Sixteen of us ride into town on June 11th 2016 for The Summer Foundation Course. Sixteen strangers completely unaware of where they may travel together, or how far. We are an odd bunch but that’s to be expected. We’re talking about people exposed to the harshness of life and the potential for suffering. It makes sense we are a mixed gathering.

On the first day we are assigned a personal coach who will accompany us on our course. They are our conduit for discussing much and they are also our guide and protector. By the end of the course all sixteen of us will have witnessed their unrelenting patience, courage and commitment to each one of us. We have weekly planned phone consultations. From my first phone call I know I even have trouble keeping to the agreed time. It’s me dragging behind. It’s me not letting go. I soldier on (because I feel like a soldier crawling under wire at the front) and remember to make my calls; I talk about how difficult it all is and the pandora’s box of emotion is unpacked.

Get with it, we’re invited to tell ourselves! Shake things up, listen to a new language, open our ears and open the mind. The Foundation Course is relentless in its pursuit of your wellbeing, your body and your mind. And get with it we have to. The ten days and four weekends may be split over 3 months but the intensity and expectation is alive and fresh every moment. This energy is present and demands our participation. There is more. A hidden seam of gold waiting for us that has such value it is incalculable. It meanders through the course with direction and power. It is twofold, homework and ten day inquiries. All sixteen of us mined this seam relentlessly, learning and sharing. The sixteen have begun their journey. At every opportunity we are invited to express ourselves, to inquire of ourselves and try and comprehend what we are. So we stand and stand again telling our story, telling of the disruption in our lives and the long emotional journey. Gradually the me that was lost begins to presence. Supported by each other we all slowly step out of the shadows. No one is left alone, no one is ignored in those moments. The power of the now is present and we are together.

We are introduced to macrobiotic/wholefood cooking. The chef guides us through all our ingredients and the recipes. He explains the nurture of our food and the nature of it. We were shepherded into teams of four at the cooking stations and invited to cook. How involved we were! Creating not one but three dishes. Sharing the tasks, tasting the food and most importantly showing a true respect to the process and the ingredients that would later nourish us at the dinner table. Within weeks we were on our ten day cooking inquiry. We may not be at the institute but every day we shared our cooking experiences at home with a ‘food buddy’. If we couldn’t get to each other’s kitchens then face-time or skyping would do or even just a good old phone call. Each buddy supporting the other through the process, through the homework.

This was followed closely by the bodywork sessions and the ten day bodywork inquiry. The studio sessions were for me like a wild yoga. Fewer rules, less discipline, but somehow just as much control and finesse. I especially enjoyed dancing and creating emotion in a physical form. I think many of us though tired would have happily kept exploring this avenue into the early hours! At times loud mad and frantic, at others a quiet peace and strength expressed in the body like the tide, gently relentlessly pulling then pushing us, forward and back. Take yourselves out of your comfort zone, we were told. Do something different. Everyone took up the challenge with their buddy, from climbing to dancing and from cycling to swimming in ponds we all worked hard. I enjoyed the ten day bodywork, but I found the studio work really pulled me together, grounded me. We all realised how important the bodywork was when we encountered it at the start of our cooking and self-expression sessions. Nothing is divisible from the other. We are reminded that the bodywork the cooking and the communication are the matrix of a successful foundation.

Slowly I realised I was giving my being a good prod all over. I may resist, I may struggle but the rubbish, the detritus in my life was clearly there and for the first time it started to become yesterday’s news. In the final weeks of the course we all worked on our self-expression homework; creating acknowledgement letters for those individuals where we wanted to express thanks for the difference they had made and also for those where the relationship may not have had closure or where there was something to clean up. This task in particular would challenge all sixteen of us.

And finally, on the Friday before the final weekend, showing how organised and supportive we were as a group we had an evening out at the Royal Albert Hall for Proms season. Everyone chipped in to make sure no one was left out and we duly dressed up and went to the Opera. What a fantastic selection of shoes we wore! All those dresses and shirts! Not a t-shirt in sight. We were the in-crowd, of course we were! There was champagne and sparkling water in the interlude and it was a wonderful evening with friends.

When you reach that last Sunday after 3 months it can feel jarring. Is this it? Are we “complete” ? You can feel as though there is much left to do and of course you wouldn’t be wrong. There is no “complete”. We all stand and acknowledge each other with words of support and love, humour and insight. It is intense and yet feels like a release. We share songs and poems together about what the course means to us and where we are. Tears and laughter is all we have and all that’s needed. As a date the course is over. The calendar doesn’t lie. But the course is so much bigger and will always ask of you, where are you? It cannot be stifled with just an end date.

All sixteen of us still have homework to do. All sixteen of us are now in the foundation matrix. For me the end of the course is a platform from which to embed the courage of the last 3 months, to take on new challenges and to continue the effective work of the course. Jumping into each day with a presence. Taking off our dusty emotional suits of childhood and adulthood. Taking them off to reveal the true you; the beautiful you.

Phil Davies