the return of free love
A hip new self-help workshop claims that getting naked and sharing the
love will allow you to find the ultimate truth.
So is it a Pandoras box or the secret of a purer existence:
the scene: you are in a room with more than a hundred adults.
Sitting at one end, with a microphone in his hand, is a man
with long white hair who is encouraging everybody to introduce
themselves to each other. Go up to somebody, he
says, and say one honest, true thing about them that strikes
you immediately. Then have them do the same back to you. But
before you do that, he goes on, please take off
all your clothes.
the most radical self-help workshop in the world,
as this hip new 10-day residential retreat is dubbed. Led by the
Birmingham-born life coach guru Paul Lowe, it is not a place for
the shy and retiring. As well as being encouraged to voice compliments
to each other, such as you make my vagina tingle,
discuss innermost feelings in intense, nude sharing
circles and take part in sensual massage sessions, participants
will also be invited, during the course of the workshop, to explore
their sexuality with multiple partners (yes, actually in the workshop).
In Lowes eyes, you see, monogamy is one of those ludicrous,
unnatural social conventions that stand between you and spiritual
And if it
sounds like a weird hippie sex cult or an excuse for free love
well, it is. Hugging trees, banging bongo drums, unleashing
the warrior within its all back in vogue. If you
are in the spiritual self-help loop, you will have heard of the
Landmark Forum (with a reputation for cult-like motivational workshops),
the Hoffman Process (where you bash baseball bats into cushions),
even the Secret Science retreat (where you tread hot coals in
the Atlas mountains). They are, in a way, the 21st-century version
of Est. (Remember Est? The Ehard Seminars Training, a break-you-down-and-build-you-up
workshop of the early 1980s, where you had to stand on a plinth
in front of hundreds of people and point to all the bits of your
body you hated most.)
goes on in these workshops is often hidden from view, but a new
documentary of a Lowe retreat, held just outside San Francisco,
with some of his followers, many of whom are from the UK, reveals
that taking ones kit off is just the half of it. First,
we meet the filmmaker, Jamie Morgan, 47. Jamie was inspired to
make the film after he had yoga lessons with Ryan Spielman at
the trendy Triyoga studio in north London and, through him, heard
about Lowe. As the narrator of the film, Jamie tells how he has
a beautiful French girlfriend, Sophie, whom he is worried about
hurting, but at the same time feels compelled, as an explorer
and artist, to face up to his commitment issues and see what it
is like to live a different way. As Lowe explains: Most
of our neuroses are tied up with our sexuality. Once we are totally
comfortable with our sexuality, that is when our neuroses disappear
and we start connecting properly with our spiritual flow.
Ryan, 29, whose former clients include Madonna, Sting and Trudie,
has no such commitment issues and has attended the workshop many
times. Indeed, it was at his first workshop that he met his former
wife, Lowes daughter, by whom he has a three-year-old son,
Jasper. A staunch antimonogamist, Ryan is now going out with Maddy,
31, who has come to the workshop to see if she, too, can brave
the idea of a fully open relationship.
is Laurel, 31, who is happily married to an artist back home,
but is nonetheless eager to explore her sexual identity and confront
the nagging feelings of panic she has about remaining faithful
to one person for the rest of her life.
a charismatic, twinkly-eyed 72-year-old with a paunch, sits at
the podium dispensing his own particular brand of tough love.
Its interesting, but not particularly comfortable, viewing.
Take, for example, Ryans naked yoga routines as he talks
to the camera while Maddy, er, pleasures him by
the pool. Equally pillow-bitey is the scene where Maddy, who is
clearly very much in love with Ryan, has to cope with him and
Laurel deciding they are so attracted to each other, they must
have sex. Watching her crying out on film, after the event, as
if suffering physical pain, makes one wonder whether the Lowe
lifestyle might be a touch easier for men than it is for women.
That said, neither is it pretty watching Jamie tearfully apologise
on his mobile to Sophie for the orgy he went to the previous evening
and then, eyes still smeared with tears, explaining to Lowe that
he is frightened that now hes come this far, he may never
be able to go back.
A year on,
I meet up with them to find out what the repercussions have been.
Jamie is still living with Sophie and claims to be as much in
love as ever. Im no preacher of antimonogamy,
he says, making green tea for me and the rest of the gang in the
kitchen of his ultra-modern duplex in Primrose Hill, but
it has radically changed the way I live. Sophie and I now talk
openly about our attractions, and we are occasionally sexually
active with other people. I still get insanely jealous at the
idea of her with other men, but, since the workshop, I ve
started to realise I want her to enjoy her life more than I want
her, and I want her to have the same feelings for me. But hey,
Im nowhere near as brave as Ryan.
you could say my primary commitment is not to my relationship,
but to my spiritual growth, says the dazzlingly handsome,
carefully spoken and conspicuously unscathed Ryan, and if
that sounds selfish, it shouldnt. I mean, whats worse,
being madly attracted to someone other than your partner, not
having an outlet for that and getting more and more frustrated
with both that partner and your children, or living your truth
and loving more than one person with that other persons
complicity? People in traditional families, they mess up their
kids too, dont they?
