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.
WHEN I FIRST GOT TO INNER FIRE, I did not trust anyone, I was isolated, angry, and
anxious all the time, and I had completely lost my sense of humor. Over the course
of 3 ½ months, I worked on the farm, and was finally apart of a community that I
had been longing for, for a long time. During this time I engaged in meaningful and
genuine conversations with people, and felt like my sense of humor found it’s way
back more often. I still hear voices, feel like people can read my thoughts, and am
anxious in public situations and with technology, but I feel like I have some tools I
can take with me and a restored hope in finding good people to connect with. I
learned a lot about how to garden, the forest, crafts and art, and how to cook
healthy food that I will continue after I leave. I will miss the community and the
beautiful nature that I connected with, but now I know what I need to get better.
I started volunteering at Loathes and Fishes after my 7th week of Inner Fire, I
decided that it was a good time to get out into the community and in public to test
my coping skills and anxiety and get some experience cooking in a kitchen for a
group of people. Over the course of 7 weeks, I got to know the other volunteers
and gained confidence in my abilities to help with the baking and cooking and with
interacting and building friendships with the fellow volunteers. It was helpful to
pay more attention to my triggers and communicate with others what was helpful
and what would trigger me. I plan to continue volunteering when I get back home
after my experience at Loathes and Fishes.
Father of Seeker:
2019 DID NOT START OUT WELL FOR US. We could sense our 33 year old daughter
was loosing hope. The suffering had become unbearable. Her sensitive soul
tried to make sense of the anxiety, paranoia, and the delusions that were
taking over her life. Her mother and I knew that traumas even from childhood
had played a part. She was so tired of the isolation and of the hellish roller
coaster ride of psychotropic meds and the life debilitating side effects. Her
despair caused her to self medicate as she had done so in her past. She was
asking for help this time.
We were glad the holidays were over and began our search for the right
place. I called many treatment centers on the east side of the country and
none were willing to talk to us about her desire to heal without anti-
psychotics. Her counselor, Will Hall, recommended looking into Inner Fire. She
was asking for a shorter stay than recommended since she had already
weaned herself off the higher doses of psych meds. It was so difficult to
watch her go thru the rebound effects that we had seen many times before but
saw how she was determined.
She decided to go to Inner Fire even though it was hard for her knowing she
would have to give up her nicotine habit. At the first of April we made the
thirteen hour drive from North Carolina to Vermont. Right away we could tell
this was a loving community. Beatrice met with us during her three day trial
stay and told us she did not concern herself with labels such as
schizophrenia. She assured us that this community was about healing and
guiding our daughter to find some answers within herself. She talked about
the therapies that would help her get out of her head and into a daily rhythm.
She told us she could not “fix” her but could offer her a place to heal.
And that is just what our sweet daughter experienced. I’m writing this only a
few days after our daughter flew home after a three month stay and we saw a smiling
face for the first time in a very long time. Right away we could see that she
had experienced healing of body, mind and spirit. She has more confidence
and has been focused on creating a routine and a rhythm similar to what she
experienced at Inner Fire. It warms our heart to see her dreaming again. We
know this is just part of her journey and it is an adjustment to leave such a
safe and loving community and return back to her life to work thru the anxiety
and the voices on her own. But we are hopeful she can take what she has
learned about herself and experience a life that includes joy and community
and purpose and peace of mind. We are so grateful for Beatrice and all the
guides that had a part in nurturing our daughter.
Our daughter had a busy day today. Spent some time at the gym, visited her
grandmother and told her about her experiences since she saw her last over
three months ago, talked with her transition guide at Inner Fire and did 4
hours of volunteer work at a local food shelter. 2019 could be her year…
Just thought I would write briefly and share with you an “Inner Fire moment,” I had today. I woke up feeling awful and sad for some reasons known and others unknown and it’s Tuesday, my day to help out at the soup kitchen in VT. So I went and at first I had a very difficult time focusing on pouring tartar sauce and bagging up chicken nuggets but then people started arriving and I got to serve the soup. And it was just so humbling standing there ladling soup for people, a giveaway, a gift, knowing when I was done, I would get in line. And in that moment even though none of my problems were solved (and still are not) I was so glad that THIS was a part of my day; I felt stronger for being able to do something, albeit simple, for others and to be able to work. I suffer and struggle often and mightily (I suppose that is how Winter can creep upon us) but I remember also that it’s not about me- even relationships are not all about me. The people I love deserve to know I love them whether or not I am in a good mood. And the people of here deserve to eat, for free, every Tuesday. Or at least that’s what I think. It was similar to all those mornings at IF that I had to get up and cook or split wood or garden… for something bigger than me, and for me, too.
