I seem to be getting more requests to run workshops for particular groups this year, which is very enjoyable.

Just over two weeks ago I ran a one day workshop for the Forest Farm Peace Garden in Hainault East London https://forestfarmpeacegarden.wordpress.com . I’d previously given them an indoor talk on ecotherapy in March. They are a charity that run permaculture projects on land owned by Redbridge Council. The Forest Farm Peace Garden is a big site with many beautiful gardens of edible plants. There are no rows of individual plots; to go through it is to wander along curving paths, taking you deeper into the site until you reach shaded areas where gatherings can take place. There are a couple of ponds and willow tunnels and orchard areas. There is also a considerable wild area of grass meadows and scrubby trees. The boundaries between the cultivated and the wild are blurred.

I ran the ecotherapy workshop in the wilder areas for volunteers and their buddies (the permaculture project has targeted many people who have experienced mental illness). After the experience of doing ecotherapy for most of the day we had an interesting discussion on how ecotherapy could be integrated into the gardening activities. The feedback at the end was very positive with people wanting to build in regular mindfulness sessions outdoors. Here is what one participant wrote as feedback:

‘A wonderfully indulgent day, where I was able to relax fully in nature, allowing myself to become intuned with it, to selfishly reconnect myself to it, my surroundings and others around me. I found the day inspiring, therapeutic and insightful. Andy was a wonderful guide and I found I was instantly able to put trust in his guidance which lead me to be braver and calmer when later challenging myself in the session’s activities. I enjoyed connecting in a way with others, through touch and eye contact, that I was unused to do with peers. It was insightful and humbling.

I also enjoyed the mindful session with the elements in nature. Pondering them, their life, their properties, their and our place on the planet, past and present, was grounding. The end of the session completing a letter to yourself was a wonderfully peaceful way to conclude the day and your thoughts.’

This week I ran a workshop for a team of psychologists in NE London Foundation Trust NHS who work with people who have challenging physical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart and lung conditions that are physically limiting. We met in the Lea Valley Park in Cheshunt, just outside London. It was chosen because it is a wild open area that is very accessible to people with physical disabilities. There are many tarmac paths over level ground that take you through a variety of habitats: flower meadows, canal, streams, woodland and lakes. Although we were all able bodied Lindsay brought along a wheelchair so people could test out the activities from a client perspective.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. It was acknowledged that the combination of mindfulness, contact with nature and socialising in a group all played a part in making people feel relaxed and uplifted. Here is one participant’s thoughts:

‘The experience today opened my eyes and body to the natural world as well as developing a connectedness with others. I experienced nature in a way that I haven’t before and I’ve learned the importance of Being in the Moment Whilst in Nature – not thinking about what is going to happen next, of what is happening in the wider world through my phone!

I particularly found beneficial the initial exercises connecting one with another. Then the silent walks. It allowed me to open my eyes to see the environment from a different perspective and I saw so many things/creatures that I have never noticed before.’

Images: Above – Forest Farm Peace Garden gathering before the workshop started. Below – sign,  psychologists doing a Silent Walk on Lea Valley workshop (see With Nature in Mind p267).