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Cherche pas.  J’ai vrai - First World War from a Feng Shui perspective

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Cherche pas. J’ai vrai - First World War from a Feng Shui perspective

Battle of the Somme revisited

War Graves of Commonwealth soldiers

War Graves of Commonwealth soldiers

This summer I visited the First World War sites in Pas de Calais.  Clutching a copy of Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks) with its moving portrayal of this tragic moment in history, I was there to witness a tiny fraction of the 4-month horror that was the Battle of the Somme and to visit my daughter working there.

Remains of war

The war ended 100 years ago but every day new shells surface, some undetonated, along with other warfare debris.  On average 30 more bodies appear every year.

There is no escaping the consequences of man’s collective insanity embedded in this now tranquil landscape, despite the tastefully-designed memorial sites and the seldom applauded work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC ).  Their staff and team of gardeners are relentless in manning and maintaining them through all weathers, the biggest concentration of which are the 400+ cemeteries in Northern France and Belgium. 

The day after the first battle in which 1 million casualties were reported out of 3.5 million fighting men, some soldiers reported a low, continuous moaning rising up from the ground itself.  It wasn’t coming from the few remaining survivors, it was coming from the earth itself.  From a Feng Shui perspective trauma like this needs clearing from the environment and a counter-balancing healing energy introduced, which is exactly what the CWGC have been able do and why their continued presence is so important.  

Madness

Villagers were forced to abandon their homes and their farms so men could fight for priority over a ridge of land or push back the 12-mile front line to cross the no-man’s land separating sons, fathers and husbands on both sides.

 After the war the French Government had the idea to seal off this barren wasteland by planting a huge forest but local farmers were not in favour of this.  And who can blame them.  This was their home before the fight began.  Besides a forest would have rendered this area a ‘no-man’s land’ forever, with no-one being able to venture in there again safely.

Thiepval

Thiepval

Sheep are already set to graze on some war zones to keep the grass down because it’s considered better to blow a sheep up than a groundsman.  It’s a moot point isn’t it?  The fact is you can’t get rid of dangerous ammunition that easily.  Much of it is too deeply buried.  The options are to keep pushing it back down into the earth when it tries to surface - and some people are employed just to do that - or transport it away to blow it up, which has additional dangers to it. 

German War Graves

German War Graves

"T'is ne'er worth it"

The First World War is over but the energy of violence and anguish is embedded in this countryside.  In Feng Shui we explore this as ‘predecessor history’ and it can continue to exert an influence over the destiny of a place unless attended to.   I was fascinated to learn the German army gravitated to Thiepval and occupied the ridge again in the Second World War.  They headquartered right underneath the 45 metre high monument itself, climbing the spiral staircase inside the thick columns to engrave their names around its summit.  

“T’is ne’er worth it” – Harry Patch

“T’is ne’er worth it” – Harry Patch

My purpose in writing is not to glorify the Great War in any shape or form - and I never once got this impression from CWGC personnel.  Nor was it to stand victorious on a piece of turf called Thiepval as member of the Commonwealth, which bears both the British and French flags and the names of the 72,000 commonwealth soldiers who died in the vicinity.  It’s worth remembering thousands of German soldiers died here too.

Pilgrimage lest we forget

I believe it’s important we make a pilgrimage to these sites - and to include our children and young students - because there is already a generation between them and the World Wars.  We need to be reminded of our capacity for aggression, which becomes evident when we insist our point of view is right and then convince ourselves this justifies the need to defend our corner.  

Visiting these beautiful sites you cannot help be moved by the tragedy; our lives predicated on the shoulders of the brave men and women before us.  Whole villages lost their sprightly youth on the first day of battle.  I shuddered to think of the grief endured back home.  The oldest male First World War veteran, Harry Patch, a combat soldier in Passchendaele, died aged 109 only a few years ago.  He’d been wounded three times in action and still miraculously survived. While he stayed quiet about the war until later in life then he had much to say about it which amounted to:  “T’is ne’er worth it. "

"I felt then, as I do now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”

Lest we should also forget, in this war you were shot at dawn by your comrades if you deserted.  Perhaps you were too traumatised to face going over the line again to be met by a bevy of machine gun fire.  But if you hid instead then this was your fate.  Horrendous.

Moose at Canadian visitor's centre

Moose at Canadian visitor's centre

Locating your forebears

I was delighted to hear the CWGC have created a Foundation so provide informative tours by students and graduates at the main visitors’ centres of Thiepval, France and Ypres, Belgium.  These operate from the outbreak of war on July 28 (1914) to Armistice Day on November 11 (1918).

Following their intense two-week on-site training to be tour leaders, these students will continue to be ambassadors on their return home, spreading awareness in schools, colleges of the trouble with war and the consequences of it.  The free guided tours are packed with a variety of content.  You can miss so much by drifting around the memorial sites on your own, although you may still want to take a moment before or after to stand and reflect in silence.   

