Is it therapy? Well it feels great


Human-Nature blog We are off, heading across the fields towards woods. The sleeves of Rachel’s coat come off and remind me of Vicki Bottom, our favourite nanny, who wore shirts that split in half with buttons up the front and back so you could mix and match them.

Spots and stripes. She also had a boyfriend with a red car with front lights that popped up electronically. Magic Karl with a K.

Eleanor has a selection of things that are exactly her – hiking socks with frilly tops and a water bottle with what looks like a detachable wine glass.

John has the rucksack of things and the OS map.

New game – pointing at things and saying ‘nature’. It gets funnier.

I’m writing this sat in the farmhouse living room as dinner cooks on the Aga as Rach and John write a song called ‘We can so ride that’ about walking, frogspawn, massive sheep and finding ourselves in nature.

We skirt the neighbouring farm – them’s the Joneses – they’ll be out with shotguns, best beware. There’s litter strewn along the perimeter fence – maybe the Joneses are anti-organic?

There’s a triangle of wood called Little Roughs.

I’m resisting my marching tendency. I’m still marching. Then I’m not and I’m striding up the hill.

Easy chats. Stopping to check the map. It’s warm – hazy light. But I’ve got a walk to do.

We pass a building – an old barn - ‘Burnt House’ on the map – it’s got bow and arrow slits and a wall’s about to tumble and I surprise a pheasant. I have a Justin Bieber song stuck in my head.

The path becomes mundane – cattle beaten – all thick mud – high hedges – no view.

We’re heading for Little Brampton through woods, over stiles. On the map it’s written in gothic font so will be ancient or exciting or…

A herd of muntjac deer cross our path – so light. The cows in the distance look human and heavy in contrast.

We look across the valley picking out which hills we want to climb this week.

There are lambs – bandy legged. We descend a hill and I want to roll down it. The rest scatter but lamb number 21 is sleeping – he wakes up, stares at us, runs towards us then away, then starts yelling his head off. We make cooing noises then pull ourselves together and head for the gate. His mum had just been waiting for us to move so she could head up the field and retrieve him. We need a song about lamb 21.

The next farm has a sprouting pile of turnips and bales with grass growing out the top. A farmer stops, John says (map-in-hand) that we’re alright. “So you know where you’re going?” Farmer says “cos they don’t all know where they’re going you know”. Wonder if we should freestyle it one day.

We separate for a peaceful hour pre-lunch then Charlie Blowers, our visiting psychotherapist arrives after an epic train ride from London. She’s going to tell us about neuroscience and all sorts. All sorts that I’ll spill out here less coherently. We sit and listen as she talks about a horticultural rehabilitation project that she did as a young therapist with a group who’d been hospitalized for twenty odd years. One day, Willowy Jack an elective mute, passed Charlie a cuppa and a biscuit and said ‘here you go’ – his first words for five years. Something had reconnected. She speaks of feelings - of the group working gently alongside each other and through the cycle of the year and watching seeds germinate and accepting change and death and decay and watching leaves die back. “I’ve never seen a therapeutic process have such a profound effect”. Their eyes had been empty - from trauma, electro shock therapy, from a narrowed world, where agency is removed. A strange absence in their presence was slowly filled, slowly re-found.

Charlie’s happy to be in Wales – it’s home. She left London as a little girl when her family quit the city for a life as self-sufficient farmers near Borth.

She’s formulated questions and thoughts for us. Her presence is calm and she speaks slowly about humanity’s numbness to sensation – our disconnect from our bodies and environments. She says we’re naturally more stressed in a city space where we’re hyper vigilant and overloaded by harsh stimuli rather than being gently fascinated by soft stimuli in the countryside. Perhaps it’s different for people born in cities she wonders, perhaps they cope better, are adapted better. Do we need to polarize the debate – a city can for some people be a beautiful wilderness. It depends on us, on our internal balance, on the space we occupy, on our child hoods.

Studies do tell us that stress, anxiety and depression are accompanied by nervous system deregulation, and a disconnection from the lower body. Stress is activated in the upper body. Is there something about rebalancing, regulating, grounding that happens naturally out here.

She mentions the picture I’d put on Pinterest of a little plant pushing up through cracked tarmac – she has a plant growing in her shower and was so impressed she let it be. We will if we can, body and soul, move towards health, to recovery and rebalance.

We’re not yet adapted to operate as islands but perhaps we will – this thought troubles me – that we gradually will become effective as individuals and not need each other. Now though, our systematic rhythms still seek to be balanced by organic rhythms. Everything today is so fast, it feels, and so full.

We wonder if it could be more ok to be forgetful, looser with what we try to hold on to. If I don’t take this photo can I just let it go? Let it slip away? Eleanor says she learned to draw by learning first to look. And Rachel looks through her camera with huge awareness of light, of angle…..

Charlie wonders if there’s a threat to pharma companies from these softer, more natural, longer term therapy like ecotherapy or movement therapy. Why do they seem to have so little kudos? There’s now a page on Mind for ecotherapy but it’s not been there long.

Charlie softly talks us through a visualization. We imagine a place we feel we have control over – lying on the pale wooden floor in the gallery and record our sensations, allow our impulses to write the response, draw or move to a particular space.  I picture home – our little house in Birmingham:

‘fear connected with my world is in my chest – tightens, snuggles higher pushing up under my sternum pushing at my heart. I’m confused – no this is the wrong way round - wrong way up - not what I expected. I am thinking of our house – our little home and I fill with ‘it needs sorting, finishing, fixing, ordering’. I also  work there. But yet – no – this a place I should have a handle on – should control – it should be under control – easily.

Then for a breather I ponder the wild - the outdoors - brambles - our walk this morning and its big sky meandering chitchat easy sweaty muddy clambering and I feel my body breathe. Am more easy. It’s not a place that expects anything of me it’s all allowed. The rotten apple underfoot, the perfect yellow celandine, the big cloud moving across the quarry, the mud, the moss are all equals here, equally loved or unloved here in this rightness. This wild place. That untidies my hair I feel a grief register …that knot in my sternum stirs but more as well …a yearning and a letting go. My body being gently unknotted untangled loosened - my grip loosened - are my insides being softly fascinated - my skin swept windswept - my fingers cold - my back untidily damp with sweat.

I drop further into the pale wood floor - my body the myth the thoughts of the woods from my morning walk. I didn’t expect to retreat there.’

I place the little book in which I scribbled this in a neat pile of books and lie back down. We are asked now to go to a place we don’t control and I go to the sea and write it big in felt tip on massive paper.

‘Weeeeeeeeeeee. Sea soaks me shrieking and also singing. North Devon. Teenager. Too cold thrilling as the waves leap and my body wakes . Lizzie Bennett running through the countryside and we played the Titanic theme song all holidays and I’m also Clare Danes or Juliet or both and the unknotting of my tight-held systematic. It’s painful to unknot untie undo let go. My heart struggles wriggles free wormy in my chest gone rogue. Tears meet smiles at the corners of my wet sea wet lips my mouth wanting to be kissed winds lash at the skin and the wet sopping jeans. And passionate salt waves hit my soul little teenage soul. And white t shirt. Remembering grips me with longing for that real that leaping feeling that oneness fullness and a big cold horizon in a big cold Eastertime sky million million million of us so small in comparison and my unconditioned hair. Hair matts - face lips thrills skin thrills mind dances like my body can do sometimes if permitted - late at night drunk on booze joy.’

We chatter over coffee about where we will go now. I’m interested in the battle we have against our selves, our nature, nature itself.

We cook and visit the cows in the dark, who smell good and are slow and steady in the dim stall. We look for badgers but find none.

Caroline Horton