Posts tagged Rewild
With Nature in Mind
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As the days are getting colder and the nights are getting longer, we feel the urgency to slow down. It is time to withdraw into our cosy lairs and dream about the future. A future which benefits the seasoned environment, as well as satiates our human needs and desires.

Yet, there are questions begging to be asked: "When was the last time you had a screen-free day to spend hours fantasising how to achieve a sustainable future?" and "When was the last time you spent an entire weekend without a device by your side?" Most of us don't even know what that feels like anymore, though it is likely that we grew up without a constant stream of technology, so remembering is only a silent thought away. With digital devices shut off, the quiet that ensues is relaxing, calming, and downright grounding - especially if you have the time and place for a barefoot walk.

The human species has embraced technology with the tightest grip in such a short amount of time, that our brains and eyes are moving faster than we can comprehend. How can we fully absorb the growing flow of information? In favor of being entertained online, we have left behind the abundant wealth of nature, which is quick on the decline due to our habits of over-consumption. However, it is never too late to let go of that embrace, to slowly pull away and admit that perhaps it was not the 'love at first swipe' that we first imagined.

It is wonderful to know, that the best things in life still happen off the screen, just ask any wild child. 

Just the other day, my husband and daughter were playing out in a neighbouring field, throwing a stainless steel cup attached to a flat cotton wick for oil lamps (a homemade toy). Amidst all the fun of tossing high into the strong wind - to watch it fly - a fox appeared close to the hedgerow going about his/her business. It was a magical moment, just the three of them, no screens in sight, no camera to capture the moment. It was a connection with nature that will last a lifetime.

What does designing a sustainable life have to do with a chance-encounter of meeting a red fox? Everything.

See, when we are stuck behind screens (televisions, tablets or the like), we are mere observers in the game of life. It often appears that we are here to be entertained, rather than to be key players in the main event. We often choose what is easy and uncomplicated, preferring not to get our hands dirty. We've become a society of watchers, rather than doers, though we can change that too - if we want - and that is why sustainability starts at home.

It begins with limiting our addiction to technology, learning, once again, how to shut off the noise that clouds our heads with some important and much useless information. It takes gathering the time and courage to get outside, and hike further afield then we are used to exploring. It takes getting outside of our comfort zone, off of the couch and out of our climate-controlled homes.

If there is one single thing that we need to realise quickly about sustainability, it is that we all make an impact - in the right or wrong direction. Let go of your "need" for plastic, and seek out natural, renewable alternatives instead. Go minimalist and pare down your wardrobe, keeping only the essentials. Then practice your handcrafting skills and knit, crochet and sew the next garments that enter your closet. Do a wonderful job and they may just last a lifetime! Lighten your load and practice buying nothing new for an extended period of time - there are so many ways to reduce your impact on this Earth.

Designing a sustainable life is not a trend, it is an important aspect of our modern life - for if we fail to change, nature will no longer be on our side.

And since we are inspired by nature every day, most of you reading this are too, the prospect of losing bits and pieces of our environment is a thought too great to bear. We'd rather live simply, so that all bears (white, black, tall and small) can roam the forests freely, just as nature intended.

Do your dreams of a sustainable life keep nature in mind?


Think Like a Tree
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Sarah Spencer believes that all living things share natural principles that allow them to grow, stay healthy, be adaptable, develop resilience, become connected and pass on what they’ve learned. She maintains that if we can learn to access the wisdom of the forest we can live happier, healthier and more productive lives ourselves. Today, she tells us a bit more about her work and outlook on life...

 

The Think like a Tree programme was created as a practical and accessible way for anyone to harness the wisdom of the natural world, and apply it in their own life.

Whilst designing landscapes, gardens and woodlands, I realised that the same principles that make natural ecosystems so successful and enduring could be applied to our own lives. There are a set of natural principles that all living things share, and by looking at these principles, through the lense of trees, we get back to the basics of what is really important in life, like growth, resilience, health and positive relationships.

