INNER FIRE PROVIDES seekers with an opportunity to experience an alternative approach for working on soul health issues. It is a program that gives individuals the choice to care for themselves without the use of psychotropic medication. It is an intensive year that builds willpower. Inner Fire is a good place to work on/with trauma issues. I noticed my willpower growing by having to push through things I did not necessarily want to do at the time. My will became very strong, propelling me through the day from when I got out of bed in the morning until I went to bed at night. I also felt so much willpower in my body that it helped my mind. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. Schizoaffective Disorder is on The Schizophrenia Spectrum. Schizophrenia means split mind. The front and the back of the mind disconnect chemically and electrically as a response to trauma. One goes into fight flight or freeze mode. I felt so much life force and willpower that I feel it has started to reverse the disconnect in my mind. I felt so strong that I had courage to confront trauma, and overcome fears. The year also helped my spirit rise above trauma and remember my desire to be more social. I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s message in The Importance of Being Ernest, “it is not what you say but how you say it.”
Spacial Dynamics is one of the therapies at Inner Fire. This had a remarkable effect on me. One of the principles of Spacial Dynamics is posture. The correct posture is similar to the front of a horse. The chest is carried high. The head is carried slightly down imagining a mane flowing behind. These are some of the examples. With the Spacial Dynamics Therapy, day after day doing the movement exercises similar to Tai Chi my body naturally conformed itself to the correct posture. Carrying my chest high became effortless. All of the therapies build willpower. The will to overcome oneself, to gain access to the higher self.
I also enjoyed the Biography work. Biography is a study of one’s life cycles and patterns. I felt so much energy move in my body when I did that therapy. I even had some spontaneous healing in my mind and head. As I shared very deep issues I felt tremendous movement in my head and chest. Normally I say my mind feels like it is at 50%. That day it returned to 100% and stayed there for a few days. It was evidence to me how much healing could take place if I opened up and shared.
MY DAD SUMS UP my Inner Fire experience this way: You can split wood now.
He does not mean literally that I have learned the skill of splitting wood and that that was worth all of the time and money spent at Inner Fire, but that I know now what it means to engage in the physical world. As an individual suffering from soul health issues, I was often at a loss of how to escape the mind reality in which I lived when it no longer made sense, or when perceiving it isolated me too deeply from my surroundings. I did not know what it meant to engage: to enter into work with my body and my heart in the act of creating something together.
As a child I was never good at “playing with others.” I could lead them, or I could do my own thing. Inner Fire has introduced me to what it means to engage in collective work: not the lone wolf on the edge of the community howling for help, and not the victorious leader, but one of many, an equal member of a circle.
It is continual work to develop this sense of being engaged, involved, and loved when one is accustomed to isolation, as is the case, I think, with many individuals who suffer from soul health issues. The other day I was sitting in a classroom for the first time in a long while, and I could not be still. The teachers talked on and on about what we were learning, but all I could think was, I want to cook a chicken! Or saw! Or plant onions! There is so much relief in the flow of work together; it is non-exclusive. It doesn’t require you to be good at sitting still or to be school smart or popular; it only requires the willingness to engage, and the common human desire to do something that matters.
One day, working in our terrace beds garden, I remember feeling deeply frightened for my future. What will happen after Inner Fire? Rather than try to sort it out in my mind, I refocused on the onions. As I tended them, a certainty arose. I may not know my own future, but I know the future of these onions, and up here in this garden, I can help them create it.
Although it took longer for me than the practical work, the therapies at Inner Fire gradually came into their own in my life. I remember after many months of Spacial Dynamics with Marguerite the moment came when I said I felt “peaceful.” I was breathing, and the movement was carrying me. As an often deeply overwhelmed individual, feeling “peaceful” was nothing short of a miracle.
Which is what Inner Fire is: a miracle.
And the greatest challenge is not the work itself, the rigor of the schedule, but actually waking up to this miracle. When so many people are used to being let down and greeted with empty eyes and handshakes, it can take months to wake up to meaning. I sometimes say Inner Fire is the first place I have ever been. This is partly because I feel most places are not real places: they are only environments where people gather without purpose, lost together. Inner Fire is truly rare in this regard, as individuals indeed gather, but united by a common and loving purpose which each seeker that arrives will come to understand.
IN SEPTEMBER 2015, after two 10-day trial visits, my son S. moved to Vermont and joined Inner Fire. Prior to this he had been struggling with clinical depression for over 20 years in rural social isolation, punctuated by occasional hospitalizations for psychotic episodes. At those times he would be given medication but the side effects took their toll on him and he would eventually stop taking them regularly. One result of the medications and isolation was weight gain, eventually sending him over 350 pounds. His obesity in turn increased his isolation, and he turned to the computer for relief from his despair.
