I am beyond excited to share that I will be co-facilitating Pelumbra's Lambay Island Writing Retreat in March 2022. It was something of an easy sell when Miriam Gosling of Pelumbra called to invite me to join Jonathan Gosling in leading their writers' retreat on a stunning private island off the coast of Dublin. The opportunity to work alongside Jonathan, whose work has inspired me throughout my career, would have been enough to tempt me but throw in walks in this unspoilt wilderness to watch the puffins and other seabirds and cosying down by a roaring fire with other writers to share our love for what we do, well that sounds like heaven to me. So if you are a new, experienced or aspirational writer of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, academic research or you would simply like some dedicated time to explore how putting pen to paper might change your life, then please visit Pelumbra's website for more information and how to book.
It could have been a coincidence, the stillness in the sky, the way the clouds seemed to stop travelling in defiance of the breeze, the two red kites circling symmetrically above, and the entrance of the group of four men and women into the field where the two horses grazed. Or perhaps it was the resonance of the human and horse hearts as they pulsed together in rhythm which flowed outward into the verdant valley, orchestrating the beauty and stillness of the scene.
They travelled on their two legs, lightly across the grass, connecting one by one with their four legged partners, Ted and Brock, bulky, towering horses with the softest of souls. Gentle invitations were made to join together. No need for greedy contact, possession, control or dominance. Linking via hands here and a cotton rope there, together and then apart, sometimes sitting low on the ground or high on a block, whether walking alongside horse, alongside human or all alone it mattered not. For the moving scene before us flowed and ebbed like soothing waves lapping on a clean, smooth shore. Brock and Ted, their hugest of hearts, their desire to belong to this temporary herd, their acceptance, presence, power and spirit palpable. We all bathed, witness and participant equally, in the healing essence of what it is to be horse, what it is to be human, and what it is to be purely happy to our core, in the most infinite of moments.
Such can be the quality of pure connection. When we understand that we are not ‘separate to’ but ‘part of’ and when we are able to embrace the vulnerability which this implies. When shared purpose isn’t about goals and objectives but an exploration and celebration of humanity and what it feels like to be part of a herd (human and horse) where trust is the oxygen. When our bodies understand what our minds know to be true, that presence is a foundation to self awareness and meaningful relationship. This is when we begin to comprehend our interconnection with all who are, and all that is. This, now, is the work of leadership. This, now, is how we make a difference to our selves, each other, our teams, our families and the world around us.
My gratitude to the Senior Leadership Team of Verevo CCN for permission to share the above description of just one of the transformational scenes which played out during their recent development experience with Equest.
Photographs courtesy of Justin Featherstone and Verevo CCN.
Work with us and our horses to deepen connection whether relating remotely or face to face
Communicating remotely has become the way we work and it is also often how we socialise and pursue our leisure interests. Even when the peak of the pandemic crisis appears in our rear-view mirror, the increased levels of remote working will continue in many organisations due to various reasons. Individuals speak of the freedom which being home-based brings, the convenience and the additional time available so spend with the family. Travel time and cost is spared and the roads are quieter. Yet we also talk of ‘screen fatigue’, exhaustion, feelings of isolation and low energy. Without the supercharge of social interaction our screen-based communication can leave us feeling cut off and drained. When we do meet each other in person, we are currently required to keep our distance. Yet we are a social species hardwired to work and play together. How can we support ourselves better and connect deeply with others in spite of the physical space which now separates us? Developing and sustaining the purposeful relationships we need in all aspects of our lives will require a new mindset.
In this one day workshop we will learn from our herd of horses how a practice of presence shrinks the distance which separates us and brings us not only into deeper contact with others but also with ourselves. Horses do not need to be close physically in order to connect. Often the most satisfying moments of mutual understanding which I have observed and experienced between human and horse, when heart meets heart, happen across distance. It also helps that horses do not rely on words to express themselves. They seem able to broadcast their emotions and feelings and to understand those of others, by simply being.
Developing a practice of presence was never a nicety and as we are buffeted by change and precarity, holding the moment, being still, cultivating calm and letting go of expectations and regrets, are all key to leadership which nurtures well-being and relationship. Join us and our horses, nature’s finest and wisest teachers, to find out how working experientially with them can help.
This workshop will be held outdoors and all health protocols required at the time will be observed. A place can be reserved prior to the event and payment will be requested a month prior to it taking place. Places are strictly limited.
Venue: Suddene Park Farm, Burbage, Wiltshire SN8 3DP
Date: Thursday 23 September 2021
Time: 10.00 am- 4pm
Fee: £250 per person. To reserve a place please email email@example.com
In my second summer living in France a pair of opportunistic swallows moved into my woodshed one day when the door had been left open. Within a matter of a month or so one nest had become three and I was delightfully entertained by, I estimate, three clutches fledging, feeding and singing their hearts out in my courtyard. By the end of the summer I counted 36 birds one sunny morning, preening their feathers and holding company in the trees and on the telephone wire in front of my home. I could see their comings and goings through my kitchen window and spent rather longer than I should have done taking it all in. As the autumn days became cooler, I was moved how the whole colony pulled together, every bird bringing food to quickly strengthen the last chicks before their great flight back south.
One sunny Monday morning, as I wrote out on the patio, I watched other colonies join mine on the wire looping across my small valley. 20, 30, 50 and then I couldn’t keep count anymore as they gathered for their mass departure. The birds seemed to take it in turns to loop off the wire, fly around the valley and settle again. I wondered what was going on and which bird, or birds, would decide when to leave. Were they waiting for others to arrive? And if not what else were they delaying for? The noise from them was almost unbelievable and the activity electric. And then they were gone and there was silence.
You can imagine my delight when one morning two weeks ago a solitary swallow perched in my courtyard. ‘Welcome back!’ I called, a little bemused that it was on its own. Sure enough the next day it was joined by its mate and nest building began again in the woodshed. I had a small window cut into the top of the door, to let the birds in and keep the Siamese cat which had joined my household over the winter, out. I woefully underestimated her prowess in scaling sheer wooden surfaces…
The swallow who survived the feline visit, I think a female, suspended nest building and took up vigil on the wire outside. Other than short feeding forays she became a constant, noisy presence, calling for her mate, looking one way and the other. It was sad to witness and I marvelled at her patience and persistence. The strength of her call didn’t fade, she didn’t give up and fly away. Day after day she waited and I hoped that she would not be left alone.
Sure enough on day 5 there were two heartwarming, chattering silhouettes against the blue sky when I returned from some errands. And on the following morning another couple of pairs also joined them. With cat security measures enhanced the level of activity in and out of the shed is now quite intense and I have certainly given up any hope of retrieving any logs in the near future.
And whilst all this was going on France, as well as some other European countries, shifted into its third national ‘confinement’ as lockdown is called here. And although the UK is easing restrictions, many people are still separated from loved ones during times of illness, passing and hardship. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are truly painful. Being unable to say goodbye to elderly parents in their final weeks and days, grandparents being unable to hold a new grandchild, businesses built over a life-time failing and the social freedoms we depend on taken away. I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t touched in some way. It is tough, still.
I take heart from the determination, the hope and the trust of the single swallow. Like her I will keep my song strong, I will sit with patience and trust that reunion will come. And while I wait I will find joy as I observe creation in its most natural form, whilst keeping a very close eye on my small Siamese cat.
By Justin Featherstone mc,
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