Impression Inner Fire
Melanie Lauwaert from Belgium
Some years ago a friend told me about Inner Fire. At that time I was studying to become an art therapist. I started to read about Inner Fire and got really inspired. I carry a dream to one day create a healing community and Inner Fire seemed to be on a similar mission! Some years passed and I now work as an art therapist and also in the field of pedagogy and adult education. In my work I encounter many questions, mainly to do with how to support the unfolding human being. I want to find truthful ways to answer those questions.
My friend Fiorina and I decided to travel to the US this summer to visit different projects and to spend time in the beautiful and vast nature of this land. Besides the silence and reflection we hoped to find in nature, the purpose of this journey would be to explore community projects working with a social mission and with healing processes. In June we left on a 10-week journey, starting of at the West coast. A little over halfway we made our way to Vermont to spend a week at Inner Fire. Finally I had a chance to meet Beatrice in person and get to know more about this project. I am very happy and grateful that we were so welcome to come!
The first thing I noticed when arriving was how beautiful and cared for the place looks. Zach greeted us very kindly and showed us around. Immediately we felt very welcome.
We could stay in the new East Wing, where the seekers sleep. We joined the program, experiencing its rhythm and structure, its different activities as well as the people, the nature and its surroundings.
The way the program is designed offers safety and grounding. The days are very full, but the activities are all nourishing, connecting you with yourself and with the people and nature around you. Every day we went on a morning walk, experiencing small changes in nature. We did appreciation circles every day too, it is amazing what effect that has on one’s soul: the positivity and gratitude it creates within one’s feeling life is very powerful, it makes you see each other and connect with each other in a deeper way. We also worked in the garden every day. We were lucky to be there in summer when the garden was overflowing with vegetables ready to harvest. We cooked with the vegetables we harvested minutes earlier! That’s such a grounding and joyful experience. We also learned about the different therapies taking place in the afternoons and every evening there was a connecting activity.
We had a chance to speak and work with many of the guides. All the guides we encountered at Inner Fire are such unique individuals! They all found their unique ways to this place, offering what they have and who they are in support of the seekers and of this work. It is not an easy task the guides have. Beatrice told us about how important it is to always appeal to the higher self of the seeker, to see who they truly are. As a guide, you need to be interested in growing into that and overcoming limits. That is a beautiful and powerful endeavor and the guides are very inspiring and profound people. I am grateful to have met them and their passion for this work!
We also had several conversations with Beatrice; we could ask our questions and had inspiring exchange and dialogue together. We learned about the mental health care approach in the US and why it is so important to offer an alternative. We live in a challenging time, for everyone. Our societal agreements, forms and expectations don’t necessarily support the true unfolding of the human being. People who have had a more challenging upbringing or severe trauma, or simply don’t have a supportive context and community around them, even have a harder time navigating through life without loosing connection with one’s own biography and intentions for their life. Inner Fire gives seekers a possibility to heal, to become a whole human being, taking care of one’s physical health, energetic health, soul or emotional health and finally of one’s own individuality, learning how to bring one’s intentions into manifestation. We all need to have that experience of meaning and purpose in our lives in order to feel that we matter, that it makes a difference to be here on Earth.
Beatrice started this project because she believes there is a way for the human being to become whole without medication –if one wants to try! And Inner Fire is there to support those who want. It is one of the only places in the US that offers that choice at this moment in time. That alone is a shocking fact. Suffering may be a part of our existence, but it can become a path towards healing if there are people who see our essence. Maybe we cannot take away suffering, but we have a choice in how we understand suffering, how we understand the other human being in front of us, how we see their purpose and how we support their unfolding. Inner Fire offers a way that respects the inner most essence of the human being instead of numbing it. In this time, that seems to be a revolutionary thing. It seems that what we truly need to defend in this time is the right for true human existence.
It has been truly inspiring and encouraging for us to get to know Inner Fire’s vision and mission and the people who try to realize it every day again.
We want to thank Beatrice and all the guides and seekers for their courage and commitment. You are paving the way and we hope many may follow your example into the future.
With all our love and deep respect,
Melanie and Fiorina