I’ve been listening to some of the Ramblings podcasts over the last few weeks. For those of you who don’t know it, Ramblings is a BBC Radio 4 programme with Clare Balding. She walks British land in the company of others and talks with them about their relationship with the land, each other, with walking and with key events in their lives.
It’s a vicarious kind of ecotherapy for me. You’d think that describing a walk on radio would be difficult to do well or dull but I find it quite the opposite. Not only does the programme paint the landscape with words, but also the sounds of the weather, birds, animals all contribute to a vivid sense of both place and people.
A few editions have really struck a chord. The first is about Hugh Kiddey’s family and the walk they took and carry on taking after his death from cancer at 19. It’s a moving meditation on grief, roots, connections, family and community.
The walk gives the family a way to talk about their experience and of life continuing inspite of the heart rending loss in a way that sitting in a group could never allow. The landscape is charged with memories, not least the sequoias they planted in his memory – tall trees in remembrance of a tall young man. Moving through the landscape becomes a metaphor for moving through grief.
In some way, the walking disarms people and allows them to connect with a deeper sense of being and emotion than in other contexts.
The programme on a mental health walking group in Shropshire brought that to life too. Here people who felt alienated, lonely, adrift in life came together in community through a common activity of walking. Some had been able to stop medication through the walking and all those talking, spoke of the uplifting nature of both talking and walking together in the Shropshire landscape.
In that sense ecotherapy is nothing new or radical. Our deepest connections with each other and with nature are often borne out in our contact with the land. Perhaps it offers a less scary and overwhelming way of being with feelings or more simply, being ourselves than the intensity of being indoors, whether as a family, friendship group or in counselling or group therapy.
The landscape offers shelter, exposure, danger, support, connection, alienation, aloneness amongst others, and a profound sense of permanence when all else is impermanent. This reality can offer us rich metaphors for our inner landscape too and connect the two together providing us with deeper interpretations of our inner world.
In Ramblings, we have the rare privilege of getting insights into others’ connections with nature and each other. And those insights tell us what we know but tend to forget, that when we really look and listen, we realise that at some level we all share a common experience of the cycle of life. In that way, experiences of loss, pain, sadness are common too. We are not alone when we yearn for connection and community.
I offer counselling outdoors in nature, either as ‘walk and talk’ or sitting in a natural setting. If you’d like to talk about counselling outdoors or ecotherapy, why not get in touch by calling me on 07443 640556 or emailing me.
By Matt Fox www.mattfoxcounselling.co.uk Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott