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Season 3, Episode 22:
Ecological Niches -  Unravelling Our Role


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In this episode, Marina discusses: 

  • Our mind's potential
  • What is your Ecological Niche?
  • Embracing the Nature-Centric Model.
  • Choosing where to direct your attention.
  • Fostering a quieter mind.
  • Action as an antidote to anxiety.
  • Humans as net contributors.
  • What is the next moment of experience?

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

Sense Meditation

Sense Meditations are a wonderful way to tune into the surroundings and become fully present.

It’s much easier to pay attention to your senses, your hearing, taste, smell, sounds and sight than to sit quietly without a focus. You become physically aware of your surroundings and increase your observation skills.

If you practice this regularly with your group, you learn to settle yourself and your group more quickly.

You will enhance a feeling of safety, and relax into the natural space. 

Feel free to adapt this as you wish. Over time take turns with your students or participants and ask them to offer a short sense meditation.

Sense meditations are part of what we call core nature connection routines as they grow our nature awareness. Alongside gratitude, this forms part of a regular set of routines that we encourage when we run sessions.

With younger children, they could close their eyes and point to where they may hear a bird, or the sound of the leaves on a tree.

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature-based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb, I'm an author, entrepreneur, for a school outdoor learning and nature-based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programs for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode 22 ecological niches, unraveling our roll, welcome to January 2024. Yes, we are here. I've put together what I hope is some food for thought as we begin a new year, the natural world offers us so many clues as to where we might place our attention and awareness, we can change our minds. And there are more possibilities available to ask them to often imagined our Wilder minds can help us to walk with the uncertainty and unknown of these times.

To complement the podcast, I've added a short video of me offering a sense meditation for you to listen to when you have two minutes, just go to the show notes, I look forward to co creating with you practical solutions and insights for the year ahead. Thank you for joining me, again, it's howling, wind outside my shed here and pouring with rain.

So I'm really grateful to be dry and warm. And I'm also really grateful to be able to every now and again, do a little bit of that mindfulness, awareness, moments where I can actually be here in the moment right now. And be aware of this moment and not be worrying or thinking about what's coming in the future or what's happened in the past. And just to have this possibility of being in the moment.

I realize there's so much pull, especially as the beginning of a new year to kind of make all these changes and this sense of feeling of overwhelm in a sense that there's suddenly we've got to start doing and a sense of anxiety around that. And actually, when I can actually just maybe take a breath and be present in this moment. And no, actually, this is what I'm experiencing right now. And I guess a sense of confidence, that even though I might have a sensation in my belly of stress that actually when that thing that I'm stressed about is going to happen, I might actually feel different. So I'm just being aware and grateful of that. And today, I wanted to really bring us back to this nature centric model.

And just to remember that there is so many teachings lessons, things to learn about how humans can actually be seen as being part of this natural world part of the living world and that we can actually have a net benefit or if you like a niche, where we actually contribute to this amazing kind of miraculous mysterious system that is living and growing and evolving and emerging.

And I sometimes call this a nature centric model. And I use this in my work when I'm facilitating groups in nature, whether that's working with early years, or adults or teenagers or health practitioners. There's this awareness of where we are in time and space. So for me now, it's just the beginning of January. And yes, it's pouring with rain and it's windy. And it's actually not being as cold, as it often is, but I kind of lean into and learn from and with what's happening outside.

So it's definitely been a quieter, dark, darker time of year. And within the model that I work with, we could say that we're out we're in the winter, which is seen as the North in the compass of the year, but we're moving into the north east in four weeks time will be at what we would call in bulk, the beginning of early spring, the first of February. So it's not very long in the northern hemisphere, when we're actually moving into where we're going to see much more change and growth and what's been hidden under the ground. And all those seeds that I was talking about in December and late November that were being coated by those leaves that have fallen from the trees.

