Nature as your therapist

 Explore these links to learn more about Wild Art and Wild Art therapy and how Nature really is the only therapist we need:

Wild Art Therapy: how we can connect our thoughts and feelings with the restorative flow of Earth's wisdom. The Wild Art Shop: for Wild Art, photography, stones and therapy. And, find out more about me, Jane Redfern Jones: Wild Art Therapist, writer and speaker.

 


It’s a dog’s life (why connection is better than drugs)

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Imagine a dog in kennels waiting to be rehomed. We see the video on Facebook telling us how sad and depressed the dog is, and how it sits, staring, into the corner. The solution, they say, is company and a new home. We are shown how the dog’s mood has lifted when it finds a family, has company, and someone to take it on walks.
 
We are shown how company, connection, and attention have transformed the dog’s life.
 
Now imagine that same dog, sitting in the kennels, forlornly staring into the corner. Imagine the staff asking the vet to come and see the dog because they think he’s depressed. The vet says that the dog appears to have a chemical imbalance in the brain, prescribes some drugs for him, and sends him back into the same kennel, alone. The vet says he will assess him again in a month. The dog goes back to staring into the corner.
 
Most people would agree that this approach would be crazy. It’s obvious that it’s both the environment the dog is in and the lack of connection that are making the dog depressed. It doesn’t need drugs, it needs company, connection, and hope.
 
Yet isn’t that the way we treat people? The person who is depressed, living alone, or with people they don’t emotionally connect with, goes to the doctor to ask for help. The doctor decides that the patient has a chemical imbalance in the brain, gives him some tablets, and sends him back into the very environment that is making him ill. Obviously, the doctor can’t say “Here’s your new forever home” to his patient, but he could consider that maybe the patient needs an opportunity to connect with other people and to get outdoors. Even just once a week they could benefit from some wild art therapy, or even just a walk with people they can connect with.

Two waves forward, one wave back (surviving adversity)

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My daughter spotted a little sea creature struggling to return to the sea. We could see its little legs sticking out of the shell scrabbling about, trying to right itself and move forward. But then a wave would come and wash it back again.

“Please pick it up and help it,”my daughter pleaded. But, as I watched, I noticed something interesting. The tide would ebb away and the creature would again put all of its effort into moving forward. Then the  tide would come back and wash it back yet again but it never washed it back to where it started - it had always managed to move on a bit.

I stood and watched it, until, through sheer determination, it was back in the depths of the ocean.

Sometimes we have to downgrade for a while in order to upgrade. Sometimes we have to ride the wave and see where it takes us.

I thought about what would have happened if we had picked it up and helped it on its way. What if that had happened all its life? What if someone had always been around to help it get where it wanted to go without it having to struggle? It would probably never understand how determination and effort can achieve the seemingly impossible. But, what if one day nobody came and the little creature just sat there waiting for someone to help? It would be afraid of the unknown, not understand that sometimes it needs to make an effort itself and so it would be stuck and would probably die. 

Sometimes struggling can make us stronger and more resilient.

People who live ‘safe’ lives, children who never have to do anything for themselves, people who are stuck in their ‘comfort zone’ - can they ever be truly successful?

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Why a wandering possession-free life is a natural way of living for humans

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Sometimes life just gets too cluttered.

The past couple of weeks we’ve been exploring some new places. Travelling around has made me realise how much things weigh me down and how little I really need. It’s also made me realise how unnatural it is to coop ourselves up in a house with lots of possessions. I had too much stuff and I needed to cut down. 

Looking back at our ancestors, humans lived for tens of thousands of years as hunter gatherers and moved around all the time. Living a nomadic life meant that people had few, if any possessions. They just had what they needed and could carry, essential provisions such as water, vegetables, spears, bows and arrows. They didn’t need much else. The idea of owning things was alien to them and they shared when they could because it meant less to carry. They didn’t need to store things and no one owned any property.
 
They hunted when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, and when food was scarce they moved on elsewhere.
 
Hunter gatherers also had a deep regard for nature. To them woods, for example, were full of magic and provided warmth and shelter.
 
