Somewhere in North London there’s a group of psychologists and therapists learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I’m also in that training. It’s the lunch break now, and I was reflecting on how I ended up here. An ex-comedian and social entrepreneur getting trained in therapeutic techniques.
It brought to mind this poem by William Stafford:
The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
So I thought I’d share how I got here, in the hope that you could have an insight into the thread that you’re following, the hidden journey that only you can see.
What Is Your Thread? What Is My Thread?
At Wilderness festival this summer, a chap (no, not David Cameron) walked up to me and said “You’re the karaoke guy!”
Quick as a flash I said: “Sure I use karaoke and singing because it is well evidenced that it can bring people together, expand lung capacity, release dopamine and create a sense of togetherness. Music is a vital part of community building, harnessing the collective power of the group, the effervescence of people’s spirit and it really helps to build communities modelled on a congregational structure.”
I said that in my head.
Out loud I said: “The karaoke guy? Yes, that’s me”.
He saw me as the karaoke guy. WHICH IS NOT AT ALL HOW I SEE MYSELF!
In my mind I’m social entrepreneur meets recovering comic. Part community builder, part-performer, part-reinventor of congregational community. An innovator, lover of life, celebrant. A guy who’s passionate about helping people live their lives as fully as possible.
Or, as the man in the field saw me: KARAOKE GUY.
What IS my thread?
Why did someone think I was “karaoke guy”? Well, I think the thread starts here….
1. Philosophical(ish) Comedy
My first stand up show was called ‘Another Heartbreaking But Ultimately Life-Affirming Show About Death’ – I’ll let you guess what it was about. The second was called ‘Taking Liberties’ about civil liberties. I’ve always loved to grapple with big issues, to try to communicate them to a wider audience (frequently by adding knob gags).
While it was wonderful to help people laugh, and to try to spread some helpful new ideas, I felt like any real longer-lasting impact needed a more systemic approach. Something less momentary. Sunday Assembly was cooking…
2. Engaging The Whole Person
Next stop, Sunday Assembly. Both my co-founder, fellow comedian Pippa Evans, and I wanted to create a community based around a brilliant event (nowadays I would call it transformative). Something more soul searching than your average comedy club. Not only did people love Sunday Assembly but it turns out that folk laughed more at weaker jokes – an added bonus!
With Sunday Assembly my eyes were hugely opened to the power of multi-sensory events that engage people’s whole minds and bodies.
3. Healing Events
After hosting Sunday Assembly I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I was asked to be the celebrant at a couple of funerals. You can read more here but the experience brought home to me one very special thing: the enormous healing power of communal events.
People arrive, come through the doors, hurting, and if the event is hosted right, they leave a little later a little bit healed. This was powerful stuff.
4. The Power of the Group
In January 2015 I sat in the Royal Festival Hall with 8 strangers, all of us Sunday Assembly members but none of us known to each other. We were there to open up to each other, to support each other, to hold each other accountable. Called a RESOLVE group (now renamed as Live Better groups) these peer-to-peer support groups have since become a key part of Sunday Assembly.
Because all of us, I’ve realised, have things that we find hard to share with those close to us. All of us could do with some allies. Many of us have a hunger to work out healthy next steps.
5. The Life Course
At the end of 2015 I sat in St. Mary’s Church in Marylebone in different circumstances. I was on a Christian conversion course. The excellent vicar John Peters hosted the evenings as he took us through why we should / could believe in God. That part of the message I didn’t buy, but there was another sort of magic that took place when people turned up every day to talk about the most important things in life.
This Life Course inspired me to write a Sunday Assembly Life Course, adding a structured element to a group experience.
6. Immersive Events
At the end of 2016 we started to think about longer experiences. Sunday Assembly is one hour of magic. A lot can happen in an hour. But even more can happen over a day or a weekend. Participants can be totally immersed in an atmosphere and reach emotional states where change is more likely to happen.
We tested this out in Retreat To The Future in March, and now there are two more weekend events in London – October 21st and 22nd – and Manchester – October 28th and 29th.
And now the thread has lead to a group of therapists and counsellors in North London…
Holding The Thread
In sharing some of my personal story of change, I hope it illuminates the work we’re doing at Sunday Assembly, the efforts we’re making with activities like Retreat To The Future and gives you an insight to whatever journey you’re on.
So What Is Your Thread?
Seriously, what is it? How tightly are you holding it? And are you letting it lead you where you need to go?
Because whatever journey you’re on, there will be times when people see you as the ‘karaoke guy’ when you don’t think that is who you are. There will be folks who try to push you off your path, there’ll be challenging circumstances, there’ll be doubts. When that happens remember this: “You don’t ever let go of the thread.”