And now there's a chance if we just pull back those leaves, certainly in a few weeks, we're gonna start seeing new shoots, but we're not there. Now the storms are here, there's a lot of potential destruction, a lot of things are uncertain, there's a lot of sense of unknown, and I'm certainly coming into this year, with a feeling of a lot of unknown and not really sure what's going on in the world, not really sure that there's something really clear and steady and obvious as to the things that maybe I want to do, or the things that even on a very global political, economic level, what is actually going on, there's a sense of uncertainty and unknown.

And maybe that's always been there, but we, in the West, at least, have been fed this idea that we that there is order, and actually there's a sense of disorder. And I don't know whether you guys are feeling that. But going back to that model, you could say that we're in the Northeast. And what I love about this model is it's always reflected in the natural cycles.

So for me, this model, if you think about the sun cycle, it sits, we're in the Northeast, and it sits in that kind of predawn time. So being in January, let's say we're in a kind of predawn time. And what's it like, at that time, Have you been out when the sun hasn't risen yet, and it's just, it's not necess, some people are sleeping, some people are waking, it's that very, very soft light. And often it's a time when the birds are singing. And in the wheel, it kind of represents that absolute moment between death and life, we're not quite sure what's going to happen, I'm not sure quite sure what's going to make it and what's not going to make it and yet, for sure, there's going to be some change, for sure, life is gonna keep emerging.

And it's the quality and the diversity and all the potential options that are out there that are still possible, there is no way of knowing which absolute direction it's going to go. So this is the kind of feeling with which I'm coming into this time of being in the northeast, on this land. And I've been really conscious, maybe more than ever, that right now. The people inhabiting the southern hemisphere, are actually having a very different experience. So they're entering, let's say, the southwest, they've just come out of the Summer Solstice where their sun is highest. And they're entering into the southwest and that time where we're, they're pregnant with the fruits and the harvest time.

And that doesn't feel natural to me being where I am in my kind of experience of living right here in the northern hemisphere. But I really love the fact that that's happening at the same time. And that seems to be a theme that I've been considering and contemplating is how in every single moment that that I experienced, there's potentially the exact opposite happening. And then that makes me think about these tensions. And the polarities that that we spent so much time kind of being in this extreme polarities of one or the other.

And yet, they're both happening at the same time. And somehow, there's an acceptance that these polarities will exist, but there's all the possibility in between as well. And so I want to talk a little bit about a stories again, and how here I am experiencing what I'm experiencing right now. And as I said, at same time, other people will be having an entirely different, even sent sensual experience just because of the temperature they're living in, or the level of light they're getting. And both are true. And there seems to be a message in that about the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of having one particular story that we think is true at any one time.

And knowing that, whilst I have that strong belief that I'm right, or this is what's happening, and this is what's real, for me, which it is, it's my absolute experience, but exactly at the same time. Other people, even the person that I'm actually having a conversation with, is having a different experience or story of what's occurring in that moment. And that's kind of hard, because I know that I have a longing for someone to get exactly what I'm feeling or what I'm thinking or what I'm trying to explain as my version of reality. But increasingly, I'm realizing that it's me trying to get that external thing that acts that thing, or that person, or that experience to kind of be like mine, which is not possible.

So I'm moving into a sense of what that might be that acceptance, that's not possible. And so if I can't control another person's reality, or if I have to accept that my reality is like a tiny bit of consciousness in a sea of other consciousness, but if that is my, if that's what I got, then somewhere that I need to accept that and I need to know that's the case. And I can work with that. So this model that we work with, also helps us to understand as well that, you know, the darkness and the light. So there's things that we can see and things that we can't see.

And I'm sure some of you have heard about how one of the most precious things that we have in our lives is our attention where we focus our attention. And that one of the big problems or the big crisis's that we have is that we only ever have this partial attention. So where are we going to put our attention? Where are you going to put your attention? Where do you want to put your attention? And when we have an awareness that we have this attention, this kind of ability to focus? Well, how is that going to affect this year ahead? I think there are so many things to be concerned about and to be worried about. And there are so many stresses that we might be feeling. And there's no way of getting rid of anything. They're just part of it all, aren't they and except that we seem to have this thing, this mind.

