Last week, as part of Laois Connects – Mental Health Awareness Campaign, I had the pleasure of being invited to the wonderful Abbeyleix Bog Project in county Laois to facilitate a group talk on ‘What is Nature?’ Although, we are in late autumn – the day was beautiful and the participants present were in no mood for sitting indoors. Within seconds it became very apparent that the only item on our agenda was to decide how quickly we could get outdoors for a walk and we all agreed that if we gave ourselves 15 minutes of discussion indoors we could get out into the wonderful afternoon sunlight for a decent walk and talk on the bog.
The energy of the participants and their desire not to waste a moment of the October evening was infectious. As the bog soaked up our chatter, our busyness and any fatigue that may have been lurking unbeknown to us within – we became alive and rejuvenated in the comforting hold of the natural space. I suppose, we became closer to being ‘our authentic selves’. Stories were shared and plenty of humour was present as we noticed how nature was preparing itself for the winter to come – a process which generally led us to check in with ourselves and become more aware of our own levels of wellbeing.
Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the words to describe nature…. but ask anybody in Abbeyleix and they are sure to send you in the direction of the welcoming bog at the end of their town, a bog which teams with life and has all the health and wellness we could ever need.
And all we have to do is give ourselves permission.
On the first night of the 2015 Dublin Fringe Festival, I had the opportunity to drink delicious home brewed fruit tea and broke bread with both the cast and fellow audience members in a thankfully un-let unit in Smithfield. I say thankfully, because had it been let then ‘Block B’ as it is called would simply become another out-of-bounds, nondescript office in our inner city instead of a place transformed by director Louise White and her team into a magical, yet all-too-real Laois bog land. White’s bog in Dublin city centre is fully replete with both biodiversity and what I would term ‘psychodiversity’ which is namely the common but varied human tensions and relational dynamics felt – but so often ignored by many of us who come together as a community to fight for what on a deeper level might not always be a ‘common cause’.
‘Mother You’ is White’s smart personal reflection on group dynamics which she sets against the narrative of the successful attempt by the intelligent and grounded efforts of the members of the Abbeyleix Bog Project to conserve and protect their local natural resource from decimation by Bord Na Móna. I always experience an exciting yet slightly edgy feeling when attending a performance in a non-traditional theatrical setting. Are we really in here? I wonder how they managed to get permission or did they bother to ask? Is that scaffolding part of the production or something that just happened to be left over from the builders? ‘Performance-making’ in spaces such as Block B, I imagine encourages the artists and production team to really respect the non-conformity of the space and thereby the space in turn guides them to run with the unexpected during live performance. The result, certainly in the case of ‘Mother You’, heightens the reality and tension experienced by us the audience. As we met and mingled in the bare yet warm welcoming foyer, two local teenage lads walked straight in off Smithfield Square, heads held high with a suavity and outer confidence which left me wondering who were these two dashing theatrical Svengalis clad in hoodies? However, I also noticed that they made their grand entrance when the ticket collector was momentarily distracted and they were promptly but respectfully invited to exit, which they did so with the same swag as they had just entered. However, this hardly noticeable minor event added to my store of excitement and I was delighted to witness the fact that hosting performances in otherwise empty and usually closed-up buildings was attracting and tempting our youth to sneak into such performances. That, in my opinion is a good thing!
The performance of ‘Mother You’ has as much depth and as many layers as the bog in Abbeyleix. As a counselling psychotherapist, I ground my practice in ecotherapy and ecopsychology and through exploring our connection and indeed our disconnection with nature – I believe we can evoke the courage and strength to make positive changes in our lives. The understated yet beautifully authentic presentation by the cast of ‘Mother You’ gently encourages us to remember our feelings from our first day at school, at college, at our workplace or at any of the thousands of community events hosted the length and breadth of Ireland. Cringe and fold up inside as the dynamics unfurl in the magical space, knowing full well that you are that person, you have asked that question and you have felt that feeling.