Before his depression he had been a bright, active and artistic student, and he retained his longing for community life. When he heard of Inner Fire he felt this might be his last chance for a supportive community and recovery. His year at Inner Fire was not an easy one after so many years of chaotic routines and massive time spent with the computer, but he managed with great courage to stick with it and to graduate in September 2016.
The synergy of soul-enriching artistic therapies, supportive Guides, a healing diet, a consistent daily rhythm with practical work and the healing power of community life enabled him to turn his life around from what seemed like a dead end to one that now contains hope and promise. He still has a long way to go, and his newborn inner strength and sense of purpose is sometimes fragile, but he is now living nearby and making connections with the wider community, joining a local choir and pursuing his interest in Restorative Justice. He is also eating healthier, exercising more, keeping a more constructive and consistent rhythm to his days, and continuing to lose weight.
It seems a miracle that after twenty years of stagnation he could have made such progress toward recovery in only one year, but his story is a strong testimony to the power, not only of the vision and the approach of Inner Fire, but of the deep dedication and understanding of the Guides who work out of these insights. I am deeply grateful to everyone at Inner Fire for what is truly life-saving work.
A Seeker’s Father
MY DAUGHTER AND I were very lucky to discover Inner Fire when we did. She was suffering so much. She was taking four prescription medicines and visiting numerous therapists. We went up to Vermont to visit the Inner Fire campus and the director Beatrice Birch. We were immediately impressed – something different was going on here; not like the other communities/facilities we had visited. My daughter began a one-year stay almost immediately after that visit. It wasn’t magical; it wasn’t easy; it wasn’t pleasant. It was work. Work that made an unmistakable and profound difference in her life.
The guides, as the staff are called, are at their core selfless and dedicated people devoted to the Inner Fire aim and possess seemingly limitless energy. The seekers, as the clients are called, come from near and far to finally change their lives; once and forever. They seek freedom from pain, so much pain.
With the help of a psychiatrist, seekers are slowly weaned off their psychotropic medicines. It took a little over 6 months for my daughter to be weaned off her medicines, but the accompanying therapies and patient, very patient, staff made this possible. It also made it possible for more work to be done as my daughter was now clearer and more herself.
My daughter found the control that she had somehow lost in her life. It was as though she had it in her all along; this is what I believe. Her inner strength emerged and she discovered that she was not so helpless, that she could influence her moods, thoughts and actions. She didn’t need to freak out, go to the hospital or run away screaming each time a difficult situation arose. It was a slow, painful process which is in no way complete, after a year. But this is what I believe Inner Fire intended; to help the seeker find within herself the strength that lies there, untapped. Strength that will be available to continue to work the rest of her life as she repairs and improves her life. Inner Fire is appropriately named, as seekers are guided back to themselves to find the fire within that brings force to their lives.
A Seeker’s Father
INNER FIRE SAVED our daughter’s life.
Our adolescent daughter began showing signs of emotional/psychological suffering and struggles at the beginning of her second year of college. Having been highly successful and seemingly in charge of her life up until then, she did not acknowledge her need for support and help and she actually rejected all the available counseling and therapy support that was offered to her.
By the time we heard about this place called Inner Fire in Southern Vermont, she had been in her 4th psychiatric hospitalization against her will, in four different hospitals. She was on two different antipsychotic medications, in her 3rd week at that last clinic; she was hardly showing any improvements and no discharge date could be predicted. The very well meaning team of doctors and nurses at that well regarded psych department did not see much hope for our daughter’s future and advised us to prepare for many years and potentially lifelong struggles.
After reading the information and listening to the interviews on the Inner Fire website, we parents immediately knew that Inner Fire’s philosophy and understanding of mental emotional suffering, struggles and illness is much more in alignment with our own understanding and thinking, than the conventional psychiatric/psychological paradigm and treatment approach.
We called up Inner Fire, leaving a message, more or less begging for a chance to talk with them and to be able to explain our daughter’s situation and need for help. Through a sequence of seemingly miraculous circumstances, Inner Fire, being in its first year of full operation, had an opening and accepted our daughter as a potential seeker.
After a 7 week stay at the psychiatric ward, the hospital released our daughter into our care, but she was on very high doses of antipsychotic medications and was not able to function on her own. We felt, left in only our care or going back to college on her own, our daughter would have been back in another psychiatric hospital within days. Even then did she not want to pursue any therapy or go into any program including Inner Fire. It was only after many days of very careful sharing of information, listening and negotiating, that she agreed to visit Inner Fire in order to see for herself and make up her own mind.
After seeing the exquisite and magical environment and meeting the director and other staff members at Inner Fire, our daughter decided to “give it a try” and, as they say, “The rest is history”.
I can only sum up her experience by saying:
Inner Fire saved our daughter’s life.
