Christian would love this...
I take my dog out every night around 10pm for her last wee before bed. I walk down the high street in the village and most nights - before I tracked the Moon's phases - I would notice the Moon. On a clear night, it would be difficult to miss, yet I never connected with this rock orbiting our home.
I saw, but didn't really see.
Skip back three months. I had decided to start looking after myself after an exhausting year (re-)searching for my missing brother, Christian, when I came across a book called Moonology by astrologer, Yasmin Boland. Now, it doesn't bother me how I connect with Nature, just as long as I do, and Yasmin's book provided the portal I needed to focus on, and benefit from, the Moon - one of the constants in our lives, even when we cannot see her. I say 'her', because in astrology the Moon rules femininity, emotions, instincts, needs, nurturing, home, the past, roots, safety and the subconscious. Perfect for me at the time!
The first thing to understand about the Moon is the lunar cycle - the 29.5 day movement of the Moon as it orbits around our Earth. If you'd like a quick resume about how the phases of the moon occur, then take a look at the film below:
I don't know about you, but just knowing the Moon is always there, even when she's hiding from us is reassuring. Nature, in the universal sense, carries on regardless of what's happening on Earth, or in our own minuscule lives. I can now look at the Moon and know that my brother is also looking at the same Moon - it's something we can share, even when we're apart.
It might have been easy for me to just track the eight phases of the Moon each night on my dog walk, but there's much more fun to be had. Connect, then explore. Yasmin's book gives guidance on how you, as a mere mortal (my words) can harness the energies of the lunar cycle to transform your life: "the more you're in tune with the Moon, the more easily life will flow." It works for biodynamic farmers/growers, so why not for us?!
In this first part of four blog posts, I will be concentrating on the New Moon and Waxing Crescent Moon phase - the first week of the lunar cycle. This is where, according to Yasmin's monthly routine, you plant the seeds of your future dreams and allow them to blossom and flourish. It all might sound too much for some of you, but I've been 'working with' the Moon for two months and I've seen incredible changes in my life. Not only can I now understand why I have two weeks of energy and drive and then two weeks of drifting and contemplation (which is mentally reassuring), but I have also re-connected with Nature, resulting in this blog, and subsequently found some peace with my current brotherly situation (I should add here, that I don't just rely on the lunar cycle, but, for the past six months, have been using yoga, meditation and rituals to ground myself - which I may reveal if there's enough interest.)
So, perhaps you'd like to try connecting with lunar energies yourself this lunar cycle and see where it takes you? You can dive as deep as you wish or just swim on the surface and notice the shifting emotions during the month.
The next New Moon (in the UK) begins on 25th May and this particular one is associated with Gemini, which highlights communications (what you're saying, how you're listening, how effective your communication is), travel, neighbours (socialise) and siblings. (You may notice that I've chosen to share this post with you now for a reason!)
New Moon: Around the time of the New Moon feels strange to me as you can't see her, but it's a time of brewing behind the scenes. This is when you 'make wishes and set your intentions for the month ahead'. Think: clean slate, potential and dreams, says Yasmin. Exciting times!
You have to be really clear about what you want, though - really feel it - and that's why I've given you a few days' thinking time! Yasmin gives some 'golden rules' for the wishes/intentions (she suggests up to 10 wishes, but I've only concentrated on two or three at a time):
1) Make them from the heart and feel that they have already happened. Fake it, until you make it. The Moon is all about emotions/feelings.
2) Think about what you do want, not what you don't want. Believe you can get that feeling. However, wishes motivated by envy and greed are not good.
3) Forget about what you don't want. Write down, or draw, what you do want (drawing will help you visualise and feel what you want).
4) Take baby steps - don't just wish to be rich/famous/pain-free, but split the wish into stepping stones which can be reached each month.
5) We need to be grateful for what we already have, before wishing for more.
6) Don't wish for a specific person... they have to want to be in your life!
7) Don't wish for someone to change - wish instead for you to change emotionally.
8) Do believe you're worthy of your wishes.
9) Don't become too attached to your wishes, as the Universe might have a better idea for you than the one you have in mind. Release your desires.
If you want to know more, Yasmin's website is www.moonology.com (I have no connection to Yasmin, by the way; I'm just passing on ideas which have helped me connect with Nature.)
Keep an eye on the Moon and notice your emotions/feelings during the next week. I'm not sure if you have to keep your wishes/intentions secret, so I won't share mine, but you can probably guess the theme. The second instalment will cover the First Quarter Moon and the Gibbous Moon: time to commit & stay on course...
MARY COLWELL, 56
Writer and Producer
Born in Germany (as my dad was doing National Service), but grew up in Stoke-on-Trent. Now living in Bristol.
How did you CONNECT with Nature?
My dad used to take me walking in the Peak District near Stoke-on-Trent. I loved the rough moorland areas around the Roaches as well as the softer White Peak with its limestone cliffs. One day we broke open a chunk of limestone and inside was a perfectly preserved shellfish. I still remember feeling overcome by the wonder that I was the first person to see this creature. I also remember being astonished that something that lived in the sea was now in a rock in a place about as far from the sea as you can get. That was the spark that sent me on to do a degree in geology and find out more about life on earth.
