This months blog is bought to you courtesy of Vectis Radio and an interview about nature therapy with presenter Joan Ellis
For someone with a Doctorate in Science, dowsing may seem a strange pastime. I am often asked if there any real evidence as to its efficacy.
As a child, I cut willow wands and played about dowsing for water. The idea being that willow was sensitive to water, even when cut from the tree, and would twitch with delightful anticipation of finding a life giving source in which to grow new roots.
For some, this childhood game was on a par with Ouija boards sold as toys back then. Something a bit hocus pocus about it all.
Years later, whilst undertaking research in the States, I once again found myself willingly picking up a set of dowsing rods. Alongside me was a stunningly beautiful Elder from the Crow who was also learning how to dowse the energy fields of horses.
Aside from my total delight that something magical seemed to happen with these rods, the scientist in me instantly questioned how this actually worked. If the rods opened, the horse would allow me to approach it, if they crossed then I was not given ‘permission’ by the horse to approach.
The very practical part of me realised that, aside from anything else, dowsing was a superb risk management tool. You didn’t have to fill people with terror about what could happen if you startled horses. You just gave someone a pair of dowsing rods and hey presto, they would approach carefully and meticulously.
There was an added bonus that If they were fearful of the horse, it helped alleviate their anxiety. After all, moving into a large and seemingly unpredictable animal’s space can be pretty scary. Opened rods meant they were accepted. If the rods did not grant permission, they could save face by not going in close.
The evidence base for dowsing is scant. We know it has probably been used for thousands of years to search for water and indeed right across the hotter parts of Europe today, many remote villages have their own Dowser. So, despite the lack of empirical evidence as to its efficacy, dowsing continues to be used.
Not only is dowsing used for searching for water, it is employed in a variety of other ways. Animal communication being just once such application. Finding lost items, buried archaeological artefacts and assessing health status are others.
If you ask a New Ager about dowsing you will be treated to a range of wonderful insights on vibrational frequencies, psychic communication, sacred geometry, energy fields, dimensions and ley lines. If you ask a quantum physicist the same question you may get more mind boggling discussions on the differing String Theories. A psychotherapist might talk about inherited memory and tapping into a source of universal knowledge.
Despite the lack of definitive answers, in Nature Therapy we continue to use dowsing. We mainly use it as a safety tool around horses or wolves, but also to demonstrate how you can maintain your own personal boundaries.
More recently I went dowsing with a most delightful little boy who just happens to have a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder – my grandson. The reason I am teaching him to dowse is quite simple.
To be able to master this particular art form, you need to remain focused and very clear about what you want as an outcome from your activity. You need to unemotionally be able to visualise what you want in your mind, and see consequences of your actions.
Each tip toe of dowsing needs to be broken down into smaller and smaller carefully focused steps. More than anything, it requires patience and perseverance when you are first learning. It can be quite demoralising when you don’t get what you want at the outset.
Dowsing is about dealing with your own expectations as quite frankly wandering around dowsing for an odd fifty pound note is just not going to happen. Dowsing is about putting things into perspective and keeping them real.
These are all valuable life lessons for any child, but these are also the very lessons that are the hardest to grasp when you have a mind wired to be active and easily distracted.
In the evidence based hierarchical reality we have created, science has replaced magic as king. Yet often the very things we seek in that academic world, like incontrovertible hard proof on how dowsing works, is just not attainable. Without this, dowsing can be easily dismissed.
We need to look beyond this through developing an understanding of the life lessons dowsing can gift us with. Only then can we peel back the layers to reveal something meaningful to the human experience.
So long since I contributed to this blog. It seems time can just float away without us even noticing. Although to be fair, although I have been quiet in blog world, I have still been delighting in writing, just a different style of writing and for a different audience.
The style of writing is for a book, rather than a blog or funding bid, and the audience is children. I have taken ten legendary people and adapted their stories into tales for children to get outdoors in nature and enjoy exploring the legend.
After years of writing academically in such a way that stifles all creativity, I feel like I have been let out of a strict uptight school. A school where all the teachers wear mortar boards and capes and carry a bendy switch to terrify you into saying your nine times table backwards.
