This is a report of the retreat in Suffolk. It contains the work done and it’s findings

The Bonobo Experience

Suffolk 21st -24th march                    REPORT








People slowly arrived and I felt that the venue was very conducive for the retreat. We had an evening meal together and watch a film. This film was called BONOBO and the premise was people living together in a way that was that of the Bonobo. It seemed to be enjoyed by all and gave people an insight into the retreat proper.


The following morning we had a sharing circle to ground people and allow them to voice anything that was present for them. This went well, it was noticed that Mario wasn’t going to be very vocal throughout the retreat.


CHALLENGE Initially I found it hard to read Mario, was he ok with what we where planning? Was he here because he wanted to be? It turned out that he is very shy and didn’t want to speak much thought-out the retreat. This was a challenge because I was unable to gauge whether he was consenting to the activities or not.







The first activity was FOOT PLAY. Each person was asked to move their hands and their feet simultaneously. This process enabled them to begin to unify the hands and feet. This was very successful and people started to get into the activity. We wanted to participants to begin to imagine having four hands.


We used our feet to draw on large pieces of paper. They really got into this, one participant said they where struggling to use there right foot, but when they switched their left foot was able to write joined up. He determined that he was in fact left footed.



This was a success and would be used again as an icebreaker.

·      We talked about having a foot bathing ritual further down the line on the retreat proper.










This exercise encourages people to connect physically. This technique was used in LARP live action role-play. It was designed to allow gamers to engage and fake sex. This is a safe was for players to feel intimacy whilst not having real sex.



Overall this exercise was very helpful in bonding the group in a gentle manner.


Things learnt

·      Have a poster that communicates to areas of touch

·      Have to tap out rules on the poster

·      Make it clear that the chest isn’t to touch, and hands most remain high on the breast bone



·      Fadaus found this experience challenging but was ok when eyes where closed.




This was the first time I had participated in a proper birth; I was able to engage with the rest of the bonobos in a way that served as stewardship for the group. I was confident to get deep into the experience to help facilitate to play. I was so happy to how the facilitators were running the experience and it gave me such pleasure to know that I had passed the work on to others. I feel safe knowing that this work can exist without me.




·      Valued this experience of playing as a bonobo however he did sometimes feel his rational mind say ‘this is stupid on a number of occasions.


·      MY RESPONSE, This could be helped in the future by explaining that this may happen and to acknowledge that voice and then going back in to play.


·      He was very moved by the womb experience in the exercise and it sent him into a deep calm trance. And loved the was he could connect with others and be together though touch


·      Getting close to people in a non-verbal physical way. He feels his relationship with these people has in fact deepened


·      He expressed how he was able to be with a touch people he may not usually connect with outside the retreat


·      The group sleep at the end was profound as it connected him to the tribe


·      Enjoyed a controlled environment to explore touch and get challenged


·      Beyond this retreat he will approach people with a deep sense of care and holding, a greater sense of gentleness



·      He enjoyed to playfulness of bonobos but felt sad that his neck was hurting, this made him feel lonely and left out, but he was happy to be together with the other bonobos

·      Pretending to be a bonobo enable me to step beyond my usual boundaries in a safe and playful way

·      Bonobos are what people could be. Queer people are moving it to this way of being. To love and connect, where everyone is looking after everyone else







This was an opportunity to develop the idea of having people switch from chimp culture to bonobo culture as a way to compare. The three of us facilitated this workshop. We established a space for bonobos and a space for chimps. The chimps where in a small and hot room. The bonobos had space and could lounge around.


The chimp space was about power aggression on one upmanship. We used tokens to denote who was higher in rank. This worked well and we soon worked out that the was to dominate was though high, the Dom being the highest physically and by pointing and eye contact.


It was difficult to use chimp culture to display aggression without using physical touch; we wanted to avoid pushing or pinching. I proposed that people offer up some of their mild pet hates or triggers. This seemed to work well and we soon began to verbally oppress one another.


BREAKTHROUGH It was very important that a facilitator is able to build the dynamic, as it got chaotic at times.


Later on they used a wig to denote the most powerful chimp. This seemed to create a real sense of fun between the group.





·      Really enjoyed the chimp wig game as it enabled him to explore dominant power safely. He was also enjoying being bullied by the rest when he was the chimp with least power.

·      Physical touch was difficult but good, going forwards connection with others will be easier


Stinky doggie

·      Noticed how affected he was when he was being oppressed via homophobic verbal taunts



·      Was worried about how his anger might surface if he was bullied, but found these experience to be of value





The bonobo space turned into a safe and held space to explore connection and touch. Bonobos had made tea for each other and where giving one another face massages. This will be encouraged for future retreats.




