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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The rhythmical motion of Nature

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“We float effortlessly in the ethereal tide of the movement of the rhythms of Nature and the vibrations of the pulse of life”. Ian Factor.

 He told me, “If you’re not happy, get out”, so I did.
 
After an incredibly stressful day moving things out, and with the car packed with as many things as possible, I drove to Anglesey, to a caravan on the beach. It was dark when we arrived but we could hear the soothing ebb and flow of the waves as we watched the lights flickering on the mainland. 
 
I awoke at 4 am the next morning, I’d left the window wide open so that I could hear the sea. There was the most beautiful sunrise and it felt like it almost beckoned me outside. I got up and walked onto the beach. I felt like I was being wrapped in something beautiful and protected by something powerful. Entranced I sat on a rock and rocked back and forth with the ebb and flow of the tide. There are no words to describe the magic of those moments. I realised that the stress I’d felt had completely vanished. I felt peaceful and connected. With crystal clear vision I saw myself as part of the flow. I looked around, high clouds were silently drifting overhead, the trees moved in the breeze. There was movement everywhere. It seemed like all of nature had heard the music and had come to dance.
 
Motion is an essential part of nature. From the beat of our heart and the inflation of our lungs, to the rhythm of tides, clouds blown along by the wind, a river flowing over a rock, or a leaf falling from a tree, movement surrounds us inside and out. Motion creates life, and recycles life. Some motion, i.e. a sound wave, is invisible to the naked eye but detectable through other senses such as hearing or touch.
 
Physical motion influences our biochemistry and thus we can use it to alter our internal state. Even something as simple as smiling can change how we feel.
 
As we become more aware of our physical sensation of motion, not only do we gain strength in our body, but we can strengthen our mind and spirit too.
 
Purpose: Discover yourself through movement.
 
How:
 
Find a safe, attractive spot in a natural area. This could be a place you already know, in your garden maybe, or you may need to seek it out.  Quietly ask for permission to spend time there.
 
1. Study the area for any signs of movement. Look at the diverse activity you see occurring there. Become aware of and appreciate the many natural senses that you have that are contributing to your ability to perceive and interpret these motions (hearing, sight, touch etc). Think about what you are observing and what the purpose is of these movements.
 
2. Look for things that are visually still. Can you sense any non-visual hidden motion within them? How can you tell? Sit or stand as still as you can for a moment. Can you sense any silent motion in your body? What benefits are there in being able to feel this inner movement?
 
3. Look again at the area around you. Can you sense any past and/or future movement in this area? How can you sense it and be aware of it? How is this ability helpful to you?
 
4. Now take a few moments to do an emotional check-in. How are you feeling right now? Concentrate on each emotion at a time and ask yourself how your body is feeling this emotion and where it is physically located in you?
 
5. Using your body, imitate a natural motion you see occurring around you. Do you feel any shift in your emotional state? Does this physical motion inspire any thoughts or memories? Repeat this step with other movements in the area. With each unique motion do you feel your thoughts and feelings change? Observe which movements have a positive effect on you and which don’t.
 
6. Decide which motion in this natural habitat you feel most attracted to. Create an art piece using, imitating or replicating that movement. I felt drawn to the stillness of the rocks under the moving tide. I selected some rocks and balanced them on the stony beach at the edge of the tide. Locate a movement that inspires you and use it creatively to make an  artwork. Give your creation a title. For my rocks, I gave each one a name which then collectively made up the title: Balance, Order, Rhythm, Harmony, Strength.
 
Reflection
 
Think about how you feel when you look at your artwork and consider its title. Does it ‘move’ you in any way? What thoughts does it inspire? Does it say anything to you?
 
Remember that change is a movement too, slow but steady. Think about how much you have changed over the years. Think about what movement has meant to you throughout your life. How has the sense of movement benefitted or influenced you spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically? 
 
Do you feel ‘stuck’ in any part of your life? Are you locked into a harmful habit, or held back from a goal due to fear, or lack of motivation. Everything you do in life is a choice. Your choice. You can choose to move on in your life and find new adventures, challenges, and new experiences that bring about change, or you can choose to remain stuck and ‘safe’.  Consider how you can use - either metaphorically or action-wise - one of the natural motions you observed today in nature as inspiration for moving past this inertia.
 
Considering my artwork, just one stone too many, or not balancing them right can cause them to all come tumbling down. Our lives can be like a balancing act sometimes. It can all come tumbling down so easily and we have to find the patience to rebuild it. Sometimes we have to find the strength to push and disrupt the balance ourselves so that we can rebuild the life we want.
 
Summarise your experience with this activity. What have you learned:
a: On a head (thought) level.
b: On a heart (feeling) level?
c: On a hand (behavioural) level to do in the future?

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” John Muir. 

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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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Pebble Meditation

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Find a small smooth pebble and decorate it with an image or words.

Pick up your pebble and smile at it. Consider that the pebble represents space. Put it in the palm of your hand and place your other hand over it.

Breathing in, say to yourself, “I see myself as space”.

Breathing out, “I feel free, space free”.

Recite this silently to yourself as you breathe in and out three times. Space is within you. When we cultivate spaciousness inside and outside of us, we can offer our acceptance and generosity to others. Like the moon travelling through the beautiful night sky we have the capacity for space and freedom no matter where we are. Without freedom we cannot be truly happy. When we touch the space inside of us, we are free.

Adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book ‘A Handful of Quiet. Happiness in Four Pebbles’.


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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