Last week I attended the Resilient Young Minds conference in Devon. It was a day and a half long event, organised by husband and wife team Liz Scott and Stuart Newberry of Coaching Connect, alongside transformative coach and speaker Elizabeth Lovius. I’ve not personally met Elizabeth but as I would come to find out from her presence on stage, she is a ball of energy. On the other hand, I knew Liz and Stu well as I did my coaching training with them last year. They’re both wonderfully compassionate and supportive people who are really putting the South West on the map as far as positive mental health is concerned.
The event was being held at The Clay Factory in Ivybridge and kicked off on Thursday. I arrived at the venue early, after an almost-two-hour-drive, grabbed a much-needed cup of coffee and a delicious granola bar, made by the The Clay Factory’s talented chef, William Woyka (not to be confused with a fictional eccentric confectioner!). If you’re ever in the Ivybridge area, be sure to go there for lunch. Will serves up the most delicious vegan food, and that’s coming from a meat eater! Coffee and breakfast in hand, I wondered around the room, just taking it all in.
The first thing that struck me was the professional set up. There was a big screen and stage at the front, all the audio set up behind screens to the side and live steaming equipment and crew at the back. This conference was a big deal! There would be over 100 people in the room, plus nearly 50 attending on live stream, representing 8 different countries around the world. And I loved the fact that it was hosted in the South West. These types of events don’t usually make it out of London and living in Penzance, that’s a bit of a trek!
I clocked some familiar faces, many of whom I’d not actually met in person but had known through being part of the same Facebook groups, for a while. It was really great to finally come together and meet these lovely people in person. After many embraces and quick ‘hellos’ I bagsied a seat near the front and settled down. I couldn’t wait for this to get underway; keen to hear others speak about this understanding of the mind (I and many others refer to it as the ‘inside out understanding), which I share in my role as a coach and youth worker. The essence of it is, that all humans are fundamentally psychologically well. The only thing that can take us away from peace of mind and a loving feeling is our thinking! That’s it. And the message of the conference was condensed down even further to simply, ‘No-one is broken.’
A talented young mixed choir from Ivybridge Community College sang a medley of popular tunes as people took to their seats. Elizabeth opened the conference with energy and bounce, clearly excited at the prospect of sharing this message to a roomful of eager listeners -some new to the understanding, but most not. Elizabeth was followed by a short intro from Liz and Stu and then we were onto our first speaker, Jacquie Moses.
Jacquie successfully works with young people in main stream schools, who are deemed to have challenging behaviour and in many cases are on the verge of expulsion. To the first-time listener of this understanding, it can easily be interpreted as ‘airy fairy’ stuff, but what Jacquie and the other speakers showed us, as they shared personal stories, was that it really does have practical and transformational results. It was clear from her talk, that Jacquie has the ability to connect deeply with young people.
Never seeing their behaviour as who they really are, but looking beyond the bravado and insecurity that each individual displays to a core of love, hope and compassion, Jacquie has made a real difference in many young people’s lives. She even takes this understanding and shares it with offenders in prison to help them see through their fears and beliefs. It appears (and I can talk from my own experience of myself and others), that there’s something about knowing who we truly are at our core, that settles us into a place of peace and understanding, regardless of what’s going on externally. It was a real joy to listen to Jacquie who is so clearly having a positive impact on many young people. Inspiring stuff!
One of the speakers, Robin Lockhart sadly had to cancel his appearance due to family affairs, but kindly recorded a video for us. Robin is the Commonwealth Youth Work Ambassador, and works extensively in London, exploring ways of working with youth violence and gangs. We watched as he relayed stories of his work with young people who had transformed since understanding that their lives operate from the inside out. I’ve never met Robin, but his presence on screen was one of a, calm, gentle, down to earth chap, just sharing from his heart what he knows to be true. I hope one day our paths will cross.
Following a short coffee break, we took to our seats again to hear from a group of students who had been working as a group with teacher Kathy Rablah, exploring the inside out understanding for themselves. Each one told a personal story of change and I can tell you now, there was not a dry eye in the house (or from our live streamers!). These fabulous students inspired everybody in the room with their stories, offering so much hope to young people everywhere as they continue to spread the inside out understanding amongst their peers and eventually with teachers!
I gathered myself together before the next stage of the conference which was breakout sessions with the different speakers and facilitators. We were pretty much free to go with whomever we wanted and I’d opted to go into Grayson Hart’s group. We hadn’t yet heard his talk, but I’ve seen Grayson speak on webinars before and at a previous conference in Exeter earlier in the year, so wanted the opportunity to spend some time with him in a small group setting.
