Ever feel like you are stuck in vicious cycles of toxic relationship patterns and hurting the ones you love most? Sure, you might go a few days without playing up, even weeks if you are lucky. But then your partner says or does something that just ticks you off. Maybe she makes you wait in the car longer than you expect. Maybe he is glued to a screen and once again you feel totally ignored and unloved. Usually, it’s something seemingly trivial like that, and off you go. You blow your lid. It’s about to get ghetto. You know what you are saying or doing is stupid and harming your relationship. Yet you can’t help it. The emotions are too strong. The worst part comes later – that horrible feeling of shame. It can hang around like a dark cloud for days. You can’t believe it happened again. Heck, there’s even an acronym for it: SSDD – Same Shit Different Day. Sound familiar? Well, it was a far too common scene in my life with my wife and kids.
Most of us accept the shit-cycle as an unavoidable part of life. But not me, I was sick of it and wanted to understand how to break out. So in July 2017, I did a 6½ day residential retreat called the Hoffman Process. The Process helped me understand what causes our negative patterns and how we can transform them. The retreat was a wonderful journey and it was also a bit ‘weird’, but more on that later.
It’s not me, it’s you. Ok, maybe it’s me too.
It all started about a year earlier. My wife had just flown back from Byron Bay, having completed the Hoffman Process on her own. With an enthusiasm in her voice, that I hadn’t heard in years, she said she finally understood herself. The Process had given her insights into how she inherited negative patterns from her parents. She admitted that her patterns had been wreaking havoc on our 10-year marriage. Now, she vowed to be a better wife and mother. The catch was she really wanted me to do the retreat also. But I was noncommittal. I thought to myself, “Hold on. You’re the one who needs fixing. Not me! Besides, blaming our parents for our shit sounds so Freudian and outdated.” Secretly, I hoped that she would not ask me again.
However, life continued, and so did my patterns. My wife and kids pushed my buttons, and I’d express anger inappropriately or withdraw. Every now and then they pushed my ‘blow up’ button and I’d regress into a childish rage, throw tantrums and be an outright asshole. One morning we fought, I blew up, my wife was in tears and our marriage was on the verge of a breakdown. Shortly after, I mustered the courage to admit to her that I needed help too and was willing to do anything to save our family. Yes, including Hoffman.
We reached out to Volker Krohn, the director of Hoffman, Australia. Volker offered to personally counsel us through our crisis. After our first session, I knew he was the man for the job. I found out that Volker was trained by Bob Hoffman himself and has been running the program in Australia for over 30 years. I felt in safe hands and agreed to sign up for the retreat.
The Hoffman Process – Residential Retreat.
The night before the retreat, I check into my room in Byron Bay. Before tucking myself into bed, I place my mobile phone on the side table to charge. The phone’s a bit too close to the edge. Suddenly, I receive an SMS from my wife. The phone vibrates and falls to the ground. The screen shatters and renders the phone unusable. Instantly, my thoughts go into blaming my wife. I catch myself a moment later and realise how ludicrous my reaction is. She is 1600 km away in Melbourne and somehow, I manage to blame her for breaking my phone. The universe has obviously sent me here for good reason.
The next morning, the retreat kicks off with an early breakfast. Fourteen strangers (including myself) sit in the dining hall overlooking the ocean. There is a nervous chirpiness in the room as we get acquainted. I realise that none of us knows what is in store for us over the next 6½ days. Presently, sitting across from me is a brawny Aussie bloke. We strike up a conversation and I feel a little intimidated. Ironically, in a couple of days, I will love this guy as a brother, and share with him personal traumas that I have never told anyone before.
The bell rings, we enter a dojo-like space and sit down on allocated seats forming a semi-circle and facing Volker and two other facilitators. The first session starts and Volker proceeds to lay the ground rules. No phones. No sex. No masturbation. No talk about work. Nor politics. Nor sport. I can read the look on everyone’s face, “WTF, no phones for the whole week? You mean we are actually going to have to talk to each other.” Volker explains that we are about to undergo major psychospiritual work on ourselves this week – work that most people won’t get to complete in a lifetime. He wants us to be present to each moment, and not be distracted.
The Cycle of Transformation.
The first day is about getting our heads around the concepts of The Process. I am sure it’s all based on science and perennial wisdom, but they explain it to us in plain everyday language. Thank heavens for that. After all, I’m here to save my marriage, and just want to be told in practical terms what to do. Here is my understanding of the key principles in a nutshell:
- As a child, you learn your negative patterns from your parents (and/or primary carers/surrogates), either adopting their behaviours or adapting new ones to cope with their negative patterns. For example, some of my worst patterns include feeling inadequate, feeling unloved, neediness, competitiveness, anger, withdrawal and blaming.
- Those patterns continue to fuck up your relationships at work, at home, everywhere. They prevent you from being your authentic self. They will continue to play out in your life unless you understand how to disown them.
