By 6:30am, Dudelet is awake in his own tent and eking out the battery on his iPod. Soon after that, I’m awake and check in on him.
“Did you sleep okay?”
“I’m going to the morning yoga class – mummy’s still in bed.”
I make the first run of the day to (over-sharing imminent) empty my bowels in the squat composting toilets on the other side of the field. At this time, it’s mostly the camp workers and parents of small children wandering around looking dazed and sleepless, along with people like me who are heading to a seven o’clock class. Supermum isn’t moving from her sleeping bag and little elf is a motionless bundle of Hello Kitty blankets. There’s probably a five year old in there but she’s grumpy when woken early.
I trudge across the main campsite in my wellies (wet mornings) or flip-flops (grass and feet dew-wet) with my mat under my arm, heading for a 7am class. The sun is already long up. The early morning Bhakti crew (the core ideology, though in a completely non-evangelical way, is the Bhakti Yoga path but a rainbow coalition of yoga influenced spiritualities, including the decidedly secular, are present. There’s even a shaman or two hanging around) are already strumming and singing away. The Kundalini fans have been at whatever it is they do since five am in a smaller yurt. I pause for five minutes at the camp fire and chat to whoever is hanging out there. Later on in the camp, that includes dudelet who gets more and more independent and adventurous as things go on. Watching this is one of the joys of such a relatively safe space where everyone is looking out for everyone else’s kids. Wrapped in a blanket, I watch the early morning Dance of the Pawnee Women. I usually mutter in my head about cultural appropriation but keep my mouth shut.
I do a seven o’clock yoga class.
Yoga at seven, under a large marquee with the walls rolled up and on a slightly sloping, bumpy surface, is a wholly different proposition from a studio with a hard, level floor, central heating and a bit of the outside leaking in from a window someone’s left open a crack. Balancing is really balancing. Downward facing dog acquires a whole new dynamic depending on whether you’re facing uphill or downhill. Also, I’m trying out different forms – vinyasa flow, Indian (that was a bootcamp of a session!), spinal etc, so its all a bit of an adventure.
After yoga, breakfast (mealtimes are a whole other post).
Then the morning meeting!
I think about half the camp shows up for the morning meeting, possibly more. It takes place with everyone gathered in a circle round the campfire and gradually acquires a structure and dynamic as the week goes on. There’s also a subtle interplay of influence going on (one is tempted to use the word ‘play of power’ except that the word ‘power’ carries an inference of brute force applied for agenda progression that would be completely wrong here) between the leaders of the camp and the camp founder. The founder, U, is a thoroughly inspirational, thoughtful, charismatic and magnetic woman who has nominally ‘let go of the reins’. Almost. The leaders, who have only recently taken over the huge task of organising and setting up the camp, clearly respect her hugely but also need to be seen to be running things. Because that’s what they’re doing, running things. This isn’t an anarchy. Regardless of Western Bhakti Yoga’s counter-cultural roots, meals have to arrive on time and the composted toilets have to be crowned every morning. Eventually, a kind of equilibrium is set up but U doesn’t hold back in intervening when she feels its necessary.
Anyway, the first thing everyone has to do is say their name and be greeted by the group – “Gabriel!” “Namaste, Gabriel” – and so on round the circle. The circle, by 9:15, is two or three rows deep and people keep on arriving through the process so it can take about fifteen minutes to finish the process. At first, it’s profoundly annoying but as my sense of time starts to dilate and loosen up, it becomes rather lovely.
Then it’s time to announce KARMA YOGA! On the first morning, I volunteer to be a toilet fairy, meaning that every day at lunch time I join another volunteer and clean the squat toilets. It’s a genuinely lovely job (more later). The yoga teacher who eventually takes over facilitating this does an excellent job, chivvying and distributing and taking no nonsense. No meeting closes without every job being assigned.
People announce changes in the schedule (a constant work in process) and therapy that they’re offering. A couple of mornings from the end, I take a deep breath and cross the floor from being a middle class hanger-out-at-the-fringes and offer Tarot readings in exchange for chocolate (another story).
By mid-week, the meetings seem to grow smaller and the leaders send out children to try and drag parents along – possibly more of a festival oriented crowd has shown up. But the morning meeting keeps functioning and gives the camp a heart and a dynamic. Sometimes, thorny issues are discussed – managing the increasingly feral children at twilight or whether they should be able to play with the wheelbarrows. Having these discussions and reaching some kind of conclusion in an environment where many people are committed to a very ‘free’ ideology (to the point where their construction of ‘freedom’ becomes a kind of oppressive force in its own right? – another story) is something of an artform.
Then U closes the meeting. I think this is how she and the organisers achieve an unspoken(?) balance between their roles. U is the spiritual heart of things in a way that is both utterly inclusive and completely uncompromising – a difficult trick. Appropriately, she leads a chant, in English and Sanskrit, that centres on the need for attentiveness to ‘the heart our only teacher.’ It relates to the Bhakti Yoga path, which informs the whole camp. It isn’t my thing but any irritation that might have accumulated (why don’t they ever volunteer? That’s not an empirically verified therapy! Oh for heavens sake – why they cancelled that session – that’s the only reason I came…and so on) is gently but firmly soothed away.