Nature And The Looking Glass
Nature is a therapeutic ally.
For centuries, naturalists, artists, authors and pioneering minds have documented the benefits of connecting with the natural world. The American author, naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, said “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” I believe this to be true.
Today there is a strong body of scientific research that shows direct contact with nature increases mental health and psychological and spiritual development. Not only does walking in nature allow a beautiful escape from daily pressures, reduce stress, give a sense of coherence and belonging but it also gives us rich thinking time.
Recently I’ve been taking my time in nature a step further with a lovely coaching experiment called “the Looking Glass”. The Looking Glass basically turns natural thinking time into a finely tuned, transformational self-awareness session in which we can experience major ah-ha moments and breakthroughs.
The basic premise is that if the world we look out on is a mirror of who we are on the inside, then woods, rivers, cliffs and hills can become symbols of our life areas – if we allow them to be. By watching our own behaviour and responses to these environments, we can learn where our strengths and vulnerabilities lie and get clarity on what needs to happen to heal or develop these areas.
Let me give you an example.
I once decided to walk a small part of the coast line of the Isle of Wight. This walk represent my early childhood years. The issue I wanted to address was why I often pull back from/ feel uncomfortable in crowded social situations.
The first part of my walk was beautiful – heavenly and serene. The views were breath-taking and I was in an absolute bubble of joy. It felt like the first dreamy months of a child coming into awareness of the world; awe inspired and somehow unworldly.
After several blissful miles, the cliff path ended abruptly (as in SO abruptly that should I have been looking at my phone and not where I was going, I’d have literally waked off the cliff lemming-style). The path veered sharply inland and the view I was faced with where the path WOULD have been was Blackgang Chine – the island’s infamous pirate themed leisure park. The beautiful view was sliced by garish primary colours, screaming children on roller-coasters and large plastic displays.
It was an assault on the senses.
I felt utterly disturbed by this sudden change in my landscape.
As I followed the path inland to negotiate the chine, I was filled with anxiety and a sense of survival and self preservation. Then, within seconds, I was hit with strange, blurry memories of being a two and a half year old child who was taken into work with my mum to what seemed like massive schools, where great big children bustled and ran and spun around me in the playgrounds like human tornadoes. I remembered being highly anxious and lost and wanting to get back to the gentle cocoon of my own world. It made sense that this experience had left a lasting sense of anxiety around being in crowded places.
Realising that being “taken to work” by my mum for over a year when I was not much more than a toddler had impacted my sense of safety and security, I was then able to choose an appropriate technique to help reframe this experience. I also performed a little ceremony on that coast line to metaphorically stitch the “thread of the path” back together.
It was wonderful and felt really healing.
Do you have something you’d like to explore whilst using the natural world as your looking glass? This could be a situation you find challenging, a creative block or perhaps a goal you want to achieve?
Think about an issue, intention, block or challenge that you’d like to overcome/work with during your walk.
Reflect on what you’d like the outcome of your walk to be, ie. a solution, an idea or clarity on how to move forward.
Next decide where your walk is going to take place. Check in with yourself about the location and how fitting it is for your need/intention. Consider your route and where you will begin and end as you may need a lift or some transportation. You may choose to loop back on yourself and walk back the way you’ve come.
Looping back means walking the same path but from a different perspective (which could be beneficial) but may not be appropriate for what you are wanting to achieve from your coaching walk. Coming full circle is also a powerful metaphor. Do you want to end where you’ve begun or do you want to end up somewhere different, ie. beginning in dark woodland and ending up a hill by a lighthouse.
Pack a back pack full of things you may need for your coaching ramble. Again, your distance and location and the weather will determine a lot of this.
But be sure to take the following: an open mind, gentleness of mind, curiosity, a journal, water, pens.
As you set off, think about the intention or thing that you want to work with as you walk.
Hold it gently in your mind and softly dedicate this walk to that thing.
Now just allow the walk to unfold. Look around you at the scenery.
How does the wildlife and the landscape link to what you are experiencing in your inner life?
How is the environment mirroring the issue you want to resolve?
As you continue you will meet landmarks and cross-overs (styles, roads, ditches and chines). What do these represent to you in your life and journey with this issue?
You may want o sit down here and there and journal your insights. You may want to wait until the end of your walk before you write down your experience.
Please note that there are no right or wrong answers. You may feel complete with the walk – you may want to return and repeat it again.
Once you’ve reflected on the learnings and reflections you had in your coaching walk, consider what you’d like to do next.
Do you need to return and do a little ceremony to clear an old memory, weave a new story or unpick something that’s happened?
Like I explained earlier in this post, when I took the walk of my early childhood and I came across a massive gash in the land that represented to me an early trauma that had happened, I later returned to this same place with a few symbolic items and did a little ceremony that “stitched” that hole back together. The result was a deep inner sense of wholeness, completion and healing.