Then, about 10,000 years ago, agriculture brought stable food supplies and hunter gatherers began to settle and build permanent dwellings that eventually morphed into the complex communities we know today. Prior to this there were few, if any, permanent homes or villages. The Agricultural Revolution allowed them to settle but it was a demanding way of life, much as it is for many people today. The Agricultural Revolution paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and jobs that trapped people into living in close proximity.
 
In some ways having a permanent house and possessions can make us feel stable and secure - we know where we will sleep at night and where our next meal will come from. But it can also make us disconnected from our natural way of living - the way of life enjoyed by over 90% of our ancestors.
 
In a way the internet is allowing us to become nomads again. It gives us the opportunity to take our work with us and work from anywhere in the world. We can easily find places to stay in faraway communities where we can embrace local life and broaden our minds. It allows us to buy whatever we need from wherever we are.
 
Bloggers often share their experiences of travelling and living where they choose without the tie of a permanent home. The internet also helps us to spread the word about the benefits of minimalism and mindfulness. So, as advanced as the technology may seem today, is it actually taking us full circle and back to our roots and nomadic past?
 
We are stopping on a campsite for a few days and I’m sitting here in the doorway of my tent, feeling the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on my face, listening to the flow of the river, my dogs at my feet. And, as I type this on my iPad I think about how the internet gives us freedom, and how it can allow me to work from wherever I choose.
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A fear of the unknown

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I’ve always felt afraid of the sea. It is a fear of the unknown, of the hidden depths shrouded in mystery. More is known about Mars than our oceans (did you know that 95% of our oceans have never been explored?)

In the past, for me, the best therapists in nature have always been the woods and the mountains, the woods offering the wisdom and stability of the trees, and the mountains offering a sense of awe and belonging.

Yet now, as I am facing great turbulence in my life, it is in the ocean that I am finding solace.

My instinct took me to the sea. As I write this at 4 am, I am on the stony beach, and the sound of the gentle ebb and flow of the tide is calming my senses and helping me adjust and take stock of my life.

I watch the sun rise and marvel at the colours. I look at the stones on the rocky beach. The rocks remind me that life goes on. These rocks are all so much older than me. I pick up a stone and feel it’s smoothness and weight. This small rock may once have formed part of a great mountain, but it became displaced, and now finds itself on the beach under the protection of the great ocean, just as I am. As I look across the water at the flickering lights on the mainland, I appreciate the solitude this place offers, and also realise that I have a new therapist to whom I want to return.

Alongside the vastness of the ocean I spend a few minutes practising pebble meditation and cultivate spaciousness both inside and outside of myself

The sea is strong, survives turbulent weather and soon returns to its calm natural self. Just as the turbulence in my life will pass, and calmness and tranquility will come once more.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer.

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Believe you can do it and you will

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On a bike ride with my daughter at the weekend, I was riding my bike up a very steep hill.

A jogger coming towards me called out, “You’re doing well! Keep going!” I replied that I wasn’t going to make it to the halfway point, never mind the top.

It then immediately struck me that I was letting my mind limit what I could achieve. I reminded myself of that morning in 1954 that Sir Roger Bannister made sporting history by running a mile in under a minute. He believed he could do it so he did. I believed I couldn’t so I wouldn’t.

I talked myself into trying harder and did at least make it past the halfway point.

If we don’t believe that we have a purpose and a value it can be difficult to succeed and difficult to take risks, “knowing” as some of us do that we "are not up to the task".

The way circus elephants are trained demonstrates this dynamic well.

In his excellent book The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker considers the mighty elephant when its spirit has been broken:

"When young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake too rooted. One day they give up, having learned they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be “chained” with a slender rope. When this enormous animal feels any resistance, though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying. Because it believes it cannot, it cannot.”

“I can’t do it,” “I’ll never make it,” “I’m going to fail,” are words in our heads that we possibly learned as children from our parents, or from past failures.

Top golfer Jason Day doesn’t believe in negative self-talk. He says: “If you don't believe in yourself, somewhere or another, you sabotage yourself.”

Day adds “If you're going to have a bad attitude, you may as well not even tee it up that week because you probably won't play good anyways.”