Ancestry

If you come supplied with as much information as you can about a family member lost in action, they will not only direct you towards their grave or memorial site but also help you to flesh out your family tree.  I am from Devonshire stock and I travelled all the way to France to discover my grandfather came from a family of 11, including two sets of twins.  Since I've only managed to have one child I found this awesome. I knew my grandfather had not fought in France but I didn’t know why.  I learnt he had been seconded to the Indian army and accompanied them to Mesopotamia..  As a secondary school teacher who’d never been north of south Devon, this must have been an extraordinary awakening.  All this information and more was provided by the highly-informed History graduate on the help desk.

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Open all year

We decided to visit the Devonshire regiment cemetery, a small site tucked away behind a copse of trees, beautifully maintained and peaceful.  That was before the tranquillity of the moment was disturbed by the sudden appearance of a fighter jet, capable of travelling at a supersonic speed of 1,550 mph, whose shrill engine pierced the air.  While in the nearby wood we could hear regular gunfire from farmers killing off crop marauders.  Both noises were enough to be intimidating.  I could only imagine how soldiers would have felt to hear the continuous onslaught of machine guns or be bombarded with mortars leaving massive craters in the ground around them while shattering the bodies of men in the process.

Thiepval and Ypres are within 1 ½ hours of the Channel Tunnel and the Calais and Dunkerque ferry ports respectively.  The lovely French town of Arras and the Belgium town of Gent are good places to stay, within easy drive of the main sites.  We must visit these memorial sites, not just to honour those who sacrificed their lives for us.  We must also be on guard to our capacity to be judgemental and decide that we are right and another is wrong when it’s only our thinking that makes it so.  Our unexplored thoughts, yet believing them to be absolutely right, is how disputes brew, fights begin, and wars take hold.  Meanwhile Harry Patch reminds us of the consequences: 

“I’ve never got over it.  You never forget it.  Never.

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Moving with Mindfulness close up

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Have you heard the line from James Joyce's 'The Dubliners'?  "Mr Duffy lived a short distance from his body."  It sums up this state of affairs perfectly and I chuckle every time I read it.

There isn't anywhere we can go without our body goes too.  It is an essential part of our humanity yet so many of us can forget this as we trundle along with a disembodied head perched on a stick (our spine) which bears no relation to the rest of our anatomy.

I run movement workshops to rectify this.  I am on a mission to create more awareness of the kinaesthetic body because when we become dissociated from our it, we are weakened physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

 

 

My meditative movement practice is called Moving with Mindfulness.  I draw on natural movement, which everyone is capable of to encourage our bodily experience of relationship and connection to ourselves, each other and the environment, which is all most empowering.

It's only when we inhabit our body to the same degree we can occupy our minds that we can appreciate what wholeness means.  

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We spend the morning widening our movement vocabulary and exploring beyond our habitual patterns of motion. We gain confidence in extending our boundaries to occupy the whole studio space and avoid becoming glued to the spot as you do when dancing in a club. This brings a sense of freedom and possibility as we claim new ground for ourselves.
 
“I enjoyed connecting with the group and a chance to explore my feelings and myself physically.  I love Mary’s movement courses and I feel alive and enriched by the experience I have.  It fills a need in me to move creatively and with meaning.  I leave feeling both grounded and uplifted which is quite an achievement.”   Debbie, Adult Dyslexia Specialist.
 
With our bodies enlivened and attentive through the movement preparation, we take to lying on the floor.  In turn and with care, we outline a full-size body print for each other.  While inhabiting these body-scapes, Doreen Gowing, Hypnotherapist, leads a guided visualisation to help us let go and drop deeper into our bodies.
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We allow plenty of time to colour in our body prints in whichever way we feel fit, intuitively not logically because there is no right or wrong way to do this.  The room quickly fills with body portraits and after lunch we tour the gallery together. 

In pairs, we take turns to dance for our partner the energy of the body portrait we have created. 

“How do I do this?” the head protests while the body knows exactly what dance is needed and how to do it with our partner as our witness.   

"The Body Portrait process is unique for gently revealing and reminding me of my inner self.  Working with a partner magnified what I knew already as well as throw a light on parts I had forgotten or hidden.”  Doreen, Hypnotherapist

Then it is our partner's turn to give their movement response to what they had seen so that when the dance baton was returned to the original dancer, they were inspired to continue moving with it further.  What had been resting just below the surface immediately became visible, both in the body portrait and the dance that accompanied it.  It was a joy to see and a wonder to be shared and celebrated.

Please check my Events page for the next public Moving with Mindfulness workshop.  I'm also available to facilitate this process to any private peer groups.  Or if you’d like to explore Moving with Mindfulness with me one-to-one, you can always join me in the studio.

“It was a beautiful and powerful process.  Moving together with a partner and having my movement reflected back then interpreting the movement and the body drawing I’d created was very valuable.”  C. Barnes, Business Consultant.
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