The gigantic half cup of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank sets its open rim to the sky in the distance. Today there’s a low dark mist that blends with the trees on the plain, making the dish look like it’s floating on a murky, blue green sea. Beyond are the welsh hills – I can’t normally see that far, about 60 miles. The natural Rorschach test of Tegg’s Nose and Bottoms Reservoir look like a butterfly today. A quirk of the air quality and humidity means sometimes I can almost pick out the sheep on the hill at Rivington Pike just 30 miles North Eastish, and sometimes I can’t see beyond, well, my nose.
Up here, a different drama unfolds every day. I’m not quite sure if what I see depends entirely on the weather and conditions, or whether I’m miserable, satisfied, muddled or elated. There’s a deep conversation going on between my inner and outer landscape that often directs fresh light onto my daily preoccupations and shifts things a little. However I feel when I go up there, I feel like a different person when I get back.
This is something that many of us know from experience: there’s something about a walk that boosts the mood, settles the mind, gets creative juices going and puts things into perspective.
Artists and writers have waxed lyrical about this for centuries, and continue to do so, and scientific studies back this up. The data is robust and well established on the benefits of exercise to thinking, as well as giving lots of other health benefits too. But what’s the difference between walking in nature and walking on a pavement? Is is just a cultural one? Perhaps partly because we feel we need to build a case for nature’s value as it becomes increasingly threatened, there are more and more solid, scientifically proven connections emerging around being in nature and green space and how we think, feel and relate to one another. Florence Williams’ book The Nature Fix is a rigorous but readable review of the work happening in this area.
That’s all well and good, and very ‘internal’, but walking has made social, practical change too.
Getting out into the open to hear someone speak about ideas that were difficult to explore in more socially patrolled spaces was a common practice in 18th and 19th Century Britain. The spiritual, the starving, the unrepresented, the poor and the just plain angry have gathered and walked to demand change.
But it’s not just that lots of people speak more loudly and emphatically than one, or that they might be prevented from meeting in spaces owned by their masters. There’s something about the value of collectively visualising new ways to live which might be easier to imagine in the open air away from the dominant structures of the day.
One thing, then, we can be really sure of is that walking helps us think. This is how Natural Thinking came about – a conviction that investing time in walking and talking and thinking things through can sort stuff out and make stuff happen, and even sometimes work a kind of magic on our personal and professional lives. And that in turn can result in positive personal and social change.
Coaching, put simply, is helping people to think brilliantly. It springs from the idea – and the experience of good coaches – that the key to change is not in the head of the expert, or hidden in some book or on the lips of some guru, but inside each one of us. It has its origins in sports coaching. The American sports coach Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis, Golf etc.) noticed that his charges achieved more when he asked them to pay attention to their own experience rather than when he told them what to do. These ideas were swiftly picked up and applied to business, career development and personal change.
Natural Thinking is built on the idea that walking helps you think; coaching helps you think. It brings the two together and puts them to work on our jobs, our lives, our communities and our boxes. It aims for change, and even (whisper it, because I don’t make rash promises) for making the world a better place.
Come on board and discover what you can do
Resources on walking, thinking and social change
- Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit
- The Art of Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit
- The Nature Fix, Florence Williams
- Ramble On, Sinclair Mackay. Explores many of the ways that walking and social change have worked together.
- Psychogeogrpahy, Merlin Coverley
- Walking with Plato, Gary Hayden
- Walking through Spring, Graham Hoyland
- Walking Artists Network