Forest School Sessions with Nursery Children

Forest School Sessions

Forest School sessions are an innovative educational approach that focuses on the ‘processes of learning’ rather than ‘content transfer’.

Forest School is play based, with child led learning at its centre, taking place regularly in an outdoor setting.

Forest School SessionsForest School sessions provide a place for the child’s spark of creativity to be ignited within a rich, ever changing and limitless learning environment, naturally stimulating the development of motor skills, speech and language, utilising the senses of touch, hearing, sight and smell.

There are no buildings, no desks, no bells signalling break time and no prescribed learning outcomes. Instead they move, explore, discover, wonder and use their own imaginations.

 

It is a place for children to communicate, cooperate, problem solve, takes risks, build and construct; and if educators and supervisors are able to step outside the box of over planning and venture into the exciting territory of the unexpected, unplanned and unlimited, the full potentiality of children will naturally begin to thrive.

Forest School sessions - creating wonder and imagination!Outdoor Learning and Forest School sessions are about connecting with the natural world where children can lead and direct their own learning at their own pace and in their own time.

“The very skilled educator knows when to offer an insight, a question, or materials to support the child’s learning, but more importantly knows when to get out of the way.” – Jon Cree.

A typical day with Nursery children at Forest School..

Coming together in a circle is the usual starting point for the session. Taking a moment to ‘arrive’ in the space and breathe. How are we feeling? What is happening in the natural world around us? What have you noticed on the way here?

Perhaps someone saw something on the way into the woods – an animal track, a flower, a feather, a magical stick!

We follow curiosity straight into enquiry, wonder, stories, play and identification.

“What is it? I’ve never seen that before.” “Where did it come from?”

A game begins!  Wolf and Deer running through the bracken and hiding behind the trees! Who will be caught and who is the catcher? Who is the Prey and who is the Predator?

Playing cooperatively and collaboratively. Leading us naturally into more learning about the animals within the game and how they interact with one another – such as the nature of animals hunting.

“How did it feel to be the wolf? How does a pack of wolves hunt?”

“It was exciting chasing the deer.” “We caught the deer when we worked together”.

“Why is my heart beating so fast?”

Unsupervised and non-directed spaces of free play are usually the time when a child’s natural curiosities for more opportunities to explore, discover new boundaries and take risks are readily available to those who are seeking them.

So it’s off to the river. “Who knows the way? Let’s go!”

“I like the noise when I jump into the river.” “Look at how dirty my hands are.”

A few pieces of equipment available is just enough to inspire a new game, a new skill.

“Let’s build a Dam!” “Where the Mallet? I want to build a House!” Two children precariously slipping down the river bank; shall I help them? “I’ll help you, take this rope and I’ll pull you up.”

(No need, they have it covered.)

“1,2,3,4,5…five buckets of leaves in the river..let’s keep going..6,7,8..”

Time for a quick drink at Forest School!Space for food and drinks are an important time for us to come together.  Often stories around what has happened that morning already will be filled will differing perspectives and experiences.

”There were slugs underneath that log, why are they living there?” “That was fun.”

Playing alone or in natural groupings are observed as indicators to the differing learning styles and preferences within the group.

 

“I liked making my own house.” “We made a camp together, look at what we did!”

Pride and self reflection gaining its own momentum.

Sawing? Who wants to have a go at making a fire?

A more focused activity can happen now as children are ‘ready and receptive’.

Learning about safety, control and focus to try a new skill.

Using a bowsaw at Forest SchoolWorking together to use a Bowsaw or making sparks on cotton wool. “Be careful!”

“Can we toast marshmallows this week?”

Returning to the circle at the end to reflect and share.

Inspirations, discoveries, new skills and stories are all ripe to be picked, eaten and enjoyed by all of us.  “We made a mud cake together, we found lots of different types of soil to make the pie with, how come there are so many?”

Natural curiosities are things to celebrate as much as possible, who knows where they will lead?

“I didn’t know I was good at sawing; I would like to do more sawing to make a car next time.”

What did we see? Who remembers the noise of the Woodpecker?

“Is it finished already?”

“Can we do this again tomorrow?”

Defenders of play, and protector’s of fantasy, wonder and awe. Our job is done for today..until next time.

By Charlie Irving, Circle of Life Rediscovery – Woodland Facilitator.

“The nursery children love Forest School. We trialled a 10 week programme with Circle of Life Rediscovery at their beautiful woodland site in the heart of Sussex and the outcome more than exceeded our expectations. Since then we have been going back every year. The children are always so excited to go back to the forest every week, running down the path!” Anita Hotton, Pumpkin Patch Nursery.


Forest School Sessions at your setting.

If you are interested in Forest School Sessions at your nursery or school then please contact us by email or phone 01273 814226. Sessions can take place at your setting or at our woodland site near Laughton, East Sussex.

Forest School Training Level 3

Forest School Training Level 3 - Endorsed TrainerIf you would like to train your staff, we offer unique training at our woodland site and at Parkwood campsite near Brighton. If you have a group we can also offer bespoke training.

2019/20 Course dates:

 

Part 1: 21 & 22nd November 2019 at Mill Woods and 25th, 26th, 27th November 2019 at Parkwood Campsite.
Part 2: 27th, 28th February 2020 at Parkwood Campsite and 2nd, 3rd March 2020 at Mill Woods.

Approved by the Forest School Association and awarded by the Open College Network West Midlands, this Level 3 Certificate provides the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to prepare learners for employment as a Forest School Leader.

The training will combine key principles of Forest School with best practice from Environment and Nature Education, child development, the world of play (wild, free and therapeutic play) delivered by our professional team who have many years experience.

Circle of Life Training are now providing online learning resources to supplement this in-depth direct training. These documents are laid out in an easy to understand format that link to the Forest School Units. We also supply useful video material, links to best practice, a student upload to share valuable resources and the option to download resources for you to keep.

Please visit our website to find out more or call us on 01273 814226.

Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryWe provide exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them. 

 

Outdoor Classroom Day – The Power of the Outdoors

Outdoor Classroom Day Blog by Jon Cree

Communing with another – a ceremonial transformation. Encounters with a nettle.

Outdoor Classroom Day Blog, by Jon CreeThis week I experienced a palpable shift in one of the teachers on a workshop I was facilitating – let’s call her Jane (real name left out for anonymity). The workshop entitled “lost words”, is based on the book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, that seems to have swept up the country’s schools in its magic. It involves facilitating teacher’s sensory observation of non human beings then representing these encounters through various sketching and poetry techniques to rediscover the meaning of the name for said ‘being’.

What I witnessed in this teacher was more than something to do with rediscovering the meaning of adder, otter, kingfisher and willow – it was a shift where the inner and outer worlds met.

At the start of the day there was a distinct reluctance, indeed possibly belligerence, to ‘open up’ the heart to the possibilities of what might come if you just ‘be’ with other ‘more the human’ beings. There seemed to be resistance to allowing the inner and outer worlds collide…”what I can’t take my pen and paper to my sit spot?” was a retort.

On returning from said sit spot a shift had already happened and the shackles of culture started to slip away. Rules of poetry were there to be broken, and with the aid of the words ringing on the Guernsey winds of the likes of poets such as David Whyte, Ted Hughes and Mary Oliver you could see said teacher’s shoulders dropping and a sparkle and smile spreading across her face…Jane was definitely letting down her guard. After some working with senses and words, sketching exercises that emphasised a playful sensory integration of subject and paper, in her case this was flint and paper (I always feel rocks have so much to tell us), there started to be a melding of natural world awareness and expression.

