Stuck at home during Lockdown? Here’s how to survive.
An interview with Ben Gross from Wider Horizons
Ben Gross runs Wider Horizons, organising events for young adults. He is an active member of the BrightSky community, and I spoke to him about his work and the challenges facing young people during Lockdown. Ben is an experienced, teacher, Transpersonal Psychotherapist and university lecturer. Before he set up Wider Horizons he worked with schools developing bullying awareness and race-equality strategies. His extensive work with children and young adults led him to combine all his skills to create gatherings for young adults to connect with nature, peers and with themselves.
What is Wider Horizons?
Wider Horizons organises transformational gatherings in nature for young adults. The vision is to create an opportunity for young adults to connect with Spirit through being in nature. Living in a temporary community and making a camp outdoors allows everyone to experience the sense of harmony that comes from working together to create the camp, collect firewood, cook and serve food and sing and dance around the fire.
The idea comes from my personal experience of Rainbow Gatherings, and I wanted to make that more accessible to young people. In addition it is to introduce people to our funders, the Scientific and Medical Network, an educational charity and membership network who have a range of conferences and, like us, regular online webinars exploring the boundaries of science and spirituality.
What age do you mean by young adults?
My vision at first was for Wider Horizons to be for eighteen to twenty-one-year-olds. It is that massive transition time of leaving home, the time of stepping out into the world as an adult. But working at the University of Greenwich as a lecturer I found the mature students were disappointed to be excluded. We decided to open it up to eighteen to thirty, but really the vision is to support people as they take the steps away from home. Now we have a rough guide of eighteen to twenty-three, but anyone is welcome who feels drawn to it.
People don’t really become adults at the age of eighteen or twenty-one. A big thing that brings about adulthood is when you start thinking about what you want to give rather than what you want to get, from others, and from life. A large part of the vision for Wider Horizons is to facilitate that rite of passage. We hold space for young adults to go through it. Some people have had a difficult childhood and are left feeling that they didn’t fully get what they needed. They are left still needing to receive love, which gets distorted into all types of addiction. They feel they need to fill a hole with all sorts of different distractions.
So the young adults that come to you, what is your intention for them to leave with? Is it a better understanding of self?
That they feel inspired, nourished and ready to give. A feeling that ‘I am okay as I am’, and ‘How can I be of service to others?’ That’s the transformation.
What happens at the Wider Horizons festivals?
There are lots of different workshops and ceremonies, and there is celebrating around the fire. The whole thing is a massive ceremony. ‘What do I need to transform from the past and what do I need to bring into my life now?’ It’s a connection of the past, present and future. What’s emerged is that it’s not about letting go of the past but rather, transforming it, getting the gift from all the experiences one has had in their life and seeing that they may have been difficult, challenging and painful, but what the value is of all of that … how it all made us the person we are.
We have no alcohol, no drugs, no coffee! We encourage people to smoke away from the central space. It’s kind of like a healing retreat, people are giving up addictions.
So it’s not a festival. There’re no stages, no sound systems, no stalls, no buying and selling of anything. And there’s minimal use of electricity to allow us to connect more directly with nature.
With Lockdown, you are not able to do physical festivals, so how are you managing?
We have gone online. When the pandemic started we launched “Online Connection”, a series of weekly online workshops where young adults have shared what has been going on for them, and there are inputs from beautiful teachers, Professors, Doctors and Shamans. There was a great workshop recently on the principle of ‘Doing no harm’ held by Rita Hraiz. It was about how to live a peaceful life.
We have had workshops about how consciousness is in all things, Lucid Dreaming, Indigenous elders such as Kurikindi teaching Living with Harmony, Satsang with Tony Samara, Sacred Activism with Andrew Harvey, Yogic and Psychological Perspectives on Living Well with Stress and Anxiety. We have offered workshops on Qi Gong, Yoga, homoeopathic remedies, meditation and using the different medicinal fungi and mushrooms, to name a few. Ceremonies for Summer Solstice, Samhain, Winter Solstice and Imbolc have been held, all online. One we livestreamed from the stone circle at Chaucer Barn, a mystery school in Norfolk.
