Sunrise, Kakadu, Northern Territory, Australia. The rocks were still warm from the previous day.
My parents were born in North London during World War Two. We moved when I was aged three to leafy Buckinghamshire. The eldest of four, I left school age 16. Bright and capable but completely bemused by the context I was supposed to engage in, I saw school as a social experiment more than anything else. After securing several job offers I followed my father into engineering. I started my working life in the engineering sector as a gas distribution apprentice in Central London. It was 1985.
After completing my three-year apprenticeship I continued to study mechanical engineering, and after enjoying the responsibility, challenge and physicality of causing traffic mayhem in the Metropolis, I navigated my way ‘off the tools’ into 'the office' environment.
By age 22 I was married and supposedly 'successful'; I owned a house in West London, had a good job with prospects, and could choose my new company car every 12 months. I went away at weekends with my wife, often with our large group of friends and took extended holidays several times a year.
Professionally, I worked my way through engineering systems development, business development, through technical support where I qualified as a Certified Novell (software) Engineer and rode the first wave of networked computer systems.
I was set: pension, shares, 37 days a year annual leave (plus public holidays), a good salary, autonomy, gadgets, travel, hotels, and lots of very important meetings, punctuated with the 'normal' corporate alcohol culture of the pub at lunchtimes a few times a week and often after work - it’s how one gets ahead, I had learned.
One morning on my 14-mile drive to a Westminster office that took an hour and a half on average, I saw the writing on the wall. Clearly visible from the motorway where the traffic slowed to a halt every day, in six feet-high letters someone had written “why do I do this every day?”
I looked at the other cars crawling along around me and a line by Lily Tomlin ran through my head: ”the trouble with the rat race is even if you win, you’re still a rat." I knew I was that rat, but drove on anyway. It was 2000. By now divorced, re-settled in Bristol and enjoying my life, I was Scuba diving in Oz and snowboarding in Canada. They were my favourite things to do now I was working as an IT programme manager for a multinational energy company, yet my view of my life was beginning to change.
One day, later in 2000 I was in the Midlands to wrap up a project when a young and enthusiastic staff member passed my desk beaming and said “it’s all done!”, whilst pointing to the small fleet of industrial waste disposal trucks as they departed the shiny new office building we had just commissioned.
Each one was filled with the polystyrene packaging from 1200 brand new PC’s and associated printers, servers and office equipment. They were purchased new every three years, in large part for tax breaks, and for which I had successfully argued during investment committee meetings.
The environmental policy award certificates that lined the walls of the exec’ boardroom suddenly seemed incongruous. I ‘knew’ these trucks were driving this industrial waste to landfill. I knew it would remain in the ground where they dumped it forever. During my drive home that evening my internal moral compass started to change its bearing.
Now that I was in my early 30’s, I had been sufficiently exposed to the upper echelons of the corporate machine to know that a significant part of me didn’t want to be there. Joseph Campbell once said something like 'many people get to the top of the career ladder only to realise they placed it up against the wrong wall'.
That rat that Lily Tomlin wrote about was closing on me and I became depressed; burned out on achieving superficial outer goals that no longer made any sense to my heart.
I had a chat with the new IT director; we talked about values and how they change. He offered me a great career development package if I stayed; relocation, payrise, better leadership training, more influence. I was flattered but also sensed the golden handcuff were almost on. I thanked him and shortly after our conversation I stepped out of my conventional corporate life with a warm invitation to get back in touch anytime.
Shortly before leaving I recall one of my colleagues commenting "but, Paul! you only have to do this for 25 more years and you can retire and do what you like”.
I felt I was starting to wake from a deep sleep I couldn’t remember slipping into, while also seeing how deeply this around me were still in slumber. It was a very disorienting time; the guy in the suit, with shiny shoes I saw in the mirror felt increasingly like an imposter who had somehow hijacked my life.