This workshop is based on a mother child life cycle. The Participants are split into two rooms. Room One has the expectant mothers waiting, going through the birthing process of contractions and labour.


Room tow is dark with wombs or nests for the participants to go through the growing process. This happens over the course of around 15 minutes. When the young are born and the mothers have given birth the babies are bonded to the mothers by transferring them across to the mother’s room. Once they are together the mother cares for the child. The child grows and the mother gets old. The mother is then going to die and is held and cared for by the grown up offspring.


The previous mothers are then able to go into the birthing process as the young and the previous children are old enough to become pregnant mothers. Thus the process repeats.



I found this workshop to be both wonderful and rough around the edged, which was good because we where testing it for the first time. 


There was talking in the mothers’ room, which for me broke the effect or experience of going deep. This was heard over in the birthing room.


Aside from this participants where really getting in to their roll as mothers and young and I could really feel a great sense of love and later loss for them.


This will become a workshop at a future retreat because to gets into some deep feeling for the people involved.






·      Lisa initially found this to be very difficult and had to leave the room to process some personal issues before returning

·      Once she was a baby she could really bond with her mother and had a huge sense of warmth belonging and love

·      She was very pleased to have faced her fears and felt gratitude for the facilitators for there compassion and understanding

·      Honestly? I can't think of anything that needs improving. I've never experienced anything like it in my life, I was completely new to it, and it was one of the most fulfilling, incredible weekends of my life.



·      Mario was so happy to be a pregnant mother and was really able to come out of his shell and interact using humour


·      He has wanted to have a birthing experience for some time, as he had an uncomfortable birth in his real life. This experience really helped him heal some thing for him.

Stinky doggy

·      Found the birthing experience very claustrophobic and difficult, he was expecting it to be fluffy and warm


·      He has a fear of death, this process was healing for him as he could process his life very quickly and the die, then to be born again as a child and grow was amazing for him




·      This is the final workshop for the retreat; because the participants have done lots of work together it’s an opportunity to go deeper into touch loving compassion and sexuality. It is a very gentle space that is helped by the facilitators. There is a circle first where I set the loving intention and talk about consent. Then there is a cosy space set up and carefully chosen music. This lasts 2hrs. Beyond this the space is opened and the fascinators carefully leave the space.


·      This raises some fears for one of the participants and the excluded themselves.

·      Another participant was scared about the name as the word orgy brought up some preconceived ideas. I explained that it was a gentle experience and the name was better suited to a festival setting rather that a retreat space.




·      Develop hand signals over retreat

·      Teach self care and self intimacy

·      More introduction clarity clam nerves in people

·      More own time processing time

·      Bonobo regular party

·      Repeat to circle of life twice with different mothers



Data from UCLA questionnaire


The following results are questions extracted from five participants from the UCLA loneliness scale. What is here are the questions that differ in respond to before the retreat and after.


Please see over sheet.





1. What point in the workshop evoked the most positive emotion in you? Can you label        emotion?

Intense happiness, freedom and release. These emotions were felt during the birthing experience when I was 'born' and placed in my 'mother's' arms. My tempestuous birth and my Nanna's vision of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon at the moment I was expected to survive was a poignant theme for me during this experience. I felt like a caterpillar in a cocoon wrapped in blankets, and when I was carefully unwrapped and guided into my 'mother's' arms I felt like I had become the butterfly I'd always wanted to be. I also felt that I was allowed to start releasing some of the guilt I've felt over many years because of my birth and illnesses, and I felt a strong sense of belonging and acceptance that I had never felt before with new people. I also enjoyed the sense of calm in my head during the weekend, and this calmness has stayed with me.   


2. What point in the workshop evoked the most negative emotion in you? Can you label emotion?

Fear and panic. This was not due to any fault of the retreat leaders, it was because I knew I had to finally face some demons that I've been shutting away for years. This was before the birthing experience when the retreat leaders were explaining the routine of the exercise. Every part of the birthing experience, from birth to death, was going to trigger some intense emotions that I didn't think I could face, but with support from the leaders and others taking part in the retreat I found I could face them. This gave me a huge sense of relief and release. A friend told me recently, 'You can't heal what you can't feel', and I believe the retreat has kickstarted that healing process.


2. What point in the workshop evoked the most negative emotion in you? Can you label emotion?

Challenge around feeling like I’m action and not really feeling it


3. What point in the workshop brought you out of you comfort zone?

Feeling agression during the chimp workshop

Intimacy with certain others can feel awkward at first


6. What did you learn about yourself?

I was still triggered by the fear of aggression in a very safe space


8. How far will the workshop experience help you in your interactions with other?

The experience of gentleness + attention can only feed into this interactions quality



It seems that the chimp workshop evoke lots of real fears around aggression