The Power of the Outdoors - Outdoor Classroom Day Blog

Then came the big occasion of the day – 90 minutes of sitting with one being, in her case a nettle. Jane approached her subject as advised in a mindful slow yet playful way, observing from all angles and finding just the right spot and body distance to give both beings respect yet intimacy. I watched and witnessed a rushing at this point to distil the essence of nettle in sketch and rubbing, and then something extraordinary happened in this seemingly ordinary space.

 

Her words started to flow – she had exclaimed at the start of the day that she hated poetry (she is a leader in literacy in her school!) and there was a moment where she sat in ceremony celebrating this resilient yet vulnerable ‘being’ – she literally performed her own small ceremony for said nettle. It was as if Jane had entered her own mytho-poetic world where the inner and outer had collided…her soul and psyche had entered the nettle kingdom.

I know this sounds somewhat far fetched for to get to this stage can sometimes take years and many vision quests, but I was certain in just 5 and a half hours she had entered into a ceremonial conversation with the world…the words were flowing. It was a beautiful moment to witness she was participating fully in the world from which we all come from – not the technological but the natural. I couldn’t but help myself from going over to sit beside Jane and she willingly showed me her sketchbook, made that morning, and the words that just kept coming…she had entered into a deep caring relationship with the nettle.

The Power of the OutdoorsSome may say that this was nothing other than the keen observation and spending time with another being that provoked the words, i.e time for ‘contact’. But I am certain this was down to an opening of heart and the imaginal whispers of the nettle that created an almost sacred space in which Jane could, in her own soft way, make this a ceremonial instance to cement said ‘connection’ rather than ‘contact’.

My words may seem grandiose and exaggerated but I am certain, indeed we know from cultures of the past and present, that ceremony deepens relationship.

I came away feeling that we need to allow our learners more time with the non human and celebrate the ensuing relationship in some form of respectful way with a mixture of ‘gravitas’ and ‘levitas’.

Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors – 3 day course with Jon Cree.
Optional Level 3 Accreditation available.

This course is aimed at any educator who feels they want to engage and work with students in the outdoors who may be reluctant learners (of any age).

This course will delve into:

  • What challenges us as leaders in the outdoors
  • Theory on challenging behaviour
  • Up-to-date neural research; triggers and causes for challenging behaviour
  • Ways of dealing with ‘real life’ scenarios in the outdoors
  • De-escalation
  • How to transfer outdoor strategies into an indoor and other settings – including looking at the validity of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reviewing your own policies

Date: 17th, 18th & 19th June 2019 at Mill Woods, near Laughton, East Sussex OR 20th, 21st & 22nd November 2019 at Parkwood Campsite, Poynings, East Sussex.
Lead Facilitator: Jon Cree
Cost: £325 for the 3 day course, £55 for the Accreditation (optional). This Level 3 West Midlands Open College Network Accredited Course.
Time: 09.00 – 17.00.
Booking: Please book online here for the June course or online here for the November course.
More information: please visit the website.


Transforming education, health and family through nature

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates about our courses, CPD’s, well-being & nature based training and events.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Young Nature Leaders Initiative – Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s been an incredible journey on the Young Nature Leaders Initiative course with Circle of Life Rediscovery.  Spending a day out in the woods each month has been a wonderful and grounding experience and it has given me a tranquil space to feel connected to nature.

Young Nature Leaders Initiative If I was ever feeling stressed or anxious before the session, that was eased once I got to the woods as we always took some quiet time to listen to the sounds of the forest, relax and connect with our senses. This, along with the amazingly supportive facilitators helped everyone feel ready to engage and learn. We learned everything through practical experience making it so much more meaningful and memorable.

 

The art of square lashing!We met each month in the woods whatever the weather! From November to April, we experienced the woods through different seasons and what the seasons had to bring.  From fire lighting to woodland cooking, using tools to make animals from wood, charcoal pencils and picture frames, plant identification, nature games and woodland management, we have learnt so many new skills that we can apply to our future work.

Meeting new friends

 

The course has opened up new options for me and my future. It has taught me so many new skills as well as teaching me how to share those skills with children and adults.

 

Mushroom keyrings!I have now gained a Forest School Level 2 qualification. Being able to share this knowledge and help others find the fulfilment I have found in Forest School is really important to me and I hope to continue to do this. Since starting the course I have been volunteering at two Forest Schools which has allowed me to put my new skills into practice and has consolidated my desire to pursue outdoor learning as a career.

Having felt a bit lost a few years ago, my life didn’t really have any direction. There are so many pressures around us to look a certain way, feel a certain way and act a certain way. This course has enabled me to meet new people who perhaps feel the same and have taught me to be myself and accept myself – it’s a magical feeling and being in the woods only accentuates this. I feel excited about the future and my options.

Mental Health Awareness Week

If anyone reading this feels they are struggling, I would encourage you to share your problems and talk, take a walk in the woods, lie on the grass and feel the sun on your face. There are people out there who care and who can offer support. Never feel alone.


Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

We want to thank the Ernest Cook Trust for providing a key grant to enable our Young Nature Leaders training to happen. If you would like to make a donation to our funded work or find out about our funded programmes please contact us.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates about our courses, CPD’s, well-being & nature based training and events.

 

 

Mental Health, Wellbeing, Nature: Children need to go Outdoors

Mental Meandering and the Outdoors

By Kate Macairt (Director CLR)

Children of all ages need to go outdoors to support their mental health and wellbeing. Children need the enriched sensory inputs which outdoors can provide. This does not have to be a beautiful wild landscape or forest, there are wild spaces in every city worth discovering.

In her TED talk (30/9/16) Emma Marris stresses there is no division between humans and Nature. We are part of nature, we are part of the living system of this planet. She encourages us to take a short walk through the urban jungle and find how, no matter how much concrete we pour, time will open cracks and shoot new life. For a disenfranchised young person, the bravery of the little weed forcing its way through such obstacle provides a metaphor which system 1 thinking notices. (See my previous Blog on System 1 and 2).

Mental Health, Wellbeing, NatureConquering Nature has been a significant driving force in the evolution of humans.  The modern human brain still contains elements of our ancestor Neanderthal brain. What was absolute survival behaviour for early humans is still the brain’s default mode and when we are stressed by events in our life we will still adopt the same response as our ancestors: fight freeze flight.

The development of the human for rational logical thinking has set us apart, humans have always explored and questioned their place within the natural scheme of things and in more recent times struggled for domination over other animals, plants, rivers, rocks oceans. The success of the domination has been over whelming and in Earth time super- fast. As a species we have fast tracked the development of our cognitive thinking skills. We are amazing and can create anything we imagine, almost. But it is very clear that now we pay the price for thinking we are above or exempt from the natural system.  It is our young humans who will face the clean up after hundreds of years of irresponsible partying by so called grown- ups.

Perhaps it would be easier now to carry on trashing and abusing the hand which feeds us. Perhaps we do need more gadgets and systems which will help distance us from our nature. Implant chips so we can be read like a robot. Surrender our ability to find our way, turn on our lights, remember appointments and so on.  We should be treading with more caution. History clearly shows that it is not possible to change natural phenomena without there being a knock-on effect and these knock-on effects often create a less safe world for humans.