We share a common ancestor with trees (about 2 billion years ago!), so these are the fundamentals of life.  But trees have had a 280 million year head start in solving the problems that life throws at us, so we would be foolish to ignore all that evolutionary wisdom. 

Think like a tree came into being following my own struggles with ill-health and coping with it forced me to re-evaluate my life and how I can live a fulfilling life, but within my own limits.  And I took a long hard look at how my environment was affecting me, both in terms of my immediate surroundings and the wider world.   I decided I needed to start living more consciously, both in terms of my own wellbeing but also that of the people and other living things around me.  This way of living radically improved my life, allowing me develop my own unique solutions to my problems, and regain my health from a low point of spending over a year in bed.

The principles are taken from permaculture, a nature-inspired design system, and biomimicry, which uses nature to design products and find technical solutions.  And some of them are simply observed whilst I was walking in the woods. 

Once I embarked on this process people kept asking me about it and so I developed the courses where I live in woodlands in South Derbyshire to share my learning.  I am now also working on an online course and a Think like a Tree book, to be published next year.

I'm guided by the natural principles every day - they are really easy to follow, you can observe them in your immediate surroundings and you interpret them in the way that’s relevant to you.   Anyone can do it!   If you see a dandelion pushing through the cracks in the pavement it has something to teach you about resilience and determination. A tree that harbours an ecosystem of insects and birds can teach us a lot about developing co-operative relationships.  Some of those that I use every day are “slow and small solutions” that help me achieve my goals in a more effective way; “use your energy where it can have the most effect" guides me to focus my attention on the important things, and not waste time on the pointless ones (like overthinking things);  “value diversity” helps me to see the good in everyone I meet, when so often it’s easy to gravitate away from those who are different; and my personal favourite is “use your edge” which reminds me step out of my comfort zone and take risks, because that’s what allows exciting new things to happen.   That’s exactly what a birch tree does when it colonizes new ground.

When I teach shorter workshops I can see that even after an hour’s session lightbulbs start going on and I get reactions like “I’ve never thought about it like that!” or “I’d no idea I had so much in common with trees!”  “I didn’t realize what I was feeling is perfectly natural!”.  I think people like the fact that this is about learning from the natural world, and goes beyond simply enjoying the benefits of being in the outdoors (of which of course there are many).During the six week course we go into the principles in depth and the more people engage the more benefits they get.   It’s called Think like a Tree for a reason – you really do have to think!  The feedback has been overwhelming.

The full course follows a 12 step design cycle that allows participants to design for their own unique circumstances, incorporating the principles each week.  So far people have used it for designing a career move, their retirement, their health, their confidence and wellbeing, and to design ways to support others.   But essentially it can be used for every circumstance, from corporate culture, to bring up children. I like the unique approach – every tree is unique so why should we think that a one size fits all method should work for our own problems?

Many people have busy and stressful lives these days so it’s understandable that getting out in nature is not always a priority.  But mindsets are shifting as to the benefits to health and wellbeing, and that is a great motivator.  Usually it’s the thought of getting outside that is the hurdle and when we do we love it.  If you ask people about their most exhilarating moment, when they felt the most alive, it’s usually in the outdoors – like seeing an amazing sunset, or even sitting round a campfire enjoying the company of others.  I wish we could bottle that feeling and sell it!

With all that in mind it’s important to find a way to incorporate contact with nature in your routine, by simple switches, like substituting going to the gym for a going for a walk, or walking to the shops via the park rather than driving.  I love gardening, and seeing new life emerge from tiny seeds at the same time as my own energy levels rise in the spring is exciting (and I get to eat the results!), but each person can find their own sweet spot of wellbeing or their “flow”.  I can guarantee it doesn’t happen sitting at home in front of a screen.

Young people are growing up in a world where they don’t have the freedom or the exposure to the outdoors in the same way as in the past, and they have many more pressures.  I trained as a Forest School leader and initiatives like this are making fantastic strides, but if you grow up divorced from the outdoors you risk becoming scared by it.  There are many children and adults who fear the outdoors, and don’t like getting dirty, and that makes me very sad.

