The last few weeks I wrote quite a lot about my experiences at the Ecstatic Dance festival I visited in Ukraine – and there´s a last one I really want to share. A very special workshop which let us get in touch with the woods and with ourselves and led us to see the woods in a whole new light.
A walk into the woods
The workshop was telling the story of Dionysus – the Greek God of Wine. As the workshop was held in Russian, I am not sure if I got everything from the story of Dionysus correctly, so I´ll mainly focus on my own experience and how I felt during the workshop. We started with a walk into the woods during which I really wanted to experience and feel the ground I was walking on, so I chose to walk barefoot. On our way I felt the leaves cracking under my feet, I felt sticks and stones but also solid, cold soil under my feet. Then we had to walk through mud which was also a very different experience. When I sunk into the mud I felt it in-between my toes and heard the ground smacking under my feet with every step I took. After crossing the mud I soon felt soft soil under my feet again. Already the walk to our destination was an experience. Then we reached a glade and stopped. This was the spot. Soft light green moss covered the entire ground. The glade was going a bit downhill, with trees lining up to the left and to the right.
Widening your perspective
The first thing we were told to do was to choose a spot in the woods, cover our eyes with our hands and then slowly open up our hands to our sides again. In doing so we slowly widened our perspective of our surroundings again. I found this exercise so beautiful, because at first I could really focus on a tiny bit of my surroundings and examine it carefully. Then I could slowly see the bigger picture, the woods, the majestic trees, the grass. I was probably starring at a piece of moss for minutes as I had never looked at it that closely before. It´s amazing what you can actually see if you really take a close and intense look. Then we were told to absorb the smells around us, to really feel the woods. We all started crawling around on all fours, our nose stuck into the ground to see what the woods might smell like. I had never in my life smelled the woods before that intensely. So, it was about time. Surprisingly the ground smelled very different if we only moved one meter further to the left or right. The moss smelled softly and fresh, the ground covered in stones and soil smelled more metallic and woodier, but if was still a pleasant, very known smell.
Circles and stories
Then we sat down together in a circle and had to list the three words which made us into the person we are today. Mine were yoga, meditation and travelling. Interestingly travelling was the activity that shared most of us so it had shaped most of the group in one way or another. Then our teacher told us the story of Dionysus which we all listened to closely. The sitting around in the circle in this intimate atmosphere gave me the feeling of already knowing everyone – even though I didn’t. But afterwards, we would all know each other a little better.
Whole body experience
Then it was time for a bit more action. We had to choose a partner and then roll down the little hill we were sitting on with the help of them. At first our partner rolled us downwards, paying close attention to us staying on the soft moss and not rolling onto the hard ground or hitting the few stones that were laying around. Then we did the same and helped our partner to roll downhill. Afterwards we could all roll down on our own while paying attention to where we rolled. In doing this, we could experience the woods with our whole body. I felt everything from the mellow moss to the spiky pines and the hard pebbles on the ground. It was a whole new way to experience my surrounding, not only looking at them but really feeling them and letting your whole body share this experience with you.
Then we turned the whole experience into a kind-of play fight. We all were told to turn into animals and behave like them. Everyone was down on their fours, going around, sniffing grass and the ground and also interacting with each other. We started barking and screaming at each other, hugging each other, play-biting and jumping over each other. In this moment I really wanted to fight, to wrestle, to challenge someone. Playfully of course, I truly felt like I needed to get some stored energy out of myself. So, I started rolling all over the ground with people. I had so much fun, I could be loud and scream and no one cared because at this point we were all a little nuts. I even got to know someone while wrestling – we had never talked before but this was a very fun first interaction. This truly helped me to go out of myself and to just let everything out which was inside me. As I tend to be rather quiet than loud, at least when I don´t know people that well, this experience felt extremely liberating.
In the end, we had to die. Not literally, but like the god Dionysus who did so in tearing his heart out of his chest. Our teacher showed us imposingly how to do it and we all tried to do the same. We could scream, we could shout – everything was allowed. We just had to let everything out. After all, we were dying a bit. A lot of us fell to the ground drastically and we all were a little exhausted from everything we just had experienced.
Feeling the woods
At the very end we had to go deeper into the woods, but this time alone. Everyone started wandering off in a different direction and I also chose my own spot. Everything had passed so quickly, but now I was alone again; this was my time alone with the forest. It was good to be alone again, to have some moment to gather myself. To appreciate my surroundings again. Seeing everything I just experienced in a different light. I suddenly felt like I wanted to give something back to the trees that surrounded and protected us. So, I started singing mantras to the woods, first only whispering than louder and louder. I stretched myself out to the sky and just couldn’t believe were I was right now. Incredibly thankful. Incredibly happy for having made this beautiful experience I would still carry with me months later.