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My Clean Adventure: Floating Down The River


When I first heard about Adventures in Clean way back in January I had an urge to attend. I have a number of health issues and done a lot of work on them but it had become very hard and I had lost inspiration. Then, about a month before the weekend, someone had posted a link to an article of Penny and James’s about metaphors for healing on Facebook. I remember reading it and thinking, “I really want one of those. I want an all-encompassing metaphor, that’s not just about what’s happening now.”

The only thing stopping me from booking my place was that my husband and I generally go sailing on the May Bank Holiday weekend. Then, three days before the start of the event, he told me the boat wouldn’t be ready in time. I thought, “Right, I’m going.” I called Marian and luckily there was still a place available. I organised to stay with a friend in Wilmslow and set off from home on the Friday morning.

The workshop started at 2.30pm and I arrived at 2.35, but Caitlin had left the front door open for me and I was made to feel very welcome. As soon as I arrived, the location of the house with its views over the Dee estuary brought back memories… as a teenager and during my university days I had sailed on the marine lake in West Kirby.

During the opening session, we were asked to stand in a line, according to whether we had come mostly for personal development or mostly to model how the facilitators (Penny Tompkins, James Lawley, Marian Way, Caitlin Walker and Shaun Hotchkiss) would be working. I put myself firmly at the ‘personal development’ end of the line, with two other people. (No one was at 100% for modelling because it was a condition of being there that everyone had to do at least one personal development session.)

To start with, I watched Caitlin work with another participant, and then it was my turn. During my first Symbolic Modelling session of the weekend, I became aware that when I feel safe, there is a pressure down my back, and Caitlin suggested that I have a go in the Whirly Gig to find out more about this. So I did, and I discovered an exact position where I feel safe, which I later realised is my foetal position, hanging upside down in my mother’s womb, with pressure on my back.

As I came back into the house I bumped into Penny who’d just had a session with Marcus Croman, of Holistic Realignment. She looked so happy, and I thought, “I want some of that.” I was having a ‘selfish’ weekend where I took care of what I wanted and needed. This bodywork was also remarkable and literally helped to free up my body.

I’d drawn a black and white picture at the end of my first Symbolic Modelling session, and I decided I’d like to have it in colour. I worked with Penny on this and had to dig deep to get those colours. Then, on my second go in the Whirly Gig, I announced that I just wanted to be free. I let Shaun turn the gyroscope while I felt safe to let things go. I was confident and laughing, seeing the ground and the sky and the sunlight. I experienced a real freedom. Shaun then suggested I continue this exploration of freedom in the garden… which I did. I decided to roll down the hill like a child, completely unafraid and giggling. Even when I hit my knee and it hurt, I behaved as a child does, hurting until it stopped. I then realised I hadn’t done my usual pattern of self-blame and thinking I must protect myself better. That just did not happen. I was free to do ‘unsafe’ things, to take risks. Next I went on the trampoline, which the ‘old’ me would have thought too risky – but I just bounced around like a floppy 4-year old. It was fantastic. I felt free in my body, and free from self-blame and from being compulsive about safety. Later that evening, I did something that I’ll remember to the end of my days. Caitlin was winding the garage door up to allow me to leave and I had an urge ‘roll’ under it before it came right up, which I did, just like an acrobat! I have no idea how I did that, and it should have hurt like hell, but it didn’t. I laughed all the way back to my friend’s house.

Towards the end of the weekend I had a further session with Penny. (I am still not sure how the five facilitators managed to schedule everyone in and meet all our demands but they did and it felt great to have my needs recognised.) Penny asked me what my metaphor for sustaining myself in my health (whatever and whenever) would be. I described floating down a river, wearing a life-jacket. The river goes through me and I can see the banks. The water flow changes and sometimes it goes faster and I swim instead of floating – but I don’t swim against it any more.

Towards the very end, Penny asked me, “And when floating in a river wearing a life-jacket like that, what happens to hope?” I’d mentioned ‘hope’ the previous day and Penny had recalled it. At that moment I saw ‘hope’ dissolving in front of me, and I believe that this created a huge change in me, which, 7 weeks later, is still informing me daily. Until that time, I was almost desperate in my hope to be well, to be perfectly healthy… but today I live more ‘in the now’. Finally, in the safety of the river, I am not fearful of the results of future medical tests. I will cope with those if and when they arise. I don’t waste my energy on what may or may not happen, and that is a huge gift.

Interestingly, even though I was at the 100% personal development end of the initial line-up, the experience has also helped with my clean facilitation. I am no longer uptight about whether I am asking the ‘right’ question; I have recognised the importance of the homework needing to relate to a person’s metaphor landscape; and I am adhering much more to the P.R.O. model, so when someone has a remedy, I continue to invite them to consider their desired outcome, just as Penny did with me. I have also recognised the huge value of working with resources, and my client sessions have improved as a result.

Since returning from my “Clean Adventure” I have continued developing my river metaphor and it now encompasses a complete cycle involving the sea, tides, clouds, the wind and mountains. I can be anywhere on that cycle. And two weeks ago, I enacted my metaphor when my husband and I went out on the river in our dinghy. We floated down the river for an hour, with me living every moment while my husband was lookout, keeping me safe. It was a fantastic feeling.

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About Cathy Foster

Cathy Foster is an NLP Master Practitioner, Clean Language Facilitator, Project Manager (Prince2), a Life Coach and a Relationship Counsellor. She forms one half of Duo Coaching, working with Neil Wilkie to help couples in distress. Working together enables them to give space and fair consideration to the needs of both individuals. Before this, Cathy had an extensive sailing career, first as an Olympian and then as an elite international coach. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics she was the first woman helmsman since 1936, thereby creating her own ‘moment of fame’ in the history books. She has coached teams in the UK, Spain, Holland and Israel, and individuals from many other nationalities in able-bodied and disabled disciplines.

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