In a suspended world
Rachel Howfield Massey is a local artist and wellbeing expert with over twenty years of experience of working creatively in arts and health. To tie in with our Wellbeing Month at Fair Trader, Rachel has kindly given us permission to republish this blog from her website on the benefits of connecting with nature, whatever our circumstances.
My recent walks have been accompanied by the steady tempo of a cuckoo calling for a mate across the valley. It’s paradoxical that a bird that displays such uncaring habits towards rearing its own young provokes such a sentimental chord in me – but the sound gladdens my heart and to be honest I’m just happy to enjoy it. I’ll take every moment of joy I can get in this world. Almost every time I leave the house I find something to lift my spirits; a new bud or a beautiful sky. I thank my lucky stars that I have the opportunity to do this – I can walk out of my house and quickly find myself surrounded by fields, tree and hills in rural West Yorkshire.
For me, nothing competes with sitting outside, noticing nature and waiting to see what happens for nourishing the soul – but I know this isn't possible for everyone so I made a short guide to nature connection for Creativity and Wellbeing Week and Mental Health Awareness Week in May.
But for those of us who live in urban areas, or those who can’t go outside at all there are ways to connect with nature. Nature encroaches on our urban lifestyles all the time once we start to look for it; a weed in a crack in the gutter, lichen on a wall, reflections of the sky in puddles or windows, perhaps even a glimpse of a peregrine hunting pigeons. Once you’ve learned a few techniques for connecting with nature and started to feel the benefits to your mental health and wellbeing it becomes compulsive; we find ourselves contemplating the colours of a flower or turning towards the sound of a bird without even realising we’re doing it.
During lockdown I’ve been thinking about ways to help people connect with nature from their homes. I've collaborated with artist Alice Bradshaw to design a Nature Guide for Indoors and Out for River Holme Connections. This was an adaptation of an Awards for All funded project, originally intended to include creative workshops with three diverse communities near the river Holme including adults with lived experience of mental ill health, older people living in care homes and minority ethnic communities. Once Covid-19 made its presence felt we knew that members of these communities were already at risk of isolation and were going to feel the impact of this disease more than many. We worked with partner organisations to devise a new project to help people cope with isolation. Current research shows that connecting with nature through a photograph or on a screen can lead to improvements to our wellbeing, so we devised a series of activities to inspire people to discover nature inside or near their homes. The finished nature guide has just been sent out through various partners through food parcels and in the post, so hopefully people are enjoying making their own nature discoveries as I write.
I’ve also started playing around with video guides to help people connect with nature while housebound. I’m still learning as I go, but I’ve had some encouraging feedback and it’s been a great way for me to keep up my own practice, reading and listening to writers and thinkers for inspiration for my videos. I’m sure there’s more I could do to teach online but there’s been such an explosion of online material for education/entertainment/relaxation I’ve found it a bit overwhelming so I’m not going to rush into that. It’s also inspired me to try to find some private woodland near home so I can start leading live sessions again as soon as lockdown eases – if there’s one thing I’m sure of, we’ve all been taking care to look after our bodies but our spirit needs some fresh air and nourishment too. The collapse of one world might lead to a new possibility in a new world – but only if we give ourselves time, space and permission to open up to this.
Rachel Howfield Massey, May 2020