The thing that fascinates me most about Grayson, is that he’s a professional rugby player (he plays for London Scottish if you want to check him out!). That in itself is not fascinating, but the fact that he has this deep understanding of how we operate as human beings and isn’t afraid to share it openly, intrigues me. I mean, it could be deemed as very ‘woo woo’ amongst his rugby playing peers, but as he explained during his talk later in the afternoon, his teammates often sidle up to him and say, ‘So what’s this all about then?’ This made me smile, as it just confirmed to me that it doesn’t matter how macho or non-spiritual we think people are, or claim to be, deep down we all know that there’s something more to us, than what we can see on the surface.
In our group of about 15 we had around half an hour to listen to Grayson speak about the true source of wellbeing, how he shares it and join in the discussion ourselves, which I did, as I shared my own experiences of working with young people from the inside out understanding. I wish we could have had longer to explore in our little group, but we were on a well-executed schedule and lunch was up next.
After a delicious lunch of chilli burger, kale dressed in the tastiest soy and sesame sauce and coleslaw, followed by tangy lemon drizzle cake, we were back in the main conference room waiting for our next speaker, Sam Munslow.
Sam and I have been ‘Facebook Friends’ for some time but until today we’d never met. We both have an interest in sharing this understanding with parents and children, although Sam has now formed a new coaching business ‘Blue Monkey Coaching’ and has found herself also coaching leaders and execs.
Sam is an ex-deputy head teacher who, through her own experience as a parent and educator has seen the dangers of only seeing a label that has been attached to a child. Her talk was titled ‘Beyond Labels’ and she shared a wonderful personal story of a child who she had coached, who had a whole list of labels attributed to her. But Sam’s message was simple:
- You’re not broken
- You don’t need fixing
- You’re perfect as you are
And the young girl with whom Sam shared this with, saw something in it and as a result had a profound shift internally. The more stories that I hear of young people having an understanding of their true nature, the more inspired and hopeful I feel that this is all that’s needed to end the suffering of those who struggle with their mental health.
Next up was Grayson. Well what can I say? He had the audience mesmerised – his unmistakable soft New Zealand accent drawing people into him, almost hypnotically. Quite often with this understanding people say, ‘it’s not about the words, but the feeling’ and that was certainly true in his case. I know he relayed the story of his childhood, but couldn’t tell you any specifics… the feeling in the room was palpable and I was away with the fairies. At one point he had us close our eyes as he transported us off to Never Never Land and everybody looked starry-eyed when he brought us back in the room. Whilst I never heard his words, I heard his message – wellbeing is not attached to striving or winning. In fact, trying to achieve those very things is what takes us further away from our wellbeing. A message that the whole world needs to hear!
The final guest of the day was international speaker and facilitator, Ian Watson who took to the stage with his teenage daughter Alicia. The title of their talk was ‘Wellbeing is Constant’ and knowing this, meant that both of them were able to navigate a very difficult time a few years ago, when Alicia was diagnosed with an eating disorder. This was not only frightening for Alicia but also an incredibly worrying time for Ian. The health system, whilst well intentioned, did nothing but inflate Alicia’s fears at a time when she needed to be more grounded than ever. Thank goodness Ian knows his stuff. His message to his daughter was clear,‘You’re experiencing a challenging time right now, but underneath it all, I know that you‘re ok.’ Just the message she needed to hear, to help her on the road to recovery. And this KNOWING is what also got Ian through this extremely difficult time. It was very touching listening to both of them, and I could see how proud Ian was of Alicia. An inspiring and hopeful end to what had been an all out inspiring and hopeful first day. Roll on day two!
After a clear run up from Penzance, I arrived in good time and got front row seats this time, with my fellow Coaching Connect buddies who I completed my training with last year. There were two speakers on today and I was really keen to hear from both of them for different reasons. The day started with the Ivybridge Community College choir who’d joined us again for day two. It was a real joy listening to them. We heard from Elizabeth, Liz and Stu again, reflecting on the previous day, before a wonderfully brave lady called Kathy Rablah (whom I referred to earlier) took to the stage to tell a very personal story of her son Joe.