How did you EXPLORE Nature?
I came to backpacking and camping late – in my 20s – but have spent so much time out since then, including exploring the Himalayas, S America and the British Isles. I was also lucky enough to work for the BBC Natural History Unit and travelled to many places filming wildlife. Whether for work or for pleasure, exploring nature is always rewarding, and it doesn’t have to be on the savannah or in a rainforest – there is as much wonder at home. Seeing the winter starling roost over the Somerset Levels is hard to beat anywhere. And it was hearing and seeing curlews camping in Scotland that set me on a journey to find out more about them, and eventually to work towards their conservation.
How did you FLOURISH in Nature?
On a work trip to California I came across the Muir Woods National Monument and spent a few hours wandering around. I had never heard of John Muir, but along the walkway were quotes from his books. It was like meeting a great teacher. Muir’s merging of spirituality and nature was inspirational. I bought every book I could find and have loved reading his work ever since. He inspired me to spend some years working with the Catholic Church encouraging a re-connection with nature. After all some of the world’s most diverse habitats sit within Catholic countries – the Amazon, the Philippines, large areas of sub- Saharan Africa, the Congo, etc. Our spiritual lives are fed by nature, we are challenged and nourished by it.
How do (and will) you DISPERSE your positive experiences of NATURE?
I worked with the Catholic Church. I also went on a 500-mile walk for curlew conservation to raise awareness about their decline. As a result of the walk I organised, with others, two conferences on curlews and am in the process of setting up a third in Wales. I also made many programmes on nature and conservation with the BBC. I wrote a book on John Muir and am writing the book of the curlew walk now. I also write articles.
"When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty." John Muir
Have you been responsible for CONNECTING someone in particular (or a group of people) to Nature and what have they gone on to do, or plan to do?
The curlew conferences resulted in curlew conservation groups being established which have put in place measures to protect the birds this year. I launched a petition to get a GCSE in Natural History established, to help re-connect young people with nature and learn about the life that is around them. This year I am co-organising the New Networks for Nature conference which is held in Stamford in Lincs – it brings together scientists, conservationists, writers, artists, musicians, poets – anyone who wants to explore nature in different ways. I also hear from people that some of the lectures I gave on faith and nature inspired people to get involved with conservation. Sometimes it is hard to know what happens when you put yourself out there – but I feel sure good things come out of reaching out to people.
Any other comments:
I hope your brother [Christian Velten] gets in touch and I wish you every success with what you do.
[Thank you, Mary. x]
[Are you one of 'Nature's Messengers'... please get in touch.]
Christian would love this...
Following on from walking in Lewes, with naturalist Steve Homewood (who learnt how to interact with Nature from his grandad, who'd lived in the Congo jungle with pygmies for nearly three years - it's a great story), I started to see animals in a different light. Steve had told me (succinctly):
‘Noise shouldn’t come from you, it should come to you.’
‘Don’t just hear things… really listen.'
‘Don’t just look at things… see them and understand what’s going on.’
This was really immersing yourself in Nature's activities - using your senses to work out what was going on. Animals were something to study. To lose yourself in their world.
A few days later I go on a walk with School of the Wild (an 'experimental nature school' based in Brighton) to connect with Nature, again, but with a different focus. The workshop, 'Becoming Animal', is led by Alistair Duncan who (the blurb says) has a 'keen interest in our psychological and sensory connection to the land'. His aim is to get our group to "drop out of neo-cortex thinking and reconnect with what the body does instinctively" - in short, tapping into what our mammalian body is capable of sensing. We would be experiencing this in woodland within Stanmer Park, just outside of Brighton (pictures below show our progress from the village of Stanmer to the woodland).
So, rather than observing an animal as a naturalist would, I was to become an animal. "Why do you want to do that?" asked my husband, who was to be on child-wrangling duty while I went and played in the woods. Well, I'd been given a book by my dad - Being A Beast by Charles Foster - and it was intriguing. In the 'Earth' section (woods), Charles takes his 8-yr old son, Tom, off into the Welsh woods on a hill-side to 'become' a badger for the summer. They live in an underground sett, adapt their body clocks to nocturnal snufflings, eat earthworms ('tastes of slime and the land'), crawl along tracks in the woods and doze in the sunshine.
We obviously weren't going to those extremes in the three/four hours allotted to 'Becoming Animal', but I wanted to see what I'd experience.
As we enter the woodland, Alistair reminds us that we are now walking into an existing community, a home: we should ‘dial down’ to connect into that environment and be aware of the sacredness of the magical woodland - be at one with it.
This sets the mood nicely, as the group stops chattering and we take time to look about us and open up our senses to the existence of life outside of us. Walking through a grove of sycamores (see below), you can hear them whisper gently.
Now ‘dialled down’, we can start on the process of becoming more ‘sense-aware’ which involves moving, seeing and hearing in a more instinctive way. Once settled into the beech woods (see below), Alistair takes us through some visualisation and breathing exercises to bring us to a ‘basal state’ to ground us, reducing our stress/emotions (I won’t reveal everything - go on the workshop!). At this point, my head feels very light, spaced-out, while my body is heavy and rooted to the damp, beech-tree mulch beneath our feet.
