The healing power of nature

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November 13th, 2014

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Our grounds in Autumn

This is my first autumn living and working in Sussex, where Roffey Park Institute has its UK base. For the previous five decades, I have always lived and worked in capital cities: in busy noisy artificially lit bustling metropolises. No sense was left un-assaulted in a 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, constant rhythm of stimulation. The only way to escape was externally – by travelling somewhere remote, or internally – by going into a deep meditation or sleep. I once even spent an hour in a flotation tank, completely immersed in a coffin-like watery element, just to rest my over-stimulated senses!

And I didn’t realise – until I moved to Sussex – how much I was used to over-stimulation and that pattern of life. The other week I drove for the first time in complete darkness, and I was so unused to the absence of street lights or any other signposts, that it took an extreme effort of will not to give up, panic and hail the nearest cab… if only I could find a cab in the deepest countryside.

Once I got used to it, however, I started noticing the stars and the clouds, the individual leaves and their patterns, the sounds of different birds, the smell of burning wood or wet grass, the squish of moss underfoot and the crunch of conkers. I started living with my senses and not just in my head.

I intellectually appreciated the power of mindfulness and noticing whatever is around us at the present moment even when I lived in cities, but the constant over-stimulation – and over-crowding – often meant that I, like many others, was used to seeking refuge and solace inside my own mind, going into daydreams, ruminations, memories, wishes, plans… away from the present unpleasant moment.

Whereas in London my way of escaping the office and its pressures was often going for a cigarette outside the building, now I go for a walk in the woods, try and spot new fish in the pond, or look at the ever-changing leaves. I am also more in tune with the natural cycle of endings and beginnings, of light and dark, of warm and cold, of changing seasons and moon-phases.

This is why all the participants at Roffey Park’s management courses who stay here comment on feeling refreshed, nurtured in body and soul, as well as their minds. This is why we try and hold at least one residential module per programme here, with these dark (but unscary) woods on our doorstep, surrounded by trees, clouds, birds and deer. This is why most of the senior leaders we work with don’t come to us for more – more stimulation, more tools, more theories, but for less – less pressure, less chatter, less responsibility, so that they can reconnect with what truly matters to them, inside and out.