"Leading in turbulent times is much like living at the edge of a moving salt marsh: survival requires extraordinary presence and adaptability, and flourishing requires something even more. As leaders today we must be willing to suspend our dependence on past knowledge in order to be fully alert to what is emerging before us. Yesterday's route home is of little use when faced with a need to move more quickly than the tide.'
Michael Jones, Artful Leadership
From a very early age I felt completely at home in the natural environment.
This feeling was cultivated by spending my infant years living on boat situated in a salt water estuary in West Wales. It was here that my earliest memories became rooted in the ebb and flow of the tide, the sound of waves lapping against the hull, the calls and cries from seagulls, cormorants, herons, and curlews to name but a few, and the vast expanse of ever changing sky and sea. A living tapestry of sound, image and continual movement that when combined somehow shifted the whole shape and texture of that fluid landscape, making an indelible impression on my young mind.
Leaving the immediacy and intimacy of the estuary I moved into a more grounded environment, a little caravan in the countryside where I spent much of my time roaming freely and getting lost in the fields and the overgrown lanes, where I quietly observed, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, buzzards, and woodpeckers, each marking magical everyday encounters in a truly enchanting environment.
Later in life when I set up a home of my own I consciously returned to a rural setting and developed my passion for cultivating native trees and flowers in a wild garden. But, as my professional life became more hectic, with much of my time either spent in airports, on planes or in a car, I began to notice a precious quality to my moments spent outdoors. When I just quieted my mind and allowed myself to observe the rhythms of the natural world and attended to whatever needed my attention. What emerged is a private practice of allowing unstructured time to flow through me, which I found was incredibly restorative to my sense of well-being and wholeness.
I began to recognise that my moments spent outside were in many ways in direct contrast to my experience of being inside an organisation environment. That typically offered sterile and impersonal working spaces that were functionally compliant to health and safety standards but utterly devoid of any signs of natural life. Interior spaces composed of windowless meeting rooms that offered no natural light or air, or even worse, glass boxes that afforded no privacy or comfort, situated in vast open plan offices, filled with a sea of desks and computer screens, punctuated with rows of school type lockers to ensure no personal touches remained at the end of each working day. Hard and soft furnishings of inert objects all framed by grey walls and maybe the odd picture of a tree or mountain range to remind whoever was looking that there was a life outside.
As I become more aware of this feeling of a sterile and impersonal atmosphere which I found was present in the majority of working places, I began to touch into a profound sense of loss and disconnection which prompted me to wonder if we are not all lost in some way. I realised that the more time I spent in windowless offices then the more I was becoming calcified and desensitised to the full range of my feeling and emotions. Life began to take on a rather muted hue. I suspected that it might not only be me experiencing this feeling of everyday working life.
Could it be a cultural phenomenon of our modern working places? And, are there others across the generational spectrum that experience modern working practices as predominantly sterile, competitive and emotionally deficient. Where economic health is the dominant narrative and underpinned by a rationally biased and mechanistic disposition towards planning and control. Where often organisational structures are fixated on the view that human beings are costs and that our collective purpose in life is to be productive and useful in an economic way. Within this world view there is very little room or value associated with the everyday human qualities of, intuition, compassion, creativity or love of life.
As an Organisation Development Practitioner these emerging insights catalysed my curiosity about the relationship people have with themselves, with others, their world of work, and the wider environment. A series of questions came to mind; how can organisations begin to support people to flourish rather than just develop their resilience to survive? How can people support one another to retain their sense of aliveness? And, how can personal, organisational and global sustainability issues become a living conversation?
Through my own experiences I intuitively noticed that being in the presence of nature enabled a third way of knowing to gradually emerge. Slowly I learnt how to ground the doing and busyness of my rational mind within my embodied experience. But at the time I did not have a suitable language or frame of reference to express what I was thinking or feeling so decided to embark on a series of personal experiments where I would spend time alone in nature and pay close attention to this third way of knowing, rooted in my sensory experience and mood, then later in relationship with another whilst being coached, and finally with a group of systemic constellation practitioners.
Initially, I wanted to understand how being in nature captivated my attention and cultivated a deeper sense of well-being which appeared to improve my whole life field. Gradually, I opened out the inquiry further and considered, why did spending time in nature enable me to feel more alive? How can I capture the connection to my own meaning making process? Could this way of experiencing our relationship with the world assist individuals and groups move towards enabling generative change that is in support of life?
So far, it has been quite an adventure and sparked the creation of a writing project called 'On Feeling and Knowing.'. These adventures and insights can be found at www.thewellofnature.co.uk where I offer my deepening understanding of relationship, love, uniqueness, authenticity, the creativity of our being and of course the centre point of nature within our experience and emergent sense of self.
Nature Inspired Leading Change, Coaching, Organisation Development & Facilitation. Writing about relationships, uniqueness, authenticity, love and the creativity of being.