Autumn Equinox with the Ancestors

The Autumn Equinox, or Mabon, is a time of balance, when the days and nights are equally long. A time in which the harvest has been gathered and we can start to prepare for a time of gestation and growing in the dark womb of winter, before the light is reborn again next year. 

This year has been one of enormous personal and collective challenges, for most. It seemed like everything was magnified through the big sudden arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, which asked us to reflect on our behaviour, values, and what truly matters to us.

Where last year for me was one of dancing on the edge of death, this year has seen the birth of my new enterprise Clover Trail on the Summer Solstice. I’m continuing to learn so much from them, Benevolent Death and Passionate Birth. It reminds me of my Ceremonial time during the September Equinox last year, when I spend the night in an ancestral burial mound in France. The memory of this is still vibrant in my blood and bones, and in this blog I’d like to take time to revisit that experience.

Île Carn is a neolithic passage grave on a small tidal island in Finisterre, Brittany. The energy of the Other World is tangible there, unlike some much more frequented places where it sometimes appears as if the spirits retreat and the potency of the place thins.

Île Carn, Brittany, France. Image Credits Eline Kieft

Like any ceremony, my time on the island consisted of three parts: arrival, liminal space, return. I arrived there just after low tide. After a while, the lone fisherman and three more people and their dog left. Slowly but surely it was as if, on the rising tide, the place drifted away from shore, disappearing into the Other World. I could still see houses and people on the main land, and hear some passing cars, yet it seemed like I was far away. Perhaps not quite as far as Tir nan Og, the celtic ‘land behind the ninth wave’, but far enough from the human world and all its requirements, that I could be with and immerse myself in the land, the ocean and the presence of spirits and the ancestors.

It is always magical to create time to actually watch the tides come in and go out fully. To question, at first, if you are imagining it – did that rock really disappear just now? And to see how the changes are the fastest in the 3rd and 4th hour when the water comes in (or goes out) with triple the speed as it does close to high or low tide.

I opened the liminal space within the mound, lighting some candles, preparing the sacred dome, calling for guidance and support. Then I did five rounds of prayers. First I prayed towards the mystery, and its manifestation in myriads of gods and goddesses – I imagine it must be tricky, being a god or goddess when people no longer ‘believe’ in you or honour your practice…

Ritual Space Inside the Mount, Image Credits Eline Kieft

Then I reached out to the ancestors. In my experience there are many different types of ancestors including: concrete ancestors from our family line or community of people who have passed away, and similarly the concrete ancestors of people who geographically lived in a specific place (in this case Finisterre). I also think our ancestors include those from cultures we are connected to through our DNA (even if we might not have a concrete connection to them in this life). Really, this connects all of us back to the very first life on earth, so the ancestors can offer us an awareness of truly global community. Perhaps less tangibly, I finally connect to a lineage of spiritual ancestors – what types of ‘soul family’ do we feel related to, inspired by?

Thirdly, I connected to communities of human and other-than-human people in these socially, politically and environmentally challenging times. That they find grace and strength to face any current or future hardship, and that they may always remember they belong. No-one exists in isolation and together we truly are stronger.

Fourthly, I prayed for others. Ten people had shared asked me beforehand to take specific prayers to the ceremony on their behalf. As I sat there, drumming in the dark, it was such a privilege to speak their words of hope, love and longing for strength, healing, and guidance. Thank you for trusting me with them. I imagined they were carried up on the burning incense and reached the place where they were heard. I asked that you may feel the reverberation and manifestation of your prayers in the very essence of your being.

Finally, I prayed for self. To find the strength, despite any fears, worries, physical pain, and the certainty of dying, to receive this great gift of life as an incredible opportunity. To live this particular window of human life experience in the – potentially eternal – growth process of our souls as divinely engineered ‘perfection’ – because I believe that for the soul’s education nothing is ever imperfect. In the simple Spanish one-word prayer by Clarisse Pinkola Estés ‘Enséñame’ or ‘Please show me. Please teach me…’ *)

I went outside again, and danced and sang into the night. The many apparently ‘magical coincidences’ strengthened my belief that when we care to show up, the universe does too. When we care enough to craft time away from the everyday, to return to the wild, to reconnect with spirit, to fast, to rest during the night on an uneven slab of stone, then too the universe meets us. It meets us with beauty, incredible sights for the physical eyes, with poetry for the heart, and with precision in terms of the symbolic ‘answers’ we receive to our questions, our pleas, our prayers.