It’s a societal problem – billions of pounds are being spent encouraging people to spend their weekends in shopping centres, and very little encouragement is given to being outside (which is free), essentially because big corporates are losing money every time we do so.

Parents, schools and the government all have a role to play in giving young people a reason to get outside, and from that they can learn to gain enjoyment and find purpose from it.  Children are also very capable of learning from the natural principles and a good one to start with is “feed your roots” asking them what that might mean in making sure they are growing up healthy and strong.

 

There are some great ways to start thinking more like a tree:

  • Get out in nature every day.

  • Observe the patterns in nature and in your own life – sleep, food, exercise, energy.

  • Think about your core values. Trees have a strong purpose and people are happier when they have purpose too.

  • Improve your surroundings – small and slow solutions every day.

  • Nurture your relationships.

  • Embrace change and challenge – develop resilience.

  • Think for the future - every tree that has ever lived has contributed to the creation of the soil and the abundance of our planet, so never think your own actions can’t change the world. Just make sure it’s in a positive way.

 

Further Details

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Six week courses take place in south Derbyshire, at Sarah's smallholding and at Whistlewood Common, a new community woodland social enterprise that runs practical courses on a wide range of sustainable subjects.  The woodlands are in the National Forest in a beautiful location in the heart of England.  Sarah can also tailor workshops to corporate or other groups and schools. She will also be running a free workshop at Timber Festival, 6-8 July.

For more information and to sign up to the email list see www.thinklikeatree.co.uk or follow on Facebook or Instagram @thinklikeatree where Sarah regularly posts interesting things about trees.

 

The Call of The Wild
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Rebecca Robinson renews herself through Shinrin-yoku

For many years, I have worked in the city. My mornings have passed me by, breakfast-less, in a blur of rushing. I have been on trains full of commuters staring at their phones, never looking up to see the world passing by their window at 120 mph. I have been one of them. But sometimes, something jolts me out of autopilot. I suddenly notice my surroundings and the people around me, a sea of suits and briefcases. I smell the coffee that other passengers gulp from their overpriced cups, barely noticing the taste. I watch as everyone strides purposefully through grey streets to make it to work on time – for many their only exercise before sitting at a desk and staring at a screen for 8 hours. As we walk, the congestion of the roads and the sound of car horns assault our senses, and the sameness of the daily grind makes us switch off. Our awareness shuts down and we stop seeing life around us. We walk past the homeless man who is in the same spot every morning, yet we no longer even notice him, and we fail to see the small flower that has struggled to grow between the cracks in the pavement.

Wake up and smell the coffee

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Being caught up in city life can feel thrilling. The fast-paced nature is exciting, and the multitude of department stores and coffee shops to indulge in on your lunch hour can be one of life’s little pleasures, but the temptation to shop and spend money we don’t have is a strong one. The occasional treat is nice, but when it becomes an expensive habit that keeps us in debt and prevents us from connecting with our selves and nature, we need to stop and think. I became aware of how often I had been treating myself, using hot chocolate with cream and slices of cake as a conduit to ‘me time’. A costly habit; one where you lose pounds from your wallet yet add pounds to your hips. Modern city life has its appeal but leads to apathy and a disconnect from real life. We miss what’s happening right under our noses in our natural environment because we stay cooped up indoors, tethered to our screens.

When I had my epiphany, brought on by a combination of reading about Shinrin-yoku (the Japanese wellbeing practice of ‘forest bathing’) and looking at my bank statement - which had landed with a particularly heavy thud that month - I realised something had to change. Materialism was becoming too big a part of my life, it was costing me money and I was losing a part of myself in the process. Being indoors all day at work and on my lunch-break was severing my connection to the natural world that I have always loved. We are part of nature, and reconnecting with our wild inner self is something that calls to us all, yet we often dampen down and anaesthetise our yearning for something more real with the pulsating lights of city life and an accumulation of more ‘stuff’.

