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Reflections from the Retreat June 2024

This month I had planned to focus on the link between nature and wellbeing for the monthly blog. This has been confirmed to me in the last few weeks when I have had two amazing and unexpected encounters with nature that I am still reliving and enjoying the moment.


The first encounter was something that I have attempted a couple of times before and so I wasn’t that hopeful on my third turtle tour. Yet this time we hadn’t even had time to sit down and wait because as we arrived to nearby Levera beach we were told that there was already a nesting turtle there. We watched in amazement as this huge, 5-foot creature laid eggs on the beach where I usually go for swims, then covered them with sand using her large flippers as spades before returning to the ocean.


The second encounter was towards the end of a lovely walk through the Grand Etang rainforest. We were approaching the Seven Sisters waterfalls when I spotted two monkeys disappearing into the bush and I was happy to have seen these shy creatures for this brief moment. However, we then realised that there were eight Mona monkeys in a nearby bamboo tree that were equally curious about us, as we were to observe them. We had a wonderful moment of mutual observation with these active and agile little monkeys who ran up and down the branches, pausing every now and then to watch us.


So back to nature and well-being. A few months ago I realised that I had got so busy with my routine of working online and in the house that I had almost lost sight of the natural beauty around me. I love the constant view of the ocean that I never tire of, but I had stopped taking time to go for regular walks. Having had a dog in the UK, I always had a reason to walk twice a day and I had lost that walking rhythm. So recently I have made more of an effort to go for regular walks and not only to walk but to immerse myself in nature.


I have developed a form of ‘eco-meditation’ – sitting for a set time with my focus on the nature around me. In the eco-therapy training that I have done in the past, these are called ‘sit spots’ but for me it is more about ‘lectio-eco.’ For those of you who are familiar with Lectio Divina – reading a text with our heart and listening to what God might be saying through the text – then this is a similar practice but I am ‘reading nature.’ I notice what catches my attention and ask what that might be saying to me or what it means for my life now. Within the tradition of Celtic Christianity, there was the idea that God gave us two books to read – the Bible and nature. I am discovering how God speaks through this second book, and the message hasn’t had to go through historical translations. Richard Rohr describes creation as ‘a continuous sacrament’ – with a sacrament being a physical sign of an unseen grace. As I’ve sat by the lake, near where I live, or on the cliffs watching the surf pound the rocks beneath, I have felt this continuous sacrament of presence.


Another discovery that I have made this month is the concept of ‘Blue mind.’ Some of you may be familiar with this term, that has been developed by marine biologist, Wallace Nichols.  He contrasts the calm blue mind state to the ‘red mind’ state that we have when we are stressed. His research has shown that we can move into a blue mind state when we are near water and that neuroscience shows that connecting with water is physically and psychologically good for our health. Water has a calming ability so that we are naturally drawn towards water to help us feel happier, calmer and also more connected to others. It is interesting to read the science behind why we like to be near water to unwind and feel better but also why it can be more romantic to be near water or help us to have deeper conversations with others. The importance of being near water makes sense from an evolutionary psychology perspective because we need water to survive and so knowing that it is close by can help us to relax more. His research showed that when we are near water we produce more feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine but also oxytocin, which is related to connecting with and trusting others. So actually being near water helps our body to feel calmer and reduces stress with the related physical consequences of lower blood pressure, calmer heart rate and deeper breathing.


In his book (and there are also various videos of his online) he asks, when did you first fall in love with water? For me I can’t remember that moment but there is a family story that I think illustrates it. I was about two years old and I was staying with my grandparents while my parents were moving house in Yorkshire. My grandparents lived near the sea in North Wales and they have since shared how much I loved our trips down to the beach. My parents then got snowed in and so I was told that I wouldn’t be able to see my parents for a while and that I would have to stay longer. My response was to lift my arms up to be carried and said ‘Sea.’ At that young age, I had already made a connection with the sea as a place of stability, somewhere that I was drawn to when life was feeling a bit unsettled.


Another key question that Wallace Nichols asks is, what is your ‘go to’ water now? For me this is still the sea, but because I look out on it all the time, the local lake has become the place which draws me to spend time there. He suggests that our ‘go-to water’ can be lakes or rivers, a park fountain or canal or even a bath, shower or the water cooler at work.


The last month here has been particularly hot and dry with the government issuing heatwave warnings and advising extra care for the young and elderly as well as banning hosepipes and garden fires. I have found the excessive temperatures stifling at times and I know Grenadian people who have become ill due to the heat. However now, as I write this blog, the house is enveloped in a grey cloud of a storm and the rain is battering down on my roof to the point that I wouldn’t be able to hear another person speak to me in the same room. So after a particularly dry season with people praying for rain, the wet season has finally begun. It feels like we have been collectively holding our breath willing the rain to fall and now we can breathe again. Coming from England it seems strange to be talking about a thankfulness for rain but I have seen the impact of climate change here when seasons are not as predictable as they were in the past. I have seen my fruit trees curling up, trying to conserve moisture and banana trees drying up in the heat. Farmers have been waiting to plant their crops because they have needed the soil to be wet and confident that the rain will come to water what they have planted. So the weather is another aspect of nature that impacts our wellbeing and having lived through many dark, cold English winters I am mindful of the impact of changing seasons there and the connection with depression in Winter and the lift in mood that can come with Spring.


As I consider the link with well-being and nature, I am also mindful of Cosmos my cat. Our growing relationship is full of challenges and entertainment which can have quite an impact on my mood! His youthful curiosity and kitten capers have led me to have to rescue him off a neighbour’s roof as well as check that he is OK when he has fallen off mine! But he is also a good companion on a stormy day like today and we both jump at a sudden clap of thunder or when he comes and sits on my lap and watches a video with me. He will make a good therapy pet for those retreat guests who like cats and he has already been a good therapy cat for offering graded exposure for some of my visitors who are a little fearful of cats! Pet therapy is something that I will keep in mind when I buy a dog and I hope to get a friendly one who can be sociable with guests as well as a good guard dog – or perhaps I will need two!


I used to work in the NHS and manage a therapeutic team of psychologists, therapists, psychiatrist, nurses and various other mental health professionals.  So as I continue to develop and dream this retreat house into being, I can see a different sort of therapy team emerging around me. Here my team of therapists are the lakes and rivers, the wildlife and the pets and of course the mighty ocean and through them all the infinite, continuous presence of the Divine. 

 



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