Venue: Saddlescombe Farm, E. Sussex
Date: Sunday 5th February 2017
Time: 9.30am to 5.30pm
Facilitator: Rebecca Card
No of participants: 7
When you create a ceremony with intention, something mysterious happens and the things that occur in the ceremony reflect what's happening on the inside, and are symbolic - call it synchronicity, the Wyrd, the Mystery - which is helpful, nourishing and gives rise to useful insight.
Set up an altar, sit around it in a circle. Everyone shares their personal story, authentic as you are able is helpful. Listen to each other, then go off for a solo walk in nature, choosing our own threshold. On returning, share story of what happened, reflections from the guide and other participants clarify and embed what happened.
Results - Story of the walk:
NB due to confidentiality I can only write about my own walk
February. It's my birthday. I've sort of forgotten that, and instead of going out celebrating, I’ve arranged a medicine walk instead.
It feels right though, to be doing something reflective this year.
It's a cold, grey start to the day, dry after a week of wet weather.
Inside the hall, the fire takes a while to take hold, then fizzles out. The trays under the woodburner are full of ash - symbolic perhaps of our collective grief and tears, portending a powerful session.
Once cleared, the fire springs to life and starts to slowly warm the room.
Rebecca runs through the rules for this, our self-generated ceremony. There's something mysterious about to happen, an external representation of our inner journey, and it needs to be set up properly:
• No talking to anyone on the walk
• Choose your own threshold to start
• Be open to what happens
• Nothing might happen, and that's okay
• Come back on time
• Everything that we share is confidential
"Everyone and everything is welcome," she says as we start our talking circle. We are seven, all women apart from me.
We share our reasons for coming, what is going on in our lives, our despair and our longings. There are some tears.
Our intentions for the walk arise from this.
I talk about my frustration with some tricky clients at work, and how I need to establish some boundaries.
Rebecca has intuited some themes, and for me suggests I try shouting when I’m on the land, as a way of letting go, and moving through the frustration.
We head out. I immediately spot some long sticks by the door, 'one will do fine as a walking stick,' I think.
I'm really grateful for that stick in the end, it steadies me up a steep hill, I use it as a sword, and fend off a dog... As I walk towards the gate that separates the hall from the rest of the farm, a black dog runs towards me.
I raise my new found stick to say 'keep back’, but instead the dog runs towards me and grabs the stick in its mouth. It wants to play. An older man follows, “Down Shadow," he commands.
I smile. It seems my shadow has come out to play, and isn't respecting my boundaries. An interesting start to this medicine walk.
The dog drops the stick, and the man apologises, then tells me about snowdrops up on the hill. I decide I’d like to find them.
I cross the road opposite the farm onto the South Downs. And immediately forget about the snowdrops.
I haven’t walked this way before. There's a large mound in the field ahead and Devil’s Dyke is uphill in the distance, I decide to follow a different path, to the right, which leads to a muddy junction at the bottom.
At the junction I’m drawn to the right, away from the hill, a few metres on I find woodland pools one on either side of the path.
On the left side, the water is rushing through the pipe under the path into a clear pool. Trees stand in the water, and I’m transfixed, calmly appreciating the stillness and the water.
In stark contrast, the pool on the other side of the path is dark, still, and quiet, and a bit murky.
A group of people walk past, "it's a swamp," says one. "It's not," I think.
Further on a tree has fallen across the path and over a wire fence, breaking the boundary. I decide to climb on it, but dither about going into the field beyond. I'm nervous as it's private land. I tentatively walk along the trunk. It’s slippery, eventually I decide not to jump down.
Instead I go back and carry on along the path. The pools are part of a waterway that I didn’t know existed. A bit further on and to the side there's a smooth fallen tree trunk by the side of a larger pond. It's a good place to sit.
A single coot is swimming there and comes towards me, then retreats, then swims back. It’s nervous, but wants to be fed. This dance happens several times. I throw it some bread. It takes it then retreats and returns a few times more.
I try to coax it closer with food and soothing words, but it flaps away along the surface in a pre-take off run and stops further away. Then it comes back again.
I realise many people must've come here and fed it like this. It spoils my idea of connection, but then I decide it doesn't matter.
Coots are territorial and sociable, they dive (deep) below the surface for juicy tidbits and bring them up.
The white face on its black body reminds me of the seed of the yang (white) within the yin (black). This and the light and dark pools I just passed seem to be part of some same theme.
The path continues towards houses in the distance, and a few Sunday walkers are out heading towards them.
The footpath goes to the right, and the walkers go that way, but I decide to go left - on to private land.
Eventually this private path leads out of the field, and ends up at gate with barbed wire and the words 'private keep out’ written on the back. I am on the wrong side, and climb over, avoiding getting snagged.
Safe on the ‘right’ side of the gate, I relax and head off up a steep slope, using a sheep path on my right. My stick helps me keep my footing.
At the top is a proper footpath, and I take it towards Devil’s Dyke.
I’m tired after the climb, and want to eat some food. I venture into the trees and see a place to my left, where a gnarly tree covered in lichen and moss has a low branch I can sit on. It’s a natural place to sit and stop, hidden from the main drag.
People walk past, but only one kid spots me, and waves.
I remember Rebecca’s suggestion and decide now is the time to shout. I turn towards the valley and shout my heart out, gradually overcoming my reticence.
In a pause, in front of me I spot a tiny delicate yellowy fungus on a branch. It's ear shaped. I haven’t seen it anywhere else, and seeing it just then feels like a response from the other-than-human world to my shouting - something small and delicate that's listening, but also needs nurturing and looking after.
I ponder on the meaning of this as I move off. Avoiding the main path I slowly make my way down the steep side of the hill. At the bottom, the green valley floor is being walked by quite a few people. We nod our hellos.
As I walk back towards base, I swing up hill and see that I have a bit more time, so head towards some sawn stumps and trunks. A blackened one looks like a Druid emerging from the ground.
Just past it I find a mossy mound and lay down for a rest.
Rested, I jump up to play at being a Samurai with my walking stick as my sword. I prance about and shout my warrior shouts, having fun, watched by the surrounding trees.
There’s a big tree behind me with a smiley face in the side… it seems to be laughing at me, so I stop.
I spy a gap behind the tree and walk through it to find a field of gorse. I eat some flowers as I head down back towards where my walk started.
Before I go back to the road, I go to the the top of the large mound that’s in the middle of the first field and shout in celebration of the view and the wind.
Back in the hall we share our medicine walk stories. All are different. Some are short, some are long. Some powerful. One person cut their walk short as they became frightened, another saw tigers in the landscape...
...Mine involved my shadow, shouting, boundaries, black and white, and something delicate.
Something definitely happened!
Next medicine walk: Sunday June 11th in Sussex
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.