Often people ask me about what I do and the way I do it; perhaps hoping I can send them a one-pager fact-sheet that succinctly summaries with the comfort of bullet-points. In reality, what I do is difficult to boil-down into bullets, and so it’s a real gift to have one of my clients, award-winning business mentor Christine Nicholson, share in her own words her first-hand experience of journeying with me, Giles Hutchins, amid the ancient forest of Springwood Farm.
When babies are first born it is recognised that to really thrive they are placed on the skin of their mothers as soon as possible. The feeling of their breathing and direct contact with the skin has some quality that really makes a difference. As adults we can easily get disconnected from this connection with a life force that’s outside ourselves that is found in nature. The pressures of life crowd out the nurturing influence of the natural world. If you are living in a city it’s even harder. When was the last time you were in silence? Or without people? Or any stimulus at all?
I have no idea how I found Giles and his nature immersion experience. I just know when I needed it most, the opportunity presented itself. I was feeling disconnected, lacking confidence and wondering what ‘purpose’ was. Surrounded by business owners who spoke about finding purpose being the big thing for them, I was struggling to find that kind of connection. In fact I think I was at the lowest ebb of energy I have ever been at. I wondered what the point of life was, not just the point of my business or any other aspect of life. It would be easy to say I was in a pit of self-pity but that was not the case. I knew there was a way of living that I was not experiencing but I didn’t know how to get there. It was like being outside of a great house party and not being able to find the door to get in.
For 2 years I had been in a business that was not serving my needs but I felt stuck and didn’t want to walk away without having a clear idea of what I was going to do next. I was clearly miserable. My confidence was diminishing every day. I was lost. My first session with Giles was a literal breath of fresh air. The forest was like having a 3rd person in the session. In one afternoon I felt like a reviving breath was forced into my lungs. It was the first lifting of a burden I hadn’t been conscious of carrying.
One afternoon didn’t “fix” everything but it did help me realise that something needed to change and it wasn’t waving a magic wand that would solve the problem. It was the first step on the journey. And it started with looking inside myself, becoming aware that it is my life and I can choose. The first walk in the forest made me ready for my “solo” – an overnight experience in Giles’s forest.
When I explained to friends about the solo, they all thought I was mad. “Aren’t you scared?” Asked one. On the surface of it I was going into a forest with a tent and nothing else and I am sure that a few people’s first thought was of all the horror films they’ve seen! The reality was quite different. Once you have pitched your tent and got ready for the evening ahead, your brain is looking for things to do. With no phone, books or other stimulus it takes about an hour for the busyness of the brain to slow down. Then the magic happens as you start to ‘feel’ the forest as a living entity. It is peaceful yet constantly moving – the wind in the trees, the wildlife moving in the vicinity (but never really close, other forest occupants tend to leave you alone), the settling of the dew – it’s the equivalent of your own home in the still of the night.
“What do you do?” is a common question. Being alone with your thoughts can be a challenge for many people. Myself included. Though I live alone and am used to solitude, I realised I have filled my time with work and other busyness. I never let my brain settle, I rarely have a moment of stillness. The answer to the question is you start to notice things in the natural setting that you would not have seen before. Hear the birds sing and notice when they stop because they are sleeping. Hear and feel the wind in the trees and the stillness when it stops or pauses. See the wildlife wander through the flora, stopping when they become aware of you and moving on when they feel safe. I imagined I could hear mushrooms growing in the forest floor – though I know logically that my hearing is really not that sharp. And, of course, you sleep. On my first solo I slept in several short bursts, only waking when I moved in my sleeping bag and my body being aware that I wasn’t in my normal bed. In subsequent solos I had long, deeper periods of sleep, making sure I had the right kit as well as embracing the feeling of safety in the experience.
The sense of isolation left me almost immediately as I started to lean into feeling connected to nature and myself. My clarity of thinking came into sharp focus and I allowed myself to really examine why I had felt disconnected. Guided by Giles’s gentle questioning and the meditation we did together before leaving me on my own, I made some changes to the way I viewed the world, asked questions of myself and challenged the assumptions I had lived my life by for the previous decades. Change started here. Shedding some of the unnecessary burdens I carried was the first step. The work continues and is easier as time goes on.
One thing I have learned is that life is lived in seasons, not just in the calendar year but throughout the years of living. Nothing blooms all year round and there are periods of growth, decay and hibernation – out of which a new Spring comes. Looking back I was always looking for the Spring and Summer without recognising I needed the reset of Autumn and Winter. My drive for constant achievement was exhausting and I didn’t know how to slow down, pause and restart. My nature immersion experiences, in all the seasons, have allowed me to slow down to enable me to be ready for the next phase of growth.
It’s been 18 months – 3 solos, 6 half day sessions – my life and thinking has changed enormously. I’m enjoying life, have better relationships and more balance between my personal and business life. When I started this journey with Giles my way of thinking was “It’s not that I want to die, I’m just not sure I can be bothered with living”, which reading this back sounds so sad and desperate. Yet I felt more apathy than anguish. Now I have a gently joyful view of life I have never felt before. I have a better understanding of myself and greater awareness of how I connect and communicate with others. I feel at peace with myself and that is driving a more energetic approach to living. My business has doubled in size without feeling like I am on a hamster wheel. And I am getting out in nature on a daily basis and really seeing, hearing and feeling more of the natural world even when I am in the city.
Article by, Christine Nicholson
For more on Giles Hutchins’s nature immersions see here.
Giles Hutchins’ latest book Leading by Nature at be found here