Walking with Awareness in Wales

IMG_0418

Borrowing my daughter’s tent (meaning I won’t have to sleep in the car for 3 nights – still not sure which is preferable), I set off for a ‘Walking with Awareness‘ weekend in Manorbier, on the South Pembrokeshire coast.  Driving into Wales on the M4 over the Severn Bridge brings back long-lost memories and I’m enjoying the SatNav’s attempt to splutter out the Welsh place names.

IMG_0413

we could do with this sort of clear signage in Cornwall!

She successfully navigates me to the closed gates of an MOD compound at Old Castle Head before she abandons me to venture further down the lane to the Manorbier Youth Hostel, a strange bunkerish shape in the landscape which began life as part of the nearby MOD unit.

deep gully leading to the sea

deep gully leading to the sea

The workshop is run by Fiona Wright and Simone Kenyon, both independent artists with shared backgrounds in performance and visual arts and both currently training as practitioners in the Feldenkrais Method.  If you are wondering what the Feldenkrais Method is, here is a 10 minute video to explain a little of the mysteries of Awareness Through Movement that Feldenkrais advocates.

Of course, Fiona and Simone guide us through their own version of ‘body awareness’ based on their individual experience of somatic practices.  In the community room I dub the Happy Birthday room on account of the frieze left over from a child’s party, our facilitators take us through a variety of ‘experiments’ to get us in touch with our physicality, either in a horizontal position lying flat on the floor, or through vertical body movement on two feet such as: finding where our bodies (bones) make contact points with the ground surface (something I can practice in my sleeping bag); alternating between an exaggerated ‘cat walk’ walk and same-shoulder-same-foot walking (difficult, you try it); making moving star shapes as a graceful way of bringing our bodies from a lying position up to a sitting posture (would like to have had an aerial view of this one) and working with the body as a ‘bag o’ bones‘.

our dawn walk in silence - breathtaking.

our dawn walk in silence – breathtaking.

This last experiment with bones particularly resonates with me.  Apart from the fact that I have always referred to my whippets as a ‘bag o’ bones’ (and they will be wondering why I am feeling their bodies in a new way), the bag o’ bones experiment is the one I feel least prepared for because it is an experiment that involves working with other group members using the whole body, the idea being to bring a ‘dead-weight’ person from lying to standing with just two people using their whole bodies as levers to push and pull to bring about this complicated manoeuvre.  To most of the crew this comes quite naturally because they are all performers, but to a mere visual artist, it is the one where I am left feeling lost and inadequate.  Thus it becomes my own light-bulb moment, and turns my thinking completely upside down.  I begin to appreciate that (as an artist) rather than viewing my hands (painting, making, healing), feet (walking), and eyes (observing, analysing) as being merely extensions of my body, my body is – in essence – an extension of my limbs, and my senses.  It is the very centre of my being, a resonating chamber that nurtures all the essential ingredients for the functioning of that being.  This is the ‘awareness’ I have travelled 300 miles to Wales to understand.  A sobering moment of reflection between the internal and external influences on our bodies, and the realization that – up to this point – I have only been using a small proportion of the potential awareness of my body in my practice.  I am beginning to understand the true meaning of embodied.

IMG_0355

love these flowing grasses and the wind-blown tree in the background reminds me of the one I used for my blog picture

And more than ever, I am aware that moving with attention (walking) through nature is a means of finding metaphors for living.  It is part of my practice to look for signs and signals in the landscape and this one below makes me smile……is it implying that the walking is always uphill?

IMG_0417

We spend time on the beaches, some of us choosing to swim or just paddle in the shallows.  This is a rocky coastline and beach pebbles here are slashed by quartz veins.   I resist the temptation to fill my pockets, choosing to photograph them instead.

quartz veins - here a wonderfully clear horizontal line in the cliff face

quartz veins – here a wonderfully clear horizontal line in the cliff face

You can see more pictures of Manorbier and this extraordinary vertical rock strata here or  more geological information about the Old Red Sandstone of SW Wales here.

vertical sandstone strata

vertical sandstone strata

These two pictures above reflect the vertical and horizontal body positions we have been working with.

The only pebble I do pick up and carry away with me is this strange pock-marked one I found on Manobier beach where we sat and had an impromptu picnic.

Do I detect a gentle heart shape?

do I detect a gentle heart shape?

Maybe a fragment that has been broken off from this strange anomaly on the beach at Church Doors, below the YH, (different from the more usual vertical sandstones) and in the same way a reminder that we too are also part of the larger mass of humanity and not the only pebble on the beach.

IMG_0364

Only later do I realise why I have picked up this pebble, over and above all the possible ones I could have chosen to keep.  It resembles bone tissue, connecting deeply with what we have been doing in the Happy Birthday room.   It also gives me a visible connection to the bed-rock of the local landscape – as the bones of the earth – to the bones of my own body (and a slightly decaying one at that).  I will take it home, treasure it and meditate on it to remind me of the lessons I have learned here and grateful for this poetic endorsement of my learning.

a rather crude reminder of the amount of steps on the steep climb on the 'dawn' walk

a rather crude reminder of the amount of steps cut into the hillside on the ‘dawn’ walk

And what about the walking?  Although walking cliff paths is familiar to me, lets face it, the landscape here is the real star of the show.  We explore the notion of ‘edges’, and plenty abound: sea to land to sky to air to body and how pressures on our lungs, bones, mental processes might help to keep us safe;

IMG_0404 cropped

group walking in silence as a collective experience of going on a journey together.  Fiona has nick-named us the Meerkat Group on account of our habit of stopping at viewing points to scan the horizon.

The 'meerkat' group looking out towards Caldey Island (just out of view on the right), home to a community of Cistercian monks.

The ‘meerkat’ group looking out towards Caldey Island (just out of view on the right), home to a community of Cistercian monks.

From the beginning, it soon becomes clear that as a group we have gelled, and I feel surprisingly emotional when the time comes for us to say our goodbyes.   Thinking about it, we have not done very much at all, yet it feels like we have been here for a week.  These past 3 days have been packed with exploration, laughter, shared experiences and plenty of space for contemplation and reflection.  More like a retreat than I had expected.   Shrinkle Haven is indeed just that.

the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path symbol

the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park symbol.   Puffin or penguin?  According to metaphysics, the symbolic meaning of puffin is ‘abundance through prayer (meditation) and humour’.  For Penguin, lucid dreaming, astral projection.  I’ll take either.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

2 responses to “Walking with Awareness in Wales

  1. Sounds like an enlightening workshop.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s