We have bigger brains and more advanced intellect than other animals yet as Albert Camus puts it, “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” 

Could you imagine our cave-based ancestors saying, “I can’t catch that deer, it runs too fast.” They would have starved to death. A lion doesn't lament "It's too hard, I'll never catch it!" Maybe our lives have become too easy now that we don't have to run for our dinner, even though we know that being active will extend our time on this earth.

“I'm not saying it's going to be easy. Nothing in life is easy. But that's no reason to give up. You'll be surprised what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it. After all, you only have one life, so you should try to make the most of it.” Louis Sachar.

In Seneca’s essay on tranquillity, he uses the Greek word euthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction.”

The Stoics know where they are going. They trust themselves and their sense of the path. And so should we.

“Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength.”  Chris Bradford, The Way of the Sword.

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The wisdom of touch

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla.
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Spider webs are finely-tuned instruments and the information sent along the silken strands is controlled by adjusting tension and stiffness, very much like when we tune a guitar or violin.

Spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies. Spiders will pluck the threads of their web, like a guitar string, and the resulting sound carries information about prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of a web. Spiders have poor eyesight so they rely on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information.

Things aren't much different for us humans. Our sense of touch is very similar to the way we hear.

The timing and frequency of vibrations produced in the skin when exploring surfaces play an important role in how humans use the sense of touch to gather information, drawing a strong analogy to the auditory system.

Imagine you get out of bed at night and feel the wall for the light switch. You slide your hand along the wall, maybe feel the doorframe and then the rougher wall surface. Eventually, you find the plastic feel of the switch. During this process, you build up a picture in your mind of the wall's surface and it enables you to make a better guess about where the switch is.

Using our hands like this enables us to use our sense of touch to gather information about the objects and surfaces around us.

Our skin is also highly sensitive to vibrations, and these vibrations produce corresponding oscillations in the nerves which carry information from the receptors to the brain. The precise timing and frequency of these neural responses convey specific messages about texture to the brain, much like the frequency of vibrations on the eardrum conveys information about sound.

"There is deep wisdom within our very flesh, if we can only come to our senses and feel it."  Elizabeth A. Behnke.

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Create your own wild art and let nature be your therapist

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir.

 There is nothing to stop you being an artist in the outdoors. If we allow our bodies and minds to access what nature has to offer then there is only healing to be found.

The only objective you need is to have no objective. Just go where your heart and mind guide you to go, and start to create.

Use the beautiful resources you have to hand, and, as you quietly create, you will feel a sense of calm come over you.

Be aware of the natural world around you and feel gratitude for being a part of it. Be aware of the birds flitting from tree to tree, hear the rustle of the leaves, and the gently flowing water in the river. Breathe deeply and feel the fresh air fill your lungs and go deep into your body.

Collect whatever treasure you can find – rocks, buttercups, ferns, and let the intricacy of their beauty infuse you with abundance and awe. The next time you see any of these special objects you will reminded of the peace and tranquillity they instilled in you.

When you are stressed your brain and sympathetic nervous system are continually stimulated. It’s harder to focus or make decisions because you are in a reactive state. Being outdoors makes you naturally calmer. Focusing on your art makes it easier to clear your head, and it allows you to process your emotions and relax.

Wild art therapy is simple and fun. You can create to your heart’s content without fear that judgement will be passed on your work. It’s also free and accessible any time you can get outdoors. It will help you to feel calm and to cope with any challenges you are facing.

Having a therapist with you can be helpful in guiding you to clarify your thoughts, but it’s possible to be your own therapist. You don’t have to have any goals in mind other than deciding to build a rock tower, press some flowers, or just make a picture out of what you can find.

Reignite that imaginative spark we all have within us. Notice things that come to mind while you are creating something. Feel the wonder and awe of these little bits of nature’s masterpiece that you are using in your creation.

It can feel incredibly rewarding. When you have finished admire your work and know that you have created it just for you.

 

 


Why it's important to be creative

Creativity is fun!

Watching my daughters learn lists of words and paragraphs of text parrot fashion for tests leaves me asking ‘What’s the point?’

Our education system today is failing us and our children because our industrial age models of learning don’t prepare us for our rapidly changing world. Nor do they teach us the things we need to be extraordinarily happy, free, healthy, and fulfilled.

We are living in a very different world today than we were just a decade ago. We’re at the beginning of a new era.