Instead of sweating over what on earth algorithms mean and how to spell it, I have been busy running across fields, climbing trees and feeling the wind in my hair. Being out of school means I can once again find my inner child so we can write, create, play, laugh and enjoy together what writing should really be all about – having fun. We must seem an odd couple roaming the forest, down land, and hanging off cliffs together. An over excitable pensioner with a dodgy hip pumped up on coffee, and a small gregarious grubby child running ahead screaming with delight.
The Heritage Lottery fund provided a grant for this book – but it’s not just any old book. Oh no. it’s a community book. What this means is although I have drafted the ten stories for the ten legends, it has now been passed to a group of wonderful volunteer families who are trying the stories out for size. I am just the catalyst for this to happen and have been overwhelmed by the response to it, not least my own response.
Currently the volunteer families are roaming across the countryside visiting the sites where the legends took place to see what can be added to the stories to make fun filled and, most importantly, free days out. They are adding secret treasure, hiding fairy doors and doing all of this for other families who can’t afford expensive trips to theme parks or days out on the mainland.
The stories involve some of the most beautiful stunning locations the island has to offer. They also includes dragons, witches, kings, smugglers and superheroes. The island is alive with the most wonderful tales, some of which have survived for centuries.
However, there has been a down side. I seem to have fallen a little in love with each of the legendary characters. To be able to write their stories, I needed to be able to feel them so very deeply, as if they were part of my very being.
Perhaps they really are part of my being. They were legends I grew up with, told to me by my parents and grandparents over and over again. They were, and still are, as real to my childhood imagination as my grand-daughter’s cuddly toy duck is to her.
This project has breathed life back into the legends again. I just hope I have done them justice and that new generations of children will fall a little in love with their stories too.
The work of nature therapy is grounded in sensory experiences using nature as a tool. However as a researcher I am always compelled to look more deeply into the realities that are presented to us through our senses.
Plato, c429-347AD, is considered one of the most eminent philosophers in recorded history. He too was fascinated by sensory experiences and was the first to consider non physical realities. Our work with adults at Nature Therapy CIC is about helping people reconnect with their inner selves through connecting with nature. We promote enhancing our sensory experiences as part of this. Be that through mindfully walking and smelling the aromas that drift to us, or through creating such masterpieces as soundscapes.
However, I am also aware of the realities that exist outside of bodily experience. By confining our existence on this ball hurtling through space to just five physical senses, we are really doing ourselves an injustice.
It is a little known fact that our senses are actually socially constructed. Don't be silly I am hearing you shout how do you socially construct smell? Just think for a minute about how one smell is appealing to one culture whilst to another it is nauseating. The Chinese delight for one hundred years old eggs springs to mind or incredibly stinky rotten cheeses and fish for others.
In fact how we even define our senses is socially constructed. In western culture we generally accept we have five senses whereas science currently confirms we actually have thirty two. In other cultures they may only define two senses as in past and present, or seven senses, or even fifteen senses. All according to how they have constructed their unique social and cultural realities and language.
As science is evolving and beginning to confirm a lot of what the ancients knew to be truths, it is becoming more and more apparent that we have a sense, or even senses, that exist outside of time and space. Indeed this sense system is so well known - even if it is not recognised in all fields of science yet - that it has been affectionately termed our Sixth Sense.
Our work in Nature Therapy CIC, although focused on the five physical senses, fully acknowledges we have a higher self or a sixth sense that helps us in times of need. We call this our Spiritual Sense as it connects to a bigger picture. Our Spiritual Sense is fed by our physical senses and in turn our Spiritual Sense nourishes our bodies - but if we start to deep listen to the process - then we can begin to trust our instincts more.
We do not advocate any specific religion as we believe each and every person has to find their own pathway on that journey. But, we do advocate people finding their Spiritual Sense, however they may express it, as a way of connecting wholly with themselves and others.
As a follow on to my blog on the experience of living off grid up a mountain for three months, I want to share some of the things learned about senses on my return to a more concrete and busy existence.
