I’ve been leading workshops for around 5 years now, and during that time I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon I’d like to talk about. I coined a word to describe it: preverberations, the ripples that hit you in the days or weeks before an event happens. They are basically the reverberations that come before, rather than after, the thing has taken place.

Let me start by illustrating this with a few examples. These are adapted slightly from real stories people have told me, with names and some details changed to protect people’s identities.

As he’s about to go to a workshop exploring intimacy and connection, Jack notices situations arising with his partner Paul around communication and boundaries. These are similar to issues they’ve had in their relationship before, but for the 3 or 4 days before the workshop they’re more pronounced and obvious.

Philippa starts to feel ill a week before a workshop exploring BDSM as a form of healing. The sickness comes on suddenly, without any warning. It’s so bad she has no choice but to rest: for 5 days straight in fact, unusual for her. She wonders if she picked up that bug that was going round the office. In particular she notices that her chest is dense with phlegm and her nose is constantly streaming.

For the month running up to his plant medicine ceremony, Peter’s life starts to fall apart. He has to move house at short notice, so he moves in with his partner. They row constantly and intensely, and he notices some of his least desirable tendencies – his bad temper, his impatience, his self-centredness – are the worst they’ve been for years. He can’t understand why this is happening, especially as he consciously reduced his workload during this month to ensure he’d be in good shape for the ceremony.

Over the years I’ve heard scores of these stories, enough for me to set aside any skepticism I might’ve had and take a good look at what might be happening here.

I’m going first to explain this in a very woo-woo way (i.e. using spiritual concepts), because to me this is the best way to understand preverberations. Later in the article I’ll give a slightly different, more psychological explanation of how it might work. Whether you’re a believer or skeptic I encourage you to look at both and see what you think.

To look at it from a spiritual perspective, we need to understand the notion of an energetic field. In the context of a workshop or ceremony, this is a non-physical ‘environment’ created by the facilitators and participants of the workshop in collaboration with the Universal Intelligence that runs through everything. (I much prefer this term to “God/dess” or anything more loaded and personal.)

The field of a workshop is the thing that’s behind or beneath it: the invisible force that holds it and makes amazing things happen inside it. The field is the Universal Intelligence in dialogue with a specific context – in this case, a workshop. It’s a bunched up bit of All That Is, gathered for our benefit when we come to participate in this thing we call a workshop.

Fields are, by their nature, hard to describe. You’ll hear people say things like “trust the field”, “it’s in the field” or “did you feel the shift in the field?” Everything and everyone has a field: for example, when a person with a particularly strong field comes into the room, you can feel the effect of it on the atmosphere (the group’s field) and on the fields of each individual present.

So this is an energetic field. When it comes to a workshop, the field is often a powerful thing, as by their nature workshops invoke permission and possibility and invite transformation and healing. In order for those things to happen, we need support from beyond the physical realm, so the field needs to be strong. Also, in general facilitators are people who work with intention – and a powerful intention creates a powerful field.

The creation of a field happens at many levels, conscious and unconscious, in the run-up to a workshop. As a facilitator, I might think that I know exactly what I’m doing, what type of event I’m creating and what my intention is. If I think that I’m a fool, because the Universal Intelligence has its own plans that I’m probably not aware of. In addition, the field contains things I can’t see about myself (my shadow) and is actively engaged with everyone who’s attending or even thinking about attending the workshop.

So a workshop field, like any field, is a dynamic thing, evolving in dialogue with the stakeholders of the event – and of course the Intelligence that’ll  help us get what we need (and sometimes more than we bargained for) from the experience.

Once you get your head round the idea of an energetic field, preverberations emerge as quite an obvious effect of approaching a specific field. A field is not local to a place, but rather encompasses the event and the people engaged with it. As the event is scheduled to take place at a specific time, preverberations tend to happen in the run-up to an event: usually 7 to 10 days before, sometimes a little longer.

(From my experience working with plant medicines, this can actually be up to 3 months ahead of the ceremony itself. However for workshops it’s mostly 7-10 days.)

These preverbs are a dynamic process happening with you and in you as your field and the field of the workshop come into contact with one another. Often the workshop field is preparing you – as in the example of Jack above, where certain things relating to the workshop start to come up more vividly. At other times the preverbs are more mysterious – as in the case of Peter – and it isn’t until long after the event that it becomes clear why things unfolded the way they did.

Although there are definite patterns to these preverberations, it is unwise to try too hard to make sense of them or force them to mean a specific thing. Life is a beautiful and complex mystery, whether we like it or not – and often it’s better to recognise the preverbs as what they are and not try too hard to understand their meaning.

