gay spirit

Welcome to this latest edition of our newsletter, which is sent to over 250 men interested in gay spirituality. In this edition, we bring you information about recent events, some new directions, and a foretaste of our events for 2012.

New callings
As we go along, our vision for Gay Spirit unfolds and deepens. In response to what we have learnt over recent years, Tim and Andrew feel called to work more deeply with the energy of the Heart. In so many of our workshops, we have been privileged to witness participants opening themselves to love and acceptance through the gentle warmth of other gay / bi men. As members of a minority, we know well the wounds we suffer through our difference. Yet so often, Tim and Andrew have been party to men overcoming these hurts on the path to personal and spiritual growth – to wholeness – through this experience of Heart-opening. Our intention now is to bring this aspect of gay community more into the centre of what we do at Gay Spirit. Reflecting this, we’ve updated what we say about ourselves on our website. Come and join us on this journey to the Heart!

LoveSpirit Gathering, 24 September 2011
Tim and Andrew both had a great time at the LoveSpirit Gathering in London in September. LoveSpirit aimed to draw together a range of men and women to celebrate diverse sexuality and spirituality. The Gathering attracted nearly 200 people to a buzzing, vibrant and stimulating day of 25 different workshops. From thought-provoking discussions on gay men's spiritual role to workshops on bodywork, and from drumming to meditation, this was an amazing day. Andrew was on the organising group and co-led the opening and closing ceremonies. Tim facilitated a workshop on how we experience the Divine. Plans are already in hand to repeat LoveSpirit in 2012, and we heartily recommend this unique experiment.

New leadings
We have both been deepening our own interests this year. Tim has recently returned from a week exploring silence in the Sinai desert, a place of great mystical significance for early prophets and hermits including the fourth-century desert fathers and mothers. Tim has written about his experience.

Meanwhile, wearing his psychotherapy hat, Andrew has been exploring the deep wisdom and humanity of Compassion-Focussed Therapy. This emerging strand of therapy is harnessing recent discoveries about neurophysiological arousal systems to understand how responses such as anger, anxiety, panic or desire can lead us away from feeling calm, loving or at peace. The value of this aware, compassionate approach has long been upheld by Buddhists. A flavour of it can also be found in Christ’s ‘new commandment’: ‘love one another’ (John 13:34-35).

Events in 2012
Looking forward, we are finalising our plans for 2012. We will be publishing details in the new year of what we will be offering. Our events will reflect our growing emphasis on the Heart and will include a Retreat weekend, as well as a more challenging weekend of personal and spiritual growth.

Tim and Andrew will also be working with three others to facilitate a week on Natural Body, Natural Being - Opening Body, Mind and Spirit to Transformation and Emergence as part of the Edward Carpenter Community at Laurieston Hall in September 2012.

Full details of all these events will be in our next newsletter, together with early-bird booking information.

For years, I have been fascinated by, and drawn to, what I call the S's - stillness, silence, solitude, simplicity, sacredness and soul. Whilst reading Sara Maitland's excellent The Book of Silence, I learned of her exploration and experience of desert silence; this was something I knew I wanted to experience for myself. So earlier this month I travelled to the eastern Sinai Desert with specialist tour company Wind, Sand and Stars to spend a week in (near-) silence in this vast desert.

The desert has consistently figured in all the Abrahamic traditions as a place of retreat, of contemplation, and of transformation. Whether you read the biblical stories as myth, metaphor or history, people were 'lost' in the desert and emerged with new spiritual insights. Moses led the Israelites through the desert for 40 years in a circuitous search for their promised land. Prophets went out to live in the desert. And the transformational beginning of Jesus's ministry began with his period of temptation in the wilderness. The Egyptian deserts became a home for the reclusive and ascetic fourth-century Christian abbas and ammas (the Desert Fathers) who lived in solitary caves or small communities, away from civilisation, in order to practice their faith without distraction; these early monastics experienced a life of hardship and relative solitude that gave them deep insights into human spiritual nature that have been passed down through the oral tradition as great teachings. Several of these communities survive today as great desert monasteries such as St Anthony's and St Catherine's, with an unbroken history of continuous Christian worship stretching back seventeen-hundred years.

Our more limited desert experience took us deep into the Sinai. This sandstone plateau is carved into the most fantastic landscape of towering vertical cliffs, like iceberg islands, set amongst an almost flat network of wide connecting wadis. The cliffs are bedded and shattered; the wind has carved fissures, cracks, gullies, caves, stalactites, pillars and other amazing shapes. There are large areas of broken stone littering the cliff-foot. The day-time temperature is over 40 degrees. And there is sand. Not the familiar sand of the British seaside dunes, but a granular sand that is sometimes compacted into a hard surface, sometimes loose for a few inches, and sometimes piled in massive slopes hundreds of feet high against the vertical cliffs. It is bright. It is harsh. The sun is unrelenting. The overwhelming colour is of sandy-beige - and yet within this there are yellows, ochres, purples and black. It is incredibly clean: nothing decays, except in geological time. There is no evidence of water, other than early morning dew. Animal life is limited to some ravens, scorpions, a desert fox or two, and the mouse that made a daily appearance around my place of solitude.