For the previous 4 years I had been studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and qualified as a master practitioner and trainer, as well as reading widely from the arena of depth and eco-psychologies: poetry, mythology, philosophy, anthropology, analytical psychology - Joseph Campbell, Jung, Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, James Hollis, James Hillman, Robert Bly, Paolo Coelho, Carlos Castaneda, Gregory Bateson, Black Elk, Marion Woodman, Martin Prechtel, Carl Rogers, Ken Wilbur, Joanna Macy, Stephen Gilligan, Satish Kumar, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Michael Mead, Bill Plotkin, Peter Levine, Gabor Mate, Homer…the list goes on.
It was these studies and experiences that had initially helped me become a highly efficient manager and leader, and also caused me to question the ethical basis of my work and life in general.
In short, for better or worse, I could not reconcile my love for the wild, natural world with my paid position in the corporate machine where it was my specific task to help destroy it with increasing efficiency.
Everything I did at work seemed somehow disconnected from a growing awareness of something more important than my inherited First World beliefs and values.
As part of this testing and difficult reckoning, I ended my relationship, we sold our property and I embarked on a very different journey. I travelled for two years. I went from my home in Clifton in Bristol where I had lived for six years, to Clifton in Cape Town and onward through several continents and many countries. I needed to find inspiration, to see how life was lived in wild, remote places, in less economically developed countries and other cities and cultures.
I was deeply affected by all my time travelling, but particularly my time in the Red Rock Canyon Lands and the Pacific North West Coast of the USA and the rocky mountain wilds of British Columbia. The dynamic, positive and progressive people I met in such places, from the indigenous cultures and the generations of settlers, had a way about them that fanned the very sparks of purpose within that I was wanting to catch fire.
The two years of travelling were pivotal; I returned saturated with awe-inspiring experiences, eyes open and full of gratitude. Seeing the fragile beauty of the natural world and being amongst the peoples who live closest to it changed my perspective on what development and progress mean, and what they cost.
Along the way my old corporate identity had morphed into something else I couldn’t quite articulate. I felt the privilege of being able to travel and also the responsibility it invoked across the many layers to this complex web of life.
Whilst travelling I had used my business and NLP knowledge and skills to coach people informally. Over coffee, on beaches, during mountain hikes, whilst playing chess or bumping along on bus journeys; I crafted my approach with people from all walks of life.
Upon returning to Bristol I started to receive calls from friends of friends inviting me for coffee and a chat. Apparently I was good to talk to. I was curious and in a fortunate position to have the time to spare. After a couple of months and several requests to meet somewhere more private, I decided to formalise what was becoming a daily coffee, cake and chat practice and I found my own office and consulting room a mere five minutes’ walk from my house. It felt like a natural progression.
I enjoyed coaching people. I was utilising the full range of skills NLP offered but it was Ericksonian Hypnosis (a core NLP tool) that resonated most and seemed to bring coherence to the rest of the work. My knowledge of mythology, archetypes, developmental processes, and how humans create their subjective versions of reality all blended as natural complements of each other.
After a year I explored studying clinical hypnosis. I visited practitioners in Bristol and the surrounds every few weeks as a client. I didn’t find a single person I considered competent and eventually looked back into the wider NLP community. In February 2006 I travelled to London to attend a seminar on the Hero’s Journey with Robert Dilts and a guy I had not previously heard of: Dr Stephen Gilligan.
After watching Stephen work during a demonstration I knew he was the guy I had been looking for. He was doing stuff I knew intuitively and recognised I was already starting to do, but he could then tell about it and put it in context, in many different ways. I asked him what his favourite course to deliver was and booked my ticket to Trance Camp in San Diego a few months later. You know you are about to step into something a little different when you sign up for a course titled ‘Extraordinary states of consciousness and the transformation of identity’ – with no drugs involved!
I found my tribe during that three week intensive amongst a dynamic and diverse community. The concluding weeklong supervision session radically changed my own life and in the process gave me a profound insight into the true creative, healing potential of the human psyche. 12 years later, and still attending supervision with Stephen, I remain grateful when I recall that time.