White’s creative storytelling is as reassuring as it is healthily evocative and echoing what was being played out on stage (having been gently lulled into a ‘being’ mode from my earlier ‘doing’ mode), I sat with my own personal ambivalences and vulnerabilities in the audience. The significance and symbolism of sharing food amongst the cast and audience during the production reminded me that we were all in this together. The feeling of togetherness in turn cemented the conveyance of precious emotion from Louise White, through the talented cast and production team to us audience members.
It was only two days before the opening night did I learn quite by accident that on account of my Walk Inniú ecotherapy work and a recent visit to the Abbeyleix bog , was I to actually feature in ‘Mother You’. Imagine my excitement on knowing that I was to be mentioned in a Dublin Fringe Fest performance – a privilege and quite a first for me personally. Prominent members from the Abbeyleix Bog Project much more deservedly feature in ‘Mother You’ and all are presented in a unique and clever way. For me, most importantly ‘Mother You’ reflects on the passion and growing self-actualisation and realisations of a small midlands community and invites the rest of us to check in with our values and work through the cringe and dynamics of doing so as we come together as the communities which we really are.
Funny what you learn when the bog comes to Dublin…
(Mother You by Louise White in performance at Block B, Smithfield Square as part of the 2015 Dublin Fringe Festival www.fringefest.com)
This weekend, I took to the woods in County Westmeath. However, the trees in this wood were adorned and infused with the art and energy of several thousand happy revealers all enjoying the music and fun at this year’s Body and Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle.
Taking our Ecotherapy Hedge School on tour is always exciting and the sun shone brightly on ‘The Sanctuary’ yesterday as a willing and able group of participants formed to partake in some mindful walking as we created a nature mandala together in the marquee after a brief introduction to Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology. And with the workshop completed the huge festival and all its energy was all there to explore…
I felt both energised and revived by the layering of a festival within the woodland. I believe that nature and art are never too far removed in any setting and when art respects, supports and listens to nature – they usually complement each other and encourage each other quite well.
But then again, art is nature…. isn’t it?
If you were there, but missed the workshop, Don’t worry.
You can avail of an exclusive offer just for Body and Soul 15 attendees here.
If you missed the workshop at Body and Soul this weekend, don’t worry. We are delighted to exclusively offer €20 off our ‘Introduction to Ecotherapy & Ecopsychology’ Workshop to those who attended Body & Soul Festival 2015. The next workshop will be held on Sunday July 12th. Our workshops are delivered in a positive, relaxed and interactive manner in our sheltered outdoor ecotherapy hedge school in the beautiful hills of southwest county Dublin.
Places are limited. Find out more and reserve your place at walkinniu.ie/bodyandsoul
To find out more about the next ecotheraphy hedge school workshop and to reserve your place, visit walkinniu.ie/bodyandsoul
Places are limited. Special offer price is only available to those who attended Body and Soul Festival this year. €89 full price, €69 for Body and Soul Attendees.
Ravaged, cut, split, torn,
Growing heather, rushes, bushes, thorn.
Lakes and rivers without boundary,
Spilling into a vessel which can hold no more.
Patches and tufts of green misplaced,
Hold miserable animals wishing themselves elsewhere.
Driving, wetting, cruel mists and sheet rain,
Assuring a long hard winter before the next fine day.
Promising lower land will sleep dead underwater.
The men who pull and drag,
Life, rocks, clay and whins bush,
Suffer an eternity of forcing and cursing.
Trying to make land…
Instead of making time.
I wrote this poem not because I felt I could write poetry of any great merit – but because I had to. It was written at a time when I was attempting to make sense of my world as I experienced it, to reconcile with dark memories from the past and acknowledge my fears and anger at the time of writing. As I look back and reflect on the poem, I see my harsh projections of anxiety, negativity and anger at that time. Thankfully when it comes to exploration of a mindful manner, nature has an infinite holding capacity. From a train window travelling through the west of Ireland in 2010, I became deeply aware of field after wet waterlogged field, passing in my gaze. The fields seemed to invite me to explore my own busy, troubled and frightened self at a deep level – ‘to find Jung’s gold in the shadows’ as it were. And for too long I had mined a lot of ‘fool’s gold’ – but I now felt more ready to look for the real thing.
