First published in the February 2013 edition of ELLE Decoration UK
There is a Jewish proverb that says, give me a boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man. The sentiment being that our characters are fully formed in those crucial early years of life, and it’s a theory backed up by contemporary psychological research. More specifically there are some schools of thought that say our characters are in fact largely moulded by behaviours copied from our parents, or primary caregivers, in those formative years. Why? Because, before the age of seven, we learn intuitively, simply absorbing on an emotional level that which we observe, imitating without the benefit of a filter to decipher good from bad. As life progresses we accept these characteristics as “ourselves”. Except teachers of the Hoffman Process, a personal discovery programme (it’s also been dubbed a pyschological detox) founded by Bob Hoffman in California in 1967, believe that as a result of this, many of our adult emotional struggles are due to the disconnect between those intuitively learned behaviours and our true natures. We are not born impatient, angry, anxious, judgmental or with an inability to love, they say, we are born pure until someone teaches us to behave, or believe, otherwise.
So is this the great get out clause? An excuse to nonchalantly shrug off all the stuff we don’t like about ourselves as adults, blaming our mothers and fathers wholesale instead? After all, few could claim to have had visionary, perfect parents. But as Hoffman was often quoted as saying, “Everyone is guilty and no one is to blame.” After all, they too had their stresses and struggles as well as their own adopted behavioural patterns to contend with.
Instead, ‘who am I?’ continues to be an eternally proffered question, alongside, ‘who do I actually want to be?’ And, more often than not it’s a crisis in life, or a major turning point such as a relationship breakdown, marriage or the birth of a child that provokes or prompts such introspective self examination. Moments when you’re challenged to consider what you’ve hitherto accepted as “you”, and ask if it’s really true, and if not, then what?
For myself, the push to sign up for the Hoffman was a steadily increasing feeling that all was not quite as it could be. Change felt required, I just wasn’t sure what it was that needed to change. And while I’ve always been committed to the notion of self-evolution, I can honestly say that this 8-day residential course (i chose to do it in Seaford, East Sussex but it’s available in 13 countries around the world), was the most intense emotional journey I have ever put myself through. And I sincerely hope I will never feel the need to do it again! From the moment you hand over your phones, books and electronic devices on the threshold, you progressively let go of everything you hitherto assumed defined you. In short, the Process seemed to me to be a method of forensically cross-examining yourself, and your parents, followed by regressing back through childhood in order to jettison any baggage you no longer wish to carry, thus unlocking negative emotions and releasing potential. The real killer though, was while all of us have stuff we know about on the surface, say a tendency to get wound up by certain types of people, or hurts that we’re aware we haven’t made peace with, we all bury a lot too. Ways of being that are so deeply ingrained in our pysche, we don’t even realise it’s learned behaviour. So, just when you think you’re done, with all troubles resolved and demons neatly dealt with, you’re pushed further in order to truly face upto yourself. Usually, so anecdotal evidence decries, it’s only on our deathbeds that we finally come face to face with our unvarnished truths. When we have nothing left to lose, the blinkers fall from our eyes and we see clearly how we could have been if we’d got out of the way of ourselves. How much better then to do the work rather earlier and be able to reap the benefits with a life still ahead of you. And, it’s a unique opportunity to break familial chains that may have shackled whole generations, before they too are passed onto the next.
But, getting out of the way of yourself is a tricky concept for many to grasp. Surely, they say, we are who we are, and life is about learning to live with that? No. We are the sum total of learned patterns of behaviour. And if you can learn to be one way, with consciousness of that pattern, if it’s negative, you can learn to live differently. Let’s take a example. You’re a pack rat, can’t throw anything away, always hoarding, just in case. But it annoys your partner, and your kids are rebelling by being unduly messy. Could you ‘snap out of it’, read a few books on Zen minimalism or have an annual purge only to clear space to amass again? Or could you attempt to get to the root of your attachment to stuff, your fear of letting things go? In all likelihood too, this tendency wiggles it’s way into other aspects of your life in a sort of ripple effect… Bit possessive? Needy? Or controlling? The point is, every behaviour has a cause. The question is, do you want to investigate? Do you want change?
Not that an empty abode would, by corollary, be the epitome of self-contentment. It’s more the idea that before rushing to re-do, remove or renovate that which surrounds us, perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to consider that which is within us
After all, do you really need a bigger house, a new TV, or the latest gadget or gizmo? And if you do need something, are you choosing something that really reflects you, your inner self, or just something to make a statement to outside observers? Consumerism today is driven by making us feel lack. If you buy X, then you’ll feel Y. We know it’s not true and yet at this time of year, following the shopping frenzy that Christmas has increasingly become, possibly strained by debt and self-recrimination, perhaps this will be the year you clear out your inner basement in order to start the New Year truly ready to make the most of everything that lies ahead of you.
CLick the link for more information on the Hoffman Process