The first impression was one of feeling totally overwhelmed by people and lack of space. I live in a beautiful rural area in the UK but not as rural and remote as in Portugal. However I found I was unable to go into the small main town for some weeks without feeling crushed. Goodness only knows how it would have been if I had to return to a city.
Town visits were out of the question for some weeks. I did try on several occasions but found myself going right out of my way to avoid it - the main reason being queues. Often I find the person behind me in a queue generally likes to invade my body space to the point they will even touch me. Now don’t get me wrong, I quite like being touched in the right circumstances, but I find the total stranger who likes to be that close enough to make physical contact is the individual who is often an energy vampire.
Energy vampires are the very people from whom I pick up negativity and absorb it as my own. Even though I have learned over the years some effective ways to protect myself, that type of unwanted contact can still leave me feeling low and exhausted. As if my very essence has gone down the plug hole, swirling and gushing into the sewer, never to return.
Not all energy vampires consciously feed off others and they are not all doing it with malicious intentions. Often they are just lost souls who find it hard to connect and relate to others and their only known method of getting their own needs met is to suck you into their whirlpool. This can be through close contact subconsciously absorbing what they need from you - or through talking at you. Once you start to empathize you are feeding their deeper needs but not in a way that is ultimately healthy for them – or you.
In the mountains there was no unwanted touching, other than by biting flies and mosquitoes and which I admit I find preferable to energy vampires. What I was surrounded by on that mountain side was my own. I didn’t have to spend time sorting through buckets of assorted bits and pieces to see what was mine and what was some one else’s I had accidentally bought home and really didn’t want to feed and keep. The trouble being once you have taken it - you can’t give it back with an ‘oops I think this is yours’. There isn’t even a dump to take it to. Instead you are left holding it or even worse you chuck it at some other poor unsuspecting passing soul.
In the Wolf Medicine programme I work alongside other Highly Sensitive People. So, I try to teach them about energy fields, what they themselves put out, how to protect themselves, and when to use their own unique sensitivity to help others. As this work progresses I am becoming more and more mindful that addiction and some mental illness is very much aligned to sensitivity. There is a growing body of research starting to confirm this.
I realise this blog might make me sound like a miserable old grouch but to be an effective therapist and teacher - you need self-awareness, honesty and strategies to avoid compassion fatigue. It has taken me some years to realise what works for me and what doesn’t. We are all different in how we sense and experience the world and my role now is much more about helping others protect themselves - especially as they move into caring roles.
The next blog will explore the impact of immersing yourself in nature on another of our senses – that of smell.
Just recently I spent some months living off grid on an isolated mountain. This was a direct opportunity to develop a much deeper personal understanding of sensory experiences. The theory was, that undistracted by computers, wifi, telephones. television and even social interactions, I could fully immerse myself in mother nature and all that she teaches us.
The first weeks were cold, wet and dark by 6.p.m. At night it was so cold I couldn't sleep because my nose was frozen. Even shuffling my ever willing Bedlington Terrier, Mogs, into my sleeping bag didn't work. Once the last embers of the fire had died out I was awake and shivering again.
In the space of a few weeks the mud and fast flowing river changed almost overnight to blazing sunshine and high humidity. As temperatures soared to over 40 degrees the mozzies and biting flies made their presence known - especially if you sought shade under the trees. Interestingly Mogs spent her time eating the tips off the plantain plant which I later discovered was a natural antihistamine antidote to bites. It could not possibly be learned behaviour as she had been with me since a tiny pup so it had to be either an innate inherited knowledge or an ability to smell some component of antihistamine - either way flipping marvellous.
I did not realise until this point that I was a total IT junkie. I was finding excuses within myself to come down the mountain and drive an hour to the nearest village where of course I needed vital life saving resources such as a frothy coffee and internet access. Once I had my fix and returned I still suffered a mild level of on-going anxiety that I was missing out on something very important and dreadful things might happen if I was not online.
