A festival intent on ridding us of the myriad modern-day distractions that stop us from embracing the fullness of the present moment will use unconventional artistic methods to cajole audiences into “mindfulness”.
Among the interactive events at NOW festival in Oxfordshire is a recital by a lake that will culminate in a collective swim by the audience, once they have been inspired by poet Anna Selby declaiming aquatic-themed poems by Jean Sprackland, John Burnside and Mary Oliver. Alongside her, the broadcaster Ruby Wax (pictured) will invite an audience of 150 people to sit on hay-bales while she runs a mindfulness workshop, sharing tips on how to rein in a galloping mind and speaking humorously about the art of remaining firmly in the present.
The Barefoot Doctor – a cult figure who has performed mantras in London's nightclubs and alongside pop bands such as Basement Jaxx, will orchestra flash-mobs during the festival. His “Big Om” will urge crowds to gather and produce the single-noted chant of “om”. He conducted a mammoth “Om” event in April this year at the Dalai Lama's Road to Peace when 1,000 people participated in creating the sound.
Elsewhere, a guerrilla artist will lead a life-drawing class in which participants will sketch the insides, rather than outsides, of a life model (who will have internal organs painted on her skin) while the author Oliver Burkeman will argue in a lecture that the art of paying attention is the key to happiness, as well as interrogating whether we can reclaim this quality in an increasingly distracting world of smartphones and social media.
A dome will be erected as a quiet retreat and festival-goers will be encouraged to reflect inside. Its whereabouts will remain unmapped, though participants will be able to follow a trail lined with mirrors – so following their own reflections – to a clearing in the woods and its entrance.
According to Jana Stefanovska, founder of the NOW festival, the aim is to bring art and wellbeing closer. She hopes that it will undermine the myth that mindful meditation is solitary and sombre. “The festival will present opportunities to reflect and be still”, she says. “As well as to play and party.”
NOW at Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire (www.nowfestival.org) 8 to 11 August