We sat in silence under the giant oak – united by the grounding care of the tree’s compassionate branches. I relaxed back onto the damp grass, took in the fresh scent of humidity, listened to the blackbirds, watched the gentle sway of the branches and contemplated insects landing on blades of grass by my side. We were cradled by the free flow of a warm, wild, unpredictable breeze. The tree held its ground – strong, accepting and protective of us all – sensitively expanding to fill the full space of life it had carved for itself. Could it be that perhaps, simply being present and receptive to life together under the oak for 20 minutes was ‘good’ for the world? It certainly felt like it was to me.
I’ve just returned from our “Rewilding the Mind” week-end retreat at Trigonos, Nantlle, Snowdonia which I co-lead with Jonathan Stacey. Jonathan has made his home in Nantlle, but has lived and worked as an ecologist in Britain, Africa, Asia and the Americas and has been practicing mindfulness in nature for much of his life, deeply influenced by wilderness in the deserts, mountains and forests around the world. He invited me to co-lead this new course with him at Trigonos retreat centre and … what a wonderful experience it was!
The focus of our weekend was an exploration of what happens when we let go of the internal dialogue of our minds and tune into our bodies and senses – paying attention to the wilderness within us and around us – with an open, compassionate, childlike curiosity.
During our 3 days together, we listened, gazed, touched, meditated, walked, talked, played games, laughed, had a camp fire, explored the awe-inspiring wilderness of Nantlle’s mountains and woodlands and enjoyed the famously delicious food of Trigonos! Throughout, we discovered that there really is another, more authentic voice that can ‘speak’ to us if we are willing to listen – the voice of nature. And what happens when we listen to it collectively? ‘Rewilding’ of course!
So what’s “rewilding”? Amongst nature conservationists, it’s a controversial, progressive approach to nature protection which involves letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape our landscapes and restore damaged ecosystems and degraded landscapes. In terms of “rewilding ourselves”, this usually refers to examining our cultural paradigms, seeing how they affect our well-being and our society, and restoring our innate connection with the natural world we belong to.
To me, “rewilding” is essentially learning to live with greater freedom, authenticity, compassion and playfulness – through restoring a trust in nature and a respect for the wilderness within us and around us. It’s about being who we really are and letting go of who we think we should be and how we should behave or feel. It’s restoring the innate bond with nature within ourselves and around us and trusting ‘something else’ other than the stories of our controlling, analytical minds (in the context of our own lives and of nature conservation!)
Over the course of our weekend, we discovered how tuning into our direct experiences of nature around us (eg. sounds, sights, smells) and within us (eg. emotions, thoughts, bodies) began to create a more natural, authentic, unexpected flow in our experience, our conversations and our interactions with one another. This revealed that instead of going from A to B in a straight line – perhaps “rewilding” is taking the natural, unexpected detours of life that keep us present, alert and alive – just like the stream meandering through Nantlle’s woodlands.
When I got home on Monday, I went for a run along the river near my flat. The swifts were twirling in the summer sky and a kingfisher darted across the Cam. I felt well and truly rewilded – closer to myself, closer to the world around me, with a greater sense of flow in my thoughts. It turns out that when you set out to facilitate the rewilding of others, you end up rewilding yourself! There it is again, the interconnectedness of life.
What if “rewilding” our minds were the first step to healing the world, however small it may seem? What if we began to embrace the fact that life isn’t a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived? Because, with apologies to all the scientists out there (including myself!) “rewilding” really is about magic – real natural magic!
If you don’t believe me, I invite you to go and sit in silence under a tree for 20 minutes a day and listen with your senses. Not only will you discover that magic can be real, but it may be one of the best things you can do to heal the disconnected world we live in.
If you listen carefully, you may even begin to hear the answers to the Mary Oliver’s: “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And who knows, your answer to that may also help make the world a better place…
Thanks to all you “wild things” who joined us on this course – and thank you to Trigonos and Jonathan Stacey for the opportunity. It was a privilege to spend 3 days with such kind, authentic, fun and interesting people. There are rumours of a follow up/repeat of the course so watch this space…