How Not To Seem Like A Bloody Hippie When Working With Normal People

By Mark Walsh

I’ve been successfully bringing unusual embodied practices into what could be called ‘mainstream’ environments for over ten years now, working with everyone from large corporate entities (e.g. Unilever, Shell and L’Oreal), to the police and international military units. I’ve also worked with other potentially ‘hard’ audiences, such as humanitarian aid workers in war zones and sceptical young people from inner cities. While these groups are diverse, what they have in common is that they don’t suffer fools, and need a pragmatic approach. I sometimes joke that my job is ‘doing weird stuff with normal people’, as I use tools from Buddhism, martial arts, yoga, dance, therapy and more. However, I hold the normal/not normal thing very lightly and now, in many ways, I relate more to the groups I teach than the ‘alternative’ world that spawned me. So here are my top tips for bringing crazy hippie stuff to people that will really benefit from it, in a way they can stomach.

See what you have in common

While it’s easy to go into ‘us and them’ mode, and this article plays with that, with any group, I try and notice what I have in common with them. Yes, they may be executives or whatever, but we’re all human. Even really unlikely people share at least some of your values and life experiences, if you see past the packaging.

Speak to concerns, and have a clear aim

To sell any kind of alternative course, such as meditation or yoga, you’ll need to speak to the client’s concerns. What’s in it for them? They may not care about your favourite hobby and want real results for their real lives. What is the benefit of what you do? Similarly, when doing a course, it’s vital to have a clear aim for any session and any exercise. People will try all kinds of weird shit if they have a good reason that links to their values.

Get operational

When you give instructions for an exercise, state the method, not a metaphor or a potential result. Tell people the ‘how’.  For example, say, ‘bringing your attention to the physical sensations of breathing’, as opposed to, ‘empty your mind’. Do not tell people to, ‘extend their energy to the corners of the universe’ or whatever, even if this makes sense to you. If in doubt, check your instructions with a ten year-old, who isn’t afraid to tell you when you make no sense.

Kill your unicorns

Most alternative subcultures have developed their own jargon and ways of speaking, which are actually repulsive to many normal people. My students hunt and kill words and phrases such as: ‘energy’, ‘drop into’, and ‘holding space’. We playfully call these ‘unicorns’. If in doubt, ask, ‘Would this word or phrase appear in a conservative newspaper?’ or ‘Would my right-wing uncle use it?’ Or you can grab the helpful kid from before.

Stop floating and flowing

It’s not just what you do and say, but how you do it and say it that matters. A facilitator’s embodiment can undermine their message. Let’s use the ‘four elements’ to illustrate (this is a simple, common sense model I often work with). Generally, I see alternative people demonstrating too much water and air; and not enough earth and fire (i.e. not being firm, organised or direct enough). This can prevent them connecting with mainstream groups. (You can find out more about the four elements model here:

Look at your relationship to money and power

These two things undermine people from alternative subcultures time and time again; either because of beliefs (e.g. ‘rich people aren’t good people’) or more subtly. These themes can be explored and ‘cleaned up’. More broadly, therapeutic ‘shadow work’ is essential for any facilitator.

Be reliable, FFS

KEEP YOUR WORD. Do what you say. Be on time and be impeccable with your promises. This is a big deal in many mainstream subcultures and will go a long way.

Dress the part

It’s a simple one, but when in Rome, chuck on a toga. You can still be you (in fact, being 10% weirder than your clients is a plus, that’s what they got you in for), but don’t wear tie-dye or a sarong. Sticking feathers up your arse does not make you a chicken, but it will help you blend in enough to open people’s ears.

Remember what you bring to the party

With all this trying to blend in, sometimes people forget that they’ve been brought into such places precisely because they’re different or have different skills. Yes, adapt and accommodate, but not when it comes to key values. Own the awesome you have that they need.

I hope this introduction saves you some time and tears, so you don’t need to work it out the hard way, like I did. The world really needs to get its heart, body and soul back, and some of the alternative arts can help; but let’s not get in the way of that message. This works both ways, as much can be learnt from mainstream cultures (my own journey in running a business, for example, has been profound). I may extend this article into a short e-book soon, but for a much fuller training, take a look at the Embodied Facilitator Course. We’ve been successfully teaching alternative people to work in mainstream settings for years:


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