Not just visitors to nature…..

Castlefield basin, Manchester
Castlefield basin, Manchester. Both licensed and guerrilla greenery in abundance, even in Autumn

I’ve been doing a lot of walking in the city recently. I’m preparing a set of green space workshops designed to help people who work and think inside to bring some of the energy and refreshment that can come from walking in the landscape into every day life and business. More about these in a later post…

Duke's Bridge, Castelfield, Manchester
Duke’s Bridge, Castlefield, Manchester. Industrial architecture new and old. Maybe one day the Beetham Tower will be overgrown with Virginia Creeper. We can only hope….

Undoubtedly it can be hard to find green space in the city – especially Manchester. I find myself upset on behalf of trees whose root systems are compacted under concrete. Peter Wohlleben in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, calls these the street children of the tree community. And I recoil at the rubbish that floats in the canal. Nature in the city often isn’t pristine. But the thing that gets me again and again is that even when all we can find is a few trees and a patch of grass, we are still in nature. The city is just a thin skin on the crust of the earth. So often we think about nature as a place to visit, but in fact we’re already there.

Urban Heritage Park, Castlefield, Manchester
Urban Heritage Park, Castlefield, Manchester. I can’t imagine what inspired the council to commission the sheep, but there they are…..

We’re wrapped in layers of brick, plastic, social convention and culture that disguise us as sophisticated urban and suburban technophiles, but nonetheless we are natural organisms engaging with air, food and water just as a lilac, earthworm or a blackbird does. I love the fact that however our economic and political systems commodify it, we are set up to fit into the complex, amazing, interconnected ecosphere in which we live independently of all these accoutrements of contemporary life. Breathe in, breathe out and you’re doing it, being in nature.

Sweet Chestnuts, Urban Heritage Park, Manchester.
Never more than ten foot from nature….Sweet Chestnuts, Urban Heritage Park. Spotted underneath, scuttling one after the other; a squirrel and a rat….

Many of us look to green space for refreshment precisely because it’s an escape from the constraints of a life lived inside and the organisations and social structures that operate there. But maybe we could bring some gentle radicalism into our thinking by looking at it another way. By fully understanding that we are in nature already, all the time, we might shift our perspective on who we are as human beings and how we are in the world. We might escape some of those constraints of urban thinking even while we are still in it.

St John's Garden's, Manchester
St John’s Garden’s, Manchester

And another thing. Such shift in perspective has the potential to be better not only for us, but better for the sensitive, powerful, all-encompassing natural system which both gives to us and takes from us to support our existence alongside the rest of the planet. This process might nudge us to think not just about what we gain from nature, but what we can give back to it too. We all know we can’t go on as we are.

We could take ten minutes this week – wherever we are, inside or outside, city or countryside or park – to absorb the fact that here we are, in nature. We don’t have to visit it to be in it. Breathe in, breathe out. What light might that shed on your current thinking? And what might you give back? What might your business give back?

Want to explore this process with a qualified coach? Or get your team outside to take a fresh look at working practices, relationships or culture? Contact us at info@natural-thinking.org.uk

Walk about and eat some chips: recipe for a perfect holiday

Loch Eck, Cowal Peninsula, Scotland
Loch Eck, Cowal Peninsula, Scotland

I was lucky enough to visit Scotland this year – the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll and then the Inner Hebridean Island of Jura. There’s something about Scotland that draws me back again and again. It could be its sense of ‘otherplace’ that makes me feel I’m away from home both literally and metaphorically; or it could be its knock-you-down gorgeousness or its real and gritty history. I adore it.

Beinn Shianntaidh from Beinn an Oir - two of the Three Paps of Jura, Isle of Jura, Scotland
Beinn Shianntaidh from Beinn an Oir – two of the Three Paps of Jura, Isle of Jura, Scotland

Anyway, as I sat with a glass of wine on the side of Holy Loch on the first evening, I thought, in a good coach-y manner, “What would I really like to get out of this holiday”. I decided that I wanted to it be like retreat, where you get away from everything, calm your mind, DON’T look at everyday stuff for a while and then when you come back to it, hey presto, great clarity emerges. AND, I wanted it to be a really good rest – goodness me, I slept HOURS on this holiday – and when it was done to be fizzing with energy. AND, I wanted it to be full of fun, adventure, new things, exciting things, interesting things. Things that live in your mind for years afterwards, enliven your memories and inner landscape and make you feel that having done them, you can conquer the world.

At the bottom of the my glass of wine, I thought, “I might be expecting a tad too much of my holiday.”

I told a good friend about this, and he laughed and said that what he wanted to do on holiday (I paraphrase) was to walk about and eat some chips. I think he might have got it about right.

A riot of colour: Wild Angelica, Purple Loosestrife and Meadowsweet, Jura, Scotland
A riot of colour: Wild Angelica, Purple Loosestrife and Meadowsweet, Jura, Scotland

So, I decided to let the holiday be what the holiday was. A dose of walking, a good deal of swimming, lots of sleeping and unfeasibly large quantities of Scottish Tablet. Larger issues and life-fixes will be part of my longer term personal, practical and spiritual development (by which I mean, meaning of life stuff rather than religious stuff). These things are better thought of as a long-term everyday project rather than a supercharged thoughtfest shoehorned into a holiday. A programme that ebbs and flows with enthusiasm and circumstance, but which is always going on. And, of course, for me, walking is an essential ingredient of that process.