We are no longer in the Industrial Age; we are in a new economy that’s digital, global, more meaningful and entrepreneurial. Everything has changed and so must we. We need to think differently.

We need to think small and specialised now rather than big and mass produced.

Children must be taught to do what they love to do, not what they ‘should’ do.

Today we live in a world unlimited by geography. We are connected to each other by the swipe of a finger.

We need to become more focused, more creative, more adaptable.

Yet schools are cutting back on creativity and as I look from my house window across the school field to the dismal brown building I send my children to, to be locked in all day, I often ask myself, “Am I doing the right thing?”

Creativity is important in everyday life because it makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling.

Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. We often think about creativity as making something, but in fact the root meaning of the word is 'to grow'.

Human beings are creative by nature. We were each born with an innate ability to express ourselves through art, music, language, dance and other forms of creativity and communication. This innovative spirit is sometimes pushed down by schools and institutions, and by beliefs that tell us that true artists are rare. We shouldn’t listen to those voices. We were all born with the potential to be creative.

Creativity is something that many look beyond and don't even think of as something of importance in the world of business, or in the nature of the success you build for yourself. Creativity is one of the greatest qualities any of us can be blessed with, yet many never allow their true creativity to be expressed.

Our school system/society today doesn't seem to approve of creativity, nor does it ever seem to encourage it. Yet creativity encourages people to think for themselves and create their own paths in life. Think back from the point you were a child to the point you are an adult. Your path would often have been marked out for you: society dictating what to do and that you have to do it. This might have worked well when most employment after leaving school was in a factory.

School actually limits our creativity more than anything else because it is so egregious and is solely focused on how well you can cram and memorise things you will forget straight after the test, which is why most people don’t enjoy it.

“Learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.” Ken Robinson.

It is as if society does this to us is because it doesn't want us to think for ourselves. It basically wants us to be robots and live the average, pedestrian life that entails nothing more and nothing less than what our basic needs are.

Because our creativity is stripped by the time we are ready to enter into the real world, many decide to take the easy way out and get that job that doesn't require much effort, forever living life the way society wants us to rather than the way we ourselves want to.

This is the exact reason why so many become miserable before are so lost in life and have no idea what route to take when it comes time to make a decision.

The reason they have no idea what they want to do is that they hate everything they do - all because society is telling them what to do rather than allowing them to create their own ideas and make their own decisions.

"Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up." Pablo Picasso.

In today's business world the only way to separate yourself from the rest is not with a fancy resume and list of qualifications. It is how well you can think for yourself and actually use the creativity that separates you from everyone else.

When most people out there see a problem, they just complain about it instead of trying to resolve it because they never had to use their creativity to problem shoot before.

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." Joseph Chilton Pearce.

We live in a world that is constantly becoming innovated with new concepts, ideas and technology. Having the creativity to help innovate something that has never been created before - anything from a product to a piece of art - is all based on where your mind wants to take you. But so many never even allow their mind to journey out of their little bubble, but instead get stuck in that bubble for the rest of their lives.

People in today's world need to realise that individuals in leadership positions must be creative and become creative problem solvers as these are skills of the future. You need to unleash your creativity and understand how important it truly is to have it flourish throughout your life and career.

A trained mind is better than a conditioned mind.

“In this way, you must understand how laughable it is to say, “Tell me what to do”. What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is, “Train my mind to adapt to any circumstance”…In this way, if circumstances take you off-script…you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.” Epictetus.

Schools try to teach children what to do in each given situation. Wouldn’t life be easy if we were always told what to do at the right time? (boring too). We should prepare for this, study for that, save for something in the future that might never happen.

Stoics do not need to have the answer for every question or a plan for everything they do. So why do they not worry? It is because they have the confidence to adapt and change with their circumstances. Instead of waiting to be told what to do, they cultivate skills like creativity, independence, problem-solving, self-confidence and consciousness. They are resilient instead of rigid.

It’s better to learn than be given and better to be flexible than work to a script.

The majority of people meet with failure because their original plan (the way they have been shown to do something) has failed and they don’t have any backup plans or ideas on how to get around the blockage and move forward.

