Wandering Workshops Lesley McKenna

Scottish Wandering Workshops Uses Splitboarding As Tool For Mindfulness & Exploring Sustainability

Combining splitboarding with mindfulness, self-discovery and self & environmental awareness, Wandering Workshops looks to help people find the deeper meaning behind their love and reasons for splitboarding, and in turn, develop a greater appreciation for the natural world. Wandering Workshops will also focus on other projects that encourage the development of mindfulness and self-awareness surrounding sense-of-self and sustainability.

Wandering Workshops has been founded by 3x Olympic snowboarder Lesley McKenna and Neon Stash‘s Hannah Bailey in the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands. SOURCE caught up with Lesley to find out more about the company and how they’re using the COVID restrictions and heavy Scottish snowfall to their advantage with their new project.

Tell us about Wandering Workshops and what led you to starting the new company?
Wandering Workshops has been germinating for a few years now, all be it in various other forms or, really, ideas. To be honest, it started off as an idea to make some sort of self-reflection or awareness ‘tool’ through which people could reflect on and talk about the deeper meaning that they’ve been able to find through participating in snowboarding throughout their lives.

The first idea was to make a set of ‘meaning cards’ whereby a human universal ‘deeper meaning’ (and by deeper meaning I guess I mean a ‘big picture’ kind of theme or archetype if you will), was represented by a cool shot. Could be action, could be scenery or lifestyle but the shot should be evocative and bring an embodied sense of meaning with it for the viewers. Along with the image would come a set of questions and or reflections that are designed to help people consider new perspectives on old thought patterns or felt senses. In this way, both the universal understanding and the personal felt or embodied senses of the theme on the card can be compared and contrasted and hopefully a kind of learning and personal growth can start to take place.

The cards might still happen, but in actuality, when trying to unpack and explain the idea to people a theme developed surrounding how people find that deeper, personally embodied, but universal meaning, and how snowboarding and the environments we ride in can facilitate the growth of self-awareness. This growth in self-awareness, I think, is really needed in order to negotiate the world we live in today; we need to be able to negotiate the world in a way that can make life more sustainable in every meaning and sense of the word. To be honest, not many people really got what I meant with the cards, but that idea did start many great conversations about meaningfulness and value, the ‘price’ of things, what sustainability is on a personal and global level and how those themes are handled and ‘lived out’ by the boardsport and outdoor sports industry, across both community and culture.

In the end, the ideas and conversations led to a collaboration between myself and Hannah Bailey (@neonstash) that we have called Wandering Workshops. Wandering Workshops is really an umbrella term for what is likely to become a few different projects all connected by the theme of finding and exploring meaningfulness with the intention of then using that new knowledge to make the world a more sustainable place to live in. The projects are aimed at exploring connection and belonging on different levels. Connection to the self, to other humans and to the natural world, including the environment. In order for people to really flourish they need to be connected and in order for the Earth to be able to flourish, people need to feel connected to nature and the planet. We think that the idea of ‘wandering’ both inside and outside helps people to find what they are drawn to and in turn, helps them find what they are connected to as well.

We are not proposing to have any big cures but we feel that helping people to find and grow these connections in an authentic and embodied way has the potential to really support positive action when it comes to the big issues like the climate crisis, societal issues of equality and diversity, and issues of sustainable economies as well as helping people on a personal level with better mental, emotional and physical health…

The first Wandering Workshops project is about ‘coaching’ people, something that I feel very much at home doing. Not coaching in the high-performance sense, this is about helping people to find what they already have inside them and then support them to add something new in the context of splitboarding. The project is a series of 2-day splitboard workshops in the highlands of Scotland. As well as a great splitboard adventures, the group will also learn how to shape and communicate their own personal meaning and ‘story’ of the adventure. Hannah will handle photography coaching while I handle the snowboarding side of things and then we will work together to support people to create their own ‘narrative’ using various mentoring, storytelling and teaching strategies. The shared experience is a key part of the workshops and including some yoga practice, meditation, creativity, and storytelling sessions will enhance the experiences taken from the mountain. Although ‘coaching’ is part of the experience we want to make sure this well paced endeavour is more about meaningfulness and not just a ‘rush to the top of the highest peak kind’ of experience. By the end of the workshop people should leave having had an awesome, fun, shared experience of splitbparding in Scotland, accompanied with a set of pictures or words that are really personal to them and that have a wider significance to the rest of their lives as well. If they also leave feeling like they might want to change their lives in some way to live more sustainably, either on a personal internal level, or on an external material level then that’s icing on the cake, so to speak.

What makes WW different to anything else on the market?
I think there are a lot of really great splitboard workshops and camps out there. What makes Wandering Workshops a bit different is that we are focused on the personal meaningfulness of the enterprise and how that ties into life’s universal themes both in general and individually. We definitely want to make sure the workshops are fun, but I guess we are taking a very philosophical stance and are really trying to look at how and why splitboarding might matter in someone’s life; alongside the fact that snowboarding of any sort is fun… well most of the time anyway (I am thinking highland gale force blizzard as a possible exception to the fun label). We are also different in that we coach photography and storytelling well. This is something really unique as far as we can tell. For us, the two are really connected, that is how you ride and how you take pictures and tell stories. For example, what you look at will really affect what you see and what you see will really effect the kind of action that occurs to you and the action you then decide to take; whether that is the way you frame the photo or the way you frame the turn, both are very similar and both are affected by your embodied senses as well as your cognitive processes and awareness.

Tell us about the movie/documentary proposal.
The movie sprung up out of the pandemic, mainly because it looks like we might not be able to run any of the workshops this season due to travel restrictions. We very much hope that we might still be able to run at least one later in the spring but in the meantime, we really wanted to talk to other people who are also out and about splitboarding during the pandemic; to find out about what the experience brings to their lives and how they use it to create and understand meaningfulness. We hope to produce a series of vignettes on the value of splitboarding at a very personal level and by telling those personal stories we hope to capture the universal themes. The idea is to keep the film as an all-female cast, really organic and ‘self-made’ in feel and also to try and have contributors from as many different countries as we could find. If anyone reading this is an avid splitboard touring female and has the capacity to film themselves or has a friend that can film for them and is up for sharing reflections on what it means to them in their life – we want to hear from you! The idea is to try and connect people through their experiences of wandering while it is impossible to be physically connected.

And how has this winter been? The snow has looked all-time. What do you put the insane snowfall down to?
I am not sure what the snowfall is down to, the weather cycles have been really similar to the last big snow winter here in the highlands which was in 2010. One of the reasons is that there is a ‘La Nina’ effect going on this year, which was also present in 2010. The La Nina (the girl) and El Nino (the boy) effects are caused by interaction between the atmosphere and the oceans which pushes the jetstreams north or south. In Scotland, the El Nino effect brings colder winters with north east winds and a lot of snowfall. The extreme ends of climate oscillation are a huge concern with regards to the climate emergency. Although we have been lucky to have two months of really cold temperatures, in the past week (early Feb) the temperature has gone from a low of -16 to a high of 12 degrees in a matter of days. These big swings in temperature are a concern and are caused by the global heating effect of the climate emergency and not on the La Nina pattern.

Credit Rupert Shanks

Credit Rupert Shanks

What have you learnt from this winter being ’stuck’ at home in Scotland?
I have learnt that Scotland is the most amazingly wonderful place, even more so than I had thought before! I love it up here, especially in a good snow year. I have also learnt that the Scottish people are also amazingly wonderful as well. I really have not felt ’stuck’ at all to be honest. I have felt really lucky to live where I do.

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