I also began receiving feedback from my peers: mostly clinicians, PhD's and professors of various psychological disciplines. This gave me the confidence and the support structure to accept clients with psychotherapy needs.
A few months later I was being mentored by Professor Tom Malloy at the University of Utah. One day, with a sparkle in his eye, he threw me the metaphorical chalk and left me to teach his post graduate psychology class whilst he ‘attended an important meeting down town’. It was a necessary affirming nod from the world of academia to me, an autodidact who learned by experience, trial and error.
Post Trance Camp I started bridging from coaching into the realm of psychotherapy. This took me on a journey through Stephen’s evolution of Erickonian Hypnosis.
Stephen had been Milton Erickon’s ‘apprentice’ for several years and out of his experience developed 3rd Generation Hypnosis, now branded into two streams - Generative and Systemic Trance. These approaches both have their roots in Self-Relations Psychotherapy that holds the core principles and practices of this potent psychotherapeutic approach. These complimentary ways of meeting and greeting the deep structures and potentials of human consciousness provided me a treasure trove of extra resources to apply to my own life and of course share with my clients.
Having given the surprise lecture at the University of Utah, I went on to work with the Compassionate Listening Project, Teen Talking Circles and ran several informal training days in Seattle.
Back in Bristol, 2006/7 I returned to a full time 1:1 practice over three and a half days a week. Word of mouth referrals and the natural consequence of working with corporate exec’s and HR managers, expanded my 1:1 practice to include working as an organisational consultant, and occasionally delivering bespoke NLP course into the private and public sectors. For a short time I worked for John Seymour Associates delivering NLP Business Practitioner courses. I went on to win contracts of my own and worked with the Police, Fire and Rescue and National Health Services, Pukka Herbs, Southern Solar, and Toni and Guy, to name a few well-known organisations.
I started using NLP to develop bespoke culture change courses looking at espoused v’s operational values, helping people take their lofty vision and mission statements and turn them into practical, embodied, and accountable behaviours. What seemed to me like a relatively simple exercise was received as profoundly useful and I saw clearly the true benefits and potential for sharing and applying psychology with people. It empowered them in every are of their lives, not just the context they learned it in. It helped them define more clearly for themselves what was truly important and what was not.
I worked with HR exec’s, directors, senior public servants, teachers, clinical psychologists, psycho-therapists, ER nurses, doctors, full-time mums, bankers, lawyers, military jet pilots, TV producers, actors, professional musicians, clowns, politicians, yoga teachers, dancers, Whitehall civil servants, senior international aid directors, photographers, sculptors, robotics experts, puppeteers, families, boys, girls, mums and dads - all people on a journey finding their way.
I worked with people experiencing stress, depression, burn-out, suicide, addiction, surrogacy, anorexia, self-harm, PTSD, psychosis, grief and loss, through divorces, relationship beginnings and endings, career changes and promotions and business start ups.
I’ve worked 1:1 and 1:100, in my office, in corporate board rooms, in ancient forests, in wide open meadows, on beaches, in cafes, many training and retreat venues, village halls, and on remote islands in the pacific.
I attended the Art of Mentoring’s first UK gathering and facilitated the initial UK convening council, where the hunger western people have for authentic community is palpable.
These attempts to create regenerative cultures showed me how far we still are from any meaningful, coherent remedy to that deep human hunger, namely for connection and experiences infused with experience. In Bermuda I worked with Operation Raleigh on the fault lines between extreme wealth and privilege and the extreme depravation and poverty.
I’ve studied with the School of Lost Borders, the Animus Valley Institute, Martin Prechtel, Tony Robbins, The Findhorn Foundation and others in the emerging fields of eco psychologies and its various methodologies. I’ve spend my fare share of time as a client undergoing Jungian analysis, differentiating my self from my fundamentalist Christian family and the trauma vortex that engulfs them still.
