Yesterday morning, the first vans arrived onsite at the Rainbow Futures site in the Forest of Dean. It’s like breaking ground on the summer. As of this weekend, my life will run to a different rhythm for half of each week at least; one that will flow all the way to September. I’m nervous, not knowing how the metronome rhythm of academic life and the march to Probationary Review will flow around the slippage of camp time, which runs to the sun and weather and the tribe-building dance of interpersonal communication expressed mainly through hugs, cups of tea and wandering feet.
“Where’s the disabled camping area going?”
“Not sure. Where’s Mo putting his tents?”
“Don’t know. Where is he?”
“Up near the gate, plumbing.”
“Let’s go ask him. We can ask how the gate figures are doing whilst we’re there.”
[10 minutes walking. 5 minutes hugging and catch up. 5 minutes discussion and decision making. Repeat with a different query and a rotating cast of people until the sun goes down.]
Yet for now at least, I’m following developments from afar. Phil’s onsite today, and it feels like mundane time has slipped for him already. He’ll be home…sometime before yoga class tonight. He might want food. Or not. I’m going onsite myself for the weekend, so today another extract from the research – edited fragments from a trip to Colourfest a few weeks ago…
“Colourfest is a beautiful festival offering a rich and diverse programme. Our background is yoga but this festival opens itself to other ways to experience beauty and depth in life, whether it’s through yoga, music, art, dance, storytelling, poetry or theatre.” Rowan Cobelli and Robbie Newman – Organisers (‘Colourfest’ 2015)
This was a lightning visit to Colourfest, and my first time. I dropped in on a day ticket with a friend, to scope out the festival for research purposes, and also, to be honest, because so many non-traditional yoga friends had told me I would love it.
They weren’t mistaken.
Colourfest is an interesting size for its type: a little smaller than most festivals; a little larger than most camps. Camps often have a very communal feel with very home-grown talents and facilities; and festivals can have great facilities and draw big names, but have the feel primarily of commercial events. Colourfest sits between the two in all senses. There were stalls, and beautiful spaces, and some spectacular events planned; but the atmosphere was still friendly, and the main focus was still the many little workshops on dozens of lesser known styles of dance and yoga. The site is, it should be said, spectacular, held in the beautiful grounds and even some of the rooms of a stately home: St Giles House, in Dorset. Instead of picking our way across fields, watching for thistles, there was a luxury and a faint sense of borrowed privilege in the feel of close-cropped lawns underfoot. Shoes were hardly necessary, and yet they piled up outside marquees and domes and other spaces: anywhere yogis gather for outdoor events, outside each tent will be a confused jumble of shoes and boots, with people patiently picking through them. It occurs to me now how interesting it would be to watch for patterns of brand and style.
I had brought with me an old friend: someone I trained alongside back when yoga was easy, and glamorous, and as much fun as it could ever be. Let us call them our Anusara years. The first thing we did onsite at Colourfest was treat ourselves at the raw chocolate stall, and then slip in to the ‘Sacred Sound’ space to doze through the last half of a guided meditation accompanied on the harp. We were in fact early for the next slated workshop, and I was eager to watch how my uninitiated friend would respond to the Shakti Dance session coming next.
At the end of the session, I experience one of those perfect, almost transcendent moments that occasionally grace yoga practice: lying peacefully with the echoes of good movement in my bones; under a blue sky, and whispering beech leaves; with soft and warm grass underneath me; listening to a well-led guided meditation and a dulcimer playing. I feel as if the little part of the world I can see is blessed and I with it, while at the same time remaining acutely aware of how transitory the experience is; and how little active challenge is offered to that state by my environment. I wonder where the line can be drawn between communion and privilege. Are we more in a state of surrender to the experience of the natural, communal world, when its agency aligns with or when it overwhelms us? I do know that the unpredictability of such moments is part of the informal mythology of modern yoga.
After this, my friend and I take a break for a lot of shopping, and a visit to the onsite pizza oven, and then about a hundred of us fill the ‘Sacred Sound’ space for the official Opening Ceremony. It is interesting that this is held in a smaller space dedicated to the ‘sacred’, rather than in the main tent. Indeed, whilst there is very little officially timetabled to clash with the ceremony, sounds of amplified music can be heard in the background. It feels as if we are at the heart of the festival, but not as if everything has stopped for this to happen.
The ceremony itself is simple, inclusive, personal and beautiful. One of the event’s two founders introduces himself. He describes a strong personal allegiance to lineage: to the Integral Yoga system; and his devotion to their common guru. And yet, he talks of each of us exploring “your own way of reaching the silence…the peace…the heart” in “a shared love of exploration of depth”. And so, after a few prayers, when he begins to sing the version of ‘Hari Om’ so beloved of the Integral Yoga movement, it is less as if we are encouraged to join him in his practice of honouring his guru; and more that we are invited to take part in whatever way enables us to share his state of being.
We are asked to ‘breathe in’ blessings of earth and heaven; to open our hearts to each other, our guides, and our teachers. And in the moment, it becomes just possible for a group with such diversity of faith to share a moment of surrender. As we have “created a river of Grace”, so we co-create a ‘river of light’, as one by one we light a candle for ourselves, loved ones, or those in need, until heat begins to rise from a wide border of lights on the front of the low stage. As this goes on, Sivani Mata, who is an accomplished and locally renowned ‘bhakti’ singer, and another of the Shakti Dance teachers, both leads those who will sing, and accompanies those who just sit. She sings and plays her own version of the simple ‘Jagatambe Ma’ mantra to the Earth as mother; combining it with a poem by the 14th Century Kashmir mystic, Lalla Ded:
“Dance, Lalla, dance, with nothing on but air.
Sing, Lalla, sing, wearing the sky.
Look at this glowing day,
Oh, look at this glowing day!
What clothes could be more beautiful,
What clothes could be more sacred?”
After which, there was only silence, the sounds of beats playing in the distance, and pigeons softly calling.