Self analysis, self care and ongoing reflection is paramount for all counselling psychotherapists in order to provide a kind and therapeutically effective space for their clients. Those wet fields and bogs of Connaught supported and held me as I wrote, inspiring and encouraging me to accept that the meaningful courage and strength I sought was accessible within my very being. Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy at work.
‘We do not see things as they are we see them as we are’ Talmud
13.30 – 15.00 Sunday 21st of June 2015 – Ecotherapy Hedge School at the Body and Soul Festival, Co Westmeath
The Walk Inniú – Ecotherapy Hedge School is thrilled to be chosen to facilitate an Introduction to Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology at the enchanting and ever-so-creative surrounds of Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath at the increasingly popular Body and Soul Festival this June.
I am really looking forward to facilitating a mindful, positive, interactive workshop which will include the participants creating a symbolic Nature-Mandala using a Native American experiential exercise – and all involved will receive a heartfelt memento for their participation.
Make sure to join us at Body and Soul.
Sign up at the festival or to reserve your place at our regular Hedge School Workshop just send us your name and email address to email@example.com
05th to 11th of October 2015 – Ecotherapy Hedge School visiting the Abbeyleix Bog Project as part of Laois Connects – Mental Health Week
It is always a pleasure to be part of any community’s efforts to raise awareness about our mental health in society and I will be heading to the beautiful Abbeyleix Bog Project once again in October to lend a hand with the team in Abbeyleix as they make every effort to ensure that the people of Laois and surrounding counties are aware of the health benefits (both mental and physical) to be enjoyed by simply taking a mindful walk on the track through the peace and quiet of the bog.
Check out the walkinniu.ie website for more details closer to the date or send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure we let you know the times of the Walk Inniú events scheduled over Laois Connects – Mental Health Week.
Sunday the 7th of June 2015 – Introduction to Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology Event at the Phoenix Park, Dublin as part of EU Green Week; ‘Nature – Our Health, Our Wealth’.
As part of the European Commission’s Green Week 2015, we are delighted to host a welcoming and informative event in the Phoenix Park Dublin. Who better to introduce and advocate for Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology for the aptly named ‘Nature – Our Health, Our Wealth’ Europe wide celebration of our natural environment, than Walk Inniú?
The event is free to all and will include a short address and introduction to Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology at 2.00pm, 3.00pm and 4.00pm with time for discussion and collaboration between each session. Drop over to us, bring the kids if you wish and let’s all celebrate our wonderful city park for Green Week.
To get your free event welcome pack, with location details etc. just send your name and email address to email@example.com
On the 28th of May 2015 – David Staunton, (Ecotherapy Hedge School) is to co-host Rose of Tralee Contestant visit to the Abbeyleix Bog Project in Co Laois.
The pale moon was rising above the green mountains…..
Who would have guessed but beautiful roses can be found in the Abbeyleix Bog Project in Co Laois? To be clear, they are the regional Rose of Tralee contestants and they can be found on the 28th of May, 2015 when yours truly was invited to co-host their ‘perambulation’ through the wonderful Abbeyleix Bog Project.
I am looking forward to meeting the Roses and using the opportunity to briefly speak about my favourite topic, that’s right – Ecotherapy. As the event coincides with the European Commission – Green Week, I want to remind those present about the health benefits of walking and what it can do for body and soul. I intend to be around the Bog for most of that day and hope to get a chance to speak to as many people as I can. Check out this http://walkinniu.ie/ website or http://www.abbeyleixbog.ie/home for further updates.
Finally, it occurred to me that at no point of my professional training and experience was I trained and prepared for ‘accompanying Rose of Tralee contestants through a bog’ – I do my best and I love my work.