OK, so that was the woo-woo! For some people that sounds like a pile of nonsense that doesn’t align with their worldview. For those folks, here’s an alternative view of preverberations.

For this alternative view we need to agree that our subconscious is constantly doing stuff we don’t fully understand. My belief is that our psyche is extremely intelligent and is constantly trying to find integration – particularly for those parts of us that are still fractured or cut off from the rest of us.

So when we sign up for a workshop, our psyche takes in a lot more information than we can consciously digest and stores it. We might think it’s going to be a fun, interesting or even sexy experience and have the intention of experiencing lots of cool stuff during the weekend. Meanwhile our psyche has different plans for us, knowing exactly what we need to work on to become more integrated and whole.

As we get closer to the experience itself, our psyche starts bringing things forward that have laid in the subconscious for a long time – for example, our fear of conflict. Suddenly we find ourselves creating or being involved with little conflicts, whereas before we’d studiously avoided them. Why is this shit happening? we wonder. Our psyche, however, isn’t wondering. It knows full well that we’re about to go into a space where we can take a good hard look at these patterns of behaviour and potentially change them.

Because our psyche wants to transform tendencies that are potentially damaging and maybe even dangerous for our emotional and physical health, it starts to show us what we need to learn ahead of when we’ll enter that particular ‘classroom’. A dance is happening between our conscious and our subconscious, little things being ‘leaked’ that were hidden before. Here you go, the psyche says, have a look at that in preparation for the weekend: you’re going to have the chance to work on it soon.

So this is the more psychological explanation of preverbations: no fields, no woo-woo, nothing mystical at all. In fact it’s a perfectly good and useful way to understand this phenomenon – though I believe it doesn’t fully explain all the things that happen before a workshop!

Whichever way you approach it, it’s useful to understand and recognise preverberations. It’s really common for people to get freaked out by the intensity of their feelings or how shitty they feel in the run-up to a workshop – and often, they want to run away or not come to the workshop as a result. In fact this is usually the worst thing to do! Having big preverberations means that something is coming up strongly for you to transform. Seeing it through by attending the workshop is much better than backing off and waiting til another time. You can be absolutely sure it’ll still be there in the future – so why not face these things now, when your psyche is actually presenting them to you?

I genuinely believe that we’re only ever presented with what we’re ready to work on – so if it’s coming up, it means it’s ready to transform. If you remember that, keep breathing and don’t panic too much, the workshop will be less bad than you fear. (Often the preverbs are worse than the thing itself!)

Preverbs often come in the form of insights or situations; but sometimes they come in the form of physical ailments and difficulties. People often ask me why they got sick before a workshop! This is definitely a good question: it seems like a dumb thing to happen, whatever the complex set of reasons for it. And it’s also common enough to be worth mentioning.

As with so many of these questions, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. One explanation I like though is that our bodies often process what we can’t quite handle another way. So in those cases where we’re trying to be shown something but it’s just too difficult, painful or whatever, it often comes to us in the form of a physical issue.

In a way it’s simply the only place this strong energy can go: it’s not found a way to come into consciousness so it goes to the body instead. The body can process things without having to understand them and this physical processing happens whether we like it or not. In addition, being sick forces us to slow down and to rest, allowing us to take our focus off other things and bring our full attention to our healing.

The other thing about illness is that it weakens us. This might seem like a mean trick – after all, you were so looking forward to being fit and sexy for that workshop, weren’t you? Instead you turn up sniffly and a bit battered, wishing you weren’t there. What kind of joker is spoiling your party?

Sometimes it’s necessary because we’d be too resistant to the things we need to learn if we were in better shape. Getting sick is a great way to lower our resistance, leaving us susceptible to feelings and ideas we wouldn’t normally allow in. It’s a way to create some internal cracks so things can get inside.

So it’s true: in a way it’s really unfair when we get sick ahead of a workshop … and in another way it’s perfect!

So these are what I call preverberations: the feelings we have as we approach a workshop, preparing us for it and bringing the things we need to look at into the light. Now I’ve mentioned them, I bet you’ll notice them all the time – and not just before workshops, either!

By its nature this article is short and far from comprehensive. There are many other types of preverberation you might have experienced. So ask yourself: what happened to me and how did I respond to it? Did I have a sense that it was the workshop working on me ahead of time?

I’d love to hear some of your stories – feel free to email me or mention your experience in the comments below.

And remember: when the preverberations come, knowing them for what they are will help you not to freak out!