I’ve just returned from a walk - part of my daily rehabilitation both physically and mentally - and feel exhilarated. It is a local loop that I have done countless times before over the years but today it was different. For a start I walked it the opposite way to normal (pretty wild huh?!). Not only that, but I noticed that I was different, and actually I had never walked this exact walk before, at this time of day, this time of year, in this weather and so on.

The hedgerows are full of blackberries, this dominant feature of our autumn. They are so beautiful I wanted to take a photo of every single one. I thought to myself that I know what a blackberry’s like, but just like the walk, I challenged myself to think that I’ve never experienced this particular blackberry before. Wow, experience the difference of bringing your full attention to one using all your senses instead of just squishing it straight in your mouth like I normally would. I dare you to go and try it (before the wildlife gets them all!).

I listened to a robin singing in the hedgerow; I felt the sun shining on my face; I looked at the abundant leaves on the trees starting to turn to gold; and I smelt the local sewage works (well you can’t have everything!). It didn’t take any more time but by tuning to nature and my senses, it helped slow the tide of my ruminative thoughts and I felt more alive. I can easily walk from one place to another without knowing how I got there, caught up in my thoughts - but in nature it is so much harder. The senses are always in the present moment and can lead us away from ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. There is more and more scientific evidence to back up what we really know intuitively about the benefits of being in nature (I will certainly return to this theme).

Nature is democratic, freely available to us all, even if it is one small blossom on a tree that we can just see squinting through a tiny window. In Victor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ this is exactly the experience he describes that is the sole thing keeping one of his fellow prisoners going in the most horrendous of all places on earth a Nazi concentration camp. I had a miniscule insight into how this might be at my most ill, not being able to get out, lying flat in bed unable to turn my head, but I found I could just make out a blossom on a tree outside or sometimes hear a bird singing. It truly did keep me going.

A few days ago, somebody described a beautiful walk they’d been on to me as “such a luxury”. We do have this way of seeing nature, having a tendency to think it will always be there – there are so many more pressing things that we need to do and get done. To go out and experience nature, in a park or even a tree in a garden or roadside - or if you’re lucky enough something wilder - even for 5 minutes, is something we need to regularly give ourselves permission to do. As Florence William’s says:

“Time in nature is not a luxury but is in fact essential for our humanity.”

* Peacock butterfly photo taken on my phone yesterday on another restorative dip into nature *

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