I strive to assimilate my theoretical understandings of the deeper structure of human experience with my direct experience of clients and course delegates, and blend these with my experience of travelling and spending extend periods of time in remote and wild paces.
Seeing the world and its inherent intelligence through what I might call my indigenous eyes has left me with a unique perspective on us as a species and insight into how we organise ourselves and allow ourselves to be organised, or not, and to what end these various ways might lead us as a species.
Anyway, my life was about to take another turn.
In late 2006 I started a small men’s group in Bristol and, seeking inspiration, in 2007 I attending a week long men’s retreat in Scotland with Dr Robert Moore, the acclaimed Jungian, Theologian and author of ‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover’.
It was my time with Robert, and hearing the stories of many men that exposed me to the larger arc of what for me is cringingly called ‘men’s work’; that is to say, the process of moving the masculine psyche from dependency on the mother onto its own foundations and from there into a potent generative relationship with the world at large.
In ancient cultures this process was termed Initiation, often conflated in modern usage and understanding with Rites of Passage.
After this eye opening event I received invitations to become involved in the work of organisations like the Mankind Project (whose weekend event I attended, known as MKP) and ‘abandofbrothers’, whose ‘beyond the hero’ programme I helped facilitate and had input to their mentoring and strategy development. In 2009 I was asked by two ‘leaders' of the UK-MKP and one of the USA-MKP to get involved in bringing a USA-based mentoring organisation ‘Boys to Men’ to the UK. Boys to Men worked specifically with 12 to 17 year old boys.
By training men in a specific community to become mentors to each other and the boys of that community, they hoped to recreate a sort of contemporary rite of passage and a peer support community; a tribe of sorts.
The hope was to address the appalling rates of male suicide, incarceration, violence and crime that affect men’s lives and which in turn has a devastating affect upon just about every sphere or society, the ripples of which travel across generations in all genders.
After a year of attending various trainings for my own evaluation, I decided to give it a go and see how far we could get in 18 months.
JourneymanUK was born.
I retained my 1:1 clients and transferred my time from corporate consulting and training into my role as executive director for JMUK. I established and took a grass roots community initiative through charity registration, funding, setting up its office and administration, created an appropriate cultural map for the UK via a twice monthly mentoring circle for dozens of men and boys, gathered a board of directors and trustees, secured funding and created a public profile across the UK.
I oversaw two rites of passage events that attracted approximately 100 men from across the UK as volunteer staff, and ran dozens of trainings for the mentors from Bristol, London, Exeter to Inverness. I attended seminars, gave public talks and went on radio and all the usual stuff one does when championing a worth cause.
After 4 years of going from strength to strength JourneymanUK spectacularly imploded when several of its founding members (the current board members as I write) and present leaders of the UK Mankind Project, committed gross negligence. Knowingly disregarding the critical safe-guarding policies which ensured the fundamental safety of the men and boys in our fledgling community and asserted our public integrity, not to mention our compliance with UK law and best practice, put every one at risk and ultimately made my position untenable. When I mention this to my fellow directors I was removed overnight without due process or explanation. No invitations to dialogue were accepted. I met the full force of the Masculine Dark Side, manifested as a stone wall of denial, scapegoating and shunning.
The JMUK office was closed, my fellow directors soon jumped ship and the ‘community’ carried on regardless to the present day. Neither the leadership of the MKP in the UK or USA (the sponsoring organisations) or members of JMUK community spoke out or asked any questions. The depth of “group-think” I witnessed was as shocking to me as the wilful disregard of core policies and procedures.
Instead of helping establish a healthy community and set it on its way to organic growth across the UK, providing education and information to the public on the specific and particular risks that men and young men face due to the loss of generative masculinity, and the devastating consequences to society uninitiated males create in every sphere, it became shockingly apparent to me how easily a tribe can become a cult.
