A writer and wellness professional, Jo Norton Moore lives near the Pyrenees in a rural part of France, where she has has been running holiday gîtes, writing retreats, and guided walks for the last 15 years. She also leads guided meditations, restorative yoga sessions and past life regressions. She spends most of her time outdoors and, having experienced them firsthand, is passionate about sharing the healing aspects of nature with others. She is a Nature Therapy Guide (Advanced), from which final project the following post excerpts, and is currently studying as a Spiritual Wellness Specialist. You can visit her at WalkingforWellbeing.com and Razes.co.uk, and on Facebook at @OneWomanWalkingJoanneMoore.
I took a group of six participants out on the 3.5 kilometre Nurturing Gentle Growth walk. We met at the village fountain at 09.15 am for a 09.30 departure. I knew two of the participants already but four were new to me. The weather was quite cold, and the ground was still damp from fresh rain the night before, boggy in parts (we have a lot of clay around here). This, coupled with the pandemic social distancing rules, determined which activities I could share with the group as well as the size of the group.
We made our introductions, and I used the presence of the two people I knew to help the group bond as early as possible. I explained the theme of the morning’s activity and what I meant by the symbolism of ‘field’ as an archetype. I also explained a little more about what nature therapy was and how it benefitted people to spend more time outdoors.
Only one of the participants knew the trail I was following and so I pointed out what we would be seeing (in terms of villages, mountains, etc) as we headed out.
We spent about two hours following the trail and thankfully the rain and cold winds held off for the duration. The group showed a lot of interest in the hedgerow birds and trying to identify the occasional birds of prey as well as which animals may have been making which of the trails cutting across the fields and pathways.
The cold weather led me to do a variation of the ‘Balance and Harmony’ activity. It was too early in the year to see any praying mantis, but the walking meditation element of that particular exercise meant that nobody would get too cold from standing stationary on the same spot for too long. Nobody had experienced walking meditation before, and they appeared to enjoy the peace and physical sensations they derived from it. When we got back to the cars, it was evident that everybody appeared content and relaxed and were chatting in earnest.
During the debrief I asked if there were any points to raise and people did mention the weather as being a big no-no for some of their friends. Only the hardy and very curious came out today. They generally loved the flora and fauna (even the wild orchids were about although not yet in flower).
- It was cold and the birds of prey were out keening. We saw two red kites in the middle of a field evidently eating breakfast. They flew off as we neared but no doubts would go back again as soon as we disappeared. There was also the ‘local’ hawk.
- The hedgerows were particularly busy with smaller birds (sparrows, wrens, robins – not altogether!). It was too cold for bees and butterflies.
- The snow on the distant mountains and the cold weather made them appear particularly vivid and closer and we could see the castle of Montsg (not always visible).
- The wild boar had been out digging up one of the bare fields the night before.
- The intermittent sunshine added some wonderful hues (and life) to the otherwise wintry landscape.
- The cows seemed to enjoy the sunshine when it did reveal itself.
- The cherry trees were showing signs of budding, but it was too early for the other deciduous trees to look as though spring was waking them up any time soon.
- The participants were happy, convivial, undemanding and seemed at peace by the whole experience. They were united as a group. When I asked how they felt at the end of the walk, they were happy to say they had enjoyed it and two of the new participants said they had been eager to participate.
- They loved spotting the snow-clad mountains and seeing the castle of Montségur from that vantage. They were willing to share their knowledge of the Cathare history.
- They were delighted to stop and see the busy activity in the hedgerows and were surprised at how loud the small birds could be when you stopped to listen. iNaturalist was a new introduction for them.
- General feedback was good although they figured I may (understandably) get more participants in the spring, summer and autumn months rather than in winter. They also knew people who wouldn’t venture out because they feared the pandemic.
- There were ideas mooted about holding longer sessions with a mid-way picnic in the warmer weather.
- They liked the group being small so that they could chat with one another easily.
- They all said they would come again.
My Thoughts and Observations
- My reading of the group’s need for a slower pace and some explained spiritual and natural history was well received and appreciated. The fact that I asked the individuals to participate in sharing their knowledge (almost asking them to take shared ownership) helped them enjoy it more since I was not coming across as a teacher – more a sharer of knowledge.
- I am fairly used to guiding people through a guided visualisation and/or meditation but it still feels good to hear it when people say they enjoyed it and really connected with the experience. I love these!
- The group seemed to appreciate it when I reminded them that there were no rights or wrongs, and everyone’s experience was unique and that I would be willing for them to share it or keep it private as they preferred. It seemed to make them more relaxed and they felt in control and thus willing to share.
- They enjoyed my knowledge of the local terrain – the established trails and the parts where I led them where few people go precisely because there are no established trails, and I knew a few places where they would get good views of different aspects of the flora, fauna or terrain. They felt that bit was a bit special.
Note: The title quote comes from a participant’s survey response.