One thing I managed to leave out of my post on Cove Park was any mention of just how emotional an experience it was. Several of us, myself included, were in tears at one point or another in the week. This is not surprising, as it was demanded of us that we go deep into ourselves. Moreover, some of our poems deal with profound emotions. For me, there was the added layer of grief that always falls over any discussion of breath and breathing: our son Aidan’s lungs did not form properly, due to other problems. This meant that he was unable to breathe, although he tried.
However raw or dark the emotions touched during the week, the overal atmosphere was of release and healing. This, coupled with some of the exercises we did — such as the one that involved emptying the lungs of all air and creating a vacuum until we had to allow the inrush of air — set me in mind of “The Lung Wash” by Michael Symmons Roberts (from his second collection, Raising Sparks).
In fact, the whole week felt very like my experience of spending time in prayer and contemplation at a spiritual retreat. Why so? I kept coming back to a quotation from Simone Weil, which I found in Esther De Waal’s book The Celtic Way of Prayer: The recovery of the religious imagination:
Absolute attention is prayer.
That sums it up. We were asked to pay absolute attention to our bodies, our breathing, our voices and our poems. For a Christian, how could such focus on those gifts from God not achieve the condition of prayer?