Sinai desert landscape 1Sinai desert landscape 2

The desert is stark. It strips you back. I came to experience the desert as 'emptying'. It empties you out. It voids the body and the mind. Life returns to great simplicity - finding shade, minimising movement, and drinking water. There is time to observe the landscape, from the minute details of individual stones and sand-hills, to the vastness of the horizons. It is the nights that are perhaps the most extraordinary of all. Dusk falls around 6.30 as the sun's shadow runs across the desert floor and up the cliff walls. Then the deepness of the skies becomes more evident. Without cloud cover, without atmospheric rubbish, without light pollution, the sky becomes a magnificent panoply of stars and planets and space. It is said there are as many stars in the sky as there are grains of sand on earth. This heavenly panorama is magnificent. It is endlessly observable. As you lie in a sleeping bag on the desert floor, waking up at intervals, you look up and see this slowly moving (although actually it is moving at thousands of miles per hour!) kaleidoscope of constellations and galaxies. Moon-rise follows sun-set, with another shadow crossing the floor and climbing the walls. A full moon that enables you to see clearly to the far horizon, and to read your book by moonlight in the middle of the night.

This is the desert experience - huge, grandiose, infinite, humbling. We humans are totally insignificant in the presence of such awesomeness. We are no more than a single grain of sand - or a far distant twinkling star. And yet we are also the magnificent perceiver and witness of all this creation. We are a part of the amazing web that connects the microscopic particle with the quantum whole. "I am a part of that of which I am the whole." I am ... empty yet whole, body yet spirit, tiny yet complete, alone yet connected, human yet divine, myself and not myself.

desert rockmy hermitage

In this emptiness, we imagine the desert to be silent. The relative absence of humans and animals (the largest creators of noise on our planet), the heat and dryness, are all reasons for noise to be diminished, but - frustratingly! - it is not silent. You hear the noise of a camel caravan crossing the sand, of a fellow-camper turning over in her sleeping bag, of the Bedu family making bread, of the ravens wheeling in the sky, of the wind across the desert floor, and (most present for me) of the flies buzzing around your head. You learn to detect individual sounds. And when you can separate these discrete and random sounds, you make the amazing discovery that each sound has a definite beginning and ending. When the sound is ended, you can't be sure it actually happened. You discover the silence between the sounds. Revelling in this experience, I started to become aware of the silence beneath the sounds. These silences are completely new to me, and they are profound. Now that I am home again, and surrounded by the continuous noises of everyday living, I can listen and find this same silence between and beneath the noise.

The night-time silence is the deepest of all. To wander out into the desert, away from the murmurs around the camp fire, to lie on your back on the ground as it leaks the day's heat back into the air, and to gaze at the soundless universe, is truly humbling. The body is upheld by the ground whilst the soul wanders through these infinite expanses; the mind cannot cope with such voids and - for once - gives up the struggle for control. Here is the connection with all that is ... and it's a boundlessly full void.

This silence is not devoid of content. Many of those who have explored silence have tried to describe or explain the 'sound of silence'. Even in this total absence of noise, there is something present. I could hear my own blood rhythmically pumping around my body. And beneath that, there is another gentle rhythmic "hum" as of electrical energy; the nearest description I can offer from my own experience is of the imagined sound of a distant electricity sub-station heard on a quiet day from a mile away. Yet there are no electricity sub-stations or generators in the middle of the Sinai. This elusive and magical 'sound of silence' has been ascribed to many different sources: to the chemistry within our planetary atmosphere; to the constant creation occurring around us; to the solar and stellar energies bombarding our earth; to radio and light waves. That this 'sound of silence' exists constantly between and beneath all other sound - even in total silence - is surely a cause for wonder.  What resonates (!) for me in this discovery, is a sound of silence that is our cosmos at work - creating, transforming and destroying, with energies that we can neither understand nor rationalise, that gives rise to both life and death. The Buddhist tradition asserts that 'Om' is the sound of the universe being created - the big and silent bang. This present sound of silence heard in the desert is a window into that infinite Mystery that creates us and enfolds us, always.

There is another paradox in the heart's desire which occupies much of my attention just now - balancing the inner desire for solitude with the external need for community. Over the last ten years, I have been increasingly drawn towards contemplative solitude, and I have sought a variety of ways of exploring this. My own spiritual practice is always one of stepping aside to be on my own. All the familiar 'S' words that I hold as guides, trend in the same direction: stillness, silence, sacredness, surrender, soul.

The lonely places have a distinct and special calling. Most recently, in deciding where to relocate, this has been particular influence. From looking to move to urban conurbations and busy towns, I finally discerned that this would not work. My head's desire for social escape and excitement was just a distraction from the heart's desire for nature, beauty and a quieter environment. So here I stay in Keswick, looking out over nature, feeling the elements, held vertically between earth and sky. I am struck by how frequently the great spiritual teachers sought rest and inspiration in lonely nature: "he took himself off to a quiet place" ... usually on a mountain or by the shore. It's as though there is replenishment in the peace of solitude. So too, the desert fathers and mothers sought refuge and connection in the isolation of the desert. And many of the greatest mystic writers retreated to a life of contemplation within their cell or their garden for many years without any need to venture out.