Ryan now holds
regular weekly sharing groups in London, where Lowe devotees can
reveal their truths and, on occasion, if the mood feels right,
get naked. He certainly lives by the sword: he no longer goes
out with Maddy, and is expecting a second baby by his former wife
(conceived with a cup and a syringe because the pair of them,
as he cheerfully puts it, found it weird when they tried
to do it the conventional way). His truth, he says, will
always be his son Jasper, but it is also, at the moment, his new
live-in girlfriend, Veronica, who was once a Barbie girl,
with the perfect marriage and the perfect nails, as she
describes her former self. Then, a few years ago, she went to
the workshop in her native Germany and became, like Ryan, a committed
simple, she shrugs. I act on my feelings. If theres
a tingle, its a yes. If there isnt a tingle, its
a no. And thats not just about sex, its about everything,
even how you like your eggs. I dont know what my work colleagues
think about the way I choose to live my life I dont
really discuss it with them but its possible they
think it is a little bit strange.
says Laurel, who is back with her husband after returning from
the point of divorce after the workshop, its a Pandoras
box having that experience. You cannot go back to that secure
life, with all your boundaries in place. If you did, it would
be like putting a plaster on a huge suppurating boil. But,
she goes on, when I see all these people I know lying, having
affairs, suffering from sexual anorexia, feeling miserable, because
they are not willing to confront the truth about their sexuality,
I know I dont want to be like that.
true, everything is based on monogamy, says Sophie, Jamies
to admit it would hurt me very much if Jamie were to sleep with
other girls, but there are other people I feel sexual towards
besides him. As Paul says, You can love more than one child,
you can love more than one ice-cream flavour, why would you be
allowed to have only one lover?
She has a
point. As Sting once said, if you love someone, set them free.
On the other hand, you cannot help think of the plight of so many
miserable women out there who agree to open relationships in order
to hold on to their men.
In many ways,
Im with Lowe: our neuroses are undoubtedly tied up with
our sexuality. There are huge games we play around it, terrible
things that happen to us when we suppress our natural desires
and yes, wouldnt life be purer and simpler if we
acted on our impulses and got on with it? Yet, when Ryan says
that his primary commitment is to his spiritual growth, one cant
help wondering whether spiritual growth might not
be another way of saying self-interest.
Is it not
significant, too, that Lowe is male? According to Ryan and Jamie,
he makes no secret of his penchant for pretty young women. Again
and again, I think of Maddy, weeping into the camera after being
betrayed by her boyfriend and best friend. Of Sophie
confessing to me that she went through hell when Jamie was off
at the workshop making his documentary.
Of Jamie admitting
that, in an ideal world, hed be able to play around and
she wouldnt. Radical self-help? This stuff is as old as
The DVD of
The Workshop will be released in the UK on July 21. Details of
Spielmans sharing groups can be found at trueryan.com
And some comments:
if everything is perfect as it is then what I write to you is also perfect
as it is. What I see in your emails is theory all about. How long did
you take to FEEL that everything is perfect as it is?
somi, fr, germany
I have to say that
Dee Bailey of Tucson made me laugh out loud, because I thought her comment
hit home. I must take a good hard look at what she said and see if one
thing has anything to do with the other! I too was at Sandstone with
Theresa and Paul, and was totally energized by the experience.
Angela, Land O'Lakes, USA
My Name is Theresa
Breedlove my partner Paul Paige and I reopened a place in the early
1970's called Sandstone Ranch. We held workshops on Open sexuality with
a Gestalt foundation. Many beneficial breakthroughs for people on all
levels of society.
Breedlove, Makawao, usa
How can we make
loving each other wrong whats wrong? i love you nathan austalia xo
Nathan, Rosebank, Australia
I participated a
few of Paul's workshops 04-07. He offered feedback & exercises to
see unconsious parts of our truth. So we had experiences and felt the
truth. Because of our sexual suppression our sexual behavior was often
a topic. Citing Sting "if you love someone, set them free"
- Paul loved us
I am in an open
relationship and I see my insecurities come up when my partner is drawn
to be with another. It is only because I don't feel enough or good enough
in myself or special enough. It is all about me and if you can get that
then it isn't about what they do, the growing is IN you, a gift.
Horton, Rosebank, Australia
numerous Paul Lowe workshops. This film focuses on the one tiny aspect
of human experience (sex) that deals with the deepest and most dearly-held
neuroses most humans carry (as evidenced by this article and the reactions
to it). Get over it, people! Let's focus on loving our planet!