It was time to return. The tides would only allow me to leave at a specific moment when it was still dark. I made my way over the still-wet slippery seaweeds praying for sureness of foot. I slipped once, when I let my mind wander ahead to breakfast. I paused, came back to this precious moment, and then the clouds parted and my path was lit by the waning moon. I could see Orion, Ursa Major, and I think Venus. The way back was equally part of this deep medicine time as all the rest.

It was early, the world was still asleep. I put my pack down on the beach, and danced in the liminal and tidal zone of night slowly becoming day on the shore… One by one, the lighthouses across the cost flickered out until they are needed again during the next dark. This little whacky wild seed of inspiration is still with me, another misty September one year on…

I know that you can access the same place of other knowing, whoever and wherever you are, and I wish you time to take stock of the harvest of this year. What are the teachings you received? Where do you want to take them? May you continue to grow as a majestic tree, with deep roots in the nourishing dark, strong trunk fluid in the every-day, and wide, wide branches that caress the skies.

Part of this text appeared on 1.10.19 in the Feminism and Religion Blog.

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*) Pinkola Estés, C. (2011), page 191: Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Collage as Research?

I love making collages, usually exploring a specific topic that knocks at my door. This can for example be something I want to learn more about, something I’m struggling with, or something I like to celebrate or express gratitude for.

I never thought of my collage practice as a process of creating knowledge, or as research method, until I began exploring an exciting field of (relatively) new methodologies, called ‘a/r/tography’. This hybrid, practice-based enquiry transcends the lines between Artist, Researcher, Teacher (A/R/T) – Peter Gouzouasis (2013) even removed the slashes to underline the holistic integration of these various roles. Coming across a paper called ‘Collage as Analysis’ (HOLBROOK & POURCHIER 2014) spurred me to reflect on my own collage activities, and the (blurry?) boundaries between knowledge, inquiry and research.

Usually I start with lighting a candle and asking for support and inspiration to work with the topic. I then browse through a bag of pictures that I have accumulated over the years, taken from magazines (National Geographic and Happinez are favourites!), cards, newspaper clippings, and prints of my own photographs. They cover themes like nature, people, symbols, the four elements, and animals. I select images that resonate with the topic I’m exploring, and once I’ve gone through the whole bag, I spread them out, and let them speak to me. Do I sense a balance or a lack in some way? Is there a dominant colour? How are the illustrations relating to each other? What message am I picking up? Is something missing? The process takes many hours spread over weeks, sometimes months.

The one you see here, I made a few years ago. It is called HOME. I was reflective of having moved so many times in my life. Of what home is, and belonging. Of what characteristics make a home for me. I needed to find out how I could continue to cope with my nomadic life style, and how to deal with yet another upcoming move, despite my deep, deep yearning to root somewhere.

Home (28.1.14), Artist & Image Credits Eline Kieft

The collage evolves around the space in which Seagull flies free, which simultaneously reflects the egg she came from. She once told me to find an environment that fits my soul and to honour my needs in order to survive – just as she needs cliffs and air, Mouse needs a little earthy hole and Elephant a big wide steppe. On the sides I explore elements that make a home a home for me; a place to read, write, be with spirit; a space full of beauty, and silence; a place to reflect, dream, and dance; a place of earth, and stone and nature; a place of patterns, and art, and warmth and light.

Making a collage supports me as a way of learning, increasing understanding, and deepening insight. The process is healing in itself, a coming to terms with and integrating oddities and paradoxes, an increased peace. Also, the finished piece, which I aim to be aesthetically pleasing but most of all emotionally true, becomes a power object, a reminder of my search, a solace and encouragement in times of difficulty. In this case it became an anchor through the turbulence of moving and life unfolding in different places. Through the integrity of my engagement with it and its inherent power, it may have another uncanny effect. In the last three years, where I moved from Scheveningen, to Torquay, to Yelverton, to Coventry, each time just a few weeks before I was aware of the move, something would happen to the collage. It would fall off the wall, Seagull would fall off, or the glass would break (seriously!). Was that spirit knocking at my door, signalling a time of change? Twice it happened before I got a new job; once before my house was sold. For me this strengthens and deepens my connection to other dimensions of our everyday reality.