Monkeypuzzle glade - Benmore Botanic Gardens, near Dunoon, Scotland
Monkeypuzzle glade – Benmore Botanic Gardens, near Dunoon, Scotland

So, I wanted to say: Enjoy your holidays, and I hope they’ll be wonderful. I’d encourage you, though, to let them be joyful, restful and exciting, but don’t fall into the trap of wanting them to fix everything. Not even gaffer tape can do that. Did I mention before my love affair with this practical and humble material? Another time maybe.

I’d love to know how you got on.

And, when you get back, if you feel like making a longer-term work of where you want to be in life, I’ve got an offer on…50% off coaching booked in August 2018.

This includes, if you’ve been coached by me before, phone coaching. Some people put a package together of phone and walking over a few months so that they can really get to grips with an issue.

Get in touch and quote ‘Holidays 2018’ if you’d like to take me up on the offer. info@natural-thinking.co.uk

By the way, for walking in Scotland, I love the Walkhighlands website. The right to roam may be a wonderful thing, but it makes planning a walk tricky without local knowledge. Walkhighlands to the rescue…

Corryvreckan Whirlpool, Jura, Scotland
Corryvreckan Whirlpool – not quite whirlpooling, but impressive enough. Jura, Scotland

Making a fuss

Suffragetter at Barnaby Parade - part of Barnaby Festival 2018, Macclesfield
Getting into the swing…..Suffragettes at Barnaby Parade

The idea of making a fuss is an anathema to me. And I’m certainly not a parade or protest kind of person – making a fuss in public, in a crowd. I don’t think so.

It was a surprise even to me, then, to find myself gathering in a car park with a mixed bunch of nearly 100 suffragettes, some in full Edwardian, and some, like me, in a random selection of violet, green and white. This wasn’t a protest march, it was a cheery community parade for Macclesfield’s regular Barnaby Festival, but nonetheless I was uneasy as I greeted friends, adjusted costumes and waited to set off. This really isn’t my kind of thing, and I might have made my excuses if something hadn’t happened the day before to strengthen my resolve.

Miller's Dale, coming up to Cressbrook, Derbyshire
Miller’s Dale, coming up to Cressbrook, Derbyshire

Escaping the festival frazzle, the green quiet of a walk from Litton, in the Peak District, was a moment to push my mind into a more expansive space where history has clicked forward century by century, and nature rolls on in the patterns of new life, old life, compost.

The ramsons are over but you still get a faint whiff of their rotting garlicky smell in the woods, and the champion and ox eye daisy are rampant this year. A mandarin duck dips in and out of the leafy shallows with her impossibly tiny chicks and the craggy limestone battlements stand where they’ve stood for millennia.

Garlicky woods and ancient artefacts - and not so ancient ones too. Cressbrook Dale, Derbshire.
Garlicky woods and ancient artefacts – and not so ancient ones too. Cressbrook Dale, Derbshire.

And then, one of those moments of enchantment – the well dressing at Cressbrook.

Prompted by signs, we eventually found the dressed well tucked away in a little common space next to a community garden and accessed by footpaths. They’d themed it ‘Women hold Up Half the World’ in memory of a member of the community.

The notes that accompanied the dressing enjoined us to consider that “Women have given, and continue to give, as much as men, and their potential, contribution and voices need to be recognised if nations and communities are to flourish”. It encouraged us to think about how we can further that potential today, recognising that while some of us work under a relatively clear blue sky, many hold up the sky in much, much tougher circumstances, and yet they do so, and yet they continue.

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” Cressbrook Well Dressing, Derbyshire, 2018

Coming 100 years after some women finally received the vote, and especially when there’s still so much to do, a bit of public parading suddenly seemed like a small thing.

And having done it, I learned something else too. Walking shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers; singing a traditional suffragette song; shouting out “No. More. Unequal Pay!” just out of sync with the others and thinking about how far we’ve come, I found myself welling up. Not once, but several times. Awkward. But something about standing together, walking in the footsteps of brave and angry women, shouting out for change, was a profound and moving experience, even when it was a bit of fun.

So, I think I get it. Marching, protesting. Even if I’m well aware that dressing up in an unusual colour scheme and waving a banner is a considerable gloss on what the suffragettes felt they had to do. I’m noticing that recently people are marching again on a scale they haven’t done for some time in the UK. For the NHS, against Trump, against austerity, and even in Macclesfield later this month there’ll be our first Pride event. Of course the effectiveness of protests can be endlessly debated, and they achieve many different things varying from community fun to vicious confrontations, and everything in between. But one person’s nuisance is another person’s justice, and sometimes you have to stand with other people in order to be heard. A crowd will never be an easy place for me to be, but sometimes, I do see, you have to be prepared to make a fuss.

Suffragette banner
“Same Stuff, Different Century” Suffragette banner ready for action

Here’s the walk at Litton if you want to give it a go. The Well Dressing at Cressbrook took place in June.

Walking and life or business coaching are partners made in heaven. Walking helps you think. Coaching helps you think. Natural Thinking brings the two together to help people sort stuff out and make things happen. Plus, summer is a great time to review and reassess where you’re going and what you want to do. Want to give it a try? Check it out here