A unexpected effect of this self imposed isolation was that the less I interacted with others, the less I wanted to. My grandmother was a recluse spending more time gardening than with any human companion, my son has similar hermit tendencies. It made me question in anthropological terms the potential benefits of imposed isolation to long term survival - not being open to infectious diseases or having to feed and protect others thereby wasting scarce resources are examples.
In psychological terms I am fully aware that being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) often leads to isolation as those who are HSP can become overloaded to the point of distress by interacting with others. Unless you learn how to protect yourself from negative energy, those who are HSP can become distinctly unwell suffering from conditions such as depression, ME, and a range of unexplained ill health.
The academic work in HSP is jumping forward in leaps and bounds and the best part is it is a much nicer label than anxiety disorder, depressive or yuppy flu amongst other such terms. It also means that we are now beginning to understand this way of being so that appropriate support and advice can be provided. Being a HSP has helped me in my career but it has also been a major hindrance when I have been forced to work with people who drained my very essence. Being isolated helped me understand my need to avoid so many social situations and only being able to spend minimal time in certain people's space.
Spending an extended amount of time amongst nature in all its glory has helped deepen my understanding of the senses and how to help others through sensory based experiences. However the major insights occurred when I came back to concrete civilisation. I will write about that in my next blog.
Wolf Medicine Programme
If you have been following our work, you will know that Nature Therapy CIC were fortunate enough to receive a Big Lottery grant to be the very first not for profit organisation in the UK to run a Wolf Medicine programme for individuals in recovery.
Prior to gaining this grant we undertook substantial research into the possibility of involving wolves and what function they would serve. This included exploring the meaning given to wolves down through history as well as contemporary cultural perceptions of an animal long since extinct from our wild nature bank.
We also drew heavily on our own knowledge and expertise in delivering horse medicine and looked at how the wolf and horse might differ in engaging participants. A key factor in working with those in recovery is offering something that excites and engages as individuals may have been through all types of programmes in their recovery journey. The horse might engage one client whilst a wolf another simply because they offer insights into different aspects of our own characteristics and interests.
A framework of research evidence was established around the programme design that included Metaphor Therapy, Wilderness Theory, Ancient Knowledge, Creative Arts, Animal Assisted and Eco Therapies as well as Mindfulness.
Once we had in place the basic framework, the programme was piloted with 23 individuals to see what needed to be adapted to meet the identified needs of our proposed client group. We were helped in this by the willingness of the local substance misuse service to ask their clients if they wanted to be involved in co-creating a brand new and very unique way of supporting others in recovery. A marked component of many people going through recovery is their willingness to help others.
One of my main concerns in creating this programme was we talk about ‘the wolf within’ and how to connect with this inner wolf to gain resilience to what life will throw at us. I was concerned that an individual who had experience of psychosis might literally believe there was a wolf within which could seriously impact on their well-being. Four people on the pilot did indeed have either a diagnosis of schizophrenia or had psychotic episodes but ultimately they reported the programme to be an enjoyable success as far as they were concerned. They also added that I shouldn’t unduly worry about ‘over egging the metaphor stuff’ as they perfectly understood it was not a real wolf.
The whole concept of not being a ‘real’ wolf is an interesting one as neuroplasticity is demonstrating that to our physical bodies it does not matter what is real and what is imagined as the physiological responses are the same. Thus, even if we only imagine we have the strength of a wolf, we are just as likely to experience the impact of that strength as if we really did have that strength. The power of the mind it seems is unlimited.
Contact with real wolves however is limited to just one session out of the six week course but it was entirely obvious right from the start this is the essential element of the overall programme. No amount of therapeutic research, models or theories can compensate for the experience of actually interacting with a beautiful wild animal. When a wild animal validates you it is an extremely powerful message that says you are a worthy part of this universe.
Howling with wolves it seems speaks to us on a very basic level. It is a call to connect, to feel you are part of the pack and you are not being judged by past behaviours or mistakes. Wolves don’t label us with the judgemental names constructed by the socially inept to make themselves seem superior. Language such as ‘druggie’, ‘junkie’, ‘alchie’ or ‘addict’ has no place in Wolf World. Wolves have no such perceptions. If you are part of the pack you are cared for by the others and in turn you care for them. If you can’t hunt, food will be bought to you. When you get old or sick you still have a place watching out for the pups. No wolf gets left behind.
