"It is a board game which is a metaphor for life," says Andrew Ferguson, our shaggy, grey-haired "facilitator", who runs the Breakthrough Centre in London, where he dispenses advice on holistic work patterns. The game - inspired by the ancient Tibetan Game of Life - was developed in the Seventies by Joy Drake and Kathy Tyler at the Findhorn Foundation, the spiritual community in Scotland. In the early years, participants confronted their emotions on a giant, life-size board; these days, it has itself been transformed into a therapy game played on a board the same size as Monopoly - and it's very popular.
"All my friends are talking about it," says Sarah, a timid woman with a warm smile who is a secretary at a north London medical school. "Mind you, they are all a bit New Agey." Cheryl is distinctly not New Agey: bespectacled and stern-looking, she talks logically and informatively about the weather and warfare - "I admire the Korean's innate barbarism." It turns out that she's an RAF climatologist, and thinks that "a beautiful day is a rainy day".
This weekend, quite by chance, all the participants are women. Grace is a fragile-looking massage therapist from Massachusetts. And there's me. "I don't understand why you're here," Grace tells me. "You seem so bubbly and self-confident." Little does she realise what lurks below the surface.
Andrew settles into the pre-game explanations. "This game doesn't work when you're stoned or drunk," he says knowingly, "so we won't be going to the pub." First, we must confess the recent changes - or rather "growth experiences" - in our lives, and clarify our intentions for the game. Cheryl intends (no wishy-washy "I'd like..") to discover her hidden talent for happiness at work; Sarah intends to break through the personality blocks which prevent her from being happy and creative; Grace intends to find out what darkness (as in evil) is; and I intend to find out why I'm such an extreme person.
Saturday morning starts with a well-being check - I score myself six out of ten and disoriented; Sarah, six and apprehensive; Cheryl, eight and determined; Grace, seven and calm - and the game commences with our births. "You move your individual marker [we brought our own, crystals or stones from the beach] and when it lands on an Angel square, you begin your life's path," says Andrew. "One poor bloke wasn't born until Sunday, which was very frustrating."
Fortunately, we are all born fairly quickly - and as we're born, the others sing "Happy Birthday" and we embark on our hair-raising journeys through the physical, emotional, mental and spontaneous levels.
And so begins hours of landing on squares which demand of us intuitive flashes, blessings, setbacks, insights, free will and services to others. Grace gets a Service token (which enables her to move up a level) for blessing us all with Awareness cards; I give Insight cards (these can cause emotional confessions); Cheryl blesses everyone, and Sarah doles out Angel cards. But there are setbacks, even a Depression square, and dreaded Pain cards. To get rid of the pain, you have to convince everyone that you have dealt with it, which means confronting it. And lots of crying.
My favourite part of the day was when I landed on a lotus flower, which enabled me to perform a miracle. Suddenly, I had God-like power. "This means you can remove everyone's pain," says Andrew, "and also move the game in any way you wish." Not only did I get to lead a meditation, I also invited everyone to choose where they wanted to move to. Cheryl proved her membership to the warrior women club by voluntarily placing herself on the Depression square, where she received four Pain cards. "I got really depressed and envious when I wasn't promoted," she says, and gradually we hear all about her pain, which originated with the death of her father.
Cheryl had predicted snow for Sunday morning, and was rewarded by a few flakes. Grace was still looking for her answer to the mechanics of darkness - "I can't look at newspapers any more." I was thrust on to the Depression square (it's down to my relationship with my father as well), and Sarah was working out why she was so beholden to other people's opinions.
We stop playing at midday. Sarah and Grace have completed all the levels, while Cheryl and I are still on the mental level. We all agree that the game has made us confront parts of our lives we'd rather have avoided, but needed to look at. Andrew - "amazed and eight" - declares that it's been a very rich game.
Finally, we each get a "take-away" Guardian Angel - I get the angel of light, which seems to bode well - to guide us through the next phase of our lives. "There's always a beyond," says Andrew, meaningfully, "this is not a sheep-dip approach."
Andrew Ferguson Breakthrough Centre on 0181-749 8525Reuse content