That isn't our brain is this mind that actually I'm no way going to even try to define that today. But this mind that has this possibility of focusing and defocusing and noticing and not noticing. And that is connected to the practice of being mindful. So, the wheel at the moment is in here really thinking and lending us to be in connection with and aware of this kind of North East time. But we're not quite at that. Early spring. We're in the we're in the in between time. And as I said there's a lot of uncertainty.

So perhaps some things that we can do is to spend some time being quiet to try and quiet in our chattering selves that take us to the future and take it to the past, and to try and spend a bit of time in this quietness.

Now there are traditions that say that one of the great attributes of connection is the development of this quiet mind, this presence, and someone said to me, Christmas, that's think of that word presence, and said, like presence, presence, presence, being present, not all the kind of stuff that we buy. And, you know, I'm interested in real action, you know what action we can do, and knowing that action really, really helps reduce anxiety. And this idea that if we're really interested in looking at something like a reduction in fossil fuels that we know, releasing carbon dioxide and other chemicals that are destroying our atmosphere that warms our, that's gonna increase the warmth of the planet, or some of the things we need to do is reduce our consumption and our consumption are the things that we're making and buying, and where are the things that we're making and buying? Where are they coming from?

Extraction, extraction from the land, and there's something around? What is fulfilling? What gives us wellness? Is it stuffing us with stuff, buying stuff that we don't need? Or is it figuring out together, and individually, the things that are going to bring us pleasure, bring us delight, bring us playfulness, bring us a reduction and feeling that we're on our own? What are those things, and as we increase those things, perhaps we'll feel less need to buy, and buy and buy. So for me, these ideas about reduction in fossil fuels, have a practical application and thinking about our own desire for stuff. And just looking around us, and maybe doing a little kind of personal audit of one thing, one commitment to an action, that might reduce our stuff.

And I love it that a lot of the young generation now are doing kind of close swabs, or they're sharing stuff that they've had with friends that they don't want anymore. And I mean, it seems like a small thing. But I think this link between something that's so big and out there and impossible, and actually kind of trying to track it back to something that we can do that is small, but makes a difference. And all those changes that we're making. But maybe, in our changes or growing ourselves in certain ways, that may not immediately linked to structural change, which absolutely is needed, we need changes in our law, we need changes in the way we value, the natural world of which we're part, we need to be collectively coming up with lots of ideas and actually implementing some of those ideas to make a difference. And actually, I think most people out there want to do things that make a difference.

And there's something about us as individuals in communities, recognizing that we do have our niches, we do have what they call like in the natural world in ecology they call ecological niches. But somehow one of the tasks is to find out what brings us aliveness, you know, what is our little niche, or little thing that we can do? That doesn't burn us out, that gives us energy and excitement is something that we're really into. And actually some of the clues are often in your childhood, the things that you really enjoyed. So to spend a bit of time wondering about your own little niche, because for sure, the system that that is around us is a system, it's a connected system. It's constantly changing and growing.

And actually we have a little node we are a little node, we are a little part of that system. And what we do does affect that system. So part of being at this time of year, I think for me, it's also about tracking. And I often used to think that tracking was very much just about tracking animals or learning how you know to distinguish between a deer track or a mouse track, which is super interesting and fun and can be linked to all kinds of interesting other subjects.

But actually, I think this idea of tracking is really important on a personal level, on tracking the things that are working for us the things that aren't working for us the changes that we want to make, and to start making the kinds of links and tracks and questions asking the questions and thinking ahead thinking case of what is it? What is it that I know, didn't work for me last year? What are the things that I believe in? What are the things that really matter? You know, to me, and how am I going to make those little little changes in order to so that I can sit here next year, or in three years or in four years, and actually see that there is a change because of something that I've done?

Sometimes, that's about stories, that's about recognizing that we need to let go of an old story. And let go of the stories that we were told about ourselves, you know, and no way. Most of us thinking that we're all sorted and stuff, because that's just not possible. So we're letting go of ideas that were totally sorted. But also recognizing that we're out there with the masses, knowing that we're not sorted. So letting go even have this idea of progress of goal orientated, that we only have value if we achieve these goals. That's not to say that having these as they say, like these landmarks, these things to move between, like, if we were looking at a landscape, we might see these trees in the distance.

