It’s now just after Easter 2014, so I have managed to return to my Living Spirit journal in under a year. This is progress on last year, though not as much as I’d hoped! I am sure I am not alone in constantly re-visiting my good intentions… to journal regularly, eat less sugar and more greens, do yoga every day…
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the actuality of my messy life continues and thrives in some mysterious way on lashings of chocolate Easter eggs and a lack of kale and yoga! Good stuff continues to unfold through Living Spirit… so much to appreciate and enjoy and so little time to write about it, but I’ll do my best:
A New Home
Top of the highlights since last summer must be finally buying my own home. At first glance my new one bedroomed mid terrace in Dartington was not inspiring. Even the Estate Agent agreed that it looked like a public toilet, which is not a good sign! But after six months of living in a very small space with a lot of large men (aka builders) my very own public toilet had been transformed into a veritable tardis with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a lot of oak. There is still an element of shock, loss and grief in this long journey from creating and living in a retreat centre in acres of woodland by the sea in the Highlands… to living in a transformed toilet. But after seven years on the move, I am just very glad and grateful to have a little piece of earth to kind of call my own and it’s very satisfying to see my own designs take form, even on a small scale. Below are a few ‘before and after’ pictures…
The house was finished in time to welcome its first Living Spirit day group, with fifteen souls bravely sitting very close together in my newly extended but still small living room, for a day exploring the poetry of T.S Eliot with Peter Brennan, our wonderful visiting tutor from the London Kabbalah group. Meanwhile both the Devon Tree of Life School, our own Kabbalah group, and the Wood Sisters Circle continue to meet weekly and bless my new home with deep sharing, meditation and creativity. Wood Sisters day gatherings have now moved to Sue’s lovely eco home, Green Dragon Barn, near Blackawton.
This year my home making efforts have extended into the garden and I am now the proud steward of a miniature edible landscape… and probably the smallest wild meadow and wildlife pond in existence, which are never-the less well used by many wonderful and small wild creatures. The garden also contains my sanctuary and studio space. So I finally have a dedicated space for meeting counselling and mentoring clients and for working (or not working enough) on my icon painting.
The Wood Sisters Winter Festival 2014
As Wood Sisters we celebrated Imbolc and Candlemas this year with our Winter Festival at the South Devon Steiner School in February 2014. This was the fifth Winter Festival and our most successful large event to date. Almost 500 people braved a wet and windy start for a wonder filled day of myth & story, music & poetry, meditation & ceremony, crafts and much more. This year we had dance workshops for the first time, including Five Rhythms, Tango Argentino, an exploration of the journey into menopause through movement and Maggie Squires remarkable ‘Hands of the Mud Woman’ dance. We also had a healing space for the first time, in addition to the sanctuary, and even our very own wild women mumming troupe!
Perhaps an especial highlight for me in the Wood Sisters Winter Festival this year was a greater emphasis on community and on spirituality. The former was expressed in setting up the venue as a series of circles, each gathered around a central flame and held by its own small team of hard working volunteers. Sue and I worked to build the sense of being part of a community through sharing a meal, music and storytelling with all the team and volunteers on Friday night before the hard work on Saturday.
Although all aspects of the festival are inspired by and embued with spirit, it was special to have a fuller programme this year in the sanctuary including music and trance telling, guided meditation and simple ceremony. We also had a lovely opening ceremony in the Greenwoood Hall with the dance of the seasons enacted by giants puppets of Bride and the Cailleach made by Joanna Hruby and, later, a wonderful spirited close thanks to the music, poetry and deep spirituality of Carolyn Hillyer. I was also especially grateful to have the Christian tradition beautifully represented by fellow priests, Debbie Parsons (who works as an Anglican vicar in the Totnes Team) and Ian Adams, who together with his wife, Gail, explored the spirituality of the festival… ‘In the Belly as yet Unseen’.