Wolf loyalty is fierce. They mate for life and the female will watch out for the throat of the male by positioning herself under him when there are any threats.
This fierce protective and loyal nature of the wolf is what gives it strength to survive in some of the most inhospitable places on earth and always under threat from human’s hunters.
It seems participants strongly identify with the wolf. They too can feel ostracised and painted by society in poor light. They too live in a shadowland trying to bury part of their lives. They too have been stereotyped like the big bad wolf in Red Riding Hood with all the ills of our culture being laid at their door.
As participants learn more about wolves and how they walk their own path, so they become inspired to follow in their paw prints. The ancients knew only too well that the wolf gives us survival strategies to draw on in a crisis.
For example a wolf chooses its fights carefully. It cannot risk being injured and unable to fulfil its function or it could put itself and the pack at risk. Just recently I felt cornered by a situation which I knew there was no chance of winning as I was up against a powerful but deeply flawed system. I turned to my inner wolf for help with what to do - just roll over and accept the situation by showing my belly and expose my vulnerable throat for a savaging, show no fear and turn to fight, or simply pass stealthily through the mess with my nose to the wind and an eye on the future.
By turning to face the enemy and holding my ground I knew I would go down in a blaze and give myself a modicum of respect. If nothing else I might even exude a hint of madness and savagery that might make others think twice. Yet by turning to wolf for help I knew her strategy would be to only turn and fight when the odds were so stacked against her that there was no other option. Why waste all that effort and energy fighting a battle I could not possibly win simply to save face. What does a wolf care about face. As much as I wanted to bare my teeth and rip apart all around I chose to pass quietly into the shadows with my wolf by my side. I needed her symbolism to protect me from my own ego.
The ancients used animal symbolism to help them draw on the strengths and skills of a species and for the wolf it has always been about survival. Wolf teaches strength, connection and protection and these are all also factors that help individuals build resilience as they try to survive in this brave new world. So, we are specifically measuring if there is any change in resilience from taking part in the programme.
Wolf Medicine is already surfacing some important issues about resilience and recovery. One of the key points for us has been the majority of participants to date state they are more likely to trust a wolf than a human. So we needed to know how wolf can help re-build a destroyed belief in humankind. We are doing this by structuring the programme around enhancing each of our five senses so an individual becomes more in tune about what they senses are telling them in any given situation. Bearing in mind that often people with a history of addiction can be so divorced from sensory experiences at times they have no recognition of hunger and thirst.
Wolf Medicine is uncovering heart breaking stories that are as painful to hear as to tell, but it is also showing the strength of the human spirit and what can be achieved when we once again connect with our inner selves through interacting with nature with all our senses.
Much of the work we do in nature therapy is geared towards understanding our inner nature through the natural world. Even Einstein advocated turning to the natural world to understand more about human existence, but just recently I had a sharp reminder that despite our academic approach to analysing our psyches - we know so little about Being Human.
A friend posted on my facebook page what he thought was a cute little video of a rat with his head trapped through the port hole in the wall that a telephone cable came through. It showed this ratty head squeaking in rage whilst the ratty body was obviously completely and utterly trapped. The supposed sweetness of the images was in the kindly gentleman doing his best to free the furious fat rodent.
However the cute factor was completely lost on me as I recoiled in absolute horror. I immediately had a feeling that cooties were crawling over and under my skin. A frantic scratching session followed whilst my eyes bulged out of their sockets. I had no idea what had just happened to me. What on earth had triggered that response, a response I might add that I had never previously experienced.
I have dealt with some dastardly things in my time as a nurse such as maggot infested bodies, worm infestations, pustules, amputations and gangrene, as well as extracting various items from bodily orifices. So, I could not fathom what on earth caused the violent reaction to some poor trapped rat.
