Darren: As we approach our third year anniversary I thought it would be interesting to talk about the journey so far and where we intend to go next.
When you look back over the last 3 years what stands out for you?
Ade: So many things stand out – too many for this conflab!
I remember reading The Velvet Rage when it came out in 2005 and really connecting with it and wanting to share the insights with every gay man I knew – well that did not happen and it simply rested on my bookcase, until you and I came together for our 6-week journey with a group of gay men in the Summer of 2011. That 6-week journey with The Velvet Rage really stands out for me. I thought I knew a lot of stuff, but by the end of the first evening, I remember saying to you – ‘gosh, I am getting a lot from this, much more than I could have ever anticipated’.
The other thing related to that which also stands out for me, is the hunger for this sort of deep exploration amongst gay men. I remember us having a number of enquries as to when we would be running the next group.
Darren: Yes I remember that feeling too – like we had suddenly unearthed a lot of unresolved pain from the past. It felt significant and also healing at the same time to be together with gay men sharing our experiences of growing up as a gay child. I think we knew then that something big had been revealed that demanded more investigation
In fact it is interesting that often gay men who ask me about The Quest don’t understand the need to explore their pasts.
They don’t really know how powerful an influence it is still having on their present. Similarly I did not expect the impact of the exploration to be as significant as it turned out to be during that first initial workshop.
Ade: Yes, many come to realize the power of the work once in the room or a few days after the weekend workshop.
What struck me then – and still strikes me now after each workshop we run – is how there are very few places where we as gay men can come together and collectively explore our stories; along with our pain, joys, challenges and everything in between. Investigating all those moments that have come to shape our lives – and unconsciously continues to shape it.
For me what makes this work really precious is the ‘coming together as gay men, to do the individual and collective emotional work’ – there are places where we can go and be one of a few gay people in the room, but here, we are all gay men on that journey of exploration, release and cultivation.
Darren: This is what makes the work we do so unusual. It dove tales effortlessly into the work that Brené Brown was doing at the same time in the US around Shame and Vulnerability. So when she agreed to meet us last year to discuss our respective work it felt very natural, like we were on the same page. It was amazing to meet another practitioner (and an eminent one at that) who was revealing the influence of shame on the lives of human beings throughout the world. I think it is going to take some time before this type of work gets widely acknowledged, it still feels like it is in it’s infancy and therefore a challenge for us when we are explaining the work we do. Its unchartered territory to some extent.
I think that as we did more workshops we grew into the subject matter. We learnt through experience. Each workshop was an unknown quantity in terms of what would come up from the group. It was so exciting, scary and amazing to hold the space for these stories to emerge and get released.
Ade: Meeting Brené certainly does count as something that stands out from the past 3 years! Speaking with another practitioner in this field about a subject matter many do not want to talk about was really comforting.
There have been times during the past 3 years when I have felt that this journey is really tough and I wanted to withdraw and do something less challenging and ‘safe’ – for a number of reasons, varying from, some of the gay men we spoke to proudly proclaiming that they do not have unresolved issues from the past and that such work is unnecessary, to some organisations whom I felt would have been supportive of our work not offering support, but instead viewing us with suspicion – even though we both worked with gay men. So, meeting Brené came at a great time, because she talked to us about the challenges she faced in the early days – which I found reassuring. And her offering us places on The Daring Way to support our work was so generous and made me feel and know that we need to keep at it.
I think in the early days, I tried to justify to those people we spoke to about why the work we were doing was necessary. I do less of that now. And its great seeing a number of the guys who have been on our workshops start talking about how the process has had an impact in how they are showing up in their respective lives.
Darren: Yes, it is challenging but whenever I feel a little disconcerted I simply recall the power of the work. I remember the experiences ‘in the room’ that are so powerful, healing and transformative and that makes me feel certain that we are doing something very worthwhile. But there is a gap between what happens during the workshop and what people in general perceive. Moving forward I think this is an interesting dilemma- how to convey what we are doing to the public at large. I still find it difficult to explain in terms that are understood when people ask me how we work. I think many people think that the work we do is for people ‘in crisis’ whereas I see that what we are doing is relevant for everyone. Although we work in the specific context of Gay men, the influence of shame in our past is something that affects everyone.
I think you are right that it is the guys who are doing the work that exemplify what we are about. That is very compelling because it is how they are being rather than how they are explaining. When people see that then they also want some of it for themselves. Maybe that is the way forward.
Ade: Over the past 3 years our process has also grown as we continue to learn from each group. So I notice that recently we have been paying a lot of attention to ‘Integration’ and ‘Practice’. I think for awhile, some who came on the program expected everything to fall into place after the workshop. But as we know, that it not the case. So as we have grown, we have put things in place to help with the insights glimpsed during the weekend.
The other aspect that we also talk more about is ‘Building Community’, so yes, we are doing Personal Transformation work, but it also leads to Community Transformation and as more guys attend our workshops, its been really beautiful to see them in their own ways redefining ‘Gay Community’.
Darren: That’s what love about this work – it is shaped by the guys on the workshops. We look, listen and then ask the questions ‘ What else needs to be done?’ ‘How do we meet the needs?’
It feels very organic. So looking back I am amazed at the variety of activities we have created- workshops at the centre and then also the social events, storytelling performances in theatres, panel discussions, group coaching, publishing the book, countryside retreats…. it’s something I had never dreamed of!
It feels like I have been taken on a journey. I feel like I felt when I was in my 20’s and the world was there in front of me full of possibilities and adventures. I can honestly say that life has opened up since doing this work.
Looking forward, I see more of the same and much more, with us starting to run programs outside the London area; going to other parts of the UK. We already have people coming on our programs from across Europe, which is great. I also would love The Quest to be part of a global conversation on the subject matter of the emotional health and wellbeing of gay men; in particular exploring past wounds, grieving and healing trauma – its a conversation that does not happen and I’d love to normalize that conversation.
Darren: I’d love that too and I think we are on our way to participating in making it happen. I would love other groups to enter the arena too in order to heal the lives of people from all different backgrounds and experience. It would be great to share our experience and encourage this work to happen in as many places as possible. I imagine lesbian groups, mother’s groups, men’s groups, disabled groups, Jewish groups, and youth groups all beginning to look at shame from their own special perspectives and finding ways through. I think it will be amazing when we visit Texas to take part in The Daring Way program, to meet other practitioners who are doing just this. As we grow and develop and find ways of working with more gay men in different parts of the world, I would like it to become a catalyst for those who are not Gay Men.
One of my “out there” ideas is to conduct workshops for gay and straight men in order to heal the wounds that exist between them. There is so much fear between the same sex that I think it would be an amazing experience. But that is not on my agenda just yet!
Ade: I love this line recited by Alice Walker in one of her books “We are the ones we have been waiting for“. It reflects how I feel about the journey we are on, and the amazing people who are also keen on personal transformation and creating a nurturing and nourishing gay community.
I’m excited (and scared) about the future, and at the same time deeply humbled and honoured to be in this arena doing this work.
Darren: It’s true that, however intense and demanding, this work is thrilling. I am particularly pleased that we have chosen to celebrate our third year with a Birthday Benefit event. There is something about acknowledging ourselves and the stand we are taking. I think as a ‘line in the sand’ it will be an emotional day where we look back and look forward but most importantly enjoy the present moment.
Ade: Looking forward to celebrating and acknowledging the journey with the many guys who have traveled with us on 15 June!