Aside from materialism and the negative effects on our wallets, I had read about the negative physical effects of living in a city. Air pollution from particulates - such as black carbon from car engines - can seep into our bodies and make us ill. I became acutely aware of the lack of trees - which pump out oxygen and absorb pollution -  and I craved more of nature. The effects on our mood and mental health are well-documented with studies showing that noise pollution and city-living can make us anxious, stressed and depressed. The city was losing its allure, and I began my quest to claim back nature for my own wellbeing.

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I bought a digital alarm clock to wake me with a simulated sunrise and the song of birdsong, yet neither I nor my husband could make it work correctly. Again, I had reached out to ‘buy’ a piece of nature rather than opting for the real thing. After I returned it to the shop, I then began to open the curtains and let the real morning light flood in. I embraced the seasons. I listened to actual birdsong in the morning as I dressed, tuning in with the natural world around me. I began meditating on the train to work, looking at the landscape flash by. I was amazed at how much of the natural world I had tuned out of. It was there to see, but I had just stopped looking. I noticed trees growing at the side of the railway, grass growing wild and abundant between the tracks, clusters of snowdrops forcing their way through winter’s cold, hard earth, and moss growing on the entrance of damp, north-facing tunnel walls. Nature was all around me, and the more I looked, the more I saw. A v-formation of geese flew overhead, symbolising freedom. I made it my mission to carry on looking for nature in my everyday life. I started to go out on my lunch break, just sitting in nature and writing poetry about the natural world within the city around me.

Into the Woods

My reignited senses and focus on reclaiming the wild had started to make me feel better – happier, calmer, with renewed concentration, awareness and vitality.  Yet I was keen for more of nature and wanted to try Shinrin-yoku. ‘Forest Bathing’ does not involve stripping off to a bikini, but instead means walking deep into woodland and soaking up the atmosphere.

It is a type of nature-mindfulness which began in Japan in the 1980s and has long been a part of Japanese medicine, with extensive studies showing the physical and mental benefits of immersing yourself in the forest. Trees are believed to give off compounds that boost the number of natural killer (NK) cells we have in our body, thus boosting our immune system and helping us recover more quickly from illness. The NHS state on their website that ‘access to green space … reduces cortisol (stress) levels, increases physical activity and speeds recovery if you have been ill’. Since 2009, the NHS Forest project has seen 150 NHS sites plant thousands of trees on NHS land, enabling more people to access green spaces whilst at hospital to improve patients’ lifestyles and aid recovery processes. For more information, visit https://nhsforest.org/.  Reading the evidence that shows how our environment and health are linked is empowering. A walk in the woods seems to lower our heart rate and blood pressure, improving our energy levels and mood, making us happier, calmer, more relaxed, with increased focus and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The woods were calling to me, just as they have called to others throughout time, urging us to reconnect with our true nature and renew ourselves. ‘It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.’ So, I began my journey to a local area of woodland. Even if you live in a city, there will be somewhere nearby with trees if you look.

When I arrived at the opening to the woods, I stood still for a moment to take a deep breath, drawing in a lungful of air so pure you could almost taste it. It is true that when we are around trees the air seems fresher. I walked slowly, meandering along paths that snaked across the leaf-covered earth beneath my feet. Using my senses, I drank in everything. The feel of the ground, the pebbles beneath the soles of my shoes, the air on my cheeks. I noticed the colours of the leaves, the patterns etched into tree-bark, even spotting lovers’ names carved into the trunks. Dappled light shone and danced through the canopy of leaves above my head. The rushing of a stream cut its way through the forest. I walked toward the sound. Sliding over rocks, crashing over waterfalls, it energised the air. Its sound mingled with the chattering of wildlife and the singing of birds. As I breathed in the scent of the evergreens, breathing slowly, deeply, rhythmically, I entered a meditative state where I felt aware, focused, yet deeply calm.

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After 45 minutes of forest bathing, my hunched shoulders had dropped, tension had drained from my body, and I felt rested and restored. After my mindful walk through the woods, I slowly made my way home, promising myself that I would make more time for the healing powers of nature in my life. As conservationist John Muir wrote, ‘Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.’ I promised myself that I would look for the wild in the every day, I would notice nature wherever I went, and I would keep the countryside within me, knowing - in truth - that it had been there all along.