Although I do appreciate and consider the inclusion of ‘other ways of knowing’ through nature, the arts, movement, meditation or silence as absolutely crucial to academic research endeavours, it leads to a host of interesting questions, such as what is knowledge? How is knowledge created? Are there different types of knowledge? Are there types of knowledge that are relevant only to individuals? When and why do they become relevant to smaller or larger groups of people?

We use the word ‘research’ a lot in our daily life – for systematically, methodically comparing holiday deals, best prices for our favourite foods, train times, etc., as well as for varying degrees of self-reflection and inquiry, but that doesn’t necessarily make it interesting, useful, valid, applicable for others.

Reading Holbrook & Pourchier, while appreciating their effort of including the reflective arts, I cannot help but think: ‘so what? How is this relevant to me?’ And I fail to come up with any convincing answers – apart from a welcome nudge to look at my own collage practice (of which you, of course, might think: ‘so what?’).

To do justice to those important and creative ‘other forms of knowing’ and include them within academia as essential part of the human experience, we need a methodology first for facilitating similar journeys while documenting similarities and differences, and then for collating the ‘results’. This way the ‘simply subjective’ can grow into the inter-subjective, individual forms of knowledge creation become shared between many, and we strengthen the ‘other knowledge archives’!

I wonder what those would look like!?

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GOUZOUASIS, P. 2013. The metaphor of tonality in artography. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 3 (2).

HOLBROOK, T. & POURCHIER, N. M. 2014. Collage as Analysis: Remixing in the Crisis of Doubt. Qualitative Inquiry, 20 (6), 754-763.

Photo Collage: Home, © Eline Kieft, 2014

Please note: I published an earlier version of this text on 25.2.16 and 20.9.19  in older blogs that has now merged with Clover Trail.

Dancing the Lake

In the studio, the imaginary sound of wings flapping on the water transported me to a lake.* My face glowed with the warmth of the sun, although there was not a ray of sunlight in this windowless space. I felt my body defying gravity as I took off from the water’s surface, playfully patting it in my early flight.

I became the water, as well as the clouds reflected on it. I could smell the muddy wetness and felt tall and willowy as my branches softly caressed the wind (or was it the other way around?). Following the pain in my back the water froze, and I imagined it melting in spring, softening the sharp shards of ice. I danced Dragon Fly and Frog and Heron. Their movements inspired mine as I hovered and leapt and stood patiently waiting on one leg.

The dynamics between these different life forms created such vibrancy. Not only a concrete tension of eating or being eaten, of alive now and maybe dead tomorrow, but also a metaphoric vitality that comes with living according to our blueprint, as close to our nature as possible, expressing our individuality exactly as we are. Water is often seen as a shape shifter, because it can assume so many forms. It reminds us, that so can we.

Translating that to my own story… dare I live all I can be? Dare I be different? Dare I assimilate different roles? Dare I dream big? I realised (not for the first time), that there really is no other way. Short of wilting and slowly diminishing, each of us simply has to live our unique expression, because if we do not, the world will be a dimmer, thirstier place. Can we encourage each other to do this?

I am curiouser and curiouser to the Power of Imagination, and its influence on our happiness and wellbeing. This is not to hide or deny pain or injustice, but to find a way that we can be radically inclusive of all experiences that make us magnificently and vulnerably human.

But hang on…

‘Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?’ asks Harry Potter, when he meets Dumbledore at King’s Cross station in the Deathly Hallows. A question I often ask myself, when encountering such experiences. ‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real’? **

And after the session, I danced on, into the rest of my day with a joyful spring in my step.

References

*) The winged song that spurred on this movement exploration is called Happiness, by Aaron Andreas Gantenbein on the album Deep Flight.

**) ROWLING, J.K. 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Bloomsbury: London, p. 579.

Image credits: Falkenberg, Sweden, © Eline Kieft, 2014

Please note: I published an earlier version of this text on 25.2.16 in an older blog that has now merged with Clover Trail.

The Clearing

Imagine you’ve just stumbled across a clearing in the woods where you may encounter the unexpected… A clearing, where you can meander through droplets and seeds of inspiration and reflection… A clearing where you can take a moment to pause and breathe and come back to your centre…. (yes, right now!).

