A personal account of the 2017 'Edge of the Wild' gathering entitled 'Fraktured Psyche'
from Ned Henderson
This was my first visit to the Ecopsychology Gathering, now in its sixth year. It was held at Green and Away, an outdoor venue held under canvas where participants can either bring their own tents or camper vans, or hire a bell tent.
I drove there from north Norfolk; not the most environmentally friendly method, although I sought to mitigate the harm by offering lifts to anyone along the way. Sadly no takers. So after a long drive and a healthy lunch in a motorway services, I arrived with all my gear: my tent, a double bed and duvet, guitar, camera and ipad, change of clothes, swimming and washing kit. and all the rest. I did not travel light and should’ve hired a removal van. I noticed some others were more frugal in their choice of camping equipment. I was extremely comfortable, but I will take less next time I go! I was welcomed on arrival and kindly offered help in putting up my tent.
The venue is very charming. Green and Away are a charitable and environmentally conscious organisation offering a venue to a wide variety of gatherings. The site is run largely by volunteers who couldn’t do enough to make the conference run in a friendly and timely manner - cooking vegetarian meals, running a small cafe and a large bar, heating the water for (wood fired) showers, washing up and generally looking after us. Workshops were held in a large blue and white striped marquee, in smaller marquees and yurts, and out of doors in some cases. We were fortunate to have fine weather most of the time.
On the first evening, after an official welcome from the organisers, and a brief orientation to the camp and its facilities, we separated into home groups by choosing natural objects - feathers, strips of bark, seed heads and pebbles - and then seeking out those who had chosen a similar object. I joined the Feathers and the five of us met on four occasions throughout the camp to hear each other's stories and experiences, share mutual support and to simply listen to one another.
After dinner we all participated in an opening ritual led by John Cantwell and Karen Ward, Celtic shamans from the South of Ireland. This involved standing on the field in the directions from which we had arrived, and introducing ourselves to others from the same region. Later we placed natural objects each of us had brought from home on a shrine. I had taken along a large oak twig in leaf: we have many oaks in Norfolk and it is among my favourite trees. There was an introduction to the social dreaming matrix and time to chat to one another informally around the camp fire before bed.
Friday began with a shower and breakfast after which I went to the social dreaming matrix. For those unfamiliar with this approach, the theory is that dreams are looking for the dreamer (as opposed to intimately related to the dreamer’s personal process), that they are to be associated to rather than interpreted. Many of the themes that emerged related to participants thoughts, feelings and concerns about the natural world and its exploitation.
After the break, we were addressed by Tina Rothery and her sister Julie who had come as spokespeople from the fracking site in Preston, Lancs. where they have been staying for the last 150 days, preventing access to the site by lorries carrying heavy equipment. Here, local government backed the will of the local community to oppose fracking and refuse a licence to drill, but central government have overruled them.
It was moving to hear about the mutual support between the fracking protector community and the efforts to maintain a peaceful protest in the face of provocation and violence. We talked about the value of non hierarchical structures and diversity, and the use of social media. It was distressing to hear how there have been deliberate decisions made by the authorities which appear calculated to escalate violence toward protectors by the police.
In the afternoon I went to an experiential workshop run by Moira Lake, a north country shaman, where we attuned to the specific energies of water and trees. The site adjoins the River Teme and we spent time on the banks, and later on went for a swim and a mud bath (optional and rather wonderful!)
In the evening, after supper, the bar opened and there was an ‘Open Mic’ session hosted by Robbie and Fi around the campfire, the surroundings of which had been beautifully decorated with bamboo canes in leaf and lanterns. The microphone was in fact notional, it was entirely acoustic and there was a wide variety of contributions, from songs to stories to poems and jokes. it was a lot of fun and went on until late.
On Saturday there was a plenary session with John and Karen which began with a relaxed and informative talk on shamanism, shamanic skills and practices. One of the central themes here was enchantment. In a sense this is not so different from what we might as body psychotherapists think of as attunement: though in this case we are talking about attunement to the earth and its inhabitants, animal, vegetable and mineral. This of course is one of the central issues at the core of the fractured psyche; to the disenchanted mind, the earth and its plant, mineral and animal life are simply resources to be exploited. Only a fragmented psyche could plan to drill two miles down into the earth and inject a toxic mixture of water and chemicals in order to extract gas, ignoring the long term impact on the earth and all living beings. John and Karen’s talk explored some of the qualities drawn on by shamans to help people to see and to live ‘beyond their stories’ as they put it. One thing that moved and struck me about them both, in addition to their humour and self possession, was their humility. John later told me about meeting a Peruvian shaman in his nineties who had little time left to live. As they spoke of their work, the shaman commented with a twinkle...”it’s a pity, I was just beginning to get the hang of it!”
The second half of the session was an initiation and empowerment ritual. John and Karen had spoken earlier of the power of lightning, the natural force on which shamans draw to enable themselves and others to live beyond the confines of their stories and conditioning and to contact the deeper truth of the self which lies beneath and may be tapped into, if and when we are willing. The form of the ritual was very simple; the power of it lay in the presence and conviction of the shamans themselves, calling us to embrace and accept what is already there in our own convictions. Certainly for many of us, it was a profound experience.
In the afternoon I joined a workshop with John and Karen which involved joining in an earth healing ritual. There were of course many workshops which took place and which I was not able to attend. These included a Call and Response singing group with David Matthews, an experiential workshop based on the ecopsychology approach of Bill Plotkin led by Michael Connors, a session on Elemental Activism with Jayne Johnson and Tom Henfrey, a Charcoal and Mark Making workshop with our resident artist Jess Tanner, a workshop on the dilemma of responding to environmental concerns, and seeking the balance between Doing and Being with Nick Totton and a session on ‘Land. Spirit and Environmental Action” with Gill Westcott.
In the evening after supper, the band Seize the Day, described by Caroline Lucas as “folk-rock with a radical edge, the band of choice of the direct action and environmental movements”, played in the striped blue and white marquee. If most people started off sitting on bales of hay and listening, within fifteen minutes or so pretty well everyone was on their feet, dancing. Afterwards one of the singers commented it was probably the liveliest gig they had ever played.
Some of us had worked up quite a sweat by the end and I headed off with a delegation to the reservoir for a moonlight dip as the evening sky faded through shades of peach and purple into midnight blue. On the way home through the woods, we came upon mysterious and vivid points of green light in the long grass - glow worms!
As we approached the closing of the gathering, Sunday morning was largely about endings in their different forms. At the social dream matrix, a lot of the dreams and their associations reflected this in themes and a telling of personal experiences of births, deaths and losses. This was a very poignant and emotional session, and yet contained in a dignified way by the participants and James, a member of the organising committee who held the group.
After the final meeting of our home group we all came together for a closing ceremony. We gathered in the four directions to say goodbye, to give thanks to and for the earth and its beings and ended with a powerful poem one our number had written during the weekend, and a Celtic blessing which I had the honour of singing to the assembled company, most of whom joined in as we came to a close in front of our earth shrine.
I'm a North Norfolk based integrative body psychotherapist, supervisor, trainer and part time lecturer. I also offer teaching and training courses in psychotherapy, communication skills and staff training to organisations in the fields of psychotherapy, health and social care. More information.