And yeah, we're moving from one tree to the next tree. And, you know, we're following a path. We're following these signs, perhaps, that feels relevant, but it doesn't feel relevant that path is linear, that it's just in one direction. I mean, how can we possibly know right now, in this moment, what the next moment of our experience is going to be, we don't know. And in some ways, some people wise people say Thank God, we don't know what's around the corner.

But right now, we're having this experience right now. And that's really, really valuable. And I've just been so aware that we're always making these stories up about, about ourselves and about others, and maybe it's a good time to just pull that in a little bit, to pull that back. And to kind of at least say, Okay, this is the story I'm making up now. But hey, there's probably a lot of projection in there, there's probably a lot of bias in there, probably a lot of prejudice in there, not just to the outside world, but also to us, ourselves. There's probably, you know, a little bit of critical thinking in there, that could be positive, but also criticism in there. And, you know, somehow making the other a problem. And in that, of course, we're not actually being kind to ourselves or to others. So I'm, I'm really aware that there isn't one solution to so many of these issues that are around us that a lot of these situations that we find ourselves in individually, collectively, as nations that that they come from many, many hundreds and hundreds of years and 1000s of years of other stories. And sometimes the stories that we were told when definitely not as they happened.

And as I've been saying there is no possible way that that's true. Because in order to even begin to grasp the information or the possibilities, well, we can't we can't do that. So the stories that we're inheriting and are given are absolutely not complete. There are no doubt have experience of certain voices in there. So there's a lot a lot about our history that at the knees exploring to kind of understand and unpicking to kind of be able to understand that, that actually, here we are right now with all those stories, and here we are right now. And we have some freedom in this present moment to reinvent, to reimagine, to really be able to look at our lives in a different way. And I've been thinking about forgiveness. And, you know, how hard is it to actually forgive, to forgive ourselves to all those kinds of wounds and different things that have happened to us? And how, no doubt we've wounded others. And, and I've always struggled with forgiveness, because I thought, well, you know, I can't forget.

So I am, the truth is, I can't forget, then it's probably doesn't feel like I'm forgiving. But I have for you a little quote from David Weiss. And if some of you don't know, he's a poet, and probably much more. And, actually, I'm only new to poetry, because I've actually never found poetry very easy to even understand. It just didn't seem to work for my brain. But for some reason, in the last few years, well, it's actually thanks to John crea, who's a colleague, who you're going to be hearing from in the next season. But he's actually introduced me to poems that I can actually understand anyway, one of the poets is David White. And he sent an email out in the last few weeks, and it was about forgiveness. And I've not really been able to let it go, because I keep kind of going back to it and rereading it, and have just pulled out a few things.

But before I say about that, it uses the word virtuosity. And I wasn't actually sure what that meant, but actually means to have a great skill in something just in case some of you out there, when I say everything, well, what does actually that mean, there are so many words that I actually don't understand what they mean. But anyway, this is David White. And he says, to forgive, is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, I'm going to repeat this, to forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arms not only around the afflicted one within, but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow. And through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it. What that speaks to me, is really this, this feeling of, we can't heal the parts of ourselves with the person that was hurt, but actually, when we realize there's so much more to us, there's so many other possibilities, other parts that can actually kind of come to our come to our help, if you like, can help us, then something can shift.

And I've started to notice that I think I was trying to approach things with the same from the same place if you like, whereas actually, when I can widen it, and find a part of me that wasn't hurt by that, and that part of me can actually help soothe that other part, I think it's really important. Anyway, I'm not pretending to have the answer to any of this stuff. This is just something that I hope is helpful. And there are so many of these old stories, the stamps that we have in our lives that are fixed, you know, the stamps of what someone did, or the things that happened, and so on, and they're real and they hurt. And how to let go of them is a journey. And maybe forgiveness is really a part of that. So our minds are amazing. I'm going to step and think about this wild mind. And I guess in the same kind of themes that I've been speaking to today, this for me, this wild mind is probably bigger than the mind and I'm even aware of the possibility in something else that I don't yet know.

