Fiona Hesseldon, researcher at the University of Huddersfield, has written an evocative and thought-provoking piece, partly in response to our The Way Through the Woods event which she attended on 20th March, about learning to love forests.
Fiona said the following in response to the mindfulness and performance event, "Slowing down and looking up and out rather than at my feet provides a whole new perspective on this familiar landscape. Time breathes more deeply and suddenly the little things loom larger."
Read Fiona's full blog here: http://blogs.hud.ac.uk/academics/2019/march/international-day-of-forests-2019/
We were delighted that Deborah Middleton's contemplative performance The Dreaming of Trees was featured in the Spring 2018 issue of Discover, the seasonal magazine produced by The University of Huddersfield to showcase the people, discoveries and stories behind the research ongoing at the university.
To read the full article in larger format, click here
During the month of July 2017, I worked on The Dreaming of Trees, in Guna Yala, Panama. The Dreaming of Trees is a contemplative, ecological performance created for forest locations. The text was written by Deborah Templeton (aka Middleton) and the performance directed by Nicolás Núñez.
As a performer/monitor in The Dreaming of Trees, I worked with Núñez and Templeton for a month in Mexico City and in the rainforest of Guna Yala in training and preparation for the performance. As the outdoor performance is designed to be an immersive and participatory experience for the audience, our training – led by Núñez – has been described by Deb as a 'training in the capacity for immersion'. The performer/monitor's have “two major points of focus and realms of responsibility: the external world of the environment and audience, and the internal world of their own embodied, meditative process. The ideal performer-monitor in this work would be in a state simultaneously of deep inner meditation and full outer attention” (Middleton & Núñez, forthcoming*). This state was what we trained for every day in the Guna Yala rainforest.
We called our main training process 'The River Action' and we carried out this action daily over a period of three weeks. The action began with the team walking meditatively into the forest to a place we had chosen in our initial explorations of the area. Núñez describes our walk into the forest as “a contemplative walking, it's not an ordinary walking... the main intention... is to make this contemplative walking, warming up our situation, in order that when we reach [the river] we prepare ourselves to go deep; to open the perception with more intention - physical and mental - to take the deepest layers of reality that we can...” (Middleton & Núñez, forthcoming). I was given the task of leading the contemplative walk ('serpent' style) in and out of the rainforest each day. I have experienced the contemplative walk many times, indoors and outdoors and in performance, but this was the first time I had led the walk. This new experience deepened my understanding of my dual role as performer and monitor. I had some responsibility for contributing to the creation of conditions for a contemplative journey in and out of the forest.
The point at which The River Action was performed was a spot in the rainforest where two small rivers joined on a narrow footpath used by coconut farmers, hunters from Columbia and those who collect medicine from trees. Núñez described our training as “collecting the perfume of the rainforest”. The intention was that in immersing ourselves in the environment and collecting the perfume, we would be able to share this experience with audience members in performances of “The Dreaming of Trees”.
The River Action involved us standing on rocks in the ice-cold river, positioned in a diamond formation and looking into the forest. In position, we worked with two postures that were originally developed in Theatre of Sources (Núñez and Guardia were both part of the Theatre of Sources team). Over a period of about an hour, we alternated and repeated these postures, working with a focus on energy and breath and our peripheral gaze. There was a sense that we were creating perceptual windows into the forest through our raised arms. Throughout the action our muscles are fully engaged and we are ‘making the right effort’ and doing our work, which is to ‘collect the perfume of the jungle’. Physically, it’s hard.
The action involved turning ninety degrees every fifteen minutes or so, meaning we experienced a 360 degree “immersion” in the forest. First we faced up river and further into the jungle than we have been. Next we faced the path that we have walked to get here, then we faced down river and finally we faced into the trees where there is no path and no river – just jungle.
In The River Action, there was constant sensory interaction between myself, the rock, the river and the forest. I was acutely aware of proximity and distance, felt and seen. Over time the lines between what was real and what was imagined became blurred. My relationship with the environment became more real and yet imagination began to play a role in my perceptions of the environment. The rock and the river felt tangible and real but the gaps in the landscape become imagined portals to other places. The doorway I created with my hands was both real and allegorical but I was sometimes unsure about the reality of what I was viewing through the doorway I had created.
Despite the fact that we were working as a group in formation on these actions, I’m very aware that my experience of this place was an individual experience. The longer I spent in the rainforest, carrying out The River Action, the more the sensations and perceptions were amplified and I realised that there was interplay between reality and the imagined, as well as between my mind, body and environment. This was how I collected the perfume of the rainforest.
* Middleton and Núñez are working on a journal article, 'Immersive Awareness', analysing the contemplative training in Guna Yala. Publication due in 2018.
Cash Clay is an MA by Research student at the University of Huddersfield.
A reminder that our next scheduled event is ‘The Mindfulness Turn in Martial, Healing and Performing Arts’ on Saturday 19th November. Full details will be published on the website later.
The Hemera Foundation has an online community dedicated to contemplative practice and the arts (also education). There are also Fellowship opportunities for contemplative artists. See http://hemera.org/
If you didn’t get a chance to hear ‘Borderlands’ (Templeton/Middleton & Adkins) at the symposium, you can hear it online and read a contextual short essay at http://liminalities.net/12-2/.
In October, The Llanarth Group’s ‘Told By The Wind’ (directed by Phillip Zarrilli; performed by Zarrilli and Jo Shapland) can be seen in Cardigan, Cardiff, and Exeter. It is a beautiful piece of contemplative performance which headlined our 2013 event, ‘Psychophysical Performance as Mindfulness Practice’. You can see a video trailer at https://vimeo.com/170952365.
And finally, if you are in a position to hop on a plane to Mexico, Nicolás Núñez is running a workshop, ‘Theatre as a Personal Rite’ from 16 to 24 July in the beautiful Mexican countryside. Information available at https://www.facebook.com/events/1658675234386109/
We wish you all a lovely summer!!
MINDFULNESS AND PERFORMANCE