A very enjoyable day, Making Sense of Place with land care specialist Charlie Brennan. Hearing everyone's stories about what place means to them is inspiring, and makes you realise we're all migrants.
Want to join the campfire conversation?
After all your comments and a rescheduled session, four vegan protestors arrived uninvited and disrupted our infamous rabbit class. It didn’t get ugly but it was unpleasant and upsetting, to say the least. We tried quietly carrying on with what we were doing, but after relentless pressure, we gave up and stopped the class.
It was a shame and raises lots of questions, including how to combine passion with respect for people with contrary views, but rather than try and run the class again, it's got me thinking about doing something different.
I’ve come up with the idea of a facilitated and mindful discussion around a fire, on the subject of "is it better to eat meat consciously, or not at all?" We'll be inviting the people who came to the class, along with some (different) vegans, speakers and guests, to connect people and try and find a way forward.
We’re calling it Campfire Collaborations.
It's on Sunday 21st January, places are limited so if you’re interested and would like to join the conversation, register your interest here.
The South Downs in Sussex have been inhabited for thousands of years. For the vast majority of that time, our ancestors lived in close contact with nature and with the land around them.
photo: Sandra Keating
Our Sussex ancestors knew where the good water was, where to gather the best food, and the best wood for their fires.
They knew the trees, and the birds that lived in them. They knew how to find their way using the landscape, the sun and the wind.
They knew where was safe to walk… and where to avoid.
For thousands of years, this was our neighbourhood... our supermarket... our office… it was our home.
"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered...
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, "This could be a good time!"
"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
"Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
"The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
"We are the ones we've been waiting for."
Attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that… wildness is a necessity.”
John Muir (1838-1914)
There's an old Chinese curse: 'May you live in interesting times.'
2016 has certainly seen its fair share of interest. Brexit, Trump about to enter the White House, Syria, a rise in nationalism and popularism... to name just a few events that show the way we've believed the world to be, is perhaps not how it is.
It could be tempting to see these as a blip, in an arc of history that we think always tends towards peace and justice, but as Paul Kingsnorth writes in this blog on the Dark Mountain Project there are deeper issues that need addressing:
"When I look at the state of the world right now, I see an arc bending towards something that dwarfs any parochial concerns about particular presidential elections or political arrangements between human nations, and which should put those events into deep perspective.
I see a grand planetary shift that has not been seen for millions of years. I see that half the world’s wildlife has gone, and half the world’s forests, and half the world’s topsoil.
A pair of Thylacines. Photo by Baker; E.J. Keller. Report of the Smithsonian Institution. 1904
I'm grieving. And I'm cold. So cold in fact that I can't feel my feet.
In the end the cold gets the better of me and I have to leave. The desire to get warm wins out over my desire to stay and grieve some more, sharing tears with the others round the dwindling fire.
It's night and I've been standing on the pebbles of Brighton beach in a circle with a motley crowd of twenty or so others. We're here to remember lost species, to hold a posthumous funeral ceremony to commemorate them, in particular the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) which was pronounced extinct in 1936.
Some of the artists and students from ONCA, the Brighton gallery who’ve organised this event, have made a willow and paper statue of the Thylacine and we've carried it here through the streets. Ringing the bell of extinction as we process down the Old Steine.
"Wake up," shouts flautist Andreas at the head of the procession. "It’s time to wake up!"
The few passersby look bemused. Cars speed past. Can they all be oblivious to what’s going on?
It really is cold. Freezing it says on my app. Despite this, all the way here I've felt moved and sad.
As I listen to others in the circle name species that have gone, I feel the profound power of this simple gathering, of the act of remembering.
"Northern white rhino, lost in January of this year."
A particular frog, "extinct last month."
"The wolves and bears of this land."
The red gazelle.
The galapagos mouse.
The list goes on. I'm shocked most by recent losses. Species gone forever through hunting, habitat loss, a warming planet. Because of us.
For the vast majority of human history, we lived in close contact with nature. Now 80% of us in the UK and more than 50% of the world live in towns and cities.
We’re losing our contact and our connection with nature.
Not only is this affecting our health and wellbeing - there are lots of credible studies that show how much we need nature for our mental, physical and emotional health, like this one from Stanford University - but also by spending very little time in natural and wild spaces, we don’t see what’s happening to them.
Now that more than 50% of the world lives in an urban area - by 2050 that's forecast to be 70% - we're all having less direct contact with nature, at the same time there's an increase in anxiety and mental health disorders, especially in cities.
A study by Stanford university shows clear benefits of spending time in nature: less brooding, less rumination and generally feeling better.