Well, it seems in my autumn years I have developed something called trypophobia. Apparently around 20% of the population have this ‘condition’ whereby an extreme disgust response is triggered by something as seemingly innocuous as holes. I am itching manically now just typing up this blog despite trying hard over the past days to desensitize myself to certain images.
My particular form of trypophobia is to do with living things emerging from small holes. Not bad for a former midwife. But for some individuals the skin creeping disgust reaction can be so severe they cannot even look at a series of small irregular holes like a lotus flower head.
To my mind there has to be a sound scientific rationale for trypophobia and the answer is probably grounded in the fact that it is not a true phobia but a disgust response. I don’t seem to fear it rather react to it in an extreme way.
Arnold Wilkins of the University of Essex explains the over the top response I experienced is most likely linked with a potentially dangerous or poisonous creature. Take a look at the picture of the deadly blue ringed octopus in this blog which is one such image he used in his study. I had a slight aversion to the octopus markings, but not as extreme as I would if another creature was emerging from any of those holes.
Despite all the angst and scratching, this insight really highlighted for me what Jung described as inherited memories. Nature has provided us with some of the tools we need to keep ourselves safe right from the moment of birth. I had not learned through any sort of experience or reading that a blue ring octopus is potentially deadly but I now know I have a deep seated need to avoid them.
Listening to what our senses are trying to tell us is may not be so important to our physical survival in this modern western world, but it is vital to our mental well-being. We are in danger of dumbing down our sensory perception to the point we no longer understand our own reactions. I was somewhat horrified to read that individuals have been so freaked out by their skin creeps they sought psychiatric support whereas in reality they are sensitive enough to be simply tuning in to an amazing gift of nature. I would want any one of them on my expedition to explore new lands
Seems we are working towards a new way of Being Human. One where we are so out of step with the natural world that our protective reactions are pathologised and treated as abnormal. Use them or lose them forever as my old mum would say and to be fair she is one old wife that knows a thing or two. Who knows where we may need those deep sensory responses again if we are to survive as a species when civilisation once again takes a detour.
When I sit in the coffee shop people watching other older women, I am often drawn to two main types. First there is the older woman keen to retain an image of youth to whom ageing successfully is to be seen to be as young as possible for as long as possible by whatever means. This is the woman who is trying to tread a familiar feminine path but her feet are aching in those wretched high heels and she is longing to get home and give a sigh of relief as she chucks her bra across the bedroom.
Then there is the woman who seems a little beaten by life and has little interest in maintaining any vestiges of a false youth. This is the woman that appears to have stumbled along in the later journey and ultimately gave up trying to find a way through it all despite her sensible shoes. She is bound up in brambles and has mud and leaves in her hair. When she gets home she will eat a packet of biscuits slumped in front of the television.
The one thing these women have in common is they can both appear a bit lost. Like a rabbit dazzled in the headlights of an oncoming car they have no idea which way to turn. They have no role models on how to age in a culture where ageing and all its accompaniments is despised. Contemporary ageing has become associated with wrinkles, dementia, loss of hope, uselessness, illness, false teeth, incontinence and death – this is backed up by images, information and stereotypes portrayed in the mainstream. So who can blame anyone for wanting to hold back the years or becoming disconnected when the onslaught of the female ageing process becomes too much to handle.
It wasn’t always like this for older women in the Western world. Once they were very much revered for their wisdom, their knowledge and their healing. They were mediators in disputes, bought new life into the world and cared for the dying. The image of the Crone then was a positive one, where an older woman knew her place in the world and the part she still had left to play. Reaching the status of Crone was a joyful recognition of her position as an Elder within a community and all the respect that came with that status. She didn’t shrink from the role of a Crone but embraced it.
The embodiment of Cronedom began to fade as they burned and hung these wise old women as witches. Their status gradually changed along with the overall image of women as Christianity made its impact. No longer were younger women Goddesses but whores, no longer were older women wise but evil and all that evilness had to be destroyed. Part of this false youth movement today is very much a fear of Cronedom and what that word now entails.