Ann Arbor, MI, USA
On one hand: To
each his own. On the other hand: Give me a break. It seems like a way
of pursuing physical gratification without exercising any personal responsibility.
BTW, what is with the comparison to those personal development seminars
like the Landmark Forum? There is no connection.
its just a male
conspiracy. end of.
While there is nothing
wrong with monogamy I, as a womean, certainly prefer my non-monogamous
love life. I would miss out on so many opportunities to connect deeply
with others if I were monogamous. Polyamorus & polyfidelity seem
more sensible & responsible than Lowe's "anything goes"
M Hutfles, Seattle, USA
well work ok for childless couples, as the concept goes against biological
nature. Monogamy in animals is for the successful rearing of offspring.
Normally it's only one partner that really wants to mess around and
have their cake, a recipe for disaster, divorce, or an STD!
I'm all for people
trying things like this if they believe that's how they can fulfill
themselves. However, I must agree with Helen, there is much more to
a relationship than sex and it is all the other discoveries and learning
together that make monogamy so much more enjoyable than "free love"!
this has been listed
in women/relationships!? an interesting documentary about "swinger"
scene in the states recently concluded that men at first tend to persuade
partners to join swinger sessions if they are interested in experiencing
other partners, but women end up enjoying the experience more.
I hold Christian
beliefs and values, the God I believe in preaches fidelity and sex in
the context of marriage only. After growing up without fornicating and
now after being married five years without committing adultery, I have
no regrets in my sexuality or marriage and no worries for my children.
Fountain, Lansing, usa
I don't think this
takes into consideration love, friendship, loyalty, trust, bonding/imprinting,
all the other parts of a relationship that make it unique. It's all
about sex and doing what you like, self-centred people conning those
who love them into letting them take a yard.
Whatever you are
comfortable with. For the monogamous, just play dress up, you can be
with a new person every night if you would like!
Freud is out of
vogue but he was ahead of his time and still is today. We exist to procreate
- genes don't pass on without sex, in our natural state. Everything
is about sex. It can not be otherwise no matter what you think. But
the lengths some will go to find a way around this is incredible.
kevin, Lincoln, UK
This is nothing
more than the regurgitation of the 'free' love ('uncommited') encounter
groups of the 1960s. Emanating from California (where else?) - these
spawned a number of sex cults - some benign, some dangerous esp. Bagwan
Rajneesh (Osho), Human Awareness Inst., Tantra, etc.
At Harbin [California],
I found Paul Lowe to have an interesting, wise presence. But the clique
at the centre of the group seemed to have some of the negative qualities
of a cult. On balance, a positive experience, but be aware.
This is old hat
- it is regurgitated Freudian psychology. However, Jung states that
our neurosis are to do with our libido 'life energy'. A much wider concept
that includes creativity and imagination. Someone here likes being in
charge and someone likes to be told what to do. Well enjoy!
Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Go for it. monogamy
is a choice and although not entirely "natural" -what ever
that word means! this does not make monogamists freeks or mean they
should be despised. I believe they are people too and deserve our respect
regardless of the content of their beliefs
Superintendent Hay, head of the Fraud and Corporate Crime Group,
said each month about 2000 Queenslanders transferred a total of $2 million
to scammers in Nigeria and Ghana.
He said police often had a hard time convincing fraud victims they had
We know in the business investment category 76 per cent of people
continue to send money after we tell them it's a fraud, Superintendent
I've had numerous circumstances where no matter what I do I can't
convince them it's a fraud.
Superintendent Hay urged people to have greater compassion for scam
victims, including those tricked into sending money to people pretending
to fall in love with them.
It's still a concern because it's very easy to sit back in the
cold light of day with no emotional attachment to look at the circumstances
and be critical, he said.
But if you've built a relationship over months and feel you've
given over your trust to the fraudster you've got this heavy emotional
We as a society tend to say, they're stupid or greedy, [but] anyone
approached at the right time in their lives with the right stories will
be vulnerable to a fraud.
People will find
excuses in order to satisfy their basic instincts. It is interesting
though that in this case to brand it spiritual development. All noteworthy
spiritual traditions teach control of our feelings and animal urges
like food, sex and greed (possesion of things) I wonder who is right?
I respect couples
living together for ages and ages and being faithful. Me is not the
case. I do think we need more than one lover, if not simultaneously,
but during our life time. I was shocked discovering that I was pregnant
mostly because it meant stronger connection to my partner. Weird, huh?
to control our urge to eat too much. We're expected to control our urge
to drink too much. We're expected to control our urge to slap someone
who irritates us. But when it comes to sex there should be no self control
exercised at all. That's not even logical.
Dee Bailey, Tucson, USA
interview with Paul Lowe
- Paul Lowe's Observation of Realities
- Seeing through our Behaviors (audio)
- This is it... (audio)