I am a child of the 1960’s and have grown up with awareness that this is no new argument but what has changed significantly I feel is the effect of the modern human world on children.  In 1989 Morris Berneman wrote ‘Coming to Our Senses’. An acknowledgement of how the evolutionary process has divorced us from our embodied experience of the world. He warns of the de-humanising effect of believing we are above or outside the natural world and the existential void that disembodiment creates.

Remember the two infants, our indoor and outdoor babies? (Again, see my previous Blog).  Let’s assume baby 1 continues to have predominantly indoor experiences, what sensory memories is she forming? Modern urban city life encourages us to stay indoors. From birth until she is three years old Infant 1 has been kept safe inside the aircon apartment, she gets to play with playdough while in her high chair and she likes bubbles in her bath. She has an Ipad on which she watches age appropriate cartoons, she loves Peppa Pig (consider how many products aimed at young children utilise animals with human characteristics, flowers and trees that can talk, and rural locations). There is a beautiful jungle mural on the nursery wall. Baby 1 has been kept safe from germs and is carried from building to car to building in safety seats. All the time her little brain is growing. A baby’s brain grows 64% in the first year of life.  Baby 1 is making the foundation ‘compost’ which will unconsciously impact on her future behaviour as she matures and faces new experiences

Mental Health, wellbeing, nature Baby 2 has also been inputting sensory data. Her arms have been stretching trying to reach the grass as her arm flops over she rolls and now she is lying on her tummy. She grabs at the green spikes which are waggling in front of her she pulls at the strands a chubby fistful of grass… and now to taste! As Baby 2 gets bigger she enjoys mixing mud pies, she will lift the stone and look for the woodlice that live there and she has found her own special place under a bush where some of her toys live. Both babies are safe and have working models of secure attachment. Both babies are having their basic needs met and both will grow up and no doubt do ok at school.  (If you wish to train to work in the outdoors, see our Forest School Training courses).

What Baby 1 lacks is the opportunity to explore her world in its true entirety.  The outdoors and all that it offers is an important part of our story, our personal story and our ancestral narrative. If we are to feel confident in our capacity to be resilient then we need to develop a positive relationship with our world.

A little boy of 3 years is on the beach, I am observing him and his mother from a distance. It is a beautiful sunny day he is following his mum, they are walking up from the sea shore across rocks. He scrambles over the boulders like a bear cub, all fours finding his balance, his little bare feet scrunch as he walks, a little gingerly at first, over the pebbles but in no time he is striding ahead. He is completely Master of his body moves and his quiet humming communicates his sense of satisfaction with life.  Some time passes, the same little boy is again returning from the sea following his mother. This time he slips and falls and for a moment he disappears behind a boulder,  then there is a wail!  Mum is quick to respond, has scooped him up and is hugging him. She picks him up, dusts him off and he is ready to start all over again.  Mum walks on and the boy continues his scrambling and balancing.

See our website for courses based around mental health, wellbeing, natureSo much sensory information has automatically been experienced and the boys developing Superintendent will have noted ‘I fell over, it hurt, but not for long’. He has felt confirmation that the world provides fun and satisfaction and he is completely justified in receiving it. When it goes wrong it hurts but mum’s hug has reassured him to continue. I know, not rocket science is it? But what you may not have considered before is how important it is for that activity to have been outdoors. The power of the event would not have been the same had the boy been in the JungleTumble play world climbing foam blocks and plastic balls.

The dislocation of mind and body may be an effect of Western culture’s preoccupation with individualism and materialism. Eastern cultures have traditionally maintained more awareness of the harmony of mind and body, this can clearly been seen in the difference between Western and Eastern medicine. As the global modern technological world continues to expand our understanding of what reality is in being tested. For several years I have visited and worked in South East Asian countries training child counsellors and psychotherapists to become Play Therapists. The same mental health issues are manifesting in the young of China, Indonesia, Singapore as in London, USA, France. It is our young who have to deal with the ‘knock-on’ effect of the new technology. The seductive allure of computer worlds have been masterfully attuned to our addictive natures.

I loose count of how many young people I have worked with and who supervisees are working with, for whom playing on-line games has replaced most other social events. It is very usual now for young people to spend more time online engaging with each other as an avatar than taking ‘the risk’ of actually going out and engaging with a more unpredictable reality. The problems with this retreat into an internal world of virtual reality is the limited sensory input, the lack of somatic experience to such an extent that the Self is negated and projected onto a computer generated character who becomes ‘Me’.  Circle of Life Rediscovery are running a new course in the Autumn – Mental Health, Resiliency Training in Nature. Please register your interest here.

A child who lacks resilience will be drawn to the computer game and virtual worlds like a moth to the flame. The bedroom becomes the sanctuary the outside world dangerous. I guess it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how that young person who lacks resilience and fears the outdoors world and what is in it, who is addicted to playing violent games in which success equates to body count, how the boundaries between realities may begin to merge until one day you can step out of the bedroom as your avatar and use a real gun or knife and kill real people.

The intense sense of loneliness and isolation from the physical world and others is at the root of most mental ill health.  It does not require amazing gardens or wild plains to find our connection. If you happen to be reading this and are in a busy street with traffic, or on a park bench look down at the ground. Envisage a 10cm square drawn onto the ground. Now look closer at what is inside your square, a magnifying glass is very useful. This is an enjoyable game to play with all ages and if you were to have a 10cm square piece of paper and colouring pens you could try and capture on paper what you see. For the young child this sort of focus activity is very beneficial for connecting System 1 and System 2. The important thing is to be allowed to draw what you want to draw: do your own looking, seeing, interpreting.

Another effective simple outdoor focus game is to prepare a collection of objects, for example petals, leaves, sticks, stones, sweet wrappers. Create one big pile of confusion with them all jumbled together. The game is to see how quickly the chaotic mess can be sorted into piles of same or similar. Again, there is no right or wrong way here. Sorting things how you perceive they should be sorted is satisfying and simple.  It is a child-led (or person-led) activity and is educational because of the intensity of the sensory inputs: the freedom within the activity to make choices ( or to negotiate if in teams) gentle connection between sensory System 1 and pattern seeking System 2.

Learning with NatureI recommend Marina Robb’s book ‘Learning with Nature’ for more ideas on outdoor games and activities.  Whether in a Park, fields, or a scrubby patch in the back yard I encourage you and your children to get out more. Smell, look, taste, listen, touch find out what is safe and what isn’t. Have fun, breathe more deeply stretch your arms in the air, feel your feet grounded on earth. It is never too late to add more enrichment to your sensory network; the ‘compost’ of your foundation brain.

“The whole of science and one is tempted to think the whole of the life of any thinking man, is trying to come to terms with the relationship between yourself and the natural world. Why are you here and how do you fit in and what’s it all about?”
Sir David Attenborough


Landplay Therapy – Two Day Training Course with Kate Macairt.

Landplay Therapy with Kate Macairt

 

Kate will be running her two day Landplay training in Essex on 25th & 26th May 2019. Please visit the Circle of Life Rediscovery website for further information and view full course information here.

 


Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life Rediscovery

Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates about our courses, CPD’s, well-being & nature based training and events.