- Here’s the punchline: The patterns are not YOU, they are only habits. Hoffman’s method for disowning your negative patterns is a four step process called the “Cycle of Transformation”:
SWIPE TO GO NEXT
Being able to name all your patterns. Identify them as they arise. See how they repeat themselves in vicious cycles.
Being able to express the emotions, that fuel your patterns, through your intention, body and voice.
Being able to let go of your patterns by forgiving and being compassionate towards yourself, your parents and others.
Being able to use tools to transform your emotions and patterns. Practicing meditation to realign with your essential nature: Soul, Spirit, Buddha Nature, True Self; whatever label you wish to use.
I listen and relate it back to my life. As a child, my parents weren’t available for me. We were migrant refugees, and they were too busy working multiple factory jobs in order to put food on the table. To compound the issue, I had a Chinese “Tiger” Dad. He pushed me excessively to become a high achiever. Perhaps he saw my education as his golden ticket out of his miserable working class life. In primary school, I was a straight A student, but it wasn’t good enough. If I came home with 95% on a test, he would question what happened to the other 5%. I never got any form of praise or encouragement. He compared me to other smarter kids and would threaten or beat me when I failed his expectations. To cope with his craziness, I learnt to shut down and dissociate my emotions. When I became a teenager, I rebelled. Then, I became a father myself, and I swore that I would be nothing like him.
However, as a father, when I’m pushed and the blood starts to boil, I find myself acting out some of Dad’s worst patterns. For instance, when my kids struggle with their homework and ask me for help, I can easily lose my temper and be stupidly mean towards them.
I interrupt the session and yell out, “Thanks, guys. It all makes sense. But when I am triggered, my emotions are too strong and usually override my intellect.” With a knowing smile, Volker assures me that this is exactly why they spend only one day on the intellect stuff and the greater part of the week on the emotional work.
Sometimes the weird and wonderful is needed for a breakthrough.
Over the next five days, we partake in an orchestrated sequence of activities designed to help us let go of deep emotions and heal wounds from the inside out. Some of those activities are weird. Now I want to be clear that by ‘weird’ I mean ‘good weird, inspiring weird’. Think about it, we are dealing with years of conditioning here. A typical workshop-style retreat, where you sit all day and listen to some charismatic talker snake-charm their audience, probably won’t cut through those rigid ego-defenses.
At this point, I must apologise as I am not going to tell you what those specific activities are. The element of surprise is actually an important part of The Process. So if this article makes you decide to do the retreat, I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I will give you a taste of what to expect:
- The days are long, starting from 7:30 am and ending around 10:30 pm. Yet time will fly, trust me
- Be prepared to work hard. You will do intensive journaling, meditation, visualisations, vocalising and physical work.
- You will experience the whole spectrum of human emotions in yourself and in others, all in a loving compassionate way. Including moments of joy and spontaneity that you have not felt in a long time.
- You will be taken through a number of rites of passages that will at times feel magical and even sacred.
- You will feel an appreciation of yourself and gratitude for all your closest relationships.
- It will all be held in a space of safety, non-judgement, confidentiality, love and communion.
Back in the real world.
At the conclusion of the six days, we are advised to stay in town for the weekend before returning to our normal lives. Those two days are meant to allow for a soft landing back into the world after the emotional heights of the retreat. Whilst in town, we have a last group session with Volker. He wants to know if we have observed any patterns arising and if we were able to successfully use the tools. He gets mixed responses from our group.
With parting words Voker assures us, “Your triggers and patterns are going to come up when you return to your daily lives. Those neural networks in the brain have been there since childhood. They are going to take time to rewire. Remember to be patient and kind to yourself. Incidentally, has anyone read the Buddhist Book of Transformation? Phong? No? Well, the entire book can be summed up as follows…”
SWIPE TO GO NEXT
doesn’t fall in.
That afternoon I return to my hotel and call my wife. We talk for three hours on the phone. We haven’t talked like that since God knows when. Now that we are both Hoffman graduates, we can finally relate to each other our shared experience. After the conversation, I breathe out a massive sigh of relief. I am hopeful everything will be okay.
A month has passed as I write this. I must say, being conscious of my patterns and applying the tools have made a big difference to life at home. I’m less reactive and more understanding towards my wife and kids. I now look upon my parents with more compassion. I’ve even reached out and had a meaningful conversation with my father about his childhood, which for me is a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting life to be all roses and rainbows from here on. Shit-cycles will happen, old patterns will get triggered and I will fall into holes. But at least now I feel better equipped to deal with them.
After reading this, if you are like me and can identify with being stuck in cyclical patterns, despite trying counseling, meditation, books and countless YouTube videos on consciousness. You probably need something more hard hitting to knock you out of your head and into your heart. Do the Hoffman Process. I guarantee it will be an unforgettable ride.