By Vikki Parker

Original post – July 25th 2018

Inspirations from Buddhafield Festival 2018

There are some things in life that allow us to fully value living….. one of those things is to face the concept of death.

This year’s Buddhafield Festival in Taunton, Somerset, promised a profound
enquiry into this truth with its theme of ‘Dancing with Life & Death.’ I
was privileged to be asked to serve on the Arts & Rituals Team this year,
with a remit of bringing my creative process to ritual performance, in
collaboration with a small group of very talented people. 

‘Deepen the experience of yourself in the moment through
the arts’

Faced with the task of developing a 20 minute performance, for 1000 people, in a field, in a way that supported the Dharma (Buddhist Teachings) and harnessed the vast expertise of the team, we made an early decision to commit to personal sharing of our own experiences of death. What followed was a beautiful, challenging, organic flow of exploration through movement, sound, song, mask-work and theatre as we navigated our way through deep memories, acknowledgment of our own struggles and the ways in which we’ve all used creativity to support our wellbeing. 

In Buddhism there is a teaching about the door of the deathless, the door that symbolises the moment you wake up to conditionality, to the patterns of life you’ve been following as you’ve lived whilst ‘asleep’ in consciousness. Tied to this pattern, we live in reactivity, a lost and masked life, until a moment wakes us up. The Dharma teaches that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Waking up to ourselves, and to life before we die is a profound and beautiful process. 

‘Mindfulness is the way to the Deathless (Nibbana), unmindfulness the way to Death. Those who are mindful do not die, and those who are not are as if already dead.’ – Swapnil Mar 18 ’17

In my early life I faced the possibility of losing my Mother to suicide and my perception of death, and the threat of it coloured my experience of my own mortality. I was always afraid and perhaps in denial of the part of myself that wanted to leave this plane. A lifetime of emotional trauma had already triggered a habitual dissociative response to painful loss events and the patterns I lived out repeatedly. It wasn’t until I faced my own limiting beliefs, the blueprints of my parents teachings, around suicide and my worthiness to live, that I understood how powerful it is to make the choice to stay in this world. 

I had been living a life in fear of death.
I saw death for what it is.
A transition into another rebirth
I chose to stay
Incarnate in this life
With all its beauty
Until the last breath
And with each rebirth
In this cycle of breaths
I can create
I can dance
I can sing
I can express
I can explore
The flow of life
Not dissociated
In the moment

In my own personal enquiry into the theme I was drawn to the everyday deaths we experience within as we transform and let go of old aspects of ourselves. Every breath contains a death and rebirth, a renewed possibility for seeing a different way. 

In the fires of Buddhafield I released old resentments and vengeances, and old aspects of self that no longer served me, to the flame. There’s something about surrendering to nature, to living in a field, that gently lulls you back to your best self. That caresses your heart and opens your eyes to simplicity. To the beauty of the earth.

There’s something about circles of people singing, hugging, sharing wonder, story and compassion, that feeds parts of me that words cannot define. As I stood, as a pagan, with Buddhist friends, calling in the ancestors, the guardians of the land and elements, I honoured my ancestors and all the women before me whose lives and struggles made it possible for me to be here now, standing in my power as a warrior woman. 

In using the neutral mask we explored the moment we see
ourselves, and realise who we are presenting to the world. We represented the
‘sleepwalking’ through life using a giant infinity symbol, walked by the cast
of festival crew and participants, endlessly, until one awakened and created a
ripple effect.

In sound, through a cloud mantra, we explored the ethereal quality of the
layering of intuitive notes that supported the representation of the cycle of
death / rebirth through Butoh dance. In chant we created a 3 part tribal / jazz
fusion to celebrate waking up to consciousness and taught it to the crowd!

Children playing, giggling and exuding freedom and possibility symbolised life
and the call of death was delivered through the voice of innocence playing hide
and seek.

‘Coming, ready or not?’

All the time the space was guarded by the Elves of Tolkien, with fire lit
torches, allowing the performance to gently and deeply move the en-tranced and
silent audience into inner experience of the theme for themselves. Preparing
them for the Buddhist mantra and their offering to the shrine. A spectacle of
joy and respect as the symbolism settled within and they were invited to walk
though the door of the deathless for themselves.

Death and Life were treasured throughout the process and great measures were
taken to avoid literal representation or cliche, including a regular game of
wink murder and opportunity to have your over-exaggerated, mimed death to shake
off the need to overtly explore the theme in the ritual space.

Buddhafield is a place of magic, of compassion, of love, of
rediscovering what’s important to you and sharing the truth of humanity in a
mindful, creative and sober way. 

As an artist and performer, with a mission to using the arts for meaningful
representation of the human experience and wellbeing, I found myself a slice of
magic, a potion of self-love and a whisper of hope for all beings.

The kitten who came to play and hide in my tent as I tried to leave and pack
down, reminded me to take the playful, light energies of the festival home with

My well is full
In myself I trust

What wild parts of
yourself have you discovered? Comment below. xxxx


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