Ava Riby-Williams first came to a LIFEbeat Creative Practice training in 2016, and connected with the idea of using the arts as a tool for group expression. Since then, she has gone on to become a trainer and facilitator within the network and is currently leading her second Online Creative Practice.
Here, Ava tells us more about her work and the things she’s learned from being a facilitator.
How did you first get involved with LIFEbeat?
I was doing a yoga teacher training and I met a lady called Silvia. We really got on. She told me that she was a Creative Facilitator. I was curious because I hadn’t met anyone who had described themselves in that way before. She told me that she had done training with an organization called LIFEbeat and that she thought I might find it interesting. I was intrigued, so I took the Creative Practice. It really resonated with me and I’ve been a part of LIFEbeat ever since. If people are thinking about taking the Creative Practice training, I would say just do it. Learning how to be creative is helpful for everyone whether you want to facilitate or not.
I met a lot of like-minded people on the course and I’ve gone on to work with them as part of LIFEbeat and also in other projects too. I love the idea of using the arts in a way that doesn’t feel elitist and performative. LIFEbeat showed me that the arts can be used as a process and as part of community building and encouraging expression. All of these things really tied together different aspects of the work I was doing at the time.
After that first training I decided to volunteer at a summer camp and I absolutely loved it. The following year I came back to camps and I took on a role within the youth leadership program. We were empowering young people within the camp to lead discussion workshops and helping them to follow through on that process and step into leadership.
In early 2020 I helped to lead my first Creative Practice training and I was scheduled to lead another session in the Spring, but the pandemic hit, so as a team, we came together and worked on adapting the in-person training to an online session. It’s been really fascinating to adapt this training to a digital setting. I can’t deny that it’s different, but I would say that some parts of it are actually more powerful. There has been a lot of learning about what is possible. Just before Christmas I also led an online reunion for the LIFEbeat youth and staff community, and I am excited to be a part of the 2021 Youth Leadership program this spring.
What is your favourite thing about LIFEbeat?
I really love the sense of community. I find that I come into contact with a lot of inspiring thinkers and feelers through this community. I’ve learnt so much just by being a part of such a creative group.
Everyone has different interests and other things going on outside of LIFEbeat, but we all come back again and again because we really enjoy being able to make things together and holding the shared vision of creativity as an essential essence of daily life. I also love getting to work with young people. I get so much inspiration from them. It helps me to understand what it is that the new generation are facing and what it is that I can do to support them.
Do you have a favourite memory from LIFEbeat?
One comes up. It was at a camp at Embercombe. It was one of the last nights and it was the full moon, and a wonderful facilitator called Jake created a labyrinth experience for us all to travel through. It was really incredible and full of imagination and mystery as we journeyed together through this incredible world that had been created on the land. I remember some of the young people being totally blown away by this new experience and that just added to the whole atmosphere. It was really cool.
Other than that, I always think of the stories and the storytellers. Moments around the camp fire in the evenings. Also, the open mic! I remember one particular open mic when a couple of young women who had been very shy all week ended up singing this song together and everyone just gave them so much support. The whole place were cheering them on and it was beautiful. Really amazing.
Can you tell us a little about your work outside of LIFEbeat?
There’s a lot of different strings to it. I teach yoga classes which I have been doing since 2014. In the last couple of years I have started assisting yoga teacher training courses too, which is great because it allows me to step into more of a facilitation role with yoga.
I also lead a lot of different workshops that generally involved a lot of spiritual practices but mixed with creative practices too. I run movement workshops and voice workshops. A lot of my work looks at ways to hold yourself as sovereign and move away from the inner critic, which is deeply embedded within LIFEbeat’s way of working too. Everything is an invitation and I want to encourage people to find their own inner wisdom to respond to that invitation from an authentic place.
A couple of years ago I started The Creative Soul Collective which is an online community to share creativity, culture and spirituality.
How has your work changed since coming to LIFEbeat?
I’ve been inspired to look more deeply at the different ways that people experience the world. This is something that has always been important to me, but I am now even more passionate about it. I’ve been really working on actively honoring diversity and celebrating the diversity of each group. In trainings, I am trying to really acknowledge different learning styles and really cater to that. It might be about honoring the different cultures that are being brought into the space, or the different physical needs. I am really inspired to move beyond just allowing those differences and to begin to really speak to them so that we can make it comfortable for everyone.
Becoming a facilitator has been a really helpful learning experience for me as a person so far. It’s about learning about the nature of people and how we are together in groups. It’s fascinating. The author and activist Adrienne Maree Brown said that being a facilitator is the job of helping people to be together. I really like that description and I keep coming back to it with my work at LIFEbeat.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
Adrienne Maree Brown is a big inspiration to me. I recommend the book Pleasure Activism. It’s probably best for 18+ and is very inspiring.
I would also recommend reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. That has really helped me with facilitating. It really helps me to explore the way I respond to people. For example, if someone does a performance during a workshop, responding by saying that was ‘great’ or ‘really good’ can imply that there is a flipside of the coin and that would be bad. Sometimes that binary way of speaking isn’t particularly helpful. Instead I try to really tune in to the feelings and the responses that came from that performance and to speak authentically to what that brought up in me.
If you could offer some advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Don’t feel the need to fill the silent spaces. As a facilitator you are not there so that people can know all about you, you are just holding the edge of the container so that people can get on with their thing within that. Sometimes putting too much emphasis on yourself detracts from that. Allow the silence for things to land with people. You are just facilitating it rather than making it happen within them.