I look back and see how often I have been drawn to wilderness areas - north-west Scotland, the outer islands, the mountains, remote sea shores.  When I'm in the city, how much I long to get out again. Creating this new home feels like a significant move into establishing the urban hermitage that I have written about before. Here is the hermit's cell, set aside from others, yet still with access to and from the community.

The great transitions of this earthly life are accomplished alone. We make the journey into life, with physical support from our mother, into a new environment where we are expected to survive through our own abilities. Perhaps more obviously, the transition of death is a journey that may be surrounded by others but is always conducted alone. Of course, from the spiritual perspective, this is never 'alone' but always 'at-One' - accompanied by the eternal One that shadows and guides each step of our soul's existence.

And yet ... and yet. We also crave connection, relationship, intimacy and community. So much of earthly life is social and relational - seeking, creating, making and releasing friendships and relationships. These serve biological, physical, social and emotional needs, yet so rarely are they completely satisfying. It is the deeper relationship with the One alone that offers total acceptance. And still we go out in the search for human connection and relationship - something that we seem to both desire and fear at the same time. Herein lies one of the great paradoxes of life, not to be resolved (for it cannot) but to be sat with and enjoyed, as it plays in an eternal loop through life.

Dear friend,

This periodic update brings you a selection of recent writings and announcements about future events and retreats which may interest you.  As always, if you have any queries, you are very welcome to email or call (01768 775708) me.

Moving House

After 18 years of living and working happily at The Archway in Keswick, I have recently moved to an apartment in town. Although smaller, the apartment is far more convenient and easy to maintain. I continue to provide a similar range of services as before - including ceremonies (civil partnerships, weddings, funerals, etc.), healing, massage, spiritual direction and mentoring, retreats adn workshops. I am continuing to see people by appointment either in Keswick or on out-calls by arrangement.  For more details on any of these services, please see www.thelki.org.uk.

Recent Articles

Lost and Found
The personal experience of a series of rituals  during a recent FIRMing retreat for males that led to a profound sense of 'coming home' and entry into elderhood.

into the voidKnowing the Void
It has taken me many years to realise that what others call variously God, Allah, the Source, the Mystery, the Divine, Father, the Beloved, the Tao is most present to me in the Void.  This emergent essay seeks to illustrate aspects of how I have come to know and experience the Void.

Urban hermitage
How a personal sacred space can be created, even in the midst of a busy urban life, that is still, silent and simple. The concept of an 'urban hermitage' is a 21st century response to our need for time and space for both contemplation and action.

Solitude and community
An article that explores the paradox of the wisdom seeker's desire for solitude and stillness, whilst also wanting relationship and community.

 

inSOUL - a weekly reflective meditation

Since launching inSOUL last December as a short weekly email newsletter offering a contemporary spiritual reflection, subscribers numbers have risen by over 600%. This is a free opt-in newsletter and you can unsubscribe at any time.  View recent editions, or create your own subscription.

 

Retreats, workshops and courses

eternal soulDuring 2011 a series of workshops and retreats have been offered on Gay Spirit, spirituality and other themes.  Several events are already planned for 2012 and 2013. I am particularly looking to expand the range of retreats and workshops available to external groups on such themes as

  • Death and dying
  • Contemplative mysticism
  • Deepening into silence and stillness
  • Finding 'my' spirituality
  • Approaches to meditation
  • Rites of Passage
  • Spirituality, sexuality and identity
  • Wilderness retreats and vision quests

If you are part of a group that would welcome the opportunity to spend time exploring one of these themes, please do get in touch.

LOVESPIRIT GATHERING – Weekend Offer!

This major gathering takes places in central London on 24 September with well over 30 workshops on offer. Come and celebrate this weekend by buying your LoveSpirit tickets at a 20% discount. This discount is available only from 9.00 until 23.59 on Sunday 4 September. Standard priced tickets will be available for just £20, and concessionary tickets for just £12. Buy online only.

This year's annual retreat for gay and bi-sexual men took place over the weekend of 22-24 July at Whaley Hall in the High Peak. The theme this year was Encountering Gay Soul encouraging the men to look deeply within and connect with that spiritual essence that helped shape their identity and true nature. We used a combination of heart circles, touch, sharing, rich drawings, and ritual to explore the 'encounter' theme, including encounter with ourselves, encounter with others, and encounter with nature. At the heart of the retreat was an extended solo and quiet time in nature, allowing the natural world to reflect and speak to us in response to our own individual questions.

Feedback from the men suggests that this was a rich, nurturing and affirming retreat in which they could each rest and be held within a safe and sacred space amongst other gay men.

Our programme of Gay Spirit events for 2011 is now fully booked. Andrew and I will be meeting shortly to plan a more extensive programme for 2012.  To ensure that you receive priority notice of the new programme, please do join our mailing list.