Recommended related reads

Berne Morris: 1989; Coming to our Senses
Brazier C: 2018; Ecotherapy in Practice
Jennings Sue: 2001; Embodiment-Projection-Roleplay
Kahneman D ;2011; Thinking Fast and Slow
Knight S: 2013; Forest School and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years
Louv Richard : Last child in the Woods
Oaklander V : 2007; Windows to  our children,
Robb M et al : 2015; Learning with Nature
Young Jon: 2001: Exploring Natural Mystery: Kamana one

Copyright

Neuroscience: Mental Meandering and the Outdoors

Neuroscience: Mental meandering and the Outdoors –  System 1 and System 2

By Kate Macairt (Director CLR)

I am inside a box sitting by a window and the window is slightly open. Outside my window perched on a telephone line are 2 swallows; whatever it is they are communicating to one another, it is clearly something of great interest to them. Their chattering is a non-stop percussive melody, a complex composition with background hum of some power tool and a van pulling up below the window; I smell diesel. A gentle summer breeze licks my face and I watch how the verdant leaves tremble. My mind relaxes. My hand is holding a pen and might start doodling. I have escaped the box.

Neuroscience: Mental meandering and the Outdoors

If this description resonates then no doubt you too were accused of daydreaming in class. I taught teenagers Expressive Arts for many years and that sense of absorption in the moment; a relaxed pleasure in simple things was a gift I felt was an important aspect of Arts education.

 

I have continued to explore and discover more about the human trait of Creativity and the relationship between creative release and emotional literacy. Ten years ago, I became a Play Therapist.

Day dreaming is important, and it seems easy to daydream outdoors in a place with a tree or flowers, grass, water, sand, mud.

“When we need to plan for an uncertain future, mental meandering can be the perfect tool. Daydreaming has also been shown to be crucial in boosting creativity and problem solving, by allowing the brain to forge connections between pieces of information we don’t link up when we are too focused”, Caroline Williams New Scientist 20/5/17.

System 1 and 2

I am no Neuroscientist but I am a Creative Therapist and the dual process concept resonates as a workable idea which has helped me understand my own thinking and feeling. Recent neuroscience has explored the concept of dual processing (see Kahneman, Kauffman,) – System 1 and System 2.

This theory helps us to understand where feelings come from and why feelings can sometimes manifest for what seems no logical reason – a sudden mood change. I have found that drawing a diagram (psycho-ed) to show how feelings connect to sensory memories has helped young people understand why they are struggling with the world and their sense of place within it.

My version of the science is a simplified, focusing on those aspects of the research which I think are relevant to feeling. System 1: the larger automatic intuitive super- fast automatic brain absorbs all information from the sensory experience of an event. What we hear, see, taste, smell, touch is transmitted into our system 1 at micro second speed and it can feel rather chaotic, especially if we find ourselves in a noisy, busy, hot/cold, place and are hungry (fast brain processing). We may suffer sensory overload. Observe a young infant in a large supermarket and you will probably see the effect of sensory overload it is certainly a location where the toddler tantrum seems to occur frequently.

I think of the System 2 mind as a Superintendent. It is this small frontal cortex area of the brain which tries to filter and make sense of all the sensory input – it needs to make logical rational sense of the experiences so that we feel safe. Superintendent has been identified as lazy and prefers to deal with subjects it has experienced before. System 2 does not like change and so when the flood of sensory information is being fired the Superintendent naturally connects with information it has already stored as memory or tries to find the best fit. System 2 superintendent gives things names – it helps with storing and retrieval of information. So sensory feelings become emotions.

The first time I heard strange chattering out of my window I could not name it. I did not know a swallow. Now I quickly recognise that sound. I am not sure what the power tool is exactly, but I am reassured by stored information from past encounters with power tool noise. Superintendent focused thinking helps me feel in control and safe.

Neuroscience: Mental meandering and the OutdoorsNow consider the infant of 4 months. The baby needs to reduce fear and feel safe but everything is new and the memory bank is practically empty. The infant needs an adult to ensure safety and meet basic animal needs such as feeding, shelter. The infant needs to feel safe with Other and safe in her environment.

 

The baby’s system 1 needs to work hard in the first year of life. The ears, eyes, nose, mouth, skin need to learn what to do. It is through sensory experience that the infant begins to build a sense of them Selves in relation to Other and the environment.

System 2 needs experiences to be repeated, “again again” is Superintendent’s baby voice. Our brain needs repetition to help make sense of our Senses. The infant needs to build a firm foundation brain, a firm sensory network. Imagine two infants. Both are left alone for a few minutes. The first infant is in a bouncy chair in a living room. The room has electric lighting, a t.v is on and flashes colours in sporadic bursts into the room. The voices on the t.v are high and shrill full of excitement and energy, the baby wriggles in her chair and stretches out for the bright red toy in front of her. The air is heavy with the smell of cooking.

Neuroscience: Mental meandering and the OutdoorsBaby 2 has been put down on a rug on a piece of grass. The sky is blue and little clouds scud by. The sun is warm and the leaves on the tree twinkle, a butterfly lands on the rug next to the child. The air is full of sounds of the distant town, dogs barking, the wind in the bushes, and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass. The infant’s arms wave in the air.

Can you imagine both scenarios? I am not asking for judgement here as both scenarios are perfectly relevant. But it is the difference in sensory input that is worth focusing on. An infant brain requires enriched input, the infant brain knows what it needs. Carl Jung gave the world the concept of the Archetypes. In some ways the idea of these energy potentials held deep within the psyche seem to relate to the neuroscience concept of synapses waiting to be activated.

The Great Mother archetype is an internal drive which when activated will help the infant feel connected and safe. Secure attachment to the Mother or primary caregiver is boosted by secure attachment to The Great Mother: the earth. Only outdoors can the infant-child truly explore the world and what it is made of. Outdoor space provides room to stretch and try out body strength, to breathe air- although sadly it’s true that in our polluted cities aircon perhaps provides safer air. Man- made is good and we certainly wouldn’t want to get rid of our useful gadgets and inventions but again just consider the physical differences between a swimming pool and a lakeside or seaside beach? How does it feel to be beside the lake or sitting in the spectator stand?

If the infant is exposed to enriched natural sensory input she will unconsciously be creating a firm memory store which will become the foundation of all her future thinking. The early years are like compost making years which create a rich bed of experiences which feed and enrich all other experiences in the future. When we speak of Resilience I feel we are recognising this firm foundation in the child/adult’s mind. An ability to
bounce back is deep set. We need to keep feeding the compost throughout our life by ensuring diverse sensory experiences.

Landplay Training Course

Landplay Therapy with Kate Macairt

 

Kate will be running her two day Landplay training in Essex on 25th & 26th May 2019. Please visit the Circle of Life Rediscovery website for further information and view full course information here.

 


Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life Rediscovery

Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

 

Recommended related reads
Berne Morris: 1989; Coming to our Senses
Brazier C: 2018; Ecotherapy in Practice
Jennings Sue: 2001; Embodiment-Projection-Roleplay
Kahneman D ;2011; Thinking Fast and Slow
Knight S: 2013; Forest School and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years
Louv Richard : Last child in the Woods
Oaklander V : 2007; Windows to our children,
Robb M et al : 2015; Learning with Nature
Young Jon: 2001: Exploring Natural Mystery: Kamana one

Author Kate Macairt
Copyright

Health, Well-Being and Spirituality

Health, Well-Being and Spirituality: An Unspoken Connection

By Salvatore Gencarelle

Health, Well-Being and Spirituality. The anguish that people are afflicted with has little to do with injury, physical disease, starvation, or other ills that historically caused great sorrow. Modern medicine and industry have all but eliminated those types of pain. The new illness that people suffer is from their inner world. It is more elusive, more subtle, and thereby more difficult to distinguish. If we cannot recognise the source of the pain, how can we stop or treat it?

