Reflections on The Quest Summer Retreat
Posted on July 26, 2014 by The Quest
Dan Hall and Thomas Doogan share their reflections on attending The Quest Retreat, which took place in West Sussex from 4 – 6 July 2014
Not long ago I spent an evening dancing, rather well I’ll have you know, to Suede and Kate Bush at the RVT in Vauxhall. Within an hour of my arrival I was clamped to a massive ex-rugby player and we snogged non-stop for the next three hours. It was a good night.
Inevitably the lights came up and I asked whether we should go to his place or mine. He smiled kindly, wrote on my hand, “Read VELVET RAGE”, kissed me, and left. Horny and irritated, I ordered the book the next day and consumed it in almost one sitting.
Fifty per cent I found to be pop-psyche rubbish. All that stuff about seeking approval from disapproving fathers was nonsense in my world. And, for me, the intrusion of the author’s own life into the narrative got in the way of the copy. But enough of the book chimed to make an impact and I thought too much of my life rested on: if he’s not worth fucking, he’s not worth knowing. Even without the direction of The Quest, it was clear this was a pretty shitty attitude.
So I signed up to The Quest’s residential retreat to help understand where this attitude had come from and what could be done to counteract it. I’d be lying if I denied there wasn’t a forbidden appeal of possible late-night vodka and shagging! All very school trip, and the sweaty, sexy inevitability of getting thirty gay men and locking them into one remote building!
But true to its word and aim, The Quest Retreat was not the fuck-fest that all my chums swore it would be. It is rare for adults to be able to step outside their comfort zone and spend the weekend with a bunch of strangers. And what a joy to be without phones, flirtation and sexual judgement.
The three Quest leaders all had different strengths, which together made a powerful and effective team. Ade has a calm, sage-like quality. Darren, the impatient seriousness of wanting to help make those around him happier with themselves. And Ernesto’s lighter touch reminded us that it’s all worth nothing without joy at the end of the path.
Together this team led a series of workshops and exercises, with bits of meditation and dance thrown in. The group was introduced to an array of studies on personality types, behavioural trapdoors and challenging exercises that encouraged us to face and overcome obstacles to happiness.
One particularly powerful exercise involved writing personal demons on paper, reading them to the group, and “killing” them by throwing the paper into a fire. At first it sounded like pretentious tripe to me and as I approached the burning flames I couldn’t help wondering that we might end up burning a huge wicker cock come nightfall. I was incredibly sceptical until it came to my turn to read my demons and burn them in the fire. The experience floored me. It was very strange, frightening even, to read out a few words of personal shame and to find support, not rejection at its end. With an open mind I boldly strode into the rest of the experience.
We were also formed into smaller groups – Hubs. These groups retained their members throughout, and met periodically. It allowed increased connection and peer support from a tighter group. And it was these hubs that proved the cement for the weekend. These smaller groups allowed for honest discourse. Again my scepticism was dashed, and it was a slap in the face to me to stop judging people by first impressions.
Downtime was excellently managed; arranged enough to stop the residential unravelling, but free enough to prevent it feeling like an episode of HI-DE-HI. I’d forgotten the last time I’d socialised with gay men and alcohol without their being a sexual spark in the air. And it was fantastic.
With hindsight the character changing moments, certainly for people in my hub, were the spaces outside of the more dictatorial lectures: the early pre-breakfast dances to get us awake, the freeform hub discussions and singing around the piano. The formality of the more intellectual sessions gave food-for-thought which was allowed expression in these lighter spaces.
By the close of the residential on Sunday afternoon it truly felt as if we’d been away from the world for a long time. And I hope bonds and friendships were made that will continue, despite outside lives getting in the way.
Like it’s inspiration, THE VELVET RAGE, I did not agree with 100% of the residential teachings. But neither do I think it expected me to. These things can be perceived as crazy cults if they are to be consumed as given. But all good intellectual discourse should be exposed to constant challenge and dissection. And confident, kindly discourse with goodness at its heart encourages this. The overall message I felt was: if you’re not letting yourself down, you’re not letting the residential down. That is a great message.
So away from the safety of the residential, does its tangle of teachings, dance and bonding stick? Yes, I think so. I’ve met with members since and we all speak daily. My own biggest block to happiness has been sorted, something which before the residential I didn’t have the focus to solve. So certainly so far, the answer is yes.
And finally sex. Did I manage to kick aside the attitude if he ain’t worth fucking, he ain’t worth knowing? Absolutely. The Quest’s work reminded me how much we are a family, and often a family without blood family. Communication and dare I say it, brotherhood is vital. We should start touching and caring more, and fucking and seducing less.
That said, I’m still very much me. If that wall-of-meat rugby player turned up on the RVT dance floor again, I’d still ask him home. And maybe this time he’d give a different answer.
Doing things for the first time is always a big kick for me. The adventure. The fear of the unknown. Will I like it? Will it do what it is supposed to do? All these things come into my mind and did so again when I enrolled on The Quest Retreat.
It was a beautiful Friday morning. I arrived with my Starbucks coffee to the lovely Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall meeting the others travelling by bus to the lovely Dunford House, beside Midhurst. The journey there allowed us to meet new people, catch up with old friends, and even have a few activites on board, with inflight safety and refreshments along the journey. Darren, our host on board kept us very well entertained.
Arriving at Dunford House for our three days started off getting to know each other and identifying what “I” wanted from the three days. For those who have done the weekend workshop, this retreat is a progression on the weekend workshop. Its intention is less intense, but also focuses more on the social interactions with lots of time in the surrounding parklands as well as enjoying the opulence of social rooms in the old house itself. For me, I immediately bonded with some new faces as well as having the great opportunity to grow the relationships I have already.
The days reminded me of the weekend workshop while the evenings were very beautifully mixed, with singing around the grand piano, relationship quizzes that allow us to explore our own thinking and reason others thinking on relationships.
In addition for the showman and exercise fanatic inside of us, we had dancing and karaoke. Truly great evenings indeed! Mornings again allowed contract with meditation for those, like me, who liked a slower start. For the others, there was the opportunity to go running and then there was the Dancetastic sessions for the insane who wanted to sweat their way burning a 1000 calories in a quick session.
Overall for me, my own development is something I know I have to work on every day and the weekend retreat was a great opportunity to realign my focus on the things I want to work on. For me, it is about my emotional connection with myself and my commitment to myself on what to focus on for now. For me, it is about remembering the journey, and not just the result.
For those of you who were there, I am sure you will join me in congratulating Ade, Darren and Ernesto on such a well-planned, organised and executed weekend.
For all the rest of you, I would seriously recommend this weekend which is fun, deep, loving, caring, a force of togetherness and a wonderful way to spend a weekend.
Click here to see more images from the 2014 Summer Retreat.