The importance that I don't yet know it It's there. And, and this idea as well, that we, we go along in life with our habits. And we have, we know the things that we know. And we think we know what we know. And remember going back to that partial attention, we sometimes think we've got, we've got all of our attention, but actually, probably, we're only in our partial attention. And it's like the little caterpillar. And this is used a lot in helping us to understand things by using these kinds of metaphors. This caterpillar is going along, and it's munching its leaf. And it's, that's what he thinks life is about, you know, he's going to be munching his leaf and off it goes eating and munching and eating and munching and eating and munching.

And that's what he thinks it knows. And then, but in order for that to change in order for us to change into the possibility of that. And imagine the unknown possibility at that point, you have to dissolve, you have to go into this unknown. And an unknown that you can't control. And you have to go into that. And only from that place, is there a possibility of something bigger, more beautiful, more open than you could possibly imagine. And, again, this is a personal experience, personal journey, but there's an invitation to decide, you know, what is it that we can let go of? What are we prepared to give up? It could be a way of thinking, it could be something more tangible? What do we need to kind of let go of, you know, what is it that we need to change? And I'm going to kind of leave it there, you know, what is it that you want to change? What is it that you want to grow more of into this year?

You know, that idea of risk always sits in the background for me, you know, and that's why I talk about it a lot through these podcasts is risk the unknown, the potential of going to that that edge. But somewhere, we can't go to that edge unless we've built enough inner strength in a kind of elasticity of kind of knowing that we can go to those edges and be really uncomfortable, but we can come back, you know? And how does this work in our everyday lives, in our careers? In our practices? You know, I feel there's an invitation always to go look them, look, there are Marina, there are more pressing issues than then I have going on right now there are too many things, you know, going on that I cannot possibly focus and put my attention on it on how I might help or how I might change. And I really, really get it, I really, really get it. And there isn't an easy solution. Because everywhere we look, there are more and more pressing issues.

If you're working, running businesses, well the pressing issue surely is going to be to make sure you can sustain it and provide jobs for example. But I think we see things too linear, I think we forget that it's this incredibly wide net that's going on out there that actually it isn't linear. And actually we can develop these different things and make these changes. And then the net gets changed as well. I know that we're asked as teachers, as is any kind of profession, actually to tick box, you know, have we done this and we need to know, you know that we've covered x y z, and we've achieved x y z, but we have, that's the kind of goal setting and it has a place and it's actually can be very, very helpful to kind of go towards something. But let's also remember that when we when we tick boxes, we start to limit where we put our attention.

And actually, we're forgetting that in this life that we have, there are so many more possibilities, that can really potentially help us both individually and as a society and as a culture to change the way we do things around here. So with that, I wish you all some new beginnings, a child's mind approaching life with a child's mind at times and then drawing on the wisdom that you also know that knowing that you have in you to know kind of what makes sense and what makes meaning. And I'm going to enjoy bringing you more people that have been exploring new possibilities and how that can be brought into our everyday life and how that can be brought into really appreciating that we as humans will always and always will be part of nature. And we will always be able to bring positivity to the natural world and the choices we make, that we are absolutely part of this tapestry.

So with that, keep well and join me next week for another episode of The Wild minds podcast.

Join me next week for episode 23 When you'll meet Roger Duncan, a systemic family therapist working with the child and adolescent mental health service, who's been involved in exploring nature based practice and eco psychotherapy for more than 30 years. This is a wonderful conversation as we dig into the roots of domestication and new ways of thinking.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild Minds Podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show.

To stay updated with The Wild Minds Podcast and get all the behind-the-scenes content. You can visit the www.theoutdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at theoutdoorteacherUK and LinkedIn, Marina Robb.
The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. See you next week. Same time, same place.