September is a month of renewal. People are back from their summer holidays. A new academic year is starting. Autumn is in the air. And it’s the month of my birth. In September I always have a strong feeling of change and anticipation, sometimes even a little unease – some pre-birth memory of preparing myself to step into the world, perhaps.
It seems appropriate that it should also be the month in which my work involves helping other people to take stock, reflect, and look inward to the source of energy that will sustain them in months to come.
In September, for the last dozen years, we have taken a group to Spain for the Dark Angels advanced course. And now September is also the month when Sarah and I head south for a The Stories We Tell residential week. Last year and the year before we went to Sardinia, this year we’re going to France.
I am on the plane for Spain as I write. Despite a 3.30am start, I feel a particular lightness of spirit. It has been a frantic year and for what seems like the first time, I have left with my desk almost clear, I am on my own for a few hours, I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks of sunshine and stimulating company, and the simple act of writing this blog helps me to reconnect with myself.
Reconnection is probably the single most powerful feature of both courses. In Spain it will take place largely through the medium of writing, in France through the sharing of stories. In each case it’s an opportunity for people to hear themselves think and speak about things that deeply matter to them, while also exploring other things they may not even have realised matter.
Both courses are about creativity to the extent that creativity is synonymous with authenticity and the speaking of personal truths. They are also about being validated as human beings and recognising that it’s in revealing our fragilities and vulnerabilities that we allow the most powerful connections to take place with those around us.
If all that sounds rather serious, both courses are also about self-indulgence, about enjoying unfettered personal time, eating and drinking well, and being playful – with words, stories and one another.
The Dark Angels course takes place in a comfortable private house, surrounded by cork and chestnut trees, on the outskirts of the charming little hill town of Aracena, an hour or so north of Seville. We gather outside in a pergola at one corner of the main courtyard and work to the accompaniment of voices and animal sounds floating up from the valley below. The French venue is a rustic farmhouse and huge barn in deep countryside, an hour or so west of Albi. It promises woodland walks, river swimming and markets in medieval bastides.
If reconnection with self is a fundamental aspect of both courses, connection with place is almost as important. Consciously tuning the senses to new surroundings offers new ways of seeing not just the world around us but ourselves; it enriches our interior lives. To paraphrase the proto-environmentalist John Muir, in going out we are really going in.
At times of renewal we need to do both.