Walking the 56km of The Gower Way for four days, inspired by Joanna Macy’s change and empowerment process ‘The Work That Reconnects’.
In early 2014 Emergence was approached by Swansea’s ‘Love Your Countryside’ festival with an invitation to present an Emergence project in the local area. The organisers were interested in a project that might link the two areas of ‘Gower’ and ‘Mawr’ to the North-East and South-West of the city. The outcome of this was the ‘Walk That Reconnects’.
After looking at these two areas on various ordinance survey maps, I discovered the existence of ‘The Gower Way’ a 56km mid distance linear footpath that connected the historically Welsh-speaking Mawr with English-speaking Gower, mapped out by The Gower Society to celebrate the Millennium. The distance of the walk was much less than the previous 2012 Land Journey and over very different terrain – more undulating and less ‘wild’ than the area around Machynnleth, Cadair Idris and Plynlimon. In addition unlike our earlier event there was to be no culmination of the walk in a large scale conference. I started thinking about whether or not rather than walking to a conference the walk itself could be the conference. I began to think about a new form of a journey which might offer walkers an opportunity for deep connection with self, other and the landscape that trusted that the act of connecting through walking was transformative in itself. The ‘Walk That Reconnects’ was born…
The 2014 Emergence Land Journey offered much more than just a 4 day, guided walk through some of the most varied and beautiful countryside in Wales.It was also an opportunity to connect with issues of deep ecology and sustainability with fellow walkers, facilitators and artists. The ‘Walk That Reconnects offered participants an opportunity to consciously walk into a sustainable future together. Inspired by the ideas of eco-psychologist, spiritual teacher and activist Joanna Macy and ‘The Work That Reconnects,’ it combined a multi-stage land journey, outdoor conference and walking workshop all in one event.
The intention behind the Land Journey was to offer an opportunity for deep dialogue, concentration and reflection on the things that matter and the things we take for granted. The group was taken on a physical journey and inner journey designed to “build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture.”
We hoped that this would present a life changing opportunity akin to a vision quest, secular pilgrimage or threshold moment in life, enabling us all to slow down, become embodied and to step into a place of greater awareness of our potential as change makers.
Lucy Neal (co-founder LIFT/Transition Town Tooting/Playing For Time) and Fern Smith (co-founder Volcano Theatre/Emergence) facilitated the group, supporting participants through Joanna Macy’s powerful ‘grief and empowerment’ change process. Each day offered a chance to connect with inner intentions and outer landscapes with an awareness of the many feelings, thoughts and emotions that are present within us at this time of ‘The Great Unravelling’ or ‘The Great Turning’ – from gratitude and appreciation to pain and grief.
Our hope was that we would be supported by the beauty and resilience of the natural world through which we moved and the knowledge that we were not ‘walking alone.’ In community we attempted to create the conditions for each of us to move into a more expanded ‘ecological self’ uncovering our essential inter-connectedness with one another and the world.
It has been said many times that if people are unable to imagine a positive future, they won’t create it. The intention of ‘The Walk That Reconnects’ was to create a space, both real and virtual, where inspiration, optimism and the possibility of change could be nurtured and practical action planned. Our collective question was ‘could we, as artful human beings and creative thinkers, help ourselves and others to imagine the world we want, and literally bring it into being?’
The walk followed the existing route of The Gower Way. This 56km South Wales long-distance walking route traverses post-industrial, urban and rural terrain, moving from upland moors to the Irish Sea, passing through the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – The Gower Peninsula. Gower is widely known and much loved as a popular tourist destination, however the region known as Mawr is less well known. It was here we began our journey, savouring the dramatic panoramas, solitude and wildness of the hills North-East of Swansea that mark the beginning of The Gower Way. We travelled from East to West, following the direction of the sun, beginning in Penlle’r Castell, high up in Mynydd y Gwair and ending at the sea shore of Worms Head, Rhossilli.
There were daily, unannounced visitations and artful encounters with local gatekeepers, artists and stewards of this ancient land. Every day, we were met by an artist who offered us a gift – poem, mediation, song, story or work of art. Artists Tanya Syed, Emily Hinshelwood, Philip Ralph, Aled Warwick, Erin Rickard and Sean Poulston surprised, provoked, disturbed and ‘broke open’ the walkers. Each day the walkers walked with more trust into the territory and connected with one another and the challenge of how we can live a sustainable life more deeply.
Walkers were hosted by people living on the land through which we travelled as staying at designated campsites and were for one night the guests of the community of ‘Three Crosses’ gateway village to the Gower.
The Walk That Reconnects had a deep and lasting impact on everyone, the 24 walkers, group facilitators, mountain leaders, visiting artists, hosts, cooks, camp support team and those we met at Three Crosses. People formed new connections, saw their work and life in different ways and laid the foundations for new projects and processes. We created community and were transformed by the process in ways it was hard to predict when we set out initially. The changes in all of us continue to this day….
The 2014 Emergence Land Journey facilitators:
Lucy Neal is a theatre-maker, writer and community activist interested in how celebratory events act as a catalyst for change. She is currently writing Playing For Time – Making Art as If The World Mattered, a handbook of creative practices that inspire the shift to a more ecological age for publication in March 2015. The project is supported by the Arts Council England, Transition Network and the Arvon Foundation.
Co-founding director of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) from 1981-2005, she is Happiness Associate on the Happy Museum Project re-imagining museums for a changing world; co-author of MMM’s Sustainable Ability; co-inventor of the Case For Optimism and was facilitator of Emergence Land Journey (North Walk) in 2012. She has also undertaken The Work That Reconnects residencies with Joanna Macy in Holy Island, Scotland and on the banks of the River Thames. She was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to drama and lives in Tooting, where she has been an active member of Transition Town Tooting since 2008.
Fern Smith is a theatre practitioner with over 25 years of experience in performing and teaching with Volcano Theatre. In 2010 she was the Arts Council of Wales Clore Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme. She is a trained as a Work that Reconnects facilitator with Jenny Mackewn and Chris Johnstone, co-author with Macy of ‘Active Hope.’ She is a CSTA registered craniosacral therapist and MTI holistic massage therapist, Relational Dynamics coach and celebrant trained by Dead Good Guides. She is also founder of Emergence, a Wales based project that encourages artists to recognize their role as change agents. She is joint author of a new report ‘Culture Shift’ due for publication later this year commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales highlighting the role of artists in the transition to a sustainable society. She has recently been inspired by the work of Suzi Gablik to create ‘The Re-enchantment Project’ with her partner Philip Ralph, the aim of which is to create spaces for ‘celebratory activism’ by means of maximum participation and minimum administration!