Water & Nature as Education

Brianna Ortega with Jobi Manson

Brianna: So I just wanted to first ask you can you tell me a little bit about your past history leading up to your practice with Sēfari And what on your journey has led you to focusing on nature? 

Jobi: I would say that nature has always been my place of refuge, and it was always the space where I could go to be myself and let all my cares drift away. Nature has always been my canvas, for me to explore myself, and for me to express myself, and most importantly for me to find myself. So in that way, it is something I have been in relationship with my whole life very intimately and very wholeheartedly. I grew up on the easter shoreline of Maryland, so my backyard was the Chesapeake Bay, and it was this kind of nautical undertone, where the waterline had started before I was born and has carried with me through life. I grew up on the Bay. I spent so much time as a child walking the beaches in search of the perfect stone, that is the most beautiful and radiant color green and nature was always a place that satiated my limitless curiosity. 

Brianna: So I was curious at what point did you know you wanted to share this with other people and invite other people to this immerse learning experience?

Jobi: That turning point for me happened after I graduated from the Hoffman Process, that was the first time I had ever been introduced into very tactical practices of exploring the way my mind worked. What motivated my creation of Sēfari was to help people reconnect to the physical sensation of being alive so they could perhaps make different choices that were more balanced, that were more harmonized with the world we share with a lot of people and other organisms and creators. It was an effort to help reestablish sensory connection in our bodies and create a practice that allows people to be with their entire emotional spectrime so that they may inhabit their lives very differently and what that would create a foundation for in terms of possibility. Does that make sense?

Brianna: Yeah that makes sense. Creating a space for people then they can go back out into the world and have a new awareness of how they fit into collective society

Jobi: Yeah to help people gain a sense of self and not just self of sense from a physiological standpoint not only just a mindfulness, but also  more holistic embodiment of one’s life, one’s embodiment, and one’s relationship to the natural world. If you can’t feel that relationship, then you are disconnected from it. If you are disconnected from anything, it is impossible to feel, and when it’s impossible to feel it is much more challenging to consider the realm of others’ experience beyond our own. It’s essentially a technique that is created, crafted, and designed to help people move beyond social paralysis. 

It is to bring people back to themselves and bring people back to nature. That is the simple of it. And where did it begin? It began with awareness and understanding how important that is as a tool to navigate life.

Brianna: How does slowing down in noticing become part of your practice in all of this? 

Jobi: I have this thought that came to me about two weeks ago around slowness, and in my work I love to explore language and how language shapes our understanding of reality and then I think about how different aspects of life speak different languages and to me the language of nature is in its most pure form is pure vibration, pure movement. So in order to experience communication from nature we have to slow down to nature’s pace. Nature moves very differently in time than we do, There is a very different relationship to time in nature, time moves in cycles of repetition and evolution and slowness to me feels like the hidden discipline of grace and how majesty and of reception and of listening. To me slowness required in order to perceive the really dynamic spectrum that nature speaks to us through, with, and in. 

Brianna: It’s interesting how so much of what we can learn can only happen through slowing down. 

Jobi: I can remember how I struggled as a little kid. Math was so hard for me to learn it was so hard for many reasons. Part of that was because at that time I had so much difficulty focusing and I wasn’t able to establish for myself a foundation understanding for myself the language of numbers, and so what happens when you miss core elements of the learning process it makes it very difficult for you to build on those things. For me slowing down in anything that I am doing, but very specifically if I am trying to listen to the natural world, is a way for me to both deconstruct and focus on one thing at a time rather than be overwhelmed by many different things happening simultaneously. This is the nature of nature. When we slow down, we are able to decontract the intricate process that is happening all around us. When we can hold our attention in that way, we are led to places unexpected and unknown. Slowness is a gateway to original discovery and a necessary byproduct of cultivating a relationship with nature. Whether we choose to, there are so many different mediums to reference here to talk about means to witness the processes of nature. The most obvious is to become a gardener or be a farmer, you are very much tied to the cycle of transformation and how different stages have very particular process associated with them. Well, our lives are no different. We are nature. 