Health, Well-Being and Spirituality with Salvatore Gencarelle and Marina RobbWhen we are in pain, we need to clearly identify the cause so we can take the appropriate actions. Pain is just a sensation that is intended to draw our attention to the source. Where are you hurting in your life? Where is your pain located? Is it physical? Mental? Emotional? Spiritual?

When we identify the source of the pain, we can make a distinction about the source. By naming it, we can begin to determine the cause.

The lack of congruence between the lack of connection in lives we currently live and our spiritual needs is the underlying source of misery. This is a low-grade misery that many people feel like a void at the centre of their being. This emptiness is a constant reminder that something isn’t right in this world.

I believe the inner pain that many people experience is caused by a spiritual disconnect and hunger; this pain is elusive, and so people often struggle to explain or describe the discomfort, except in metaphor.

Words like emptiness, loneliness, sad, tired, fearful, and apathetic are commonly used in attempts to name the pain. Not being able to find the source of such boundless pain and thereby not being able to do anything that adequately addresses the issue leads to hopelessness––this is real suffering; this is a suffering of the spirit. We have become so shielded and isolated from that which nourishes the inner being that we are starving for connection.

Explore and experience the restorative qualities and wisdom inherent in nature, whilst sharing ways and understandings that enable us to ‘Thrive in uncertain Times’Too many individuals live with hidden traumas and grief in ways that prevent them from deeply connecting or loving other people, the world, or even themselves. People’s internal connections and perception have become fractured and contentious, and people don’t know how to heal.

What does the current scientific research say about disconnection as the root cause of the lack of wellness? The cause and effect relationship between detachment and trauma is so vast that it’s difficult to distinguish because it permeates every aspect of modern society. Dr. Peter Levine, a pioneer in trauma research, says, “Trauma has become so commonplace, that most people don’t even recognise its presence.”

It can be said that the circumstances that caused the emotional/spiritual injury is not the essential problem but the disconnect from the self that happened is the actual issues. There are numerous coping strategies people have adopted that are not actually dealing with the issue but provide a way to lessen the suffering. Substance addiction is one such coping strategy. Addiction is an unsustainable strategy that Dr. Gabor Mate has studied for decades. Dr. Mate states that trauma represents events that disconnect one with oneself and that addiction originates in a person’s desperate attempt to solve a problem. The problem of emotional pain, crushing stress, lost connection, loss of control, and deep uneasiness with the self. Addiction is an attempt to relieve the pain.

Addiction is just a symptom of the real issue. I propose that that one of the most visible forms of the Disconnection Sickness is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Working as a paramedic, I am familiar with PTSD. One aspect of my 17-year career was to offer initial therapeutic sessions with first-responders who experienced a critical incident stress event (events with the known potential to be internalised into forms of PTSD).

After learning about the symptoms of PTSD and having my own experiences with trauma, I began to understand just how pervasive traumatic stress is in our society.  I started to really look at the symptoms and realised that many people were displaying them. Some people manage to mask them; however, aspects of PTSD seem to be universal, even considered normal. Below is a list of symptoms associated with PTSD, see how many of these symptoms are shared complaints with the average person.

  1. Loss of interest in life and other people
  2. Hopelessness
  3. A sense of isolation
  4. Avoidance of thoughts and feelings associated with the traumatic events
  5. Feeling detached and estranged from others
  6. Withdrawal
  7. Depression
  8. Emotional numbing

Join our webinar with Marina Robb and Sal Gencarelle on Mental Health and SpiritualityHow do we heal from disconnection? We want to see a positive change in the world, nature and ourselves, but the question that we all face is what can we do as individuals? Returning to a connected relationship with nature is a critical step in finding true wellness.

 

Nature is the pure source for support of well-being via a connection. One of the beauties of this life is all unbelievable purity and help that we can receive from nature. All we must do is choose to engage with it. There is a reason why so many people go to nature for pleasure, for relaxation, and for renewal. Nature feeds our spirit!

The reasons that people are drawn into nature is because it’s a pure source of connection energy. Nature has laws, and those laws are dangerous when not followed, but it welcomes all with openness. Nature doesn’t judge us in the ways that we do to each other and ourselves. It provides an opportunity to feel a sense of connection without the layers of social criticism, tension, expectation, or demands. This is so refreshing to our spirit, mind, heart, and body.

Health, Well-Being and Spirituality: An Unspoken ConnectionNature provides a vital nutrient for our well-being. It also supports us to embrace change as nothing in the landscape is static. Nature helps free us of the chattering mind and the endless cycling of thoughts spinning between our ears!

 

 

When we enter into nature and find the peace and calm we’ve been desiring, then the ability to observe ourselves more clearly is finally possible. Through the healing nature provides we can find our true personal spirituality.

For more on this topic please see the upcoming book by Salvatore Gencarelle, Thriving in Uncertain Times, How to Find Well-Being Now and into the Future.

FREE Webinar:

To learn more on health, well-being and spirituality join Salvatore Gencarelle and Marina Robb (of Circle of Life Rediscovery UK Director) on a free webinar May 7th 2019. To join the webinar register here.

When: May 7th, 2019 8:00pm London time

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Workshop: Well-being and Spirituality: A journey into practices in nature that support our well-being and a deeper understanding of our spiritual lives.
A journey into practices in nature that support our well-being and a deeper understanding of our spiritual lives.
We will explore and experience the restorative qualities and wisdom inherent in nature, whilst sharing ways and understandings that enable us to ‘Thrive in uncertain Times’. Many of us have become so shielded and isolated from what nourishes our inner being that we are starving for connection.

Together, we will create a safe and welcoming container to ask good questions, identify where we are out of balance and remember our kinship with all of life.

Date: 11th June 2019
Hosted by: Salvatore Gencarelle and Marina Robb.
Where: Mill Woods, East Sussex
Cost: £95 for the day workshop.
Time: 10.00 – 15.30
Inipi (Sweatlodge) will take place at 6pm (arrival by 5pm). We ask for a donation of between £35-£55.
Booking: Please book online here.

Information: Please visit the website for full details.


Transforming education, health and family through nature.
Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

World Autism Awareness Day

World Autism Awareness Day – whether we have a diagnosis or not (which can be helpful or not), we are all individuals and one response or label does not fit all.

World Autism Awareness Day is a day to celebrate us all

 

World Autism Awareness Day is a day to celebrate us all – especially those that are ‘different’ and find it more difficult to communicate with others in ways we expect or understand.

 

The popular term ‘neurotypical’ is stating that there is a ‘typical’ way that we interact
with others or not. In reality all of us find interaction difficult at times, and can be
supported in so many different ways, once we are understood. At the same time,
individuals can find it really helpful to understand how their ‘neuroatypical’ wiring,
affects their ability to interact with others and how they perceive the world around
them.