An initiation by the Mankind Project seems merely an initiation into the Mankind Project, and not into the deeper potentials of the masculine soul and Life itself.
Elon Musk is right: being a social entrepreneur is like staring into an abyss whilst eating glass. the essential images awaiting in our soul, revealing to us in both sensation and story the unique desires, gifts and purpose that belong to us. The abyss of uncertainty and glass chewing complexity of the every day issues to just stay viable is profoundly stressful.
Being a psychologist is a lot like being a meteorologist. You can know the ways weather is created, predict its rhythms and patterns to a certain degree but if you are out and it rains, you’ll still get wet. I was out in a lighting storm and took a direct hit and foolishly prolonged my suffering by naively trying to reason with the elements.
After some great mentoring from my friends and colleagues at the Animus Valley Institute, a pep talk from the poet David Whyte during one lunchtime, and the support of a handful of men who saw the dynamic for what it was, I started to recover. My other work sustained me, as the healing journeys and successes of my clients inspired me to continue with my own.
After several more years in Bristol, being recognised and congratulated for the good work at Journeyman, even whilst it was being engulfed in its own shadows, I felt my time in Bristol had come to an end.
I realised I still had to digest and metabolise my travels, and much of my experiential education.
The wild natural world called me away every weekend and I was becoming weary of loading my mountain bike into my car and driving through traffic to get into nature. I recognised that if I was to continue with my vocation, I needed something more than Bristol or city life anywhere could offer.
I gave my clients notice and headed back to the USA for a 6 month sabbatical. Initially I went to vision fast in the Sierra Nevada, and then onto stay with my Cherokee friend in Indianola, Washington State. Native Indian culture has retains the essence of an intact Pantheistic Culture, despite the ongoing abuses of empire it continues to inspire and inform my growing understanding of how humans are hard wired into the natural world.
I returned to the UK in February 2016 and one Friday afternoon loaded my ancient Volvo Station Wagon with enough for a tour of the UK and a month later moved up to the wilds of Findhorn Bay, NE Scotland.
Since being here I’ve worked with ‘Trees for Life’, ‘Wild Media’ and 'Scotland, The Big Picture' to help generate interest and understanding of the cultural issues of large-scale ecological restoration. I hope to support meaningful debate amongst traditional landowners, re-wilders, local government and communities in support of the reintroduction of Lynx and Wolves to the highlands. To be part of creating that wild legacy would be wonderful.
And, I live here, enjoying the quality of light, the revitalising ocean dips, the fresh air, the never ending summer days, long dark winter nights and Northern Lights, and the enchanting beauty of the Findhorn River; the inspiration for my journal title - “The Wild River Chronicles’. I’m often out taking my camera for long walks in the Cairngorms, Highlands and along the ancient wild West Coast and its stunning islands when I roam further from home.
I work on Skype with clients around the world, some of whom come and visit for a few days at a time. We spend our time out along the river, along the vast empty beaches, by the fire or amongst the ancient forests or sat on my sofa. Sometimes, if it’s appropriate it is just like the good old days; sitting in the local cafe, drinking coffee, using salt and pepper pots to constellate questions and concerns, and help generate possible fresh perspectives.
As I write this I am just back from 7 weeks in the USA, I met a Bear in the backcountry and didn't freak out, we had an encounter and each got on with our day. I spent time hiking amongst the groves of giant redwoods in the Sierra Nevada, and along the banks of the Hoh Rain Forest, with Elk and moss clad firs.
I'm preparing to hold a men's vision fast here in Scotland, working with the core archetypes of generative masculinity as a way to approach what is unique and waiting to rise in the hearts and minds of the brave men who come, so the deep structures of our personal and social forms can be nourished. And, I am starting to feel the call to finish the job I started with JMUK and also to get back into the corporate arena and help people navigate through the noise toward a clear vision rooted in generative values - ones that embody the wisdom necessary to meet the powerful times.
June 29. 2018. Findhorn.