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Forest Within: Part Two

In the second of this two-part series, Dr Anna Dako reveals the ecosomatic approach involved in the creation of the making of the film, Forest Within. She describes how the movers applied the concepts of ecosomatic and felt thinking to an outdoor location and encourages us to consider how working in such ways with the natural environment can help us to learn a lot more about the environments all around us. What does it really mean to co-create with a natural environment?

Forest Within – by Anna Dako

Walking into a forest when you begin to appreciate time as shared and co-created, not just taken or owned, is exactly when the story of Forest Within begins.

That day, in late 2020 when the local nature reserves where finally released from ‘no entry’ signs after the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, I stepped into a forest that I thought I knew, hoping for a refreshing walk. Instead, what I saw, was a sight equal to that of a battlefield, with acres of chopped down trees, and a sea of broken branches and twigs covering everything in between the endless numbers of stumps.

I couldn’t find my breath there for a long while. I sat down and rolled a few tears, then began to dance. I soon too decided to share this saddening experience with others.

I needed to listen to the site. I wanted to hear the stories that the forest wanted to share. I thought they needed to be heard.

Moving at the site like this calls for a lot of air exchange, I felt. How to breathe without the trees?

I imagined all the lost movement that normally comes from the tree tops. Now, the place felt motionless and breathless. The stumps were so stationary, as if they belonged to a different time-space. A time-space that I did not understand.

And so I came back another day, accompanied by three other movers. We all felt terrified at first to offer this devastated site anything ‘safe’. The ground was covered by dangerously protruding sticks and sharp chips of wood. Yet, we decided to offer the place enough time to get to know and feel it, in movement, and so we kept coming to the same spot for the whole month, at least three times a week.

The exposed anatomy of the stumps became familiar soon. The rings of cambium, sapwood and heartwood, all hugged by the chipping off bark layers felt more and more relatable under our fingertips, and careful footsteps.

Who are we here? We kept asking ourselves.

And how do we re-find ourselves if we are to feel think[i] alongside the forest as a living kind?

How do we find ways to listen and communicate with the forest in movement. What kinds of responses can we expect?

The questions are usually there at the beginning of anything new, just before the experience takes over. Soon, indeed, the apprehensive attitudes of being newcomers to the site began to shift towards patterns of play, and the patterns were shaped by the movers’ personal experiences. Relating is communicating. We never are empty-handed, experientially, it seems. That is how we felt. The starting points were already there, once we invited imagination and playfulness into moving with whatever came our way, in slow tempos of attention...

Respect secured the safety.

Next, the weather conditions become movers themselves, and with the ever-changing smells of the site, the touch too became more and more comfortable, once we agreed we were there not to trespass but to offer our presence and learn from the experience of exchange.

The feet understood the attitudes of the mind. They learnt the gentle trod, and the flexibility in reacting to the unevenness of the ground. The skin on the hands quickly grew in openness to versatile kinds of touch and learnt about the meaning of textures.

Overtime, the careful moving and being with the site changed from being our shield and precaution at first to being an open gate to the sensuous of care. And after a few visits to the forest, we discovered that what initially seemed to be one particular site has been changing in our experience every single day. With more time, we began to notice different ‘faces’ of the forest, we began to see and differentiate a range of new meanings. We also picked up on being able to smell a variety of scents, and sense into different moods of the place, depending on the time of the day or the kinds of light and air conditions we meet.

Recognising how our own stories unfolded in movement has been truly enriching. The feeling of overwhelming sadness began to pick up many colours and the possibility of addressing any nudging emotion that each of the movers needed to face on a day felt endlessly accommodating.

The forest could dance with us, play with us, cry with us, or empower us. Sometimes it was very responsive and sometimes resistance and silence were there instead. The very word ‘forest’ began to sound too simplistic as well.

Exploring and Experiencing the Forest

Each day, we would spend time with the site on our individual explorations first, and after that, we would share about the experiences. The movers’ individual time varied substantially. I could often observe one mover experiencing a deeply emotional hug with a tree whilst another one was hopping about in cheer. Well into the midst of the process, I could also notice that they were individually creating recognizable paths of experience for themselves and every time they entered the forest, they were building on continuations from their last session too.

