In the first of a two-part series, Dr Anna Dako sheds light on what experiential time-making with the forest is and what it feels like. Using the filmed project, Forest Within, as an example, she unpacks how we too can connect with the natural world around us to support and enhance our creativity, as well as our wellbeing.
Forest Within – by Anna Dako
There are often new words or concepts that enter the commonly used vocabulary which we do not really understand. ‘Ecosomatic experience’, ‘inner landscape’, or a ‘site-specific response’, might just be a few of those. In the presented here practice pages, I would like to share a bit of a history about the filmed project called Forest Within[i], and about the bodily processes that became the essence of its both transformational and deeply personal value.
My biggest hope though, is to shed some light on what experiential time-making with the forest can feel like, and how it changes our qualitative comprehension of the self, followed by any use of words. What does it mean to practice ecological minding in gentle movement outdoors? Where do we begin?
To start with, I do believe that real understanding of any practice comes from first-hand experience, or at least from taking time to ‘feel’ the meaning of what is talked about under our own skin. Offering time, is usually where things take off.
To me, as a mover, our ecology-driven human attempt to understand the external world in experiential terms calls, first and for most, for learning about different time frames. Every life on earth and every species lives its own dynamic, and the embodied experience of the living landscapes around helps us comprehend just that.
Human kind is fast by its own nature. We can read about that in history books. Forests, on the other hand, are best understood in slower tempos. Think trees, and your quick browsing of the sentences here might naturally slow down.
And so, let us begin by experiencing that. Let us connect to the primal movement that connects all life, the movement of the breath, and see how the story of Forest Within unfolds from there, together with its wordings, and hidden stories about the world bigger than our human selves, yet intimately personal.
An Exercise with the Breath
Try to soften your gaze now, without disconnecting from reading.
Find the lightness of your breath.
Recognise its gliding presence. Offer it some time.
Perhaps you can say a silent ‘hello’ to it and offer a moment of appreciation.
The breath is always there for you.
And the always is a life time…
Let yourself feel into this gentle awareness.
Let it guide any subtle shifts or bodily adjustments. Then settle, in not forcing any change.
Accommodate this new you.
Simply recognize the subtleties of a flow. The gentleness of your breath’s expression.
The in and out, of giving and receiving.
Slowing down might bring expansion in your chest. And growing in attention might wake your imagination up.
Ok. You can take a deeper in-breath now…
And when you give in to the dynamics of a prolonged exhale, imagine the shapes of your own breath. See them create air-bending designs, followed by dissolving and merging with the air around.
Let your attention follow the intricacies of your breath’s motion. The fluid shapes, and curvy patterns…
The soft transitioning.
Observe how every air-exchange grows its own intention, and that its seemingly invisible realization both grounds and lifts you up.
The spaciousness of whole-body breathing can help you connect to the lightness of the air, and the giving-in quality of each exhale can support you in feeling more rooted and empowered by the strength of the ground.
In breath, you can connect the skies with the ground, easily. Like the trees do, when they grow tall and strong, from roots to crown.
By breathing, you enable and enrich the life of trees. Indeed, exchanging air is as seamless and as magical as it can only be.
And your breathing might keep reminding you of a growing seedling itself. Its curves surging any direction, becoming stalks, twigs, and the many twirling offshoots.
Perhaps by now, you can even imagine yourself as a tree… spending a lifetime on expanding the roots while reaching up with the crown’s stretch.
Take another breath-in. Give another breath-out.
Breathing is a shared and life-enabling quality, isn’t it? Appreciate its dynamic.
Again then, offer your time. Feeling into the living qualities of both inner and outer landscapes asks for openness to what time really means. How does your time making in breathing become you?
We, human beings, tend to define time by what the clock shows, or by counting performed actions.
But when you invite yourself to resonate with the dynamics of your own breath as ongoing movement that provides carbon, as food, to the living surfaces of the leaves on any tree, your perception of time might grow in dimensionality…
How often do you think of time as shared and constantly enabled circumstance… a nourishing co-creation between yourself and the trees.
We enable one another’s breath. We give and take while we breathe.
The breathing pores of the entire tree, its leaves, twigs, branches, trunk and roots take in what you breathe out. Now, imagine the whole forest.
We invite you to set aside some time this week to go for a walk in your favourite outdoors location.
As you walk, think about your breath. Allow your focus to be drawn inwards, to your breath, the way it feels as it travels through your body. Then, slowly, open your awareness outwards.
Focus on the exhalation and try to touch the natural elements in the space around you. With each breath, allow yourself to slowly connect with the natural world. Experiment and see if you engage in a dynamic breath exchange with the natural environment.
When you are ready, allow yourself the freedom to create a creative response or reflection of the experience. Allow this to take any form you like.
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[i] Forest Within is a site-specific movement production on Selfhood, Sanity and Intangible Treasures within Human Kind(ness) by In The Open and Dunami – Movement Arts Wellbeing. The project took place at Countesswells Woods, Aberdeen, Scotland between November 2020 and February 2021, and was premiered at DanceLive Festival in July 2021. For more information on the project and to see the film, please visit: https://www.dunami-somatics.com/forest-within