At one end of the spectrum, autistic people may have significant learning disabilities
and require 24-hour support in order to lead their lives, while at the other end the
person may be very intelligent and successful in their chosen career but require a
little support and understanding from others in some areas of their life.” (Forest
School and Autism: Micheal James)

Autism spectrum disorder is described as, ‘persistent difficulties with social
communication and social interaction’ and ‘restricted and repetitive patterns of
behaviours, activities or interests’, present since early childhood, to the extent that
these ‘limit and impair everyday functioning’.

The Woodland Project - World Autism Awareness DayOur funded Woodland Project which we run in partnership with CAMHS and CAMHS-LD-FISS offers family days out, parents days and a long-term teenage programme who are diagnosed with many labels. In the woods we are all people who are valued. We know it makes a positive difference to everyone involved and allows us all to achieve more than anyone imagined.

The days encourage families to put their worries to one side, mingle and laugh knowing that their child’s behaviour is not the focus of attention.  They support young people to feel safe, move through difficult feelings, find hope and be okay with who they are.

You can support the future of The Woodland Project by donating here. Thank you.

The majority of ‘autistic’ people present a level of difference in sensory processing
which affects them in their day-to-day lives. A recent workshop I went on gave us
various activities to give us a momentary glimpse into what it may be like to have
sensory processing difficulties. We had to undo and fasten buttons using washing up
gloves – not easy!

Next I walked around some cones looking through binoculars –my balance and sense of place was totally affected. Finally, the bit I enjoyed most was getting inside a stretchy sock, all tight around me. I experienced how safety can be increased by this touch and containment. And why so many young people I work with love getting inside hammocks or tight spaces.

We perceive the world and our place in it using our senses: sense of sight, sense of
hearing, sense of smell, sense of touch, sense of taste, sense of balance, sense of
our physical positioning and the strength of effort our body is exerting. These are not
the only senses – how we sense our internal feelings is also vital, as this lets us
know if we are hungry or sad.

Our bodies are always enabling us to ‘sense’ our world, and it is often through our bodies, in nature that we can learn to regulate and rewire ourselves to facilitate meeting our needs and providing an increase in well-being. Our new book co-authored by Marina Robb and Jon Cree will be published in Spring 2020. This will dedicate a chapter to the bottom up and top down strategies that we can apply in a natural environment – along with much, much more. Sign up to our newsletter to find out more.

The National Autistic Society recently produced a short film called Too Much
Information, which can be found on YouTube. The film shows the experience of
walking through a busy shopping mall from the perspective of an autistic child
experiencing an overload of sensory information. I would recommend taking moment
to watch this film if you have never experienced sensory overload personally.

Greta Thunberg - World Autism Awareness Day

Finally, on World Autism Awareness Day, I want to acknowledge the climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is diagnosed with Autism. Her protests have both called attention to climate policy, as she intended, but it also highlights the political potential of neurological difference.

 

An extract from: The New Yorker. See the full article here.
“I see the world a bit different, from another perspective, I have a special interest.
It’s very common that people on the autism spectrum have a special interest.”
Thunberg developed her special interest in climate change when she was nine years
old and in the third grade. “They were always talking about how we should turn off
lights, save water, not throw out food,” she told me. “I asked why and they explained
about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really
change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be
talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.” Turnberg has an uncanny
ability to concentrate, which she also attributes to her autism. “I can do the same
thing for hours,” she said. Or, as it turns out, for years.

Here I am, sitting in Lewes, East Sussex. It is because of the many people who
have gone before me who acted, and people today, like Greta, that I am glad to be
part of a growing community to come, who values diversity and our uniqueness.

Today, on World Autism Awareness Day, thousands of young people are out on the streets across the world inspired by a young woman with Autism.

Marina Robb, Circle of Life Rediscovery Director

 

By Marina Robb

Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC – Director.

 

Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

www.circleofliferediscovery.com

info@circleofliferediscovery.com

01273 814226

Challenging Behaviour – A balanced brain means a pro social mind

Challenging Behaviour – how does the outdoors promote a balanced brain? This was a question put to me on a play structures course last weekend. I had been talking about challenging behaviour and the way ‘movement and making’ can help people of all ages regulate behaviour. So to the question. First what do I mean by balanced brain?

Join Jon Cree for Challenging Behaviour this June or NovemberI was working with a youngster this autumn, Jordan, who, providing he was succeeding with a task, was engaged and controlled…he had a penchant for sawing and took great pleasure in making clean cuts. However as soon as it got hard or he made a hash of sawing he would throw the saw down, stomp and withdraw shouting all his way to the gate of our forest school site.

This became a common occurrence. He would become, very quickly, dysregulated and have difficulty controlling his emotions and behaviours. He also developed the vocabulary and a basic understanding of psychology to try and wind up both his peers and teachers with some choice words!

He displayed a lack of balance. This type of behaviour could be indicative of a sensory processing disorder, ADHD, history of trauma or something else, he was seen as a ‘handful’ in school, where he was always in reactive state, whereas at forest school was more often ‘on task’.

What was happening in his brain at these outbursts was an imbalance of both brain chemicals and lower and higher order thinking. The more reflective brain was being dominated by the reactive brain. Neurologist Jak Panksepp would say the mid-brain pathways are not working in harmony, in this case a lack of control over his frustration saw him reacting with the ‘fast’ or ‘no I can’t do this’ brain….I was sure it wasn’t necessarily indicative of other conditions.

What was needed was time and practise at getting into the pre frontal cortex to recognise the emotions that threw Jordan out of balance and to think about self regulation. Jordan was 12 and at this age the pre frontal cortex…the higher order brain that thinks about feelings and helps regulate behaviour by bringing the brain into balance, is going through a developmental phase.

It is fine to feel frustration, in fact its good and healthy. It is how we respond to the emotion that’s important, not letting it call all the shots. In the moment what helps is ‘calming’ and an approach from us, the adult practitioners, who have a developed pre frontal cortex, that is non threatening, clear, calm, empathetic and soothing to help Jordan re-balance. What happens when his frustration kicks in is either Jordan’s hyper-arousal and he stomps in rage, or some people enter hypo-arousal where the freeze response kicks in and a rigid non-flexible adaptive behaviour is displayed.

What is happening when these two states are witnessed is the autonomic nervous system activating to release certain chemicals such as cortisol or adrenaline and neurotransmitters like noreprophine, opioids etc, that can lead to brain imbalance.

Find our more about Jon Cree and his Challenging Behaviour 3 day course

How does Forest School help bring the brain into balance? Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson in their book ‘The Yes Brain Child’ propose through 7 daily ‘activities’ optimal brain matter is developed to create a healthy mind.

These include; sleep, physical time, focus time, down time, reflective time, connective time, play time.

While all these exist simultaneously at forest school (excepting sleep, unless you drop off in a hammock!) what the outdoors offers in abundance is physical and play time. One of the key mid brain systems Panksepp calls the PLAY system.

It has been shown that regular integrated play helps to stimulate both lower order thinking and higher order brain development, enabling a more integrated brain to develop. When in extended play mode, it could be through a hunting game or ‘playing with’ saws to see what happens when different techniques and materials are experimented with, then all kinds of higher order thinking and behaviours can develop.

These can include handling disappointment, sustaining attention, making sense of the world, overcoming fears of disappointment, tolerating frustration or coping with feelings of helplessness. Chemicals released through play can include serotonin, oxytocin, noreprophine all of which can counteract too many of the hyper and hypo-arousal chemicals.

