Sitting in the atmospheric and slightly creepy foyer of the Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire, I question why I am about to spend almost £300 to walk around its grounds and listen to the wise words of someone formerly known as ‘Britain’s hardest man’.
The promotional blurb promises: ‘A unique opportunity to walk and talk with Bafta winning writer and teacher, Geoff Thompson; followed by a luxurious afternoon tea. Geoff will open your mind, stimulate your spirit and help make your life extraordinary.” My interest piqued (at the thought of cakes and cream teas) but my scepticism remained abundant. I’m a self-help cynic.
Undeniably, Thompson is a man with an extraordinary and intimidating CV. A former nightclub bouncer and world-renowned martial artist, he taught for Chuck Norris in Las Vegas, and was asked by Reggie Kray to be his personal bodyguard. Today, he is the prolific writer of 41 books, 6 films, 6 plays; a teacher of creative writing and guru in all things self-help.
My husband is probably Thompson’s ‘number one fan’ and a devout follower of anyone offering advice on how to be a better person. He reads Anthony Robbins on the toilet (unforgiveable habit) and listens to Deepak Chopra in the car (much to my annoyance). It is probably no coincidence that he is the world’s most gracious individual. I, on the other hand, am impatient, critical and intolerant of anyone telling me how I can improve my life/job/friendships etc.
I am not capable of forgiving the bastard who cut me up on the A419; I’m the angry person waving aggressively and beeping my horn: “Get off the road, arsehole!”
Can you imagine my reaction when he suggested the ‘Walk with Geoff Thompson’ experience? A chance for me to find peace and purpose in my life. I’d rather a weekend in Alton Towers.
To my surprise, the Coombe Abbey Hotel is breath-taking and would not look out of place amid the chateaux of the Loire. Maybe afternoon tea here wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Thompson bounces into the hotel like an enthusiastic Labrador. He embraces me tightly and, for a moment, I think he may have mistaken me for someone he knows. I’m relieved when he squeezes the other five bemused looking strangers.
As soon as we step outside and gather around the beautiful courtyard fountain, Thompson, who is about to pop with enthusiasm, declares he’s pleased he was sexually abused as a child. Silence. We look at one another; no one knowing quite how to react to this shocking opener.
Quick to quell any possible misunderstanding, he explains that the success he has achieved in life was, and still is, fuelled by his torment.
He explains: “Every book, play and film I created was a manifestation of my pain and anger. I have no doubt, that without the abuse, and the years of depression, anxiety and crippling fear, I would not have a Bafta now.
“It took me twenty years to realise that I was sat on a pot of pure gold. I could have become another victim; bound up in my anger and resentment. Instead, I learned to become an alchemist and turned hell into heaven. I could then dissolve my fears, forgive my abuser, and pursue my dreams.”
The woman next to me appears unsettled by his forgiving attitude: ‘How on earth could you forgive a paedophile?’ she asks.
“Forgiveness is not about letting people off; there is a karmic return. Everybody has to pay for everything they do. The guy who sexually abused me doesn’t need my forgiveness; I need to forgive him so I can separate myself from the equation and move forward with my life.
“Lack of forgiveness is killing us – literally. Our failure to pardon manifests a resentment that grows. It becomes an internal time bomb of bitterness; triggered and perpetuated by every unforgiving gesture. This has a catastrophic effect on our physiology.”
Thompson combines the wisdom and experience of a man who has suffered, with the conviction and energy of someone wanting to change the world. And although, he could no doubt kill a man with his little finger, he somehow manages to radiate compassion and love.
Yet, without explanation, his statements can sometimes sound deliberately provocative. When he claims: ‘We need to kill our parents’, uncomfortable glances are exchanged.
He clarifies: “Within each one of us, we have the potential to achieve anything. Yet, we need to challenge and dissolve all limiting core beliefs – the conditioning we receive from our parents, our friends and our teachers. We are told: We can never be writers, actors, athletes etc and so we avoid striving to be better. Instead, we stay within our comfort zone and achieve very little with our lives. Kill your core beliefs. Kill your parents.”
Thompson has taken a long time to dissolve his core beliefs. A former factory floor sweeper and nightclub doorman, his dreams of becoming a writer were dismissed by friends and family. His first book, Watch My Back (a Times bestseller) was privately penned in the factory lavatory. The book, about his debilitating fear of violent confrontation, and his nights working in some of Britain’s roughest clubs, was later made into the feature film – Clubbed.
However, his peers questioned his desire to leave a stable job in the factory; friends fell away and his marriage failed. Even loved ones did not watch his acclaimed play, ‘Fragile’ when it appeared on the stage. Understandable, perhaps, as watching a man wrestling with the trauma of childhood sexual abuse would challenge anyone, especially if the actor is depicting your family, your friend.
However, opposition and doubt fuelled his commitment: “If I allowed challenging situations to determine my state of mind, then my mood would always be at the mercy of chance. However, if I believe that everything that happens to me – no matter what – is the harbinger of knowledge, wisdom and growth, life becomes infinitely richer.”
As we follow Thompson around the beautiful gardens, like six ducklings following mummy duck, it’s hard not to feel inspired. (Yes, I admit it. I am absorbing this self-help stuff.) He exudes wisdom and spirituality. Yet, his tattoo covered body (‘past armour’); cauliflower ears (victims of countless fights) and his fondness for swearing make him an unlikely guru. He is part Ghandi, part Bob Dylan.
His down-to-earth and accessible philosophies coupled with his brutal honesty and openness about his troubled past, attracts millions of followers worldwide. Each desperate to learn how they can kill their demons and champion their dreams. He is living proof we can all change our lives.
Our afternoon of inspiration finishes with a sumptuous afternoon-tea in the exquisite former chapel of Coombe Abbey. Thompson, who probably has psychic powers, asks me why I came today. When I laugh awkwardly and tell him, my husband told me to, he gently replies:
“Victoria, to master the self is more powerful than sovereignty over 10,000 armies. People scoff at the mere mention of self-help because they are ignorant of the subject, or they are afraid of its demands. Perhaps, a bit of both.” Ok, now I feel really awkward.
Of course, he is right. And as I drive out of Coombe Abbey, I consider his final words:
“Most of us sit in the driveway of life watching it go by. Too scared to pull out into the traffic; frightened to use fuel, and afraid in case we crash. Many have the dynamite needed to explode into an adventurous life but lack the courage to light the fuse.”
5 steps to change your life:
Know yourself: The most important intelligence is always about you. Expand your best self and contract all negative sub-personalities. You will find your life infinitely more profitable.
Avoid distractions: No matter how convincing or compelling external events are, there is only thing that can change and that is you. When you change, everything else in the universe will feel your ripple.
Control your palate: If you control your palate (food, drink, information, environment, influences), you start to gain control over your world.
Follow your own map: Your personal dharma has a unique combination. Your job is to seek alignment and open the door to your own kingdom.
Be generous: The only real beauty is generosity.