Nature

The wisdom of touch

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla.
Spidersweb

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.

Spiderweb


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.

 

 


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.


The river of life

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.

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“By the time it came to the edge of the forest, the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and being grown up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly for it now knew where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there someday”. But all the little streams higher up in the forest went this way and that, quickly, eagerly, having so much to find out before it was too late.” AA Milne. 

At the edge of Big Wood, I stood on the riverbank, gazing down into the water of the Clywedog. Recent rainfall had made it deeper and faster than usual.

A flowing river speaks to me about the journey of life. At its origin, the river is small and insignificant compared to what it is to become. Who would believe looking at the Clywedog now, or the Dee which the Clywedog flows into further on, that their source is a tiny trickle that you could step over?

From its humble origins, the river begins a journey of challenge and excitement. Each drop of water that bubbles forth at its source knows not what lies ahead. But from the moment it emerges, it becomes part of an inevitable, uncontrollable flow that leads it forward. Its whole life lies before it, and it begins a journey that will take it through various stages and directions of its life.

 An individual drop of water cannot flow by itself. For it to flourish and survive it needs other drops of water to join it on its journey. It needs to be fed by rain that falls from the sky. Encounters with other streams allow it to be nourished and grow. Every chance meeting contributes to its growth and maturity as a river. Just as it cannot reach its destiny without receiving from others, it gives as well as takes. It enriches the land and crops; it gives life to fish, amphibians, birds and humans.

Despite its power, kindness and generosity, its flow is not without difficulties. No river ever flows straight to the sea. It meets obstacles, diversions, challenges. Heavy rain might cause it to rush and roar ahead along a narrow channel, a long hot summer might rob it of its resources and take it back to a trickle.

 Its mood alters with its circumstances. There are times for rushing ahead and times for peacefully trickling along just trying to survive.

It meets obstacles – the fallen tree it has to negotiate, or the rockfall that means a change in course.

In its infancy, the river is joyful and dancing, in its adolescence more purposeful. In maturity, it broadens and shares its experience and wisdom.

Its pace slows as it continues its journey to the sea. On meeting, they become one, not just with each other but with all the other rivers and waters on the planet. The warmth of the sun evaporates the water. It gathers in the clouds, is deposited back in the hills, and so the journey of another river begins.

The river gives us a sense of permanence, a feeling of eternity that would outlive our mere fleeting existence. But in its permanence, there is also something temporary. The river is constantly changing, adapting, the molecules of water constantly changing.

The river begins at Source, and returns to Source, unerringly. This happens every single time, without exception.

We are no different.

It is the rivers constant, ever-changing nature that makes it a classic metaphor for all of life’s journeys.  

‘Go with the Flow’ is the foundation of River Philosophy.

You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it. Paulo Coelho.

 In the water, the current determines what is needed from us at any given time.  When approaching a rapid, the river demands our attention, forces us to plan our route, to prepare for change and have the physical strength to keep our course.  When the water is still, we are allowed to rest and enjoy the scenery or prepare for the next rapid.  No amount of wishing, fighting, crying or demanding will change the river’s current. We must accept it for what it is, choose our course and do our best.

The river is constantly turning and bending and you never know where it's going to go and where you'll wind up. Following the bend in the river and staying on your own path means that you are on the right track. Don't let anyone deter you from that. Eartha Kitt.

Clywedog