Forest © Christoph Frei, 2012

In this Clover Trail blog I write about things that help me return and reconnect, so you’ll find a wide variety of tastes and textures, including (of course!) dance and other arts, research, play, nature, silence, spirituality, liminality, stories, symbols and the imagination, dreaming, literature…. Weaving the poetic and the academic with the sensuous multi-layeredness of our embodied nature, entries will search openings towards more intimate participation in the mystery of the (extra)ordinary everyday.

I hope this space contributes to a conscious clearing of the clearing, in which we de-clutter those spaces in our beings that have filled up with things we carry, which affect our presence here and now. And at times it may be a clearing in the sense of lifting the veils, shifting habitual patterns, a clearing of that which seemingly obscures our connection to wholeness, what lies behind, beyond, within.

Please treat this blog like a ‘living thing’ (Ensler, 2010), as ‘partner’ with whom you are exploring a topic in co-creation. Engage with the text and images, not just from your mind, but also from your body, your heart, your intuition, and your soul. What responses do you notice? What fills you with longing? What challenges you? What voices call you? What supports you in times of darkness and despair? What makes your heart sing?

Hopefully, in time, this then will become an interactive clearing for artful, poetic expression of experiences that move the deep currents within us and inform a rich and meaningful ‘interbeing’, so please feel free to share and play, and join me in this experiment of being a human being, rather than a human thinking!

For all our relations,

Eline

Reference

Ensler, E. (2010). I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. New York, Villard.

Please note: I published earlier versions of this text in older blogs, on 7.2.16 and 16.9.19. These have now merged with Clover Trail.

Clover Trail: What’s in a name?

Since 2012 I searched for a name for my work. This has not been an easy task, and close friends have patiently let me rant about the pros and cons of my ‘latest’ ideas (thank you!). These include Simply Dance (2012), Temple21 (2014), Dance | Research | Facilitation (2015), The Clearing (2016), Ayohwell or Centre for the Art of Living (both in 2017 – Ayohwell being a poetic rendering of AoL – Art of Living), EveryWhen and StoryDance & Ritual (both in 2019).

Earlier this year I considered Shift ‘n Thrive and even The Wackademy (for all things wonderful and wacky) – until native-English speaking friends thankfully cautioned me against it. For a few of those ideas I designed business cards and leaflets, for others I went as far as setting up websites and social media accounts.  

Although some stuck around for a while, neither of them felt deeply and truly right. Either I thought it would alienate people who weren’t interested in the topic, or it felt I could bring only one part of my interests and practices. What they had in common however was offering space for the soul.

Especially with social media’s demands of maintaining a consistent and (hopefully!) refreshing presence, after a time I would get confused, because x wasn’t the best place to post y, and surely people who were interested in z wouldn’t want to read that other stuff anyway. Even though I would continue to enthusiastically create and deliver workshops and other content without a banner, this lack of ‘umbrella’ frustrated me. I felt stunted, like a young tree who can’t quite develop in all directions. This way there seemed to be no place for my soul in the work either. That didn’t sound like a sustainable, long-term direction for my craft. 

Some people suggest using Eline Kieft as ‘brand’ name, and many entrepreneurs indeed make this choice successfully. However, my dream has always been that my work could in time become a platform for collaboration, where others could also bring their talents, gifts and passions – even though my enterprise would, of course, be inspired and driven by my life experiences and interests (I do have a personal website as well if you’re interested).

Four leaves of the Clover

In a relatively recent conversation with my dad Henk Kieft (on 8.4.2020), the image of a Clover came up. We saw the leaves of the clover as an expression of different areas that my work bridges: the senses, the affect, the intellect and spirit.

The notion of Trail swiftly followed, as a metaphor for the soul’s journey through life, including exploration, path-finding, leaving and returning, and recognising different landscapes on our way. 

Feet walking the Trail. Artist & Image Credits Eline Kieft

Since that conversation, creativity has fountained in unknown ways: amazing encounters in nature, enhanced response in my (lucid) dream practice, reflections and creating art to support the integration of my golden shadow. For the first time ever with regard to business-musings, I experience a calm rootedness, of feeling ‘settled’ within the name. For the first time, I sense that there is place for all of me within Clover Trail, which is, of course the only way this can work. 

Rose, Lilia, Finistère, 2020, Image Eline Kieft

The title of this blog post is derived from Shakespeare. Juliet asks ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet’, to which Romeo answers ‘Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized’ (Shakespeare, 1597). Earlier on, I mentioned soul as consequent thread that time and again appears in the weaving of my work. Perhaps that is what allows me to be newly baptised. Newly baptised with confidence for the Trail ahead, the Trail that illustrates many years of search and is, simultaneously, only another beginning.