Sofia was interested in discovering the place through the lens of physical interaction, and played with balancing a lot. Her discoveries were inspired by aspects of light and playfulness of the site, and her movement expression built on fairy-like qualities.

Figure 12.2 Forest Within (Collage 2) – Countesswells Woods, Aberdeen, Scotland

Shayne, on the other hand, dived deep into the psychological navigating with getting lost, scavenging, sequencing, and finding her own sense of rooting and supporting herself.

Figure 12.3 Forest Within (Collage 3) – Countesswells Woods, Aberdeen, Scotland

And Laura happened to find a lot of movement inspirations in sounds and exchanging them with the forest. Her creature-like lightness of heart brought a lot of co-creation with the ground through burrowing and touch. Visible in many heart-warming expressions, her own presence on site and ways of belonging to the forest became a subject of her reflections.

Figure 12.4 Forest Within (Collage 4) – Countesswells Woods, Aberdeen, Scotland

For all three movers, working with leveraging the feeling of sadness was a strong compass, alongside working with attentive listening, breathing and sounding. Indeed, the responsive acoustics of the forested spaces have been very present. The feedbacking echoing was there, and so were the imaginary associations about the stumps being both the theatre seats and/or the soundful drums. The living company.

The slippery, the dark, the dangerous, the playful, the strange, the joyful, the daunting and the sorcerous… the site offered us the experiences beyond our expectations. Tapping into a more animalistic side of ourselves was definitely part of being open, in movement, to all that experience. The agency of the forest and its own history blended into the many shades of our personal paths. Consequently, self-reflection became something much richer than a self-talk. We became a shared story too, in which the forest was not just the background to the unfolding events seen in movement but the very movement itself.

Hugs, nesting, shuffling with feet, rolling on the moss, swinging on the branches, spatial illusions, and the wild magic of childish trust… the forest offered never-ending possibilities of growing within us, as a playfully living presence, while deepening our comprehension about its inconclusive contexts and about life entanglements we share. We all are exposed to life’s weathering, we felt. Both roughness and cruelty depend on the presence of beauty and kindness.

Co-creating with the Forest

These are one of the lessons we have learnt from the time co-created with the forest. We now understood a lot more, by experiencing it. Did the forest learn anything new about or from us too?

Relationship to place, Andrea Olsen writes, ‘is a process of assimilation, without which there can be no understanding. It is through our interaction with specific landscapes and environments that our movement patterns, perceptual habits and attitudes have been formed. As we reflect on the places that have shaped our lives, we recognize that body affects place and place affect body in a constant process of exchange.’[ii]

Participation, Olsen continues, ‘is the connecting link to our awareness’.

Our life-long learning then, to sum up this experiential story here, might often go beyond words or concepts. And so, going back to breathing, together with the forests, and allowing any gentle moving or walking in appreciation and sensuous response might just be the most meaningful sign of mindful comprehension about the fact that forests live within us as much as we live in and amongst the forests.

Breathe in and breathe out again. Let us keep sharing through life’s simplest offerings.

Comprehending through feeling into the qualities of breath asks only for offering it a little time, as our daily practice of celebrating togetherness.

An Invitation...

We invite you to watch our film, Forest Within, freely available using this link.

How does your knowledge and understanding of the process of the film’s creation affect and impact your viewing experience? How does it make you feel about your local forest? How can you engage in a process of creative co-creation with your natural environment?

As always, please feel free to share this post with others and connect with us via our Facebook page or through the comments.


[i] The phrase to ‘feel think’ relates to the methodology of ecosomatic movement education called Felt Thinking in Movement as developed and taught by Dr Anna Dako and further described in her upcoming book on Dances With Sheep – On RePairing Human-Nature Condition in Felt Thinking and Moving towards Wellbeing (forthcoming in 2022, Intellect Books) [ii] Andrea Olsen, Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide (Middlebury College Press: University Press of New England 2002), 3.

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