For the full story of the festival, details of all the talented artists and lots of lovely photos and our first ever short film (thanks to Victoria Whelan) please see our Winter Festival website. Our thanks go out to all the artists and volunteers that made the festival possible. It was a lot of work and, as an unfunded festival, we were delighted to cover all the costs and, thanks to some very generous donations, to also raise funds for the Wood Sisters Red Tent.
Red Tent At Quest, Midsummer and Embercombe
Said funds include enough for a fully waterproof cover for the tent, which means we can now take it off for longer residencies. So this summer we’ll be back at Quest as the Sanctuary Space, with a full three day programme featuring all aspects of the work of Living Spirit. On Friday 25th July the Tree of Life School will offer a day of workshops, meditation and quiet space, concluding with an exciting interactive storytelling performance with Jewish ‘drutsyla’ Shonaleigh. On Saturday 26th, the Wood Sisters will offer a full day of events inspired by celtic spirituality and the wild, and on Sunday 27th, Open Spirit will be ‘Welcoming the Sabbath Bride’. More details and bookings through the Quest website.
But before then we have a special Wood Sisters Midsummer Celebration in the Red Tent, starting with a Tent Raising & BBQ on Friday June 20th. This will be followed with our usual Wood Sisters Summer Solstice Gathering on the Saturday 21st, which we hope will be followed by a storytelling performance in the evening to raise further funds for the Red Tent. On Sunday 22nd we are putting the treat back in Retreat with a morning of Red Tent stories and meditation and an afternoon of treats including hot-tubbing, massage and more! More details will be in the Wood Sisters newsletter and on our website soon.
The Wood Sisters Red Tent looks set to take its final outing this year for a week long residency at Embercombe. This will be our first longer Wood Sisters course, offering a full weekend of Red Tent Experience, followed by a week introducing some of the skills we’ve developed, in the hope that this might encourage and enable other women to set up their own Red Tent or similar sacred spaces for women. More details on the Embercombe website.
Tree of Life and Open Spirit
Meanwhile, follwing on from our T.S Eliot day, the Tree of Life School has enjoyed some treats of its own. As well as our weekly Kabbalah and Torah study groups, we’ve also had some great sacred art days at Joyce’s beautiful home on Dartmoor, with the next one on June 14th. My personal highlight however was our recent weekend with psychosynthesis tutor, Jarlath Benson, from Belfast. Jarlath took us on an extraordinary journey through Dante’s Divine Comedy… from Hell, through Purgatory and finally into Paradise. That was quite a weekend!
Open Spirit recently experienced its own resurrection during the Easter period. Since my colleague, Debbie Thorpe left to set up her retreat house, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from the more overtly Christian side of my ministry in Open Spirit. But thanks to the enthusiasm of soul friend, Helen Sands, we recently celebrated our first collaborative communion for a while. Helen and I created a collaborative ceremony for Holy Week, which included some of Helen’s inspirational poetry celebrating Mary Magdalen and a ritual of foot washing and anointing. We were very blessed with the weather and with a very diverse and delightful group of companions for a joyful afternoon. Open Spirit will be back at Quest on Sunday 27th July with a workshop with a workshop on the Divine Feminine from yours truly and one on the Female Mystic from Ian and Gail Adams of Beloved Life, plus a Great Mother meditation, sanctuary space and a collaborative communion. I hope to start a new course of workshops from this Autumn for a more in depth exploration of the Divine Feminine.
Personal and Professional Conclusions
Last but not least, this journal must include a taste of my journey through my MA, which is now moving towards its conclusion. I guess it’s been not unlike a personal version of Dante’s Divine Comedy… with possibly an emphasis on Hell! I’ve found it really tough to take another look at some traumatic periods in my own life, including living through this current one of an eight year divorce. But ultimately it has proved both healing and liberating. There’s been a lot of loss, anger, grief, struggle and more… but I keep learning how to be more present, more mindful and a little kinder to all the changing seasons of inner and outer life. Today I received the Decree Absolut certificate and next Sunday I’ll be at the Karuna Institute for my final MA module. I hope to have finished my dissertation by the end of the year and be settling back into having a little more time for the Living Spirit work I already do and I’m sure I’ll also be looking forward to the next adventure!