Then come the ‘tuning in’ exercises:
So, off we go, newly 'sense-aware' and following our instincts. We explore for ten minutes. Personally, it is a strange experience as I begin to feel like a fox - I know, a label - but moving so slowly I feel stealthy. I can feel the undulations in the ground, become aware of the shadows in the dappled wood, become startled by sudden bird sounds and bike riders crashing through on the cycle track, can feel the wind direction and see the wind moving through the connected trees. I am one with the environment in a way I’ve never experienced. When Alistair blows the cow-horn ‘bugle’ for us to regroup, it breaks the revere and I laugh at its incongruity.
I suddenly feel tired - in fact, many of us start to yawn. I suppose we are using ‘muscles’ in our brains so under-used that they are exhausted.
As we have tea, brewed from ground ivy (see left) which Nigel Berman (the ‘curator’ of natural workshops/founder of 'School of the Wild') picked en-route, talk turns to the writings of cultural ecologist/ecopsychologist David Abram. David’s books, The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal, had blown Alistair’s mind when he was trapped in the corporate world and their insights propelled him to seek voluntary redundancy and explore the human bond with Nature. The books are now on my reading to-do list.
The next stage of the workshop moves us to a clearing in the woods where Alistair constructed a circle of logs a few years ago. Here he tells us of the final part of our animal experience - being blindfolded. With Nigel as my ‘guardian angel’, to ensure I don't fall down a hole or get knocked over by cyclists, I am given ten minutes to experience moving in the wood without sight. My goodness. You slow down. You become aware of warmth from the sun. You notice the sloping ground. You can ‘feel’ the presence of a tree in front of your body. The smells. I even begin to ‘see’ the wood on the inside of my black felt blindfold. When I come to a barrier on the ground, my instinct is to drop down and feel what is there. I take up a handful of leaves, or a snatch of moss, to smell (see below). Inhaling the damp earthiness of my surroundings. It is an incredible experience.
(Alistair pictured below, in background, with a blindfolded me. Nigel's image.)
Being ‘guardian angel’ to blind-folded Nigel is interesting purely because he’s never been able to take part in this exercise because he's usually ‘in charge’. The way he manoeuvres his way through the obstacles of tree trunks, branches and rotting logs is a joy to watch.
The final exercise sees us all ‘dumped’, still blind-folded, at a distance from Alistair and as he plays tunes intermittently on a tin whistle we have to navigate our way to him. With this focus, the senses become attuned to noise, much like an animal hunting moving prey - the peaceful exploratory movement of earlier is replaced by sharpened reflexes. It sets me on edge, back to the stealth mode I experienced during the initial exercise.
On the walk back down to Stanmer village, the sun warms us after the chill of the wood and chatter breaks out among the group. We are back to our reality. But 'Becoming Animal’ certainly opens a door in my brain and driving home I keep the radio switched off and use my peripheral vision to check the wing mirrors - I’m going to keep experimenting with my newly-unearthed animal senses.
Christian would love this...
Recently, my life has started to flow smoothly (for several reasons which I won't go into now) and during the walk in the forest yesterday we happened to meet the gentleman responsible for the upkeep of the village churchyard. It seems there is a new grass-cutting trial occurring to find the best management for the wild flowers... I thought I'd investigate. Potter about for an hour. Take some photos. Sit and contemplate.
Back in 2014, I edited 'The Nature of God's Acre', a beautiful booklet (co-authored by Miles King for the charity, Caring for God's Acre) which featured our churchyard - St Andrew & St Mary, Fletching. To give you some background, I quote from 'our' entry: "The church... is very old, showing traces of late Saxon and early Norman stonework, with the current church completed around 1230... One parishioner explained how wildlife in the churchyard made them feel:
...connected to God and his universe; a reminder of how previous the natural world is to humans and how we must care for it.'"
I read this before entering the churchyard. Could I be equally moved by Nature in the churchyard? It didn't start well with a man up a ladder mechanically sanding down window frames at the entrance to church grounds. But as I walked further up the path, the man-made whining made way to a much more pleasant choir (I recorded the following - unfortunately, including the plane on the Gatwick flightpath to Gatwick - I'm no expert on birdsong, so if anyone can identify the birds please leave a comment at the end!).
I completely lost myself for an hour and a half, peering into every nook and cranny of the churchyard, often surprised by things I had never noticed even after doing the school run and walking Duffy daily through the grounds for 10 years (photos below - I'm a novice photographer with only an iPhone, but I hope some of the images may entertain).
So, how did I feel after my hour(plus) potter in God's Acre? Happy, fulfilled, soothed. I had no spiritual revelation, but then I was preoccupied taking photos. Next time, I'll sit quietly and contemplate how everything in the Universe is connected...
(NOTE: The following morning, inspiration struck (where I'd been struggling to find a path forward) - perhaps God's Acre did work its magic!)
Nurtured by Nature: Connect / Explore / Flourish / Disperse.