We–physiologically, emotionally, spiritually, physically–are always undergoing these transformations and these cycles and we return to everything with fresh eyes. Over and over again. That is the process of integration and of holistic materations, but so many of us are disconnected. Even if you just think about living out here in Los Angeles, California. California doesn’t have the same kind of seasonality that other places and landscapes possess and we are always in this state of the harvest.  The summertime, the sunshine–there is a certain climate that that breeds and it can be heatnistic if it is not kept in check. It’s not possible to always be in creative conceptualization and dreamtime, and I am talking more about the cultural and social implications of cycles. Different places have different nature and how does that nature shape the conversation of the cultural and social functions and the way that that space moves. Different places are known for different things. Los Angeles is known as this story time and this infinite dreamland, but what does that mean when you live here and you are building relationships with people it’s actually really interesting. People can seem over idealistic, or naive, or have a childish sense of living. You look around and think there is an insane amount of wealth here, going beyond someone’s wildest dreams. I think that speaks to the landscape of inherited nature. I don’t think those things are not connected. 

Brianna: I like how you are bringing that back to more of a climate scale on earth. I like the question, “How do some climates affect how we learn or get inspired?” because I have lived in many places with opposing climates. 

Jobi: For me, I like to think about our emotional world or our inner landscape as very similar and connected to the weather. It is always changing, weather operates in certain climates, in certain cycles, in certain processes over particular landscapes. The landscape of our inner world is constructed of our narrative of our history. Our feelings are the weather that moves across that landscape when we are aware of the landscapes. We can better understand the cycles of emotional change, of emotional change, of weather change that are going to be present in particular territories. 

It’s all connected right? We all have these, I think anybody who is an artist has an intimate relationship with nature. Nature provided the emotional support.  Whatever structural safety was lacking nature filled that naturing role. So especially for artists, nature is quintessential in our lives because it taught us how to perceive our world and create our world through our senses. What we were seeing, what we were feeling, what we were tasting, what we were hearing, what we were touched by. Nature is the most profound artistic teacher there could be. It is like we are in this classroom of life being nurtured by the great mother herself. I think as we slow down and learn to watch and more important to listen and interpret those things that’s where our creative expression comes from, it is the synthesis of that process. 

Brianna: Yeah so I want to loop back into speaking into your social practice with Sēfari inviting people to connect with nature in different ways to essentially learn about themselves through nature and things outside of themselves. 

Jobi: It is meant to be both an inward and an outward exploration it is essential bringing them into the intersection of their perceptions, of their sensitives, and of their relationship to those things, and then using all of that as a catalyst to learn how to trust themselves beyond their fears and learned how to let go of perceived control. Learn how to really merge with the flow of life. Obviously water is the perfect medium and metaphor to catalis that sort of bond. I am interested in helping people move from their mind to into their heart space and into the vibrational connection we have with life around us because until we are anchored in that space we move very haphazardly. We move out of fear versus stillness.

Brianna: So comparing your practice to other forms of education in a classroom, how do you feel learning from nature and learning from water specifically is equally as valid  as learning from humans? 

Jobi: I think all human beings the way we learn or learn, teaching, and education is shared in the Western world is a very limited practice of interaction, with knowledge. I think that human beings learn most deeply through experience and through the creation of their own emotional imprint and or memory. The best way that I know how to learn for myself and the most impactful way is that I learn with longevity instead of an insitninatious burst of absorption that could potentially leave me. I am interested in helping someone create new memories, new acrutruaur, and new neurological thought patterns, I am interested in helping someone recircut the way their mind functions and to do that I need to do a few things. 

