When you walk through a wood, what do you see?

November

“The miracle is to walk on Earth.“ Thich Nhat Hanh

It's now, right now. In a little while it will be something else - the leaf barely hanging onto the branch will have fallen, the robin will have flown away, the sun will briefly flicker through the gold autumn leaves. It won't be better, or not as good, it will just be different. So now is the time to stop walking, to feel the cold damp air on our cheeks, to listen to all the muffled sounds and admire the extraordinary colours. We must stay here as long as we can, not waiting for anything in particular - in fact, it would be the opposite. Just stay here, doing our best to perceive the countless riches of the moment: the small movements of the nuthatch looking for food, the rays of sunlight briefly shining through the branches, the rustle of dry autumn leaves. Everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete.

“Now the mind looks neither forwards nor backwards. The present alone is our happiness.“ Goethe

Mindfulness enables us to simply be present in this ordinary moment in time.


Nature is not outside us. We are nature.

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“I think that we are like stars. something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying, we’re actually turning into a supernova. And when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before.” C. Joybell C.

Hydrogen is formed into helium, and helium is built into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, iron and sulphur - everything we're made of. When stars get to the end of their lives, they swell up and fall together again, throwing off their outer layers. If a star is heavy enough, it will explode in a supernova.

Our bodies are made of remnants of stars and massive explosions in the galaxies.  Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.

The residual stardust finds its way into plants, and from there into the nutrients that we need for everything we do—think, move, grow. And every few years the bulk of our bodies are newly created.

We tend to think of our bodies changing only slowly once we reach adulthood. In fact, we're changing all the time and constantly rebuilding ourselves. 

The skin, for example, is our largest organ. To keep alive, our cells have to divide and grow. We're aware of that because we see children grow. But cells also age and eventually die, and the skin is a great example of this. It's something that touches everything around us. It's also very exposed to damage and needs to constantly regenerate. It weighs around eight pounds and is composed of several layers. These layers age quickly, especially the outer layer, the dermis. The cells there are replaced roughly every month or two. That means we lose approximately 30,000 cells every minute throughout our lives, and our entire external surface layer is replaced about once a year.

Very little of our physical bodies lasts for more than a few years, something we might find hard to grasp each day as we look in the mirror. But we're not fixed at all. We're more like a pattern or a process. 

The spiral in a snail's shell is the same mathematically as the spiral in the Milky Way galaxy, and it's also the same mathematically as the spirals in our DNA. It's the same ratio that you'll find in very basic music that transcends cultures all over the world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Every tissue recreates itself, but they all do it at a different rate. We know through carbon dating that cells in the adult human body have an average age of seven to ten years. That's far less than the age of the average human, but there are remarkable differences in these ages. Some cells literally exist for a few days. Those are the ones that touch the surface. The skin is a great example, but also the surfaces of our lungs and the digestive tract. The muscle cells of the heart, an organ we consider to be very permanent, typically continue to function for more than a decade. But if you look at a person who's 50, about half of their heart cells will have been replaced.

Our bodies are never static. We're dynamic beings, and we have to be dynamic to remain alive. This is not just true for us humans. It's true for all living things.

Cells die and rebuild all the time. We're literally not what were a few years ago, and not just because of the way we think. Everything around us does this.

Nature is not outside us. We are nature.

Read more: Living with the stars: how the human body is connected to the life cycles of the Earth, the planets, and the stars. Karel Schrijver and Iris Schrijver.


Nothing is born, nothing dies

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Sometimes people ask you: "When is your birthday?" But you might ask yourself a more interesting question: "Before that day which is called my birthday, where was I?"

Ask a leaf: "What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"

If you ask the leaf, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the leaf being born. Before being born it was the meristem in the mother oak. Or it was the acorn that had fallen onto the soil. It was also the sun because the warmth from the sun helped the acorn grow. The rain is there too, helping to nourish the mother tree and help it thrive. The leaf does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later, the leaf will change into decaying organic material. If you look deeply into the ground you can see the leaf. The leaf is not lost; it is transformed into compost, and the compost is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the latte you drink. Today if you drink a latte, give yourself time to look at the latte and say: "Hello, leaf! I recognise you.”

Our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death. Only when we touch our true nature can we transcend the fear of non-being, the fear of annihilation.

Nothing is born, nothing dies.


Leaf print Christmas cards

Collecting leaves to use for printing means you can synchronise your creative self with the seasons.

Leaf prints can be used for many decorative purposes, from creating art on paper and framing it, to printing onto fabric and creating unique designs on bags and t-shirts.