Explore Challenging Behaviour in the outdoors with Jon Cree

 

The moving and physical activity at forest school beit running, dragging, swinging, climbing or sawing and chipping also helps both dissipate the reactive chemicals and stimulate resilient balanced brains.

 

When this is a regular programme eventually the combination of an empathic approach, plenty of integrated play, physical activity, daydreaming, a soothing green place and reflective time can see more balance and more pro social behaviour.

In the end Jordan will keep hold of the saw, regulate his behaviour and brain, discovering, through trying out how to make the most of technique and materials, the pleasure from ‘making’.

By Jon Cree

Jon Cree
Jon will be in East Sussex in June and November this year with Circle of Life Rediscovery delivering the 3 day course:  Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors.

 

Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors.

This course is aimed at any educator who feels they want to engage and work with students in the outdoors who may be reluctant learners (of any age).

This course will delve into:

  • What challenges us as leaders in the outdoors
  • Theory on challenging behaviour
  • Up-to-date neural research; triggers and causes for challenging behaviour
  • Ways of dealing with ‘real life’ scenarios in the outdoors
  • De-escalation
  • How to transfer outdoor strategies into an indoor and other settings – including looking at the validity of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reviewing your own policies

Date: 17th, 18th & 19th June OR 20th, 21st & 22nd November 2019
Lead Facilitator: Jon Cree
Where: Mill Woods, East Sussex
Cost: £325 for the 3 day course, £55 for the Accreditation (optional). This Level 3 West Midlands Open College Network Accredited Course.
Time: 09.00 – 17.00.
Booking: Please book online here for the June course or online here for the November course.
More info: Please visit the website here for full details.


Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

 

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing

Written by Marina Robb (Director Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC)

Spirituality is the innate aspect of being human. We have a natural capacity to be spiritual. The search for meaning and purpose in life is a central pillar of spirituality.

The UK school curriculum aims to “Promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental, physical development of pupils at school and of society.” (Section 351 of the Education Act 1996) Many of us who are practitioners who work with children, young people and adults, approach human development from a holistic perspective, with spiritual development being a key ingredient.

But what do we mean by spirituality?

Giesenberg (2007) defines it: ‘Spirituality is an innate part of a person. It is an awareness or consciousness of the surrounding world, a sense of compassion and love towards this world and anything in it shown through wonder and through activities and relationship with peers and significant adults in the child’s life.’

Spirituality mental health wellbeingFor me, it has always been connected to the bigger questions and unknowns of life, as well as the ‘ah ha’ moments and feelings of awe that you get when you experience something special. It has something to do with a ‘consciousness’ or perhaps ‘a group mind’ (like the morphic resonance that Rupert Sheldrake talks about), that permeates all of life.

There is understandably a hesitancy when we use the word ‘spirituality’ as it historically has been closely linked to religion and religious experiences. In more modern times, it has been re-framed to allow this ‘feeling’ of connectedness or mystery to be named without the dogma of any religion or tradition. To enable a discussion around this aspect of life, and to be ‘inclusive’ we are attempting to clarify a very real difference between religion and spiritual. However, experience is inevitably personal and emotional.

Adam et al (2008) defines ‘spiritual’ as, ‘the very sense of being connected to others (whether to people, creatures of things)’. It is intangible, goes beyond anything that is visible or tactile and is, in essence spiritual. Eastern and western mystical traditions focus on spirituality as a journey towards unity with other, ultimately a feeling of becoming one with other.

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing
Sal Gencarelle, who I will be co-leading our workshop on ‘Well-being and Spirituality’ on June 11th, describes spirituality as, ‘the science of connection’. (Join us live on a webinar on May 7th 2019). We will explore Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing during our webinar and workshop.

The word ‘spiritual’ comes from the Latin ‘spirare’ meaning ‘to breathe’. Elementally, it is linked to air, which moves through and within all of life, and brings well-being. I am often reminded by children about the essential animistic quality of life. In the early years, the child’s world has no separation between object and subject and everything is alive. This sense of aliveness and connection is foundational to most indigenous world view that see all of life as ‘subjects’ within life. This promotes a harmony with nature, and puts a ‘spiritual’ value on life, where the spiritual and physical are united.

Knowledge in this paradigm comes directly from experience and learning happens from the non-human and human alike. Our ancestral traditions are often written off as ‘primitive’ or ‘spiritual’ yet these people deeply felt the intrinsic ‘aliveness’ of the plant and animal kingdoms – from the trees to the stones. Long-standing earth-based cultures have this awareness and understanding and are experts in their fields. It is understood that although we ‘look different’ and grow and change at a different speed (e.g rocks or trees), we share the same essential materials and are exchanging atoms, molecules and hormones all the time. Humans and their galaxy have about 97 percent of the same kind of atoms elements of life. These are known as the building blocks of life and are the crucial elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. We are made of stardust!

Mental Health is defined as:

“The emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in our own, and others, dignity and worth”. (Mental health Promotion: A quality Framework, Health Education Authority, (1997) London: HEA)

It is really interesting to me that to have ‘mental health’ we need emotional and spiritual resilience – two aspects that are often ‘unconscious’ responses and experiences in life. In way they also are opposite ends of the rational and logical parts of ourselves. Yet we know understand through neuroscience, that we have a ‘system 1’ (emotional, sense-based system) and a ‘system 2’ system (logical, super-intendent) and that to be well, we need to develop in all these aspects.

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeingMy mental health has been challenging several times in my life, sometimes in a big way, and often is small little ways. Defining our ‘wellness’ is often a measure of our ability to move through our pain and discomfort, rather than avoiding it. We can’t avoid pain in our lives, but we can learn to have perspectives and experiences that help us move to wellness.

We know that our experiences impact our lives and our ability to form healthy relationships. Our early experiences have a huge affect on our ability to cope with stress and on the development of our emotional and sensory processing systems. Traumatised children struggle to self-regulate across environments and find it difficult to trust and feel safe with adults. These children tend to experience the world through a ‘fear lens’ (Perry 2005).

I recently saw an image of a piece a paper with many dots on it – there was a red line joining dots to form a line across the paper. This was meant to show the story we tell ourselves about our lives. The story gets fixed on key events and we repeat this story until we believe this is who we are, and all that has happened to us. If we take a moment and look beyond the line, we can see hundreds of more dots, all experiences that tell us more about our lives and experiences. Doing this, helped me remember that the story of who I am and what has happened to me, is greater that the one line.

When we drill down under the surface, many of us don’t feel good enough, we lack confidence in what we know and struggle to speak out. We struggle to tell our story, to share our vulnerability – yet it’s in those places that are the treasure and core, unshakeable strength. Some interesting questions to think about:

– What has happened to you? (How is power operating in your life?)
– How did it affect you? (What kind of threats does this pose?)
– What sense did you make of it? (What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
– What did you have to do to survive? (What kinds of threat response are you using?)
– What are your strengths? (What access to Power resources do you have?)
– What is your story? (How does all this fit together?)

I have worked with vulnerable and challenged young people for most of my working life and my own lived experience of mental health difficulties in my late teens hugely impacted and transformed my life. Nature and healthy relationships were key to my healing and ability to thrive and make healthy choices. My worldview was influenced by different cultures who opened many doors to my understand of ‘reality’ and how nature plays a huge part in a feeling of belonging, place-attached.

