"...if more of us could connect with the natural world in a directly
experiential way, this would alter the way we treat our environment, ourselves and one another"
- Anna Halprin
The call of the curlew and the rugged landscape of Hadrians wall, Cumbria where I grew up, filled me, early on, with a deep sense of reverence for sound, open space and an appreciation for all things wild.
My move to the Findhorn Ecovillage and Community in North East Scotland in 1998, after years of inner city living, was part of a deep desire to bring my lifestyle more into line with nature's cycles and rhythms which I found challenging to maintain in the city. I still have a sense of wonder at natures beauty and magnificence; her sheer variety of shapes, textures and forms are my muse and continually inspire my movement and creativity in different ways. Morayshire, where I live, has beautiful stretches of deserted sandy beach, dolphins, wide skies and peaty, salmon rivers. It is truly elemental and I love it!
Dance and music have always played a role in my life, but my decision to orient my life professionally in the expressive arts was catalysed by the death of a close friend. My friend had lived with a variable physical disability which meant he was often frustrated and restricted in his movement. I found in my grieving process that I had a growing need to express and make sense of this loss with my whole self, not just words or tears. My own experience of training as a psychodynamic counsellor and being in therapy led me to reflect deeply on my own freedom to walk, run and play and consider the question: What did I want to do with my "One wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver). The answer came swiftly in the visceral remembrance of the joy I had felt as a child when I had danced around the sitting room to Jimmy Shand. Life, I realised was too short to put off pursuing with serious intent what I loved, even though at 39, it seemed quite late to begin!
Influences In My Work
My creative and healing journey has led me to study with some of the worlds pioneers in dance, movement, voice and theatre.
These have included a professional training at the Tamalpa Insitute for movement-based expressive arts with dance and expressive arts innovators, Anna and Daria Halprin (USA) and with other mentors: Gilles Petit, composer and vocal expert (France), Dr Sandra Reeve, environmental artist (UK), Suprapto Suryodarmo, movement artist (Java). Veronica Needa actress (UK) Playback Theatre.
Other dance and somatic practices have contributed to my unfolding including Feldenkreis method, Contact improvisation, 5 Rhythms and Ceilidh dancing!
The versatility of Tamalpa Life Art as a creative inquiry and its application artistically and therapeutically continues to impress me both personally and professionally. I am proud to bring my diverse skills and experience as a teacher to the faculty of the first Tamalpa training in the UK: the Level 1 Body Mythology due to start in April 2012 in Folkestone.
Indian Raga Singing: a Tool For Life
My interest in the psychological aspects of singing took me in an unexpected direction 15 years ago when I began to delve into the world of Indian Raga. This opened up completely new musical horizons for me, one in which the individual voice as a solo instrument takes centre stage. I now teach techniques that are very body based which develop, versatility, vocal range and confidence in the individual singer. As well as exploring the beauty of being able to create their own music within different raga scales, my students learn to articulate and celebrate the uniqueness of their voice and offer this particular gift to the world.
In learning this musical form, they also learn about life and how they habitually approach it. The practice cultivates skills which contribute to their whole wellbeing such as how to stay in their own centre? When to be active and when to let go as well as inner balance and stability.
Finding Our Way Home
One of my beliefs as an artist is that artistic and creative expression belong to all not just a few and are essential in enabling people to participate meaningfully in their lives. An added attraction of the Findhorn Community, for me, is this encouragement offered to everyone, old and young, to offer their music, poetry, dance and storytelling as part of a larger heartfelt celebration of life and spirit.
As a teacher, I am fascinated by improvisation as part of the creative process and how this can put people back in touch with their playfulness and aliveness. Holding back in life is a strategy many of us adopt in response to hurtful experiences which can sometimes lead to living as if we were a shadow on the side lines. Improvisation in all its forms teases us out of this place and invites us to express what is truly alive in us now. It can remind us that we do have something to say when perhaps we had lost touch with this.