In my practice, I have to create a container or I have to be in a structure where someone can feel completely safe. Until the mind is relaxed, the body is ready to respond. The body is in a sort of fight or flight mode. It is really important to create an environment where somebody is really relaxed, that is number one. Number two is that when somebody is learning new material for the first time, the more deeply their senses are immersed in that process, the more deeply their mind is going  to create a deeper imprint of the memory. So sent, our senses are very interwoven inside of our brains with our memories and our memories is how we perceive time and space, meaning our relationship to whatever we are doing in that moment. So to me, the most powerful learning experiences are the ones that are most activated with our senses. So where does that happen? In nature. But where does that really happen? In water. So our senses inside of our brian were formed and created in a water environment inside of our mother’s womb. So our senses relax in water because they are safe, the return to a memory or an energetic imprint of safety in a way that no other environment can procure for us. So sensory learning is really powerful in water. 

Brianna: Thanks for explaining that and how it all ties together. I think a lot of people don’t think about the scientific, or even biological, attributes of how they are navigating work. It is cool to hear that side of it. 

Jobi: I am very interested in the longevity of learning and the anchoring of knowledge in my physical body so I can recall that information through a process of repetition. But also I want to be in the world of knowledge, not separate from it. Especially when I am in some sort of creative expression process. I want to be in those worlds, not an outsider.

Brianna: How would you consider using water as a form of education in traditional academia? 

Jobi: I think there are so many ways of creating processes of using water to open the mind and body so that one may enter the space of intuitive creativity or instinctual creativity to me that is operating from a place of sensory awareness. That can be done, that is what I am learning right now among this time of covid. So much of what I have been proficisizing over the past 5 years since I have started this is “we need to be in nature” and yes that is true. That is an end goal for me, to live in harmony with tha and to help others embody those shifts as well but also more practically we can have different ways to incorporate the element water from a sensory perceptive without being fully immersed in it. Whether that is having some sort of practice, like a tea practice, we are in some way interacting with the element. Say we have water as a relational teacher in the room with us while we are creating. And I don’t know what that looks like, maybe that is a great tea practice, engaging with water, consuming and seeing how it moves within us. Maybe that’s painting to water color before going into a creative exercise. There are infinite ways of thinking about having a really creative relationship to water and how that opens spaces within us. I am very interested in implementing practices of water as a means to deepen, soften, and dynamically affect our creative process. 

Brianna: Yeah, thank you.

Jobi: The most important thing to remember is that water as a medium is responsible for creating all life on the planet.  As a chemical component or as a vessel for life to evolve everything originated and began in that space. So what could that have to teach us about water’s infinite creative potential. To know water is to know ourselves, our bodies, our water, our brains are 90% water. If we are not looking at water as a means to expand our creative perceptions, what the hell are we doing? Like to me that seems so obvious, but it is not obvious. It’s complicated. It’s complex. It is infinitely dynamic. It’s a countitive space of relativity. Water is so dynamic, and it is beyond our perceptions. But, in that way I think we can learn from it in ways we haven’t even begun to explore. That is what I am interested in. 

Brianna: Yeah.

Jobi: I think that that act of valuing one’s own experiential cultivations of knowledge versus learning from what others have learned. I think both are valuable, there are certain teachers, there are certain mentors, certain concepts that are fundamental that are pointing us in our path of individuation and integration creativity. All of those are foundationally important, but allowing oneself the space and value of one’s own learning process is more important. To understand how I perceive anything, whether it is a piece of information or whether it is slowing down to listen to the trees… I will remember it differently if I have my own original experience, not an purposed experience from someone else’s perceptions. 

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a bi-annual publication dedicated to supporting, documenting, and contextualizing socially engaged art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal focuses on a different theme in order to take a deep look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions, and the public. The Journal seeks to support writing and web based projects that offer documentation, critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

The SoFA Journal is published in print and PDF form twice a year, in June and December by the PSU Art & Social Practice Program. In addition to the print publication, the Journal hosts an online platform for ongoing projects.

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