Seven days. 24 people. Three facilitators. One house by the sea. No telephone. No communication with the outside world. The dress code is casual; loose workout clothes, nothing branded. And the rules are clear: it is forbidden to discuss anything pertaining to life “outside”.
I first heard of “the Process” — as I would soon come to call it — through a friend. It initially seemed to be yet another one of those self-help courses, which I knew nothing about but which all sounded rather the same: an expensive if ultimately illusory magic solution to deep trauma and existential questions. I listened, skeptical at the idea of a quick fix.
Therapy. CBT. Transpersonal therapy. Analysis. Hypnotherapy. Meditation. Visualization. Bioenergetics. Over the years, I have ventured on the path towards self-discovery, which has led me to various schools of thought and practices. That our childhood experiences leave an impact on our psyche is generally an accepted truth. Many of us then carry into our adult lives the wounds stemming from our early years, as well as behaviors automatically learned from our parents. When these interfere with, for instance, our happiness or capacity to self-actualize to the fullest, then the question naturally arises as to whether healing or change is possible.
Here, different schools of thought propose differing answers. From my experiments, I had found certain things to work, others… not so much (and that’s putting it mildly). For indeed, money flows in the quest for happiness and healing, creating a global market for wellbeing where both serious individuals as well as charlatans propose alleged solutions. From the scientifically rigorous to the thoroughly unfounded, miraculous change is offered, most often with a steep price tag attached.
As the conversation with my friend deepened, I began to recognize in her description of the Process certain concepts I had previously encountered through my readings of psychology and other literature. My interest was piqued. Ultimately, what convinced me to research the Hoffman Process was the change I witnessed in her: she seemed to have gained a significant amount of self-awareness and the capacity to undo herself of certain of the character traits and habits that had held her back over the years. Could one week really have that much of an impact? Maybe it was time to tune the skepticism down.
Determined to find out more, I started my research and soon found myself in touch with the Hoffman Process UK office and working on my application. The first stage consisted of a screening process, whereby the team assesses a candidate’s suitability. I thankfully qualified – note that this is not a mere formality, as I know of at least one person who was turned down.
The second stage was far more daunting: I had to complete a 50-page document probing the depths of my childhood memories, the behaviors of my parents, as well as my ambitions and dreams. I breathed a sigh of relief as I thought, “This is serious.” It took me many days to work my way through the lengthy questionnaire, as long-forgotten memories of my early childhood came flooding back. I found myself falling asleep, exhausted by the sheer emotion of revisiting my formative past. Finally, one month before the retreat, I sent the completed coursework back to the Hoffman office, realizing how much insight I had already gained from simply answering the questions and probing my deepest memories. The next weeks went by rapidly as I became increasingly anxious at the idea of shutting myself off from the world with a group of strangers all looking for change.
And then the time came. I left London before dawn and made my way to the South coast of England. The sky was clear and a strong breeze came in from the ocean as I arrived at Florence House, which lay in green grounds. I was briefly welcomed and given the key to my shared room, handed in my phone for the week, and found myself amongst complete strangers.
The group of 24 was eclectic; half men, half women, spanning many decades as well as professions. Only later would I come to realize how, for a full week, Florence House had become a microcosm of the real world, whereby one’s most primitive childhood memories collide with one’s adult self. The result? An eye-opening experience in what it means to be integrated.
Integration, informally speaking, refers to the different aspects of ourselves working in harmony together, free from inner conflict. The idea that there are multiple aspects within ourselves finds its roots within various traditions from both western and eastern philosophy. For many of us, these different parts work towards competing goals, thus creating a conflicted existence. During the Process, through various exercises, this framework is introduced and turned from theoretical concept to experiential knowledge.
The week was a whirlwind, with hours spent at times laughing and, others, crying. I would go to bed exhausted at 9 p.m. and fall into a deep sleep, only to wake up refreshed at 7 a.m. The days flew by, each packed with a full schedule of activities. We were typically given work to do individually, before deep-diving as a group guided by the facilitators. I worked through so many exercises, both on my own and with others, discovering not only myself but something about humans, connection, and the capacity we have to come together to heal and grow.
More specifically, over the course of the week, we had the opportunity to gain an awareness of some of the defenses and coping mechanisms that had been put in place during childhood and become deeply embedded within our adult selves. We were then introduced to a set of tools in order to work through both personal and inter-relational issues, which we actively practiced within the group. Indeed, as adults, our spectrum of responses has grown, and what may have been a useful strategy or behavior at age six will be far less so decades down the line. Perhaps change happens only when we leave antiquated responses and patterns of behavior behind, replacing them with something new.
Friday, the final day of the retreat, arrived faster than I thought possible. I woke up at dawn to watch the sunrise and, once outside, found others who had had the same idea. We walked along the cliff, watching the sunrise, sharing the moment. Soon enough, it was 2 p.m., time to leave, to say goodbye. Contrary to what had been recommended, I had not organized for accommodation over the weekend. As I turned on my telephone after a full week without it, I realized that I needed to stay by the sea, to gather my thoughts and process the experiences and insights of the past week. Along with two new-found friends, we booked a bed and breakfast and spent the evening walking by the sea before heading to a pub in Seaford, which felt like the greatest metropolis on Earth.
It takes a while to land, to find one’s footing. I spent the Process week immersed in my past, in the joys and pains that shaped me, sharing this raw experience with strangers who would become friends. I arrived at the Hoffman Process thinking that, at worst, it would be a waste of time and that, at best, I might learn something of myself. Instead, I left having found out something about not only myself but life.
Today, a month later, I am still in touch with the group. During the Process, I reconnected with a deeper aspect of myself, a vulnerability that I had long learned to hide. What made this experience so profound is that this change was witnessed by the group. Indeed, it is one thing to know your inner self, but it is quite another to bring it forth and incarnate it in the world. The Process offers a space to explore new ways of being, not just with one’s self but also with others. The group witnesses and holds you, and it allows for some of the defenses and habits gathered over the years to slowly dissolve, leaving space for something new to emerge. Ultimately, once the week is over, life resumes and it remains up to each individual to make their own choices in order to grow in the direction of their desire.
Naïri Gaspari is a research scientist, physics PHD, and writer, driven by questioning the world within and around us.
She completed the Process at Florence House in the UK. Hoffman is running a Process from March 2 to 9, 2019 at Broughton Hall. Click here for more information about upcoming dates.