear in the western mind – yet I find it immensely satisfying and sometimes anxiety-making.  It teaches me to live in this very present moment: to enjoy what is happening right here, right now – and not to become involved in how this might turn out in the future. Present-moment living is liberating.

Bangkok from the Banyan TreeThis is part of the continuing process of the last few years of becoming far less attached to property and possession: releasing my home of the last 20 years; letting go of nearly half my physical possessions; ending those relationships and interests that no longer serve; letting go of my professional career and ambitions; selling our family home and all its contents.

There is a real freedom in living here, in this way. In the last two months I have formed a clear intention to establish a(nother) home here.

In this I have been greatly encouraged by the men and the friends in my life here: from Eddie, Ernie, Om, and Niphon in the past; to many more recent people – and particularly to Aod. All have exercised a deep impact on this evolving consciousness. There are relationships forming here that have a quality of respect, intimacy, passion and trust, involving both Thai and Farang. The potential implications are large – but what is there to fear in that? I retain the sense that some part of my soul ‘knows’ this land, this culture, this people; it’s what keeps bring me here.

I cannot know how this will manifest. I return to England to complete some commitments and sustain others. The sangha is never finished and the pull of this home culture and all its relationships remains powerful.