How nature can be the best therapy of all...
It's taken me a while to properly notice how much better being in nature can make me feel. A lot of my childhood memories are about being outdoors, full of the wonders of water, plants and insects. As David Whyte writes in The Three Marriages, "Adults seemed to have forgotten basic elemental and joyful relationships with clouds or horizons or grass that seemed necessary to be a full participant in the creation I saw around me". And not just adults - my teenage years were spent largely in my bedroom, curtains closed, listening to The Smiths. And then for years I lived in large cities, with no greenery in sight.
But over the last few years, I've become increasingly aware of my relationship with nature. Last Spring, I attended an Ecotherapy workshop at Stanmer Park (I didn't know what Ecotherapy was, but I knew I liked the sound of it). I learned about scientific evidence which backed up my feeling that nature made me feel better (here's a previous blog about my compulsion to photograph trees everyday), such as research studies in hospitals showing that patients with a natural view from their window healed faster than those without.
Attention Restoration Theory was developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, and asserts that nature demands less of you than normal life, so slows you down and restores your ability to pay proper attention to things. Getting into a focussed flow can be challenging enough with constant interruptions and distractions (phones and notifications definitely don't help). The Kaplans observed that after a period of directed attention (e.g. on a work task), people eventually become distracted, irritable and less able to work well, but that nature provided "soft fascination" which takes no effort, and can in time create a calmer, more reflective state.
The first part of the workshop was about our own relationship to nature, and simply involved walking about and noticing what attracted our attention. Some people were entranced by the wonder of tiny, perfect snail shells; others found sweeping views across the Downs reminded them in a comforting way of how small they were in relation to the world. I was inspired by looking up a tree where hundreds of buds were outlined against the sky, ready to open. Potential.
Later, we identified an issue or challenge we wanted to explore, and spent time reflecting on it. Nature is bursting with metaphors, and once you tune in, I found there was endless wisdom to listen to.
Since then, I've made sure I get out into nature every day, and appreciate it while I'm there. It's not always possible to get out into ancient, wild landscapes - sometimes I just drink coffee watching leaves move through a window. I've also tried coaching in different natural environments - parks, gardens, allotments. And I'm developing coaching walks. As coaching participant Rebecca Ann Smith said, "Something about walking and talking at the same time is very freeing – I’ve often found I think better when I’m walking anyway. The landscape around us seemed to enrich and deepen the experience, the changing scene constantly suggesting ideas and metaphors which fed into our conversation."
For more information on coaching in nature, please contact me.
The Centre for Ecotherapy: www.centreforecotherapy.org.uk