Their conclusion: we need to consider how to get nature back into cities, and give people more opportunities to interact with natural environments to get the benefits for our mental health.
"Never in human history have we spent so little time in physical contact with animals and plants. Scientific evidence shows that we miss nature..."
There's lots of research that shows being in nature reduces stress, makes us happier, healthier, builds community and can give us a sense of oneness with everything.
So what are you waiting for?
Clip from 2013 Documentary Project Wild Thing, reproduced with thanks to the Wild Network.
Saddlescombe Farm nestles in the shadow of the South Downs
October. Outside the sun is shining and the air is clean and fresh. Inside, ten of us are sitting in a circle on the floor. It's a hard floor, but we’re on cushions, the woodburner is alight and no one is complaining.
We’re here at Saddlescombe Farm in the shadow of the South Downs for a Medicine Walk and Council, a ceremonial solo journey into the 'Mystery', a way of staying open to the land so that it can be a mirror for your inner landscape.
After a slow take-up over the last few weeks the event is full, and as we settle in, our guide, Rebecca Card, calmly explains what we’ll be doing today.
When she’s finished, one by one it’s our turn to speak.
As I listen to the others share their stories so that we can each find our own theme for the day, I'm surprised at everyone's willingness to talk openly about what's going on in their lives, and I feel a bit of an inner tussle: as organiser, I feel cautious about how much to share, as participant I want to say more.
When it’s my turn I also notice a familiar nervousness in front of groups, and in my first attempt I waffle, not quite knowing how to articulate what I’m feeling.
The morning has already started a little weirdly. There have been two last minute cancellations due to illness - we’ve found someone to fill one space but she’s worried about getting here on time - and my head is full of that and the small stresses and responsibilities of making sure the day runs smoothly. Plus there’s no mobile reception. And I’ve forgotten to bring milk.
I think back to earlier in the day: while Rebecca is setting up the room, I go outside to help guide people to the hall. Saddlescombe is part of the National Trust and as walkers and visitors turn up, I'm unsure if they’re here for us or not. I'm also mildly irritated that we won’t have the whole area to ourselves.
On yesterday's Medicine Walk, I ate dandelion, ground ivy, yarrow and rosehips, made friends with a ladybird, saw a rat above my head, and sang to an appreciative herd of cows.
Am very much feeling my place in the family of things.
With much gratitude to Rebecca Joy Card and the land for supporting this mysterious journey.
For those who came, and for those who will come, the kettle is definitely on.
This year I decided I need to swim more.
I run and do yoga, but my low back is hurting, and lots of people say swimming is good for that.
My work is changing too, and because of that I’m looking more closely at how much I spend.
To save paying £4.25 every time to swim at my local pool, the King Alfred, after 10 years of living in Hove I finally wake up to an open secret: the sea's at the bottom of the road, and it’s free.
The Anglo-Saxons were the last people in Britain to relate to the land in the ways that humans have done for hundreds of thousands of years and throughout history.
The Celts, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons all saw omens and meaning in the landscape, and in, well... everything.
From birds and animals that crossed their path, to thunderstorms, to rainbows, to the patterns in clouds and shapes in the landscape, all of these things connected them into a dynamic web of meaning and activity that they saw themselves as deeply participating in.
It's been a tough few weeks in the UK… but if you’re looking for a way to feel better about it all, a sit spot can help.
I first came across the idea of a sit spot on a Meetup walk run by Mark Sears - just before he landed a job as head of The Wild Network.
Mark led us up Hollingbury Hill to a spot near the fort and quietly told me he'd been going there every day to sit for half an hour, for a year, come rain or shine.
He'd got to know the birds and the plants, and it'd helped him to find some calm, and decompress after hectic days.
It's an idea that I read more about in Jon Young's excellent book What the Robin Knows.
If you haven't heard of it, a sit spot is somewhere you go regularly on your own to sit quietly and look, listen, smell and feel the surrounding landscape.
It could be in your back garden, or a park, or somewhere a bit wilder.
The EU referendum in the UK has just been won by Leave, and as the UK faces Brexit, I saw this post on Facebook. It sums up why we need to work together, why connection is better than separation, why love must win in the end....
It was an uplifting and inspiring summer's day.
Walking barefoot in the woods, listening to the birds, smelling the woodsmoke and feeling the soft touch of the breeze.
Simultaneous Awareness with Ben Rayner was a hit. Thanks to everyone who came along.
It's a warm and sunny day. The kettle's boiling on the fire, birds sing and flit about in the trees.