Find Rebecca on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using @rrobinsonwriter








 

Rediscovering Life Beyond the Screen
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Do you remember that exact moment from your childhood - sploshing in through the back door, sopping wet and dripping all over the floor after enjoying a series of muddy puddles, with an enormous smile on your face?  Do you recall that criticizing expression on an adult’s profile that dampened/squashed/ruined your delight with a mere glance?

It is absolutely true that children know how to have more fun, especially when it comes to experiencing the novelties of nature. Everything is a new, exciting experience for them, from jumping into a pile of leaves, to letting the water in the creek gently caress their tiny hands, and oh, the joys that can be had with clay!

Us adults? We are far too reserved to have spontaneous fun like that. We don’t want to waste time, or create more work by getting dirty. We tend to opt for the easy way out, staying clean and dry, every chance we get - after all, going to work, working from home, life in general and raising a family is definitely tiring. Yet, we are missing out on those very experiences that make us feel - and come - alive!

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Unfortunately, the “easy way out”, the ultimate way to relax, has become that of the technological and digital kind. Traversing life on the internet is a clean activity, it is mostly indoors and it doesn’t strain our muscles, and it is certainly not dependent on rain. It’s safe enough to hide behind our screens, and let our children do the same, in part because everyone else is doing it; we have grown accustomed to it.

We check our email at various times of day, waiting for letters that have not yet arrived. We search for likes and comments on social media, simply because we want to be seen and heard. But, to be seen and heard, felt and understood, we need to communicate in other ways.

In order to rediscover life beyond the screen, we must admit that smartphones don’t need us quite as much as we need them. We need to know that people will wait for our reply, and that busyness and checking in is exhausting.

To get back to a simpler way of life - way before all this phone, laptop and connectedness craze started - takes courage!

It takes removing ourselves from electrical impulses, and replacing them with grounding instincts, which can be as uncomplicated as walking barefoot on the beach, or on your own grassy lawn.

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The modern term for this healing time without distracting screens is digital detox. The concept is so novel that it has yet to be translated into every language. It is as easy as turning off your Wi-Fi for an entire day, or logging out of Facebook for a week, so that you are not tempted in any way to check in on what you are missing. Here’s a kind hint: it is much of a nothingness.

It may feel strange at first to disconnect, to be unavailable online. Just know that it gets easier every time you make the effort to do it.

And that life beyond the screen?

It is filled with hours and hours of meaningful things to do, it is teeming with face-to-face meetings over tea and coffee, it contains gardens, plants and animals of both the furry and feathered kind. And it is yours for the taking!

What can you do without a screen to entertain yourself, assuming that the word boredom does not exist?

  • Go for a walk in nature, far or near, on the sand or under trees.

  • Take photographs with a camera (not your phone) or sketch what you see in your journal.

  • Cook using your intuition and heart, skipping the recipes and meal plans.

  • Spend copious time with the people you know and love in person: playing, talking, dreaming, laughing.

Remember how much merrymaking and enjoyment you had as a child before computers and cell phones entered the sacred space of the family home. Those mechanical objects used to belong to businesses, yet somewhere along the way we have claimed them for our own, in the hopes that they would make our lives efficient, easier. And they have done that to a certain extent, but we have also brought into our private homes a good deal of the work stress and expectations of 24-hour availability…

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If the mere idea of too much technology frustrates you, it is the ideal time to provide distance between you and your devices.

Start small, shutting your phone completely off at night. Log out of all accounts, making an extra step for yourself to check back in. Digital detox for one day a week, then for two. Gradually work your way up to an entire week of free time, carved out just for you.

What is stopping you from rediscovering life beyond the screen?

If you are so inclined, you can even Digital Detox With Us, in Breb, Romania. We can provide the backdrop of a beautiful landscape in which to (re)experience nature, gather up some foraging and homesteading skills and join in the daily activities (chopping wood, organic gardening, making fire and carrying water) of like-minded people, engaging in meaningful and essential conversations about the environment.