Each year we have a Congress. Each year in a different country. Last time around we were in the birthplace of the writer of "Don Quixote", Cervantes, near to Madrid in Spain. This year it was France where, under grey and overcast skies, hundreds of activists, researchers, voice hearers and supportive family members gathered to explore and to co-create healing possibilities.
The theme was "Making History, Owning our Stories" and RevFrance were our hosts. They had worked so hard to put on a sequence of dazzling speakers and workshops designed to enhance recovery.
It was so difficult to choose where to go and who to listen to, choices were so many and not unlike being at a good music festival where bands are playing simultaneously on different stages. Inbetween, there were chances to mix together, make new friends and develop possible alliances. At night, groups took to the nearby streets and the many bars and cafés to carry out further vital research on the beers and wines.
It was a real pleasure to meet up with so many friends from the past twenty years. Of course, Marius Romme was there with Sondra Escher, who does so much brilliant work with children hearing voices. Karen Taylor of Working to Recovery and Paul Baker, so lovely to see both again. I got to hobnob with inspiring Olga Runciman and Uta Maria Kramer and to meet many new faces too. A good representation from Denmark and folk from as far afield as USA and Canada, Ireland, Italy and Sweden. Truly, the Hearing Voices Movement has begun to touch people from across the globe, a very pleasing development indeed.
Professor John Reid, Will Hall from Madness Radio and Richard Bentall prepare to talk.
My own small contribution? Getting there at all was a great adventure as I traipsed through the streets of Paris, into the Metro stations and found my way through the bustling and noisy underground to my room. A quick drop of of my bags, a last look at my notes and across the city again to the conference centre for my afternoon talk, entitled "Spinning the Wheel of Spirit" and a workshop for which I was told 70 people would be attending. I could feel my blood pressure rising ever so slightly.
My plan was to have some fun exploring the many ways that hearing voices and seeing visions had played out in individual lives. And I had a cast of characters and experiences to play with, from Joan of Arc and William Blake, Ghandi and Eckhart Tolle. We were going to co- explore a landscape of lived spiritual experiences, normalising voice hearing in the fabric of societal development and see how these experiences played out in shaping some aspects of the very lives we all lead today. The very first thing I noticed was the giant giraffe sitting ( or standing) at the very front of my room.
I am not easily put off by giraffes, even unexpected ones. And before long, the room began to fill with expectant and curious souls, no doubt wondering what they had let themselves in for. I was excited, a little nervous but looking forward to a talk I had been preparing for what seemed to be eons. The clock ticked down, the crowd filed in and when I next looked, we were full! So, a breath, a silent prayer that Mercury would guide my words and action and help me to be clear and off we went. And it went surprisingly well.
I told a Zen joke, we did a group exercise that put us in touch with our own sense of spirituality and had the added benefit of inducing laughter. We discussed the problems faced by mental health systems and individuals in the west in coming to terms with experiences that might be linked to spiritual transformation and journeys of personal growth but are reduced within a biomedical health perspective to mental illnesses. And treated accordingly. I had a few interesting tales to share from my twenty years of mental health recovery work. Somehow, again, we were able to laugh a little as we all recognised something of the experience, either in our own lives or while working with peoople in supportive roles.
We learned of the amazing spiritual traditions, borne from the very experience of voice hearing, the great Abrahamic faiths, shaped and changed by voice hearers, from Moses to Mohammed. And we looked briefly at "Fraxinella", the real burning bush and one which exudes a flammable odour, occasionally busting into desert flames and possiby the very bush that alerted Moses to the fact that he was about to recieve his brand new job description, to go and rescue the Israelites!
We concluded our time together with a look at cell phone technology and how the great inspiration behind making much of it possible admitted later in his quiet and humble life that nearly all of his great ideas had arrived to him in his dreams. And more amazingly, that he was guided by a scientist who had been dead for many years. His name? Alec Harley Reeves, inventor of Pulse Code Modulation and the dead scientist who visited with him? Michael Faraday, the "Father of Electricity". Isn´t life amazing sometimes?
We ended with a little quiz. Which three Beatles songs arrived to the Fab Four fully formed and with almost no advance preparation? Answers on a postcard please to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other highlights for me? Attending Will Halls`workshop on altered states of consciousness and spiritual experiences, which included lots of personal sharing and very inspiring and then getting a day or two to wander Paris in the gentle grey rain and drink coffees served up by seemingly surly waiters...perfect!
I wanted to bust a few myths that voice hearing is always a bad thing. I think I managed that. I wanted to show how hearing voices and seeing visions sometimes helps to build the very beliefs and fabric of the world we all live in. I think I managed that too.
And I want to thank all my GoFundme supporters who did so much to help me raise my funds to get myself to Paris and to this amazing Congress. It was great and ...so are you!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Next year Congress is in.......Boston, USA. I wonder? ...Ivan
Activist/ Health worker/ 20 years. Specific interests : wellness/ voice hearing/ coping/ exploring/ sharing/ stigma reduction.