We are 12, sitting on log stumps in a circle: it's the beginning of School of the Wild's first ever full day in the woods.
We have a few activities planned and begin with an opening circle and check-in. One by one we go round and speak in answer to 3 questions:
The talking stick that Alistair found just outside the circle proves perfect for the job, and in the way of sharing circles the world over, it's picked up in turn, giving each of us the opportunity to talk, one at a time without interruption, until we're done.
Simultaneous Awareness is a way to use your senses to become aware of everything that's happening around you at the same time.
Apache Scouts like Stalking Wolf had this extraordinary ability.
Developed by Ben Rayner after a serious skydiving accident, and then time spent alone in the wilderness, Simultaneous Awareness is based on Native ways of experiencing and relating to the world.
It includes easy-to-learn tools and techniques that will help you discover a profoundly different way of being.
In this short video, Ben explains more about it and how it can bring benefits.
Simultaneous Awareness and Natural Movement, June 5th. More details and booking on Meetup here.
You use them every day to gather information about the world around you. Your senses that is.
You have sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing... you have amazing powers of consciousness, reason, and creativity.
But your body is chock full of 'extra' senses that you may not even be aware you're using, like some of the mysterious powers that other animals possess.
You can access them if you drop out of your rational, thinking mind.
If you pay attention to what you feel in your body, you can detect and feel things around you that you can't see: objects, movement, emotions...
To try this out, at our last School of the Wild session, after some centring and grounding exercises, then fox walking and owl vision to get into the 'zone', we walked blindfold through the woods.
The results were extraordinary.
Friday April 22nd was a pretty big day for the planet.
170 countries signed the Paris Climate deal at the UN, and it was also Earth Day, a movement who's ambitious aim includes planting 7.8 billion trees, and making cities 100% renewable.
At a time when the planet needs us more than ever to make choices that are nourishing for body, soul and the Earth, at School of the Wild we're passionate about ways that bring us closer to nature.
Alistair Duncan and Natasha Lythgoe are leading our session on Becoming Earth, May 15th 2016. Here they explain what it's about.
Why We're Running Workshops that Help You Explore the Powerful Wisdom of Your Body
I was listening to comedian and actor, Eddie Izzard, on the radio this morning. He’s just finished 27 marathons in 27 days. (!)
They ask him if he’s taking a rest, or if he’s already planning to start running again.
"You're asking this now?!?" he jokes.
Then after a moment's thought, "I expect I'll be doing half marathons every couple of weeks,” he says. He pauses.
“I need to move... like we did when we were kids...
"At some point as adults, we decided that wasn’t a good idea, but we’re natural animals, and we need to move. We forget that."
He’s right. We are animals. And I know I forget that.
Today we sit inside the willow dome, instead of our usual spot outside by the fire. I notice I'm feeling uncomfortable.
I like having full view of the plants and the sky, and today, even though it's not totally blocking everything out, I'm feeling hemmed in by the structure.
I say this. It's not universal. "I prefer the womb-like feeling of being in an enclosed space," someone else says.
It's funny because I've been thinking a lot about structure this past week. I'm working on a presentation for work, and have been wrestling with getting all my thoughts and ideas organised into the right framework.
Martin says it's a question I should keep in mind for today's session. And he begins, explaining the Four Directions, as understood by the School of Lost Borders.
West, where he's sitting, is about adolescence and struggle. North is about adulthood and responsibility, East about spirituality, death and rebirth, and the South about childhood and playfulness.
We spend a quiet moment tuning into ourselves and then each go off in the direction that we feel drawn, paying attention to what happens.
Despite a thought to go west, a place of struggle, I feel drawn to the south. Playfulness. It's a direction I haven't walked in from here before, perhaps because there's a hedge in the way, and it has felt closed off to me.
I cross the threshold of the space, and start off east, turning south when I hit a track.
I'm calm, and content to just follow whatever happens.
Behind the hedge, south from where I started, is a field I feel drawn to get into. But I can't. It's surrounded by fences, with no gate. Behind it, further south, is another field where horses are grazing. It looks nice, and I decide I'm going to find a way in.
I continue south, down the track, and turn off west into a small thicket, thinking I might find a way into the field behind.
I look down. There's a beautiful grey, black and white feather at my feet. Wood pigeon. I smile, "I must be on the right path," I think, and pick it up. The thicket is overgrown and dark, and I claw my way through the undergrowth, following a faint trail made by an animal or child... my coat rips on a thorn. It all feels playful, and also strangely symbolic, like a descent described in mythic stories.
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.