Around the world, we know that economic growth alone is not enough to produce happiness. Happiness and well-being is actually reduced despite people in the UK or USA being richer, according to survey day (Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report 2019).

Nature offers us rest-bite and restoration. It is a place of no-judgement and feeling the different non-human relationship that feels safe, once you get out there – sitting round a fire, allow the gentle movement of the flames. It is often mesmerising, uncomplicated and peaceful. In the cultural we inhabit, we present a particular version of ourselves, and in my experience nature allows us our freedom to be and discover ourselves in a new way.

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing Workshop:

We will be exploring these themes during our webinar on May 7th 2019 (see below), and during our workshop on June the 11th in East Sussex (Spirituality and well-being Workshop).

You are invited to join Marina Robb and Sal Gencarelle on a Zoom Webinar meeting.

When: May 7th, 2019 8:00 PM London
Register in advance for this meeting here.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

For more about Spirituality, mental health and wellbeing – buy Sal’s new book ‘Thriving in uncertain times’.


Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates about our courses, CPD’s, well-being & nature based training and events.

International Women’s Day 2019

International Women’s Day 2019 –  Celebrating women and our internal connection to nature’s cycles

I am delighted to be celebrating International Women’s Day on 8th March 2019! I will be going up to London on March 9th to the WOW (Women of the World) festival to spend the day with men and women, to be part of a global movement that believes a gender equal world is possible and desirable through empowering women and girls.

Particularly excited to listen to Naomi Klein, a renowned activist and writer, who in 2016 was awarded Australia’s prestigious Sydney Peace Prize, for ‘inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to demand a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.’

While we act politically, there are private aspects of being a woman, that is rarely talked about as women: our menstruation and bodily hair! If you squirm at the mention of this, you are not alone, with shame about our bodies and monthly periods.

As Dr. Christiane Northrup says in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom “Nothing in our society – with the exception of violence and fear – has been more effective in keeping women “in their place”, than the degradation of the menstrual cycle.” Shame, stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation are contributing to serious human rights concerns for women and girls (UNFPA Report), underscoring the ways period shame and misinformation undermine the well-being of women and girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.

A recent survey found that 73 percent of women across the world hide their periods from others, and 68 percent are afraid to talk about their periods with men. Then there is the cost of sanitary products which prevents young women from attending school because they are unable to afford menstrual products. They miss school every month because they cannot face the shame and fear of going to school using socks stuffed with tissues, old torn T-shirts or newspaper. In these families, menstrual products are an unattainable luxury. Read more here.

These things do matter for half the population.

International Women's Day 2019There are many cultures who view menarche (the first period) as an initiation into womanhood, where a girl gets to be honoured by a coming-of-age ceremony or ritual. There are increasingly women who are reclaiming this natural cycle for themselves and their children.

At Circle of Life Rediscovery Camps for young women and other programmes, we always make sure there are healthy conversations and sharing about our feelings towards our bodies and menstruation, listening to different women’s experience of sex, babies, monthly bleeding, relationships and celebrating the inner wisdom that we have access too.

“To see your cycle as the enemy can set you up for more suffering. But working with and within it’s rhythmic imperatives can be your foundational path to healing.” (Wild Power 2017).

There are many ways of understanding how connected we are to nature and our relationship as women to natural cycles. It is very easy in the modern, externally focused world to forget that our well-being comes from knowing our internal landscapes, and how the external and internal influence each other.

Indeed, we so focused in the next moment, that most of us are also entirely unaware of Earth and moon’s influence on us! The earth rotates every 24 hours at 1000 miles per hour, the moon rotates around the earth, all the while spinning around the sun. We are entirely linked to the forces of life that are always moving and changing.

Linking the small and large perspective with the larger forces were and are often explained through show a map in the form of a wheel or circle. All the while, we know that we can only see a small part of ‘reality’. The most common maps place the earth & humans on the earth in the centre, where from our perspective the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. The influence of the sun on life is fundamental, without which life as we know it could have never evolved or exist. (Find out about our Nature Pedagogy workshop April).

It is less common however to notice that our everyday life is also influenced by the moon cycle. We are 70% water after all. This is particularly true for women, as their internal landscape and emotions are mapped closely to the moon. It is easy to forget that half the population from puberty has their ‘periods’ every month. Practitioners working with adolescent young people supporting healthy emotional and physical development are not educated to know how this internal cycle and understanding of our bodies is central to our mental and physical well-being.

Much of my work is with people with mental health difficulties. Findings based on the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) shows that brighter and poorer young women are particularly vulnerable to mental health difficulties showing a sharp increase of girls under age of 18 admitted to hospital in England (2015 -2016) because they had self-harmed after cutting (285%), poisoning (42%), hanging themselves (331%). “Some people say that physical pain is easier to tolerate than emotional pain.” (Dr Nihara Krause, consultant psychologist).

Our menstrual cycles really affect how we as women feel and following our cycles can hugely help us to harness the different qualities through the month. Empowering young women (and young men) to have the language and understanding of what is occurring physically and emotionally, provides a larger context and framework for what they are experiencing.

Most cycles, like the moon, are 28 days, and our bodies have internalised this rhythm. Like the phases of the moon, we have phases in our cycles: ovulation and menstruation. This is associated with the waxing moon reaching fullness in tune with ovulation and fertility (during the constructive phase) and the waning moon and dark moon (during the deconstructive phase) coinciding with menstruation and being a time of retreat and inner vision.

Menstruation is the night of the cycle, which as in story telling represents a state of consciousness “when we are closer to ourselves, closer to essential ideas and feelings that do not register so much during the daylight hours” (Estes 1998, p.329). Estes, Clarissa Pinkola Women Who Run With The Wolves (Rider 1998).

As an introduction, the following moon wheel enables us to see how our internal cycle links to the qualities of the seasons and phases of the moon. We can use this to apply how we may feel during a day, month or season. Whilst the sun and moon appear to move from East to West from our human perspective, in actual fact the earth, moon and even the sun (albeit at different speeds) are moving anti-clockwise from West to East!

MOON WHEEL DIAGRAM – Your Inner Seasons

Moon Wheel Diagram - International Women's Day 2019

Your menstrual cycle awareness, ‘the act of knowing and valuing your unique cyclical pattern of energy and mood throughout the menstrual month, paying attention to where you are in your cycle at any one time, respecting your feelings and energy levels, working with and within the changing energies, leveraging this as a life management and facilitation tool’ (see A Pope & S. Wurlitzer, Red School) is a key part of knowing ourselves. When used well this awareness and knowledge lead us to an increase in health and well-being.

I am now peri-menopausal and moving towards my menopause. I know that understanding my internal seasons and moving into this new phase is also part of a natural continuum and stepping into another experience. I am certainly not alone, and have many wise women’s support ahead of me.

“Women are the archetypal anchors for the power of the feminine, and when we reclaim our feminine power – by restoring our ways and practices – we integrate the power of the feminine into our lives and back onto the planet” (ibid).

Tell your story so the story doesn’t tell you.

Marina Robb - International Women's Day 2019

 

(Note: Some of you may have noticed I didn’t talk about stigma around body hair – I don’t think our society or this blog is yet ready for that.)

Happy International Women’s Day.

Marina Robb – Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC.

 

 

Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

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