What to do:

Select a leaf or cutting and take a good look at it. Is it bumpy or smooth? Are there any ridges? Is one side different from the other? The markings will form the print pattern.

You can decide whether to paint the leaf, or whether to put the leaf on the paper and use spray paints as I did with the ferns in these images.

Experiment on a scrap piece of paper first. Either just use your hands to push down the leaves or use an old rolling pin.

Some things to try:

  • Apply a lot of paint and then a little.
  • Print each side of the leaf (the veins are usually more pronounced on the underside).
  • Overlay leaf prints one on top of the other.
  • Hold the leaf flat to prevent movement then let it go.
  • Roll or press in all directions, then in just one direction.

For the lettering I like to do calligraphy but you can experiment with stamps, stencils, or  freehand lettering. With the spray paints I find that I have to do the lettering first because the ink won’t take over the spray paint.

To finish these little fern Christmas trees I dot a little bit of acrylic paint on them to create fairy lights and a star. I also add a little clear acrylic coating to the star to give it a bit of gloss.

The spray paints I use are either car paint or enamel which give a really nice effect. Make sure you are in a well ventilated room and cover your face so as not to inhale the paint spray. I picked up these car paints for just £1.50 each from a little shop near the beach at Talacre and they last for ages (I use them for the stones too).

These Christmas cards are lovely and unique and much more personal than the mass produced ones in the shops.

If you really don’t fancy making them yourself but would like to buy them instead take a look in my shop here


The caterpillar and the rock

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I had work to do so my daughters headed out for a walk on their own. They climbed one of the mountains alongside the campsite we were staying at. The steep climb to the top took them just over an hour. They had climbed fast and felt pleased with their efforts. On the top they went to the rock that signalled the highest point and were delighted to see a caterpillar climbing to the top of the rock. They photographed it and relayed the story to me on their return. It reminded me of a story called the caterpillar by Andreas Fay, a storyteller known as the Hungarian Aesop.

A caterpillar climbed with great effort to the top of a milestone. “Goodness me, what a mountain!” he shouted with joyous self-satisfaction. “How amazed the world will be to discover that I could climb so high!”

“Yes, that’s a long way for a caterpillar,” said a fox standing nearby. “But that still doesn’t make it a mountain!” and with a light spring ne jumped over both the caterpillar and the milestone.

Just because something is easy for someone else doesn’t mean it will be for us, but every mountain top is within our reach so long as we keep climbing.

“Victories in life come through our ability to work around and over the obstacles that cross our path. We grow stronger as we climb our own mountains”. Marvin J Ashton.

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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.

Self-care is about giving the best of you rather than what’s left of you - Wild Art Therapy

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“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

When I worked in the NHS we were always told that when faced with an emergency situation we should always make sure that we were safe first. On an aeroplane the safety advice is always “Put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others”. It’s wise advice. We need to attend to our own care first in order to give us the strength and resilience to help others. It’s unfortunate that many people don’t get this and they tend to repeatedly put the needs of others before their own. They give and give until they are either all washed up or feeling resentful. A common name for this is co-dependency. Is this something you suffer from? It is something that was the bane of my life for many years. Always seeking to attend to other people’s needs, I forgot to tend to my own. I ended up resentful and felt taken for granted and lacking in energy and self-worth.

Yet this imbalance is seldom found in nature. All natural organisms have innate instincts for both self-preservation and pleasure, and attending to others. If we observe the ways of Nature, we can discover a healthy balance between nurturing ourselves and those around us.

Purpose: To explore natural and healthy ways to care for ourselves as well as others.

To do: Take your art materials to a natural place where you feel comfortable and can study your surroundings uninterrupted. Quietly ask for permission to be there and interact. When you feel welcome and comfortable enter the natural space.

1. Ask yourself what you do to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Write your thoughts in your journal. Do you make yourself a priority? Are you able to recognise your needs and seek to fulfill them or ask for help when you need it? If not, why not?

2. Look around you for something natural that you are drawn to. Study it to understand how it takes care of itself. What does it do to maintain its wellbeing? 

3. Draw a picture of the natural entity that you are drawn to and illustrate how it nurtures itself. Give your artwork a title.

4. Make a list of things it needs to take care of itself. Make a list of things you need to take care of yourself.

On reflection

When you look at your artwork what thoughts and feelings do you have? Is there a message in it for you?

Make a list of things you can do to nurture and take care of yourself. Make it a priority to do at least one of these things every day.

Maya Angelou once said: “The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.” You must teach yourself that you are worthy of respect,  your needs are meant to be met, and your dreams are meant to be fulfilled. You must believe you are as worthy and important as everyone else.

