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

The Story of the Walk

wild garlic near Bakewell in Derbyshire
Meandering through wild garlic near Bakewell in Derbyshire

All my walks have their own story. The route, the weather, the mud, the café, the companions, the cows (or hopefully not..), the copulating frogs, the wild garlic, the wood anemones, the lamb carcass 6 foot up in a tree (I know, ugh. I’m not sure what this says about our Cheshire buzzards). You know the kind of thing.

But there’s another story that is woven in with this one – the stuff I bring in my head. And with this stuff, I notice a pattern, a rough gathering together into a beginning, middle and end that echoes the unfolding of the walk.

The River Wye from Monsal Head
The river Wye from near Monsal Head. Each season tells a different story…

After I set off but before I get going, there’s a sense of meeting myself in that place. Are my feet comfy in these shoes, am I tired, grumpy or does my back ache? What have I got to do this week, who’s annoying me, what tricky interactions have I got to manage? Why can’t I get enthused about gardening these days and why am I avoiding painting and decorating the bathroom?

As the walk goes on there’s a kind of settling. My body gets used to the pace, I warm up, I adjust my shoes and get my hair out of my face. Many thoughts fall away and I’m absorbed in finding the way and a steady, gently paced examination of the things that have remained. Inner thoughts and outer experience are woven together, holding each other in a comfortable relationship. There may be special revelations, or maybe not. Often it’s about noticing the line of molehills in a field or a weird cloud formation as much as realising that I could approach a problem with my work in a different way.

As the walk draws to a close, thoughts turn to food, fireside, ice cream (delete according to season) or the drive home. Or what’s got to happen next. There’s a kind of line drawn under the space, maybe with a colon pointing to what’s next:

muddy path near Wincle, Macclesfield
Alas, the story of my walking often includes a chapter on mud…although carefully avoided for my coaching clients!

This is not to say that I come away from a walk with all the answers to my questions, but that the mishmash of worries, ideas, interests and just plain chaff is settled into a framework that allows me to hold it all there for a while while I think about what to do with it.

One of the things that I do as a coach is to create a space and a structure for my clients to examine their own thoughts and decide what’s important. Answers or advice are less important than creating a constructive, fruitful space full of the potential for brilliant thinking.

It’s my experience that a walk has many of these characteristics too, albeit in an informal way. This is the raison d’être for Natural Thinking, my coaching business. Working with a coach provides a respectful companion with a listening ear and a sheaf of techniques to enhance your thinking, and bringing this together with being outside is what I do.

wood anemones near Lyme Park, Cheshire
Wood anemones in flower, near Lyme Park in Cheshire

But the joy of walking is that it’s available for free to those who are inclined and able to get out in some way. A walk is a natural coach.

I bet those of you who walk regularly – and I know many of you do – have noticed this or something like it. I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’d like to share them.