Joe is now 20, but he was around 13 when he first started struggling with his mental health. Kathy was a full time teacher at that time. Joe’s behaviour became more erratic – he was self-harming, getting into serious trouble in and out of school and was being picked up by the police for various incidents. At 17, he’d moved out of home into social housing where he was held at gun point and robbed by two young people he shared the house with. His situation was becoming more and more dire and every time the phone rang, Kathy feared the worse and so she took drastic action. She gave up work and took Joe to Kenya for 3 months. Kathy had to plead with the police to allow this to happen, as he was considered a danger to himself and others at this time. Whilst there, they worked on a snake farm and things settled down for Joe as they enjoyed quality time together away from the familiarities of home. But not long after returning home, things once again took a downward spiral and Kathy did not know where to turn. Except she did! She knew exactly what to do – she called Stu who came over to her house and spoke with Joe. Long story short, it was the start of Joe’s return to his mental health.
Words cannot express the feeling in the room as Kathy told Joe’s story and as I looked around, I don’t think I saw anybody who wasn’t in tears. Emotions were high and were about to get higher as we watched a video of a poem that Kathy had written about her son. It was so touching. You can watch it here, but I warn you, make sure you have tissues to hand.
After recovering from Kathy’s talk and video, we were then introduced to our first speaker, Jamie Smart.
If you’ve not heard of Jamie Smart, where have you been? He’s a best selling author (check out his books Clarity and Results), speaker and executive coach. I’ve been following him for some time on social media and have read his books, but this was the first opportunity I’d had to see him speak in person. He gave some background on how he came to this understanding and then spoke about his vision for the future. Jamie sees so clearly that the answer to the current mental health crisis lies in this simple inside out understanding of how the mind works. Like many in the coaching field, he likened it to that of understanding germ theory and gravity…these are inarguable facts, that once discovered, changed the world completely. An understanding of where our experience is coming from (inside of us, not outside of us) is the key to psychological mental health. He finished with a short passage from a book, which I can’t even remember the name of, but that’s probably because I was distracted by the fact that he was actually shaking as he thumbed to the right page. WTF? This international coach actually gets nervous! He’s a real human, the same as me and you. What a comfort to know and I’ll remember that next time I have to speak in front of people (thankfully not very often!).
Dr Rani Bora
Onto the final speaker of the event, Dr Rani Bora, who was speaking to the title of the whole conference, ‘No-one is broken.’ The interesting thing about Dr Rani is that she’s a psychiatrist (as well as a Wellness Coach), so comes from a traditional medical background where patients are diagnosed with an illness and her job was to ‘fix’ them. Unhappy with the limitations and outcomes of some of her patients in this approach to psychiatry, she went on a journey of discovery to find alternative approaches to compliment her medical background and experience in mental health…and that’s when she stumbled across the inside out understanding.
Dr Rani had a profound realisation where she saw in herself first, that she wasn’t broken and couldn’t ever be broken and she immediately started to see that in her patients too. She saw very clearly, that regardless of background, physical health, life’s circumstances, anything external to us, everybody had access to mental health and that it was innate within us. What a hopeful message that is for humanity!
Final Breakout Session
Now that all of the speakers had done their bit, we had one final breakout session before coffee, cake and home. I went into Jamie’s group and the idea was to discuss how we can continue this conversation in our own way, in our communities. The thing that I really got out of the conference was that yes, it’s so important to share the hopeful message of innate mental health with young people, but it’s also just as important to share it with parents too. Helping parents to see for themselves just how resourceful and resilient they are, means they are better able to support their children in helping them to see the same in themselves…just like Ian and Alicia.
‘What is your next step?,’ asked Jamie. Oh, now I was in the spotlight with 12 or so other people looking at me. ‘Urmmmm….I could set up a parenting group on Facebook, I guess’ Then a realisation…I actually already had a parenting group on Facebook, so I was already doing the next step. Doh! (If you’d like to join it you can find it here).
We went around the group and everybody contributed: students at college and uni wanted to share with peers, others wanted to share with trainee teachers, a teacher in the group wanted to find a way to share with teachers at his school and with parents; everybody had an idea on how this could and should be shared. It was so amazing to be with so many like-minded people, all wanting to help humanity in our little corner of the world.
We reconvened as a whole and each group shared their aspirations and ‘next steps.’ It was clear that this might be the end of the conference but it certainly wasn’t the end of the story. On the contrary, it was just the beginning and there were definite ripples of a movement happening in the South West. If you’d like to be a part of that movement, you can join the Coaching Connect Resilient Young Minds Facebook group here, and keep in the conversation. If you’re on social media, please use the hashtag #nooneisbroken
In the meantime, if you’re reading this and you are suffering, or know somebody who is, please consider this: beneath your psychology you’re perfectly well, you are not broken and you don’t need fixing. When you look in that direction, there’s somewhere solid to put your feet. It might feel strange at first, but I promise you, if you’re prepared to keep looking inwards, towards your true nature, you’ll soon realise that there’s no place like home.