Conclusion:
 
Consider your experience with this activity.
a) On a thought level
b) On a feeling level 
c) On a behavioural level (what will you do differently in the future?)

The rock and the blackberry bush (We are each strong and flexible in our own way)

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I tried to break the end off a blackberry stem but the strength of the stem and the thorns made it impossible. I picked up a rock and used the edge to cut the stem. It struck me how these two natural entities were so different yet each was strong and flexible in its own way and each had a purpose. The rock was easy to pick up and use as a tool. Its unchanging form made it reliable and gave it many uses. The blackberry stem was difficult to break or pull up but it was easy to pick the fruit it provided.
 
“When Nature has work to be done she hires a genius”. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
 
Purpose: Consult Nature to help discover your life purpose and write a mission statement for your life.
 
Nature has never evolved something that wasn’t needed. That includes you. Everyone has a calling. Why were you born? Why do you exist? Some people have a clear sense of purpose, others stumble around trying to find it. You don’t have to hire an expensive therapist or attend fancy workshops to find out why you are here. All you have to do is step outside and listen. The natural world will tell you why it gave birth to you.
 
To do:
Go to an attractive place in a natural area and quietly seek permission to visit and interact.
 
1. Observe the area and reflect on the fact that everything has a special value and purpose. Nature created each of these entities to fulfil a special mission. You were born to play a unique role, too. You have a purpose that was fashioned for you and only you. Imagine that Earth had a job vacancy on the day you were born. It sent a help-wanted ad on the wind. Use your pens and paper and design what this ad looked like. What did the earth need? Be creative, draw a picture of it and what it said. Colour it in.
 
2. Imagine that you saw this help wanted ad before you were born and you applied for it. Design and fill out your application form. Why do you want the job? What are your strengths? Why are you the perfect candidate? What would convince Nature to hire you?
 
3. Run your hands over your body and feel your warmth and aliveness. Celebrate your existence and let it confirm that your application was accepted. Thank Nature for giving you this opportunity.
 
Reflection
 
Write a personal mission statement for your life. Try to clear the clutter of social conditioning and what other people (and you) think you ‘should’ be and think what you ‘want’ to be. Let Nature inspire an authentic answer. Don’t rush your response; it might be immediate, or it might take days or even weeks for you to discover it. You will know when it arrives because it will feel like it has come from a different source entirely. It will resonate on a deeply spiritual level. The words that come to you will make you tingle and will excite you to the core.
 
Conclusion:
 
Consider your experience with this activity
A) On a thought level
B) On a feeling level 
C) On a behavioural level (what will you do in the future?)
 

Your natural life path

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I sat on the bank by the stream feeling the peace of its gentle flow. Some leaves floated by, circling and chasing each other as they disappeared down the stream. I pondered on where they had been and where they were going. My mind wondered to my own life. Where was I going? Where had I been?

We each travel our own journey. Sometimes we feel like we are floating, other times like we are sinking. We are all passengers on the great river of life.

Purpose: Find inspiration in a natural area for meditation on your life journey.

Go to a natural area that you find attractive. Quietly ask for permission to spend time there and interact. Make sure that your surroundings are giving you good and comfortable feelings.

1. Find a comfortable and pleasing place to sit. Preferably choose a hillside, or somewhere with good views. Turn around and look at the distance behind you. For a few moments observe the natural landscape behind you. What do you see? How does it make you feel? Draw a picture a captures your feelings about what you can see. Give your artwork a title.

2. Now look around the area where you are sitting. Concentrate on something close by that captures your attention. Take a few moments to study it and communicate with it. Draw a picture of it and ask it what it tells you about yourself. Give your drawing a title.

3. Now look into the distance in front of you. Use your senses to engage with the natural landscape. What do you see? What thoughts and feelings emerge? Draw a picture that captures how you feel. Title your artwork.

Imagine that your three pictures capture the past, present and future of your life journey. Look at each drawing and ask to understand the message it holds for you.

What message is nature giving you about your past (picture 1)? What does it tell you about where you have been? What have you learned from this time? In what ways is your past influencing your present? How has it prepared you for your life now? Does the title of your drawing tell you anything?

What message is nature giving you about your present? What does your drawing and title tell you about where you are at this particular time in your life? Are there any things that you want, or anything that you need to leave behind before moving on?

What does your future drawing tell you about what lies ahead for you? What guidance is nature giving you?

Draw a map of your life that summarises your journey so far.

Write down a description of your map. What have you discovered:

On a head (thought)level?

On a heart (feeling) level?

On a hand (behavioural) level to do in the future.

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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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