Reference

Shakespeare, W. (1597) ‘Romeo and Juliet’, [Play: Act 2, Scene 2].

A Year and a Day

A year ago today, on May 22nd, 2019 I was rushed into hospital for a life-saving operation. Earlier that month I thought I miscarried. However, it turned out I was still pregnant – with an ectopic pregnancy. This means that the foetus nested in my fallopian tube instead of my womb. Ectopic pregnancy is dangerous – one of the leading causes for maternal death in the first three months. 

I had moved to France a few months before. The French health care system is very different to the Dutch and the British systems that I’m used to. I understand that French women have a gynaecologist for all things concerning reproductive health, pretty much from the moment they start menstruating. In that light, my partner thought that GPs weren’t equipped anymore to deal with pregnancy-related issues. Since I had no dedicated gynaecologist yet, this ectopic pregnancy remained undiagnosed until it was very nearly too late.

During my morning Pilates I got severe stabbing pains in my lower abdomen. The pain passed, and after breakfast I got behind my desk to work. Later however, I started to feel woozy and ended up fainting several times.

If… If… If…If…

…my partner hadn’t been home…

…he had accepted my misplaced reassurance that with a bit of rest I would be fine tomorrow… 

…he hadn’t been adamant to call the ambulance after I fainted the second time…

…there had been any further delays to, or in the hospital…

… I would no longer be here…

According to the doctors it had been a window of two hours. Any longer, and I would have faded away and crossed over. 

These last few weeks have been such an intense time for all of us. At times I felt paralysed with fear, burst into tears, or bolted out of the house. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one experiencing effects of ongoing Covid-19 lock down, but my body also remembered and relived last year’s existential crisis and standing at the gates of death…

The healing journey was intense and multi-layered, often literally ‘fighting’ my way back to wholeness. It wasn’t linear, it wasn’t neat. Life took so much more courage than before. Was I up for it? Oh Gods, why didn’t I just die? 

I consciously worked with this experience, going through deserts of despair, oceans of grief, volcanos of rage… with open eyes, as much as possible. Writing poetry, journaling, painting, ceremony, and being out in nature were some ingredients that helped me integrate this experience. Dance was the one that connected them all. I remember my first 3-minute movement to Rodrigo & Gabriela’s Tamacun, dancing both the gratitude of still being alive and shaking out the shock of it all – and being totally exhausted after. 

Exactly nine months after the operation I went into the studio to do a danced soul retrieval ceremony. Soul retrieval is a (shamanic) practice to retrieve dissociated parts of ourselves. Inviting the four elements earth, fire, water and air as allies in a strong medicine wheel, I danced the original events of pregnancy, apparent miscarriage and nearly losing my life. I then expressed through dancing the many stories I told myself about these events, the feelings I experienced in the moment and in the long aftermath of healing. Finally, I reconnected with a soul piece that had left during the process, and harvested the wisdom gifts that I received through the experience. I really felt healing and integration happen during that ceremony – in a way being reborn into life. 

The next day I returned to the studio and condensed this 40-minute healing dance ceremony into an improvised performance, which my colleague and friend Erica Charalambous recorded on video. Instead of choreographing every step and sequence, I used various building blocks that I identified during my process of recovery as a movement score. Another friend, Stef Vink, later composed and played an incredibly responsive musical landscape to go with the final edit. Their compassionate witnessing and accompanying me on this last leg of the journey added an additional layer to the healing. So did the editing, as another way of crafting and integrating the story. 

The 15-minute online performance East Wind: the story of my ectopic pregnancy is ready on Vimeo. It is a testimony to the tremendous capacity of dance to mend what was broken, retrieve what was lost, to integrate and heal.

I hope it soothes and inspires anyone who is on a journey of reclaiming their health and wellbeing. Whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone. Dance provides such a deep avenue for expressing the whole range of emotions we experience, and a resource to find courage and resilience to move with and through whatever life offers us. May you dance! 

I give thanks for all the support I received during this challenging time, from people, various practices, mother earth, and spirit. And thank you for reading this. In connection from heart to heart.

Please note that the video may cause strong emotional responses, especially if you have gone through a similar experience. If you think this applies, you can best watch it together with a trusted person, or make sure there is someone you can call afterward.