As a founder member of Findhorn Playback Theatre Company (Playback is a form of improvised theatre that plays back people's real life stories in the moment without any script) I get to observe the healing power of individual stories being heard, enacted and collectively witnessed and how this can create a deep sense of community. One in which stories of life, love and loss, when told, gather their own momentum and begin to offer a poetic response to each other.
Improvisation is also at the heart of Indian Raga. The singer has an opportunity to create his or her own music by plucking notes out of the air in any given scale. Raga reminds us of the precious inter-relationship between structure and freedom and how both are necessary for expression. The continuous sound of the drone is there as a support, an anchor, a home to return to if you get lost on the journey as you sing. This sense of symbolic connection to an ever present Source or Centre through the drone, makes Raga singing a meditative practice which cultivates a deep quality of presence of mind and body in the singer and some would say to Life itself.
A similar metaphor for home in movement might be our body's relationship with the floor: as a place it can rest on, be nourished by and always return to when the going gets tough. Or the spine as the central column of our body around which everything else articulates and organises itself.
Finding new metaphors for our lives is, I believe, a way of creating home for ourselves and an essential part of what the Tamalpa approach also offers. Doing such explorations in a group brings the additional benefit of creative insights and reflections from others through their movement and drawings which can arise in response to ours. This can be helpful especially if we are at a low ebb personally.
This theme of home has played a big part in my own artistic and therapeutic exploration over the years. What is home for each of us? How do we create home inside? Can developing a relationship with our bodies and our creative expression help us feel more at home? Can our movement, our poems, our drawings and our imagination offer new metaphors for change and transformation in our lives? Can the creative process itself become home rather than any outcome? What do we give value to in our lives? Can an insight, emotion or story that arrives in the process of creating be as valuable as a beautiful finished product? The Expressive Arts invite us to ask these reflective questions and they also help us create images and metaphors in our paintings, postures and dances which can become resources for our lives along the way.
Moving with Nature
Currently my work in Findhorn, Scotland focuses on developing people's connection with their environment both individually and collectively. Nature herself becomes the witness when we move our personal stories in the landscape. I am aways touched by the healing people find in this process. Each landscape has something different to offer in people's personal mythology. Using Lawrence Halprin's scoring process, I work with individuals and groups to help them create a vessel for their own healing or creative inquiry, or simply to connect more deeply to nature.
In my view, there is something extremely powerful that can be developed by working with people through movement in the environment which challenges our perceptions of life. Without walls and roof as a container, perceptions of time and space and our place in the scheme of things can change. Western psychological theories have tended to divide things into our inner and outer experience. Whilst cultivating awareness of the inner life can be a useful part of a healing process for many, I wonder if this also perpetuates a sense of duality and separation from our environment which can contribute to us regarding nature as simply being there for our consumption?
What happens to our perception if we begin to move with the awareness that we are always part of a context and always sharing a habitat: an Eastern world view? How do we relate to ourselves, others and our environment then? What happens when we see the world from movement rather than stasis? Whether we are on the move or still, we are part of a constantly fluctuating world where moods, things, people come and go and where the one constant is change.
My personal experience of moving with others in different landscapes in Moray, Dorset and Ireland in this way is that it offers the possibility of beginning to feel ourselves 'among' rather than 'separate from' or 'alone' in space. This new perspective of being part of can also lead to a desire to tread more lightly on the earth and treat it with love and respect as we would someone very dear to us.
So as well as offering us a way of expressing the full spectrum of human emotions, developing awareness of our body in movement is a direct way to cultivate certain attitudes: mindfulness, respect and compassion for ourselves, the earth and our fellow human beings. The embodied environmental work of Sandra Reeve has influenced my own greatly and I have a deep gratitude and respect for all she has taught me. Her wisdom, which arises from years of movement research and practice, is an inspiration. She offers dance and movement as a broader education, one which can actively develop communication, mindfulness and collective ecological and environmental awareness. A path which my own personal research and work is increasingly dedicated to.
Contact me to talk to me about any aspect of my work and how it may benefit you.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?