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So what is the Phoenix Retreat and can I do it? – May 2015

  |   News, Susannah's Posts

By Susannah
“Phoenix is the master of Life-Death-Rebirth (or managing change in a creative way). It reveals the blind spots in our view of life that are causing our experience of life.” Ya’Acov Darling-Khan

Our patterns and stories (what in Movement Medicine we call ‘under studies’) have a real habit of confirming themselves. Mine do anyway. One of my stories goes like this:

Story: ‘I expect to have to do it alone.’


This story functions as a lens through which I view the world and results in me not perceiving the help that is or could be available, or discounting it as not good enough.

This leads to me feeling resentful, irritated, bereft and alone.

Which leads to me not looking for help, not asking, and saying to myself: “Well, I’ll just get on and do it myself then” (with attitude!).

Of course, this attitude tends to produce results that confirm my story. People either do not perceive that I need help because I don’t ask, or don’t offer help because they can sense my irritation and don’t want to be judged as not good enough. If they do offer help, they can be so wobbled by my irritation and expectation that they will fail, that they do exactly that.

All of which confirms my story: ‘See! I have to do it by myself!’

I think most people who know me well will recognise this in me. However, I have been using the tools in the Phoenix Process cabinet for some time now, and while it’s not that I’m completely immune from this pattern (it can still grab me unawares), now that I am aware of it, I am able to witness this pattern with greater kindness towards myself, and have a lot more choice to do something different, which results in some very different outcomes. Hooray!

Before I continue, please note that some of the information about The Phoenix Retreat in our brochure is wrong. The pre-requisites are not what it says in the brochure. In fact you may be able to come. And it is actually Ya’Acov, not me, who is teaching it this year. See our website or the bottom of this article for up-to-date information. We apologise for any confusion.

In the Phoenix Retreat we are working with different methods to become a conscious witness of our own ‘default modes’, which have been described variously as: character structures (Wilhelm Reich), egos (Gabrielle Roth in her ‘Mirrors’ work), SPASMs (the Self’s Protective Adaptive Survival Mechanism) and understudies (Movement Medicine). Essentially, what each of these terms is referring to is our personal ‘stories’ – our habitual and mostly unconscious expectations about the way things are – which in turn give rise to selective perceptions, interpretations, feelings and reactions to life. Most of the time this process occurs without us being aware of it. This creates a powerful illusion that the story our perceptions confirm is simply real, rather than being one of many possibilities that we can choose between.

The way we approach these repetitive patterns in the Phoenix Retreat is through an integration of psychotherapeutic and shamanic understanding. As we see it, people don’t have understudies because they are stupid or bad or mad. They have them because at a certain point in their early development, they needed to find a way of making sense of and surviving some difficult and often overwhelming experiences or an ongoing set of circumstances.

My own journey with the understudy I wrote about above has been to recognise it as a brave attempt to deal with some circumstances that happened soon after I was born. At the time, the sense I made from my experience was that I alone was going to have to keep myself alive. Being able to compassionately hold and love this dear, prematurely independent understudy, recognise her gifts (there are times it’s really useful to have that character trait), call back my trusting, innocent self, who is able to simply ask for what she needs, and recognise my choicefulness in all of this, has been and still is a huge gift. Of course I still get caught in the belief system of that understudy from time to time, but I’m able to recognise it, love myself in it and make a different choice more and more easily.

So the first key thing we call upon, as we work with different techniques to gain awareness of some of our understudies, is the quality of compassionate witnessing, which we call the inner ‘wise elder’. Finding and strengthening the wise elder within helps us to witness these (often rather embarrassing) aspects of ourselves with love, truth and kindness. This is already a huge and important step. If that is all we did in the Phoenix Retreat, I think it would be invaluable.

Then we go through a process that we call the ‘Phoenix Process’, which is a kind of ceremonial healing journey back to discover the origins of our patterning. Though we may not know it with our heads, very often the information that we need for our next steps comes through the moving body when we call upon it with enough clarity and support.

Once we arrive there, we do the work to release the old energy trapped in these experiences. This is sometimes intense, can be cathartic, and leads to a soul-retrieval process in which we call back energetic aspects of ourselves that may have been lost or have never been able to fully land as the SPASM formed. Lastly, we take steps to integrate the new learning, and with respect and gratitude for our hard-working understudy, look for what appropriate role they can play in the spectrum of our life, now that we have been released from the compulsive sense that this is the necessary and only way to survive.

Sometimes meeting these parts of ourselves feels a bit like meeting soldiers who have not got the information that the war is over. They have still been on high alert, trying to protect us from an enemy or a situation that actually ceased to exist a long time ago. So our job is to thank them, to honour them for their long service, release them from their role, give them a hug and a rest, and find out how the skills they have long practised can best be put to good, happy service in our psyches and in our lives. (We call this the transformation of the ‘understudy’ into the ‘player’).

Part of the focus of the Phoenix Retreat is the work you do during the workshop. But the other part is learning a tool you can take with you and use in and for the rest of your life. This is super-important for people who wish to join our Apprenticeship Programme, which is why the Phoenix Retreat is a prerequisite.

So this is the work of the Phoenix Retreat. It’s a key workshop in our calendar, which Ya’Acov and I take turns to teach. This year it is Ya’Acov who will be teaching it, and I know it’s going to be a deep, wonderful and magical journey. It will be held at the beautiful Rill Centre in Devon on May 22-28th 2015. Please note that we adapted the pre-requisites some time ago but forgot to update this information on our website (whoops!). The current pre-requisites are that you need to have done two weekends of Movement Medicine or other similar practice (5 Rhythms, Open Floor, Soul Motion, etc) and that you have the inner and outer resources and support that mean you can engage with this intense personal work in a responsible way. I will be there on a couple of evenings to support the process and look forward to the adventure of tracking your understudies in one-to-one ‘understudy clinics.’ See you there.

Susannah Darling-Khan