esterday evening I got back from a three-night residential workshop on Ecotherapy in a beautiful ancient wood in south Derbyshire. Ecotherapy, in its most basic form, is the inclusion of nature in therapeutic work. In particular, I am interested in the idea that nature can hold the therapeutic frame (created by client and therapist) in a much more healthy way, when compared to a man-made room; a room which has, in part, been designed to keep the elements, and hence nature, out. It is a bringing together of humanity with its natural roots. This is in opposition to our modern world which tries to exclude nature from the human world, and also destroy it. Like an adolescent who rebels against his family, and tries to deny their existence via destructive behaviour. So we also rebel against our natural heritage, and attempt to push nature out of our lives: we stay in as much as possible, only being out of doors to travel between man-made, enclosed spaces; spending our free time locked in man-made constructs, such as TV and the internet. When was the last time that you went outside simply to be outside with nature?
This weekend gave me the opportunity to experience my deeper connection to nature. To literally connect my feet with the moist, cool earth. To remove my layers of protection and experience the warmth of the sun, the heat of the fire, the chill of free-flowing water. Raw experiences, which were not mediated or filtered by modern Western culture. Direct contact. The workshop allowed my whole self (body, mind and spirit) to contact nature in a space which was held by the natural world, and this included thirteen other humans (the other group members!).
I learnt about myself in unexpected ways. Nature could be a mirror through which I could see myself reflected. It could show me the different compass points of myself: child, adolescent, adult and elder. And the way in which these can co-exist. There was a two hundred year-old oak tree which had an aged trunk, middle-aged branches, adolescent shoots, and brand new acorns. The oak tree lived with all these parts coexisting. In fact, it needed all parts in order to survive. So it is the same with us. The playful child which can coexist with the responsible adult. Thus, the oak tree (and I am thinking of a particular tree here!) was a mirror of me and allowed me to accept these different parts of myself as "ok", rather than trying to reject them.
At the beginning and end of the workshop we were asked: why do you want to work with people outside? While I cannot come forth with a complete rationale for working with people outside, here is some of it. Nature is the way it is. It is dynamic and also stable. Nature is a comforter, a nurturer, an escape, a symbol, an energy resource, a teacher, and a support. My relationship with nature has allowed me to grow into who I am today, and it has given me what I am today in the form of my body/mind/spirit. I want to be able to facilitate that for other people so that they too can reconnect and deepen their own relationship with their natural heritage. I want to try to break down the defences that we have built up between humans and nature.
Yet, how do I come back to my life and integrate this into me without alienating myself from the modern world, or simply ignoring what I have experienced and learned, and go about my life as before? How can I reach out and touch the inner city of alienation from nature and at the same time be held by the healing natural world? I wonder how the two can come together both in me, and in humanity as a whole.
For the next ecotherapy course facilitated by Martin Jordan and Hayley Marshall, see the following link.