My River of Potential

By – Oliver Bettany

Last year I participated in Embercombe’s Speaking Out programme facilitated by Kanada Goria and Deborah Ward. I’d like to share my story with you. Over the years I have participated in both The Journey and The Descent and I got a huge amount out of both. I knew Speaking Out would be different and I imagined it would be less profound. I was wrong.

Firstly, there’s something about the place itself which invites depth and authenticity. This was my sixth or seventh visit and, as with every previous visit, Embercombe felt like a liminal space, a place set up for the crossing of thresholds. Walking back to my yurt on the first night, in the darkness hundreds of juvenile frogs crossed my path, on their way from the fields where they had spent their early formative weeks to the lake where they would live out their lives. It felt like an omen. Perhaps it was time for me to find a bigger pond than the one I was currently swimming in.

Perhaps it was time for me to find a bigger pond than the one I was currently swimming in.

I signed up to Speaking Out because, after many years of personal development work, I felt I was yet to find my authentic voice. The programme contained many ingredients which were practical, straightforward and useful, in helping me with this search. The facilitators were brilliant. The other participants were kind, inspiring and sincere. The container which we created together was gentle, intense and bubbling over with anticipation and potential. We had fun. We were asked to meet our edges. We were asked difficult questions. We were encouraged, complimented, challenged and criticised constructively.

But there was something else going on for me, an X-factor I could not put my finger on. Now I think about it, it feels true to say that X-factor was to do with my own personal potential, stuck somewhere inside me, straining to be released. It is an incredibly difficult thing for facilitators to do to find a way to unblock and channel trapped potential so that it begins to flow freely. To be honest it did not “just happen” for me during the two days of the course itself. That was not my journey this time. There was a hell of a lot of mud to excavate, and it took a while for the work I did with Kanada, Deborah and the other participants to sink in.

My river of potential only began to flow freely again a few months later, in a moment of such radical self honesty and bravery that it enabled me to let something go which had been weighing me down and ultimately changed the direction of my life. Again. As I said, Embercombe has a habit for facilitating this sort of transformation. Of course, there’s still work for me to do to open up the stream fully so that it runs unimpeded. There always is. That’s life, right?

My river of potential only began to flow freely again a few months later, in a moment of such radical self honesty and bravery that it enabled me to let something go which had been weighing me down

I’m not a big hippy, but I see now that the X-factor was created by the intersection of my trapped potential with an energy field which Embercombe (the place) and Speaking Out (the programme) created. I was given permission to play with this energy field, and despite it’s relatively short duration, the programme provided me with enough space, time, safety and focus to experiment, make mistakes, struggle with, create, invent and reinvent meaning, purpose and the reason I was there in the first place!

I was buzzing afterwards. I felt like something within me had changed forever. I arrived home with such a glow and strange internal magnetism that people seemed to gravitate towards me. Thanks to previous experience, I knew that when the adrenaline and the adulation faded a few days later, and the dynamo that my time on the programme had wound up in me had slowed to a steadier rhythm, there was nothing wrong. I crashed, as is the way with these things, and I carried on, struggling to integrate the feeling which I had grasped for that short time which felt like it was slipping through my fingers.

What’s most incredible and seems to me to be most vital thing for me to communicate about the nature of Speaking Out and similar programmes is that the meaning I was left with at the end continued to shift and change, deepen and soften as extra layers of understanding were incorporated as a result of the decisions I made and the experiences these decisions led to. And in the end, these decisions and experiences led me to an amazing opportunity.

Almost exactly a year after completing the programme, after many more ups and downs during one of the most tumultuous years of my life, I applied for a new job, working for an organisation I have been excited and inspired by for many years – the Ecological Land Cooperative. For my interview I was asked to prepare a presentation. I’ve rarely set about a task with such seriousness and enthusiasm as I did in my preparation for this. I brought everything I had learnt on the Speaking Out programme to bear on the task, and I nailed it. I got the job. Even now, three months in, I still feel like pinching myself sometimes as I ask myself, is this real? Am I really working for the ELC?!

Speaking Out worked for me on a practical, psychological, emotional and spiritual level, helping me to integrate these often disconnected parts so that I could begin to move once more in the direction I needed to go. It helped to get me where I needed to be. I’m not in any hurry and I’m not feeling restless but now that I’m here, I believe I need to ask myself the question, where next? What’s the next step for me on this great journey, this great adventure of life? I know I could do a lot worse than return to Embercombe, that mysterious and powerful threshold space, and enlist the help of elders and mentors like Mac and Kanada in my search for the answer. My life is so much richer thanks to their guidance and support over the years.

Embercombe will be at the Oxford Storytelling Festival offering two opportunities to join Kanada Elizabeth Gorla and Ben Mali Macfadyen for Speaking Out taster workshops

Also Embercombe founder Mac Macartney will be speaking over the weekend and Embercombe will be giving you the oppotunity to tell your story.

August 24th – 26th 2018

early bird tickets end in June