We have held two online festival weekends. We did one for the Summer Solstice where we teamed up with Into the Wild and Aniwa. That was big — we had over fifty thousand people come. The other one we did for Samhain, which was about embracing the dark, embracing one’s shadow, not trying to get rid of it but leaning into it.
Lockdown has been very hard for young adults. Being eighteen at the minute and stuck at home without peer support must be difficult. What are you finding are the biggest challenges for young people at the moment?
What you just said. At that age, there is a powerful drive to connect with friends and move away from the family. This third lockdown has been really challenging, being stuck at home through Winter. The one thing people can still do on their own is taking drugs, so that is a big problem. There are new drugs out there like Xanax, and the old ones, alcohol, is still the worst. Wider Horizons supports people in being liberated from drugs and we have had some beautiful success stories.
Why do you think that is?
Inspiration from nature, and connection to Spirit, inside and all around, and to a community. Where there was a hole, a feeling of emptiness and lack before, now it is filled. They don’t need to fill it with drugs anymore. It is also about power. When you feel weak, there is an emptiness inside, but when you feel power within, you don’t need drugs.
What would be your advice to any young adult struggling with Lockdown?
I would say, get out into nature. Get out of the house! We are not supposed to be stuck inside all day in these houses. We are animals, go outside, go for long walks, breathe in the air and see other people. I know the rules are that we can only see one friend, but do it! Arrange to go for a good long walk with a friend. That is the food we need, connection. Connection with nature and connection with friends creates connection with Spirit.
Another thing young adults can do if they are looking for support is to access online groups, workshops and concerts of healing music. Write on forums where there are threads that might be of particular interest to you. They are an opportunity to offer and receive support and connect with likeminded people. Wider Horizons are continuing to offer Online Connection Workshops on occasional Tuesdays. Further information can be found on our Insta and FB pages, or by signing up to our newsletter on our website www.widerhorizons.events … And we are just launching a forum on our website offering young adults many different threads where they can connect, share and support each other.
Our theme at BrightSky this month, Ben, is Dreaming. Can you talk a bit about that?
Great Spirit has better plans for us than we do. So the dreams you have from your ego might not be what you really need. This philosophy is based on the lovely old joke: ‘If you want to make Goddess laugh, tell her your plans … because there are BETTER plans in store for you than you have ever imagined.’ Don’t worry about your life purpose, just feel your way through. I don’t think it is always helpful to ask young adults what their purpose is. Such a huge question can stress you out, rather, I just say, “See how it is all unfolding. Go with the flow… and paddle a bit.” There is a Native American saying, ‘Only a white man would see a feather on a path and not pick it up’. Life decides what our purpose is.
The spiritual message at the heart of what we are sharing with young adults to help them to feel inspired as they step out into the big wide world beyond home and family is the notion of the fundamental unity of all existence — the fact that we are all one.
Finally, Ben, what does the future hold for Wider Horizons? Have you got any plans for when Lockdown ends?
Even when this third Lockdown is over, hopefully in March, there will still probably be limiting rules in place, probably be limiting rules in place, so we are doing another online event for the Spring Equinox. There will be a range of workshops on Consciousness and Cosmos, Altruism and Oneness, mushrooms and fungi. We have a workshop on the Balanced View, a modern take on Zen Buddhism, another on Lucid Dreaming and another on what we can learn from indigenous people and how we can help them. There will be a big singing circle with loads of amazing musicians, and there will be yoga and Qi Gong, Ecstatic Dance, energy healing and meditation.
We have plans for an in-person gathering at Wasing Park, just outside Reading, for three days over the Summer Solstice in mid-June, Great Spirit willing. It is going to be so beautiful, set in ancient woodland, with three swimming lakes. Let’s call that in!
If you would like to find out more about Wider Horizons, check Insta and FB
www.instagram.com/widerhorizons._ www.facebook.com/wider8horizons and visit the website: www.widerhorizons.events for aftermovies of their in-person gatherings and to join the mailing list, or check out videos of their online workshops and concerts here — www.facebook.com/wider8horizons/videos
Spread the word to young adults aged 18–23 seeking wider horizons!