The New Economics Foundation defines the five ways to wellbeing as ‘connect, be active, take notice, learn and give’. Follow link.
Since November 2019, Manx Lottery Trust-funded Mindfulness in Wild Places sessions, run by Manx Wildlife Trust and mindfulness practitioner Mike Kewley, have provided all five at sessions around the Island. This helps deliver part of Manx Wildlife Trust’s new strategy, connecting people in the Isle of Man strongly to nature, and sits well with the ethos of UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man.
Mike and Adam Denard, Manx Wildlife Trust ecologist and wild wellbeing project officer, reflect on the project so far:
The main premise was to take Mike’s well-established teachings into the natural environment, where people can connect strongly with nature and the landscape to enhance the sensory experience.
It has now been over a year and we have had some great attendances (regularly over 20 participants) and feedback from people who are looking to the power of meditation, mindfulness and immersion in nature to feel better.
Using our simple 0-10 mood scale (0 being at your lowest mood and 10 being your happiest), participants regularly finish the session with a higher score than when they arrived.
There is a growing body of evidence and research on the benefits of meditation, mindfulness and connecting with nature for physical and mental well-being.
In 2016, a study by the University of Derby of The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild initiative - whereby participants were to connect with nature in some way for 30 consecutive days - evidenced that ‘there was a scientifically significant increase in people’s health, happiness, connection to nature and active nature behaviours, such as feeding the birds and planting flowers for bees – not just throughout the challenge, but sustained for months after the challenge had been completed. Follow link.
Mike Kewley (left) and Adam Denard lead a Mindfulness in Wild Places session
In Japan (the birthplace of ‘forest bathing’ in 1982), afforested areas are now being designated as forest therapy bases, where research has shown evidence of benefits to well-being. The areas are controlled by local governments for this purpose, and on-going research is looking at links between time spent in nature and benefits to our immune system including ‘natural killer’ cells that fight cancers. Follow link.
But you don’t have to live in Tokyo to suffer from technology overload and disconnect from nature. Even here, in our predominantly rural Island, the modern pace of life and its technological trappings can disconnect people from nature, fuel mental health difficulties and ultimately lead to burn out.
Thankfully, easy access to nature and wild places on our biosphere island, can, and does, form part of the antidote. It is important to take time to stop, pay attention and connect with nature to feel better.
And, let’s face it, with everything the world throws at us (especially in the current pandemic) who doesn’t want to feel better?
If our modern lifestyles lead to a nagging sense of disconnection then the practice of mindfulness allows us to reconnect, not only to our environment, but to the felt-sense of our own impossible lives.
Being mindful involves a conscious shift of attention away from the thoughts and stories in our heads and into our real-time experience as it happens. When we train this shift through repetition, we begin to experience a much different version of the self we believe ourselves to be.
By being aware in the present moment, rather than a story about the past or future, life somehow slows down and opens up. We can become merged into a bigger experience of being alive which is simultaneously an extremely fulfilling experience of being alive.
Mike guides a question and answer session
This state of flow, where we are immersed or unified with our present moment experience without interference from the thinking mind, is an optimum human state and is where we experience true happiness, contentment and insight. We knew it as children and we often drop into it as adults when playing sport, focussing on the task at hand, or being in nature.
When Adam approached me with the idea of combining guided nature walks with some practical mindfulness instructions and techniques, I was very enthusiastic. Mindfulness is an ancient tradition and the monasteries and ashrams where it has been practiced have always been connected to nature.
Our monthly walks consist of three short practices: a guided practice to stop and drop away from the head into the experience of breath which has the effect of calming the mind, an exploration of an emotion, sensation or even the body itself, (remembering that the body is itself an intelligent expression of nature, like a tree or flower) and, finally, an exploration of Naikan, a Japanese self-reflection practice to create an awareness and appreciation of all the myriad ways we are constantly supported by our circumstances, people and the world.
By sharpening our awareness and bringing it into the great outdoors we can suddenly begin to see, hear and feel the world, as if for the very first time.
To find out more about the Mindfulness in Wild Places sessions, the work of Manx Wildlife Trust and Mike’s mindfulness practice, visit www.mwt.im and www.mikekewley.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.