Nooks of Ease and Sanctuaries

Most of us find coincidences cool or meaningful, sometimes silly, but we do get a bit of a buzzy feeling when strange ones occur. This is because our brains love patterns and making connections. We sometimes react to coincidences by ascribing meaning to them because they feel so powerful. These patterns can also make apparent the interconnectedness of our world.

The day after I finished writing my last post, which was mostly about football, an unlikely subject for me, I went to Edinburgh to see two theatre productions. Coincidently, during one of the performances, the subject of football came up which seemed to be equally unlikely given that the performance was a words and music piece called Wind Resistance by Scottish folk singer Karine Polwart. 

After thinking, ok, well I must have written a cliché, and feeling bad about it, I decided to instead write this post to explore why Karine Polwart also chose to speak about football in her moving and unusual show.

When I purchased the tickets, I knew the theatre piece was “about” or, better, inspired by, the migration of pink-footed geese and would have a focus on nature and the land, but shortly after the show began I realised it was so much more than that. 

Karine Polwart creates layers of storytelling, song and music, images, sounds, personal memoir, ecology and subtle politics, all performed with beauty and humour. She opens the show by “drawing” a map of the area that inspired her, Fala Moor where she lives. I say drawing, but she draws it for us in our minds by her movements on the stage and her descriptive words. She crouchs down low, moves like a river, flies like a bird, points upward and shows us Fala Moor. And we are there with her. It’s beautiful.

It is the natural world and the history of the moor and stories born of the moor that Polwart uses to create this poetic musical essay. There is a motif of birth and care, stories of life and death all of which illustrate the need for community and love and protection for the Earth. Polwart delivers everything with perfect balance, and so expresses both the beauty and pain in these stories without leaving the audience fighting for air.

We learn about Soutra, a medieval hospital that once existed in the area and how the monks used herbal remedies to care for the sick and infirm and the poor, the story of the birth of Karine Polwart’s son and the death of a friend through childbirth. Woven throughout, we hear the true love (and death) story of her old neighbour Molly’s parents in both spoken word and song. 

And, of course, Polwart speaks and sings about the migration of the geese from Iceland and Greenland to Fala Flow. She makes sure to mention that this moor is an SPA or Special Protect Area under EU legislation. She takes this fact no further, but we understand the implication. In her unique way, we hear about how the geese use wind resistance and “nooks of ease” and “aerodynamic sanctuaries” to aid each other over the length of their long journey, how every goose takes a turn. “Stepping up, Falling Back, Labouring and Resting”.

This is where the football comes in. Alex Ferguson, coach of a winning Aberdeen team in 1983, used the v-formation that creates the wind resistance as an inspiration for his players to work as a team: to look out for each other and work together, but also to care for yourself and others in rest. “Remember the geese”, he used to tell his winning Scottish team. And those are the words Polwart chooses to end her utterly mesmerising show.

Like any good artist, Karine Polwart makes us look at and see ourselves in all of these stories and, in this case, in nature as well. One may say that it is just me living in an echo chamber, surrounding myself with people and experiences that support my own thinking and beliefs or confirmation bias, but I think there is only one echo chamber and in it, if we quiet down enough, we can all hear the same sounds. Sounds that speak of beauty, love, pain, death. This is no coincidence, they are our shared experiences.

Karine Polwart’s repeated words that describe the actions of the altruistic geese on their hazardous migration are actions we can also take to help support each other. We can and should take responsibility at some point, create moments of ease and structure sanctuaries when others are tired from labouring, struggling to make it and they will be there for us too when we need it.

Stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting. Stepping up, falling back, labouring, and resting. Stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting.
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If you can’t get to see Wind Resistance, there is an album available and videos on YouTube that discuss the project with views of Fala Moor.  
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I’d like to briefly mention here the other equally, if not even more, amazing piece of theatre I experienced in Edinburgh, Tabla Rasa, written and directed by Vanishing Point’s, Matthew Lenton. It was striking how similar these shows were in terms of themes and the combination of music and storytelling. The production uses the haunting music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, interpreted by the Scottish Ensemble, together with the story of a friendship and loss, delivered with depth of emotion and humour by Pauline Goldsmith. Marcus Sedgwick's book, Snow, was an inspiration to the director and he included passages of the book which perfectly dropped into the magic. The show explores the importance of the oft-overlooked role of care-taking, the power of art in healing and comforting and what it means to be human. The combination is devastating. Its run is over for the moment, but hopefully it will be brought back in another venue soon.
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I Don’t Want To Talk About Yoga

As I write this I think, what is this? What am I trying to do here?

This feeling about not wanting to talk about yoga has been living inside of me for some time, but I’ve never really tried to logically understand it. This in itself is strange as I usually try to understand my thoughts and put them in perspective. The fact that I have not been doing this tells me something.

I guess that is what I am trying to do here in this blog; trying to explore this feeling I have about not wanting to talk about yoga. And after all, I think there is no better tool than writing to first find out what you don’t know and then help you learn something.

Perhaps I want to find another way of communicating about yoga, one that doesn’t use the ancient yogic teachings or the modern lingo. Perhaps I would like to help myself be able to help my students see yoga differently and maybe reach some other people who don’t want to talk about yoga.

I may never mention the word yoga here again in fact. I feel I may come close, circling around, spiralling in, spiralling out again and maybe, along the way, finding out how I can communicate about yoga in a way that feels right for me and for my some of my students.

In exploring this here, I may end up writing about books, films, people, art, ideas and maybe even football.

Which brings me to Juan Mata.

I had never watched a football match (soccer to Americans) until I moved in with my now husband, Marcus, who is an Englishman and a lifelong Manchester United fan. I quickly understood the reason it is called The Beautiful Game. I can think of a few reasons why it shouldn’t be called that, but that is a subject for another day perhaps.

Football looks like a living organism when you watch it as a spectator. I’ve never played, but have a real desire to kick a ball around a pitch, to feel a part of that organic movement, a single player knowing exactly where I should be and where everyone else is or know where they will be, moving together towards a common goal, literally.

There are also, of course, the impressive skills of individual players, but it is watching the whole of the team that earns it the title The Beautiful Game. Patterns of play and forms of tactics may be obvious to some fans, to others those structured plays may go unnoticed, but everyone watching will certainly feel the movement of the game.

The fluid transitions of these patterns of play and forms of tactics, allow for the skilled movement of individual players: coming apart, out of formation to do their bit, to fix a mistake, to assist another player, to take advantage of an opportunity for the team and then coming back together in formation. The shifting of the organism, the fluidity, the merging of the individual into the flow of the group, create the game’s beauty.

I think what Juan Mata, part of the current Manchester United team, says here, explains this beauty from a player’s perspective.
 When the game gets crazy, it creates more space. So for me the most important thing is to do what the game asks from you in the moment. You naturally know what is right which is why, even though you have to think about defensive duties and structure, once you’re on the pitch you have to be free in your mind.

Playing in the space between thought and feeling is how I guess I would describe this. It is interesting to me that there is that literal space on the pitch which Juan Mata speaks of, but there is also that other space; the space that, while you use and hold on to what you know or think you know, like Mata’s defensive duties and structure here, allows you to be able to do what is necessary or right in the moment. It is the place that allows you the flexibility to change, react to the unexpected, correct mistakes and cooperate with other people who are on the pitch with you working towards that common goal. And maybe you learn something while being in that space, that place somewhere between thought and feeling.

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I’d like to say a bit more about Juan Mata here. Besides being an amazing creative footballer, he appears to be taking his being part of the living organism that is the MU team beyond that and applying it to the world.


He recently launched a project called Common Goal. The project is attempting to unite the world of footballers to a shared commitment to give back. Players pledge a minimum of 1% of their wages to a collective fund. They allocate those funds to other football charities that make the greatest impact. I can’t help but appreciate Juan Mata’s initiative to contribute to the whole on and off the pitch.
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