The phenomenal and consistent care, love, patience and support from all the core staff members and the support team at Inner Fire, the daily regular rhythm of scheduled activities and responsibilities, the regular schedule of sessions in a variety of therapeutic modalities, the physical outdoors activities, the peaceful beauty of the environment, the camaraderie and support among the seekers, the delicious, wholesome and therapeutic diet plus too many other factors to mention, all created a space for our daughter to slowly begin to trust and to find and discover herself.
Our daughter wanted to get off her psychotropic medications as fast as possible. With all this support and under the supervision of the psychiatrist, working with the treatment team, she gradually reduced her dosages and was completely off all medications after 3 and a half months at Inner Fire.
Her journey at Inner Fire was not easy, but an ongoing challenge and at times intensive struggle, throughout which the Inner Fire team consistently held a safe space for her.
When our daughter left Inner Fire she felt ready to re-enter public life and wanted to prepare herself to go back to college. When she left Inner Fire she was probably in the best mental emotional condition she had been as a young adult. Her time at Inner Fire gave her a foundation upon which she can build and hopefully continue her journey to deeper healing, understanding, learning new life skills and integration of her past experiences and life up until now.
By no means was Inner Fire an end to our daughter’s challenges and need for healing, learning and therapeutic support. We do not believe or expect that any one place or any one experience or program can be that for any person.
Her healing and learning will be an ongoing process.
We are eternally grateful to all the wonderful people who work at, create and make Inner Fire possible and we hope that many more seekers in the near and long term future will be able to benefit from this unique place and program.
We wish everybody who reads this only the very best.
A Seeker’s Father
INNER FIRE WAS A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE for me.
It was bold enough to believe that I had the inner strength to recover from my meds with a kind attitude, good food and artistic creativity. The lithium and ability I was on stifled my focus and creativity but with the guides’ help, I was able to push through and find new parts of my artistic potential as well as spiritual strength.
I experienced consistency in relation to my healing and though my healing is not complete, I was able to create foundations for my next steps in life.
There was a time in my tapering when I felt shitty and depressed, when my blood felt like mud. The guide stood by me and suggested we walk and talk philosophy, something which deeply interests me…and help to shift my mood. The tapering takes patience, kindness to myself and strength as the chemical perspective can take over. I was active. In my past hospitalizations there were no options to sitting around and watching TV, feeling bored, lonely and depressed, then I would flip to the other extreme seeking stimulation, loveless sex…the pendulum would swing. The meds stimulate lethargy, which is the key for illness to find a way to slide you back, and into mania, it gets a grip on you and enslaves you. Boredom can lead to crazy stimulation. The challenges were softened by the great personalities at Inner Fire.
At Inner Fire I learned discipline, it was grounding. I realized I can cannot live for body highs-vapid in that unfailing “ when the music is over…” the hidden death within.
The guides are supportive and kind people who helped me through with kindness and encouragement. I was able to face some demons, my negativity and low self-image. I realized the “healing and the truth are within me”. No one wants to believe this. What you are looking for you already have. I had moments of confidence building. Talk therapy is great for talking but self-realization came through the artistic therapies, through work, discipline and through talking with the guides.
Every guide at any time can become a therapist…even in the middle of the night. They were always there. Round the clock therapy was there for me if I needed it. The guides are amazing…just human love, it is very rare. There was never any judgment, shaming, but they would challenge me…round the clock compassion. A lot of people do not get compassion, even when they are not even sick.
What did I learn? I was always afraid to use a knife toward me to peal a potato for instance. I was afraid to chop wood, afraid of art and drawing, of failing at stained glass, or even planting garlic. I did not have the confidence. The speech arts, speaking, validated me “you have great comfort with the spoken word”. I was seen. I chopped down a tree, learned to cry, to light the fire in the wood stove and also in the woods with one match. I became self-aware about temptations and learned about “the Charioteer and the wild horses”. I will ever forget that.
When I arrived I was like an old man using a stick for balance. Being at Inner Fire saved a life, there are lots of little things. I was so apologetic, and learn that I did not have to apologize for every little thing. I was encouraged to be myself. In the 11 hospitalizations I had had, I learned to put on a mask of conformity. I showed what the psychiatrists wanted to see. I carried that mask here, apologizing for everything. But they wanted me to be myself. I felt no rejection, no blame, there was no sticking with needles…At first, I was overwhelmed by the guides’ compassion. I learned that I could be fiery, courageous and that I still had a drive. Until now I had lacked accountability for my destiny.
I had no idea how much the chopping of wood and the washing of dishes, would help me to know what I wanted to do. College did nothing for me…
Overall the Inner Fire experience is unique in the world. While most programs are in line with the dogma of the psychiatric community, Inner fire is bold enough and kind enough to help a person come face to face with their struggles with medications as well as their inner demons. It provided the right amount of challenge for someone coming off medications. I am glad I was a participant seeker both for myself and as proof to others.