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'.

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

 gay spirit

Welcome to the February issue of our Gay Spirit newsletter, which is distributed to 265 men interested in gay spirituality.

We had planned to announce our programme of events for 2012 by now and ask for your patience during a busy few months for both of us with house moves, family ill-health, and other personal changes. When our energies return, we will be running events later in 2012, and you will hear about them first through this newsletter. Meanwhile, here are a selection of other related events that may be of interest to you:

  • The Men's Rites of Passage are being held near Perth from 13-17 June. Tim will be one of the elders/teachers on this powerful process of initiation and growth, open to all men.
  • Natural Body, Natural Being is an Edward Carpenter Community event for gay men in Dumfriesshire from 1-8 September. Both Andrew and Tim are part of the organiser team for this week of transformation and emergence.
  • The LoveSpirit Gathering is planned to return in September. Details to be announced.
  • Entering the Silence - a desert experience, is a guided 9-day journey into comfortable peace, relaxation and silence in the Saharan Desert of southern Morocco, planned for September/October with Tim as one of the leaders. Initial enquiries welcome by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Before then, Andrew is continuing his counselling and spiritual facilitation practice in Oxford and London, and in January become Co-ordinator of the Oxford Men's Counselling Service. Tim is currently 'on retreat' in Thailand and returns in March to continue his work of spiritual counselling, ceremonies and bodywork in the Lakes.

We will stay in touch via this newsletter meanwhile – and we’d love to hear from you too.

With love from Andrew and Tim

Gay Spirit offers spiritual and personal development for gay/bi men and is led by Andrew Woodgate a Gestalt counsellor, spiritual facilitator and coach, and Tim Pickles an ordained interfaith minister offering spiritual direction, retreats, massage and civil partnership ceremonies. You can un/subscribe online at any time using the link below.

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.

The decision to retire from my present role at One Spirit Interfaith Foundation later this year has come as a surprise to some - and it has been coming for a long time.

My heart and soul are drawn ever-more strongly towards living-at-the-edge as the wandering contemplative, the silver nomad, the urban hermit, and the mystic writer. This is where I am going now. These are the ‘Siren Songs’ of simplicity, stillness, silence, solitude, sacredness, sexuality, sagacity, sensuality, service, and surrender,

Looking back, there are always signs in the sand to be seen. I used to claim that I would stop working on the last day of the twentieth century. That day came and went and I did indeed reduce the professional workload. In 2007 I wrote an article on Retirement Beckons. The seminary training had led me into a far healthier balance of heart and body with mind. Then came the opportunity to offer my skills to the Foundation as community facilitator in 2008. The Type 3 Enneagram ego-mind revelled in re-engaging once again in tasks and projects, budgets and spreadsheets, ideas and solutions, goals and deadlines. Yet now I notice how the heart groans and resists each morning: “not more of this, please – it no longer serves – let it go – fall into what your truly desire”. There is little inner energy, no juice, to sustain working any longer.

Through the upheavals of the last 30 months, I have loosened or let go of many attachments: a large house that required constant maintenance; physical possessions that no longer serve a purpose; and responsibilities in Yorkshire that are now far less onerous. It is time now to release this persistent attachment to work and earning. The soul craves freedom.

I depart shortly for an extended sojourn in Asia where I suspect this next transition will take root. In May, I participate in a guided Death Lodge where I plan to lay down all that is fulfilled and unfulfilled in my professional career. In June, I shall be a teaching elder and a wilderness elder on the Men’s Rites of Passage. There are the annual celebrations of Convocation and Ordination in the summer. In September, I am co-leading a week on Natural Beings. There will be Gay Spirit retreats to lead. Freya has asked me to join her in leading retreats into the emptying silence of the Saharan Desert in Morocco (any takers?).  And in November, close family and friends are joining me for a birthday week in some Majorcan villas.

Thank you for all your messages of support about this transition. I shall follow this path and watch with interest where it leads.  Rejoice with me!