(image description: in the foreground, a woman in outdoor clothes reclines on a flat rock in long grass that is blowing in the wind. Her hands are outstretched towards the blue sky. In the background there is a small hill covered in rocks, grass and heather with another woman sitting at the top overlooking the reclining woman)
…tidings of comfort and joy
In the seasonal carol – ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ (it’s a favourite of mine), I really love the phrase “tidings of comfort and joy”. It’s an old phrasing I suppose, but I think it’s quite beautiful to wish someone comfort and joy.
In a modern first world, I think we tend to have a narrow view of what constitutes our own comfort and joy – central heating, insulated clothes, ‘clean’ living areas, comfortable travel, technology, entertainment.
After our first national lockdown in the UK, the appetite to be out in nature and in the company of others made for an energetic season of Kinship Workshops. Appetite is a good word – there was lots of it. Wanting to connect, to be, to spend time, to listen, to tune in, to discover. I think perhaps more than ever, the participants that joined workshops this year tuned into other kinds of comfort and joy – for rolling in freshly cut grass, nesting in mossy heath, perching in oak trees, smelling soil and roots, bathing in sun pockets, rejoicing in squirrel bouncing, and speaking together and with each other.
Birds, insects, mammals seek out or create their own comfort. And somehow I know there is joy there too – in the flit of wings, in arriving home, in the nestling into the warmth of family, in the chase of siblings, in the flight between branches. Time spent learning about the boundaries and edges of my own comfort and joy reveals that. Time spent in observation and experience of others (- particularly non-human others) reveals that more.
Whether this kind of thinking is scientifically accurate or not – I don’t know. But if I don’t enter into that kind of enquiry, I might hold back and assume the impossibility of knowing anything about nature, other animals. Or I might keep the fact of our interconnectedness with the land and other sentient beings at arms length, which can lead into extractive behaviour and objectifying.
I live down the lane from a dairy farm. At this time of year there is a lot of mud – and not much choice – milking is a necessity for female dairy cows that have had their young taken… and ironically, it is the milking that prolongs the necessity: traipse through the mud everyday to be milked in a metal hangar with a concrete floor. The cows look miserable. To be honest, it feels grim.
Earlier this year I went with Katye to walk the paths around Knepp Estate (www.knepp.co.uk) in Sussex. It is a farm that has been going through a rewilding process for the past 18 years. There are long horn cattle that live there. There is mud there too – well at least when we went in February. But young animals are not taken away from their mothers or from the herd. There are no daily appointments. So mood and desire can guide where the herd heads. There are no fences or gates on much of this rewilded estate. Wilder decisions are made – with a lot less control. Freedom to go seek better places, to seek comfort and joy in whatever form that might take that particular day, or night, or season. I recommend a visit. The land feels so different to more traditional/ modern agricultural land.
(I am also reminded here of a inter-species authored document outlining basic living rights that I often recommend: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Bradshaw_Ape.pdf)
Katye and I have started a research period to develop the content held within the workshops into something we are calling Kinship Trainings: a programme for organisations to take teams outside and be in touch with non-human processes and life-cycles in their local area. We have been supported in the initial stages by the Dance4 team in Nottingham. I am convinced that a reconnection to the comfort and joy of ourselves and other species will have a powerful effect on how organisations are run. Perhaps not instantaneously, but over time.
What do you know about your own comfort and joy? Perhaps you may have a better idea this year or this season with all the restrictions and changes afoot. This is important work in the reconnection we need in the world and that is the work we take on into 2021. I really hope to see you in a workshop or training, to meet you outside, wherever that may be.
I give thanks to Katye Coe in all she has done in this year’s programme and the new Trainings venture.
I thank the hosts and sites we have visited:
- Rob Hopper and Charlie Morrissey at Wainsgate Dances in Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley, Yorkshire
- Epping Forest, London
- Atabey Mamasita, Natifah Whiteand and the MA DAP students of LSCD on Hampstead Heath, London
- Katye Coe (again) in Kenilworth, Warwickshire
- Jim Hendley and members of the Dance4 team in Nottingham
And the participants – some beautiful meetings and time spent together.
With very best wishes from the Kinship team, here are some memorable moments from this year’s workshops.
Happy New Year