 “First comes thought; then organisation of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality, The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.” Napoleon Hill.

Over the past decade, we have seen factories and mines close, high streets become barren landscapes and big businesses slowly give way to smaller more specialised enterprises. Is it time that our current outdated education (and healthcare) systems went too?

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Being in awe can expand time and enhance wellbeing

Damselfly in Big Wood, Erddig

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein.

The moments that I feel the most imbued with a sense of awe are always the moments when I am outdoors.  I can't help but feel a certain sense of wonder - I become almost filled with it.

It doesn't matter what we've experienced, whether it's the breath-taking scope of a mountain-top, the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis, marvelling at a beautiful sunset or the beauty of a damselfly, at some point in our lives we've all had the feeling of being in a complete and overwhelming sense of awe.

I spent a lot of my childhood walking and horse-riding in the Berwyn Mountains. Whenever I return to the hills, I’m struck by how small I am and how insignificant my problems are.

When I am in the mountains, or in the woods, my heart rate slows. Time stands still and I am home.

Awe seems to be a universal emotion and not surprisingly it has been studied by scientists. Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management devised a way to study this feeling of awe in the laboratory. Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.

The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and wellbeing can be explained by awe's ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down.

Experiences of awe help to bring us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.

Experiencing awe can also make us happier and improve our mental state. It can even make us nicer people. For me some of the most awe-inspiring experiences in my life have been watching my newborn daughters take their first breaths, standing on the top of Ben Nevis and taking in the view, watching the Aurora Borealis in the North Pole, and galloping on horseback across the moors high in the mountains with breath-taking views all around me.

But here’s the best part: you can find it in everyday life. You don’t have to book a trip to the Grand Canyon or head to the top of a mountain to find your special place. You just need to stay in the moment and appreciate what is around you.

Recapture the childlike feelings of wide-eyed excitement, spontaneous appreciation and being full of awe and wonder at this beautiful world that we live in.

Often, when I'm out walking, I like to stop and just focus on one very small area. It's so easy to miss the beauty and intricacies of nature unless we take the time to stop and stare now and again.

“None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future:  nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze.” Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking.

Rainbow over Erddig Hall


The nature of art

Ducks at Erddig

A teacher friend of mine recently told me a story about a school inspector who when visiting a primary school, found the children copying pictures of ducks out of a book when a duck pond was in full view outside the window. This got me thinking about the importance of art in our lives and how it is influenced by nature.

We tend to think of nature and art as unrelated experiences. One is outside, the other is inside. Yet the way we as humans experience nature and art goes way back to our Neanderthal ancestors and their cave paintings.

Nature has inspired more great works of art than we can imagine.

Whether we are inside an art gallery admiring a colourfully painted landscape or traipsing through woods noticing the way the light filters through the canopy of trees, art gives us a partial understanding of nature and vice versa.

Engaging with art, whether we are viewing it or making it ourselves gives us a visceral experience and this aesthetic emotional experience can be a great way to engage with nature. Imagine if the school children had visited the pond, engaged with the ducks, laughed at their antics, and then used the book as a guide.

Ever since we as humans began to make art, nature has been the dominant theme. It is the palette through which artists reflect on the human experience.

Art is integral to making sense of the natural world. It is also largely inspired by it.

Art and science also go together with art providing the user-friendly translation for many scientific ideas. Scientists can benefit from art.  DaVinci, Galileo and Michelangelo were all visionaries whose art informed science.

My father was a chartered engineer. He designed fire engines. I remember his beautiful paintings of the fire engines as they would look going down the road. His artwork then got more and more intricate as he drew the designs for the engineers to work to and actually build the engines. I still have this picture he painted as a child in school when he had already developed his fascination with vehicles and transport. 

Train Painting

Imagine a child, who, through art, becomes fascinated with something in the natural world and then goes on to study the scientific aspects of the subject.

A picture really can be worth a thousand words.

An environmental project could be overwhelmingly complicated yet sometimes a single image can cut through all the facts and make a person actually feel something - happy, sad, even positively inspired.

An artful interpretation of nature can, and has, inspired some of our greatest actions. And, whether we come to these moments of understanding and virtue by way of art or nature first, it’s in connecting these experiences that we get the greatest benefit.