Today many women might be horrified to be described as a Crone as it has such different connotations from its origins. Yet, accepting and crossing the threshold into Cronehood could be a major event. It could be celebration of all your achievements and all that you learned and experienced along the way. It can be a time to make new commitments and vows, a time where an ageing body is just as beautiful as a younger one simply because of the beauty contained within.
The word Crone was once a word of power. So, we need to once again embrace that power by dismissing more modern notions of the word and celebrating the knowledge, skills and beauty this time of life can gift us.
By this point you are probable querying what Cronedom has to do with Nature Therapy. Well, we work with women of different ages. These are women that could potentially help tread down a new path through the cycle of life into Cronedom and beyond. Women where nature is the tool for feeling emotionally and physically connected to the much bigger picture, where nature helps with soothing balms and salves, and where nature offers insights into our own unique way of being.
I am proud to take ownership of the term Crone. I have certainly earned that name after many years of living a wonderful life seeing souls into this world, and out, and caring for them in between. Hopefully those who make the decision to own their power, can really celebrate Cronedom. In this way the coming generations of ageing women have a clear path to tread – a path that will lead them through the woods and out into the fields beyond.
We are currently working on a nature based project for women to own their Cronedom and celebrate their Elder power
Just recently we have seen a lot of famous people pass. I have also lost a few friends over the past months. It started me thinking more about the whole cycle of death as a fundamental part of nature and how we approach it in the Western world. It made me realise I cannot continue my work on evolving nature therapy and nourishing minds without exploring death and dying as part of a natural cycle.
It would be impossible to write about this topic without reflecting on belief systems encountered around the world, but I am also mindful that many individuals today may be growing up without any concept of a good role model to give them some insight into how to embrace death. The majority of individuals in this day and age are taken away to a strange place with white sheets, alarm bells and strangers where they see out their final hours in this beautiful world. So the focus of this blog is not on beliefs about what happens after death, it is more about the processes we now accept as part and parcel of clocking out of this life.
I have been involved in healthcare for over 40 years and have been privileged to be part of many births as a midwife, but also part of some ‘good’ deaths and some not so good deaths. My perception of a good death is one where an individual slowly and gracefully leaves this world without fear, whilst a not so good death is one where a loved one leaves us suddenly and tragically. This is where they go out of the door in the morning with a cheery wave and never return. This type of death I imagine may be better for the person concerned who passes out of life quickly, but it is not so good for the family. The ripple effect of the shock that occurs can be overwhelming and leave a lasting legacy, but this blog is not about sudden death either. This blog is about Dying Wild, it is about dying in a way that allows us to feel the full force of the natural world to help ease the path each one of us will one day tread. It is about dying itself as part a natural cycle as opposed to death.
In my work with those who are ageing, I am continually stressing the importance of sensory experiences through the free and easy to access natural world. This is a world that everyone has been in contact with at some point in their lives and which stimulates all the senses even before our moment of birth. In our modern concept of dying we do not generally consider the importance of smell, or touch, or even taste when food starts to become less important, but there are many things we can do to help a loved one travel on this journey.
As the baby boomer generation, renowned for pushing back so many boundaries and for living wild, start on this final path it may be they are ones that will breech this final barrier. As a member of that generation I have lived wild and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I do not want to dip out of wildness as the end approaches. I like to think I will embrace a new wild adventure as much as I have my travels to remote and glorious places in my living years and even more remote places in my mind.
However I fear the fear that comes with that territory. To counteract this, I hold on to the fact that I have been fearful many times in my life and eventually faced those terrors. I hold in my mind those people I have known who have gone before and who showed me if they can do it with dignity and calmness, then so can I.
I don’t want to be wrapped up and clinically disposed of into a meaningless system even before I die. I want to be free to feel my lungs fill with fresh air that spreads to my fingers and toes, to touch the grass and once again have time to watch ants and insects scurrying about their business, to smell the warmth and comfort of my dog and my horses, to let the sun sparkles kiss my old face and the rain soften my wrinkly liver spotted skin. I want to feel this world with all my senses as I pass out of it. I want to die as I have lived – Wild.
Dr Kim Brown