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Season 1, Episode 2:
Nature-Centric Models and Holistic Worldviews


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In this episode, Marina discusses:

  • A growing recognition that life on the planet is in trouble.
  • Unpacking a nature-centric model which de-centralises the human.
  • Looking at the importance of 4 key human aspects: The body, head, emotions, and spirit.
  • Putting at the forefront of this work the relevance of intra-relationships, multi-perspectives and multi-stories.

This model underpins our courses, and in every module of our Advanced Certificate in Forest School & Outdoor Learning, Marina gives direct examples of how this can be applied to nature-based practice.

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 


So let's look at some statistics - In the UK in 2022 18.0% of children aged 7 to 16 years and 22.0% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder:


Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults (19.1% of the population):


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

As always, I'd like to begin with a little bit of gratitude. This morning, I'm really grateful for those people who have been patient with me and have helped me to see things that I would have otherwise struggled to see. And yeah, just thanking people and teachers, and even different ways, like different cultures that I've been immersed into in different moments in my life and how they've both welcomed me and also helped me to see things from a different perspective.

Today, I'm going to be drawing on a few things that Betsy spoke about in last week's episode, a little bit about this four shields model.

I actually don't call it that myself. But again, we're all drawing on different models and different teachers. I want to touch on this idea of rites of passage, and also how we are immersed in story, and how imagination will play a part in the creation of new possibilities, possibilities of ways of seeing ourselves, and seeing other people and actually just understanding experiences that we may have. But before that, I want to acknowledge one of the reasons why we're doing this: there's a growing recognition that life on this planet is in trouble.

If we want to change, we need to be thinking of changing our economic systems, our environmental systems, and, of course, education. As somebody who’s been in education for 30 years, I think that education is in a key place to help this kind of work. That's not to say that I think it is teachers’ responsibility, I absolutely don't think that. But obviously, we need to be looking at how we teach each other and the people growing up.

Let’s have a look at this. Educators, parents, policymakers, business owners—all of us are being affected. Of course, that's not mentioning the cultures and people who are living in a lot harder situations than I find myself.

In 2022 in the UK 18% of children aged 7 – 16 years old and 22% of young people aged 17 – 24 had a probably mental health disorder, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults, that’s 19.1% of the population.

What about some stats for the climate crisis? We know that the use of carbon, the oil, and the petroleum that we're taking out of the earth that's been laid down for billions, millions of years is having an effect on all of our wider ecological systems. Yes, it's given us a lot. But we now know that there's a cost for that. 2022 was the sixth warmest year in the UK since records began in 1880. And the oceans are the hottest ever recorded in 2023.

These are the kind of statistics that we're hearing; we read about them, they're in the background. I can look at that, and I can be really, genuinely worried about that. But actually, what I want to be thinking of—this i's something that Betsy picked up on—these are symptoms of a larger mindset that has been dominating Western culture for many years. I know that we don't realise these things. Because when we're born into something, we just don't understand the effects of these stories because we think these cultures that were brought up in our family or the kind of culture, the way things that happen around us, are normal. Our normal isn't necessarily normal. It's normal where we find ourselves, but it's certainly not normal across the world, or in other ways of thinking and being and certainly not from people that have lived on the land for many years and other places—to really understand this feeling of the importance of how the land feeds us and how we have a part to play in that.

These are symptoms. We need to come up with different ways. I appreciate that our culture is set up with a top down structure, sometimes like a pyramid. At the top of that pyramid, wealthier humans—yes, often white, wealthier humans, definitely, the males of our species—have been holding a lot of power, and, of course, white females too in different situations.

It seems that the culture we've been brought up in is that everything else is below, beneath that kind of top structure. So other humans are not seen as valuable and important. Of course, underneath that, the children, maybe our own personal children, are important, but we're not really considering the children of all the other animals and plants, their importance and other living beings. We esteem the human race. This makes sense, because we're, again, brought up to look after ourselves; it's that thing that I'm not going to get into right now. I get it, but I also know that we're not brought up feeling that we have a relationship with everything else, and that there's this reciprocal thing going on.

I've been fortunate enough to sit around and listen to other perspectives. There are lots of different ways of looking at our reality. There are certainly whole worldviews—ecological worldviews, relational worldviews—that exist now.

I'm talking about this because I said that we're going to look at this four shields model. I call this model similar, not the same—a nature-centric model. I've been working with all kinds of groups and backgrounds. I placed this model underneath a lot of what I'm working with, and it informs my values; it informs my perspectives. It decentralises the human; it places the human in a circle on a wheel rather than a top down type of structure. We call this a nature centric model. There are lots of versions of this; we're talking about a four shields model. And we can learn more about that through the School of Lost Borders; go back and look at the show notes around that.

I've called it a nature-centric model because it's just a way of me describing a model that is inclusive of the natural world and the non-human world. I like to see it as a circle. As I said, we're going to add some show notes. So if you want to go there and download the PDF, feel welcome to do that.

These models are also maps. They often use directions. I want you to imagine a compass that has a circle.

So let's say a piece of paper, like a compass, you've got a circle, and you put north in the north, east in the east, south in the south, and west in the west—this maps out the directions. We can go into more of this another time. But you have some maps that look at the travelling of the sun. On this circle, of course, from the earth’s perspective, we think the sun is moving, but of course it's the earth going round, but we could put the sun rising in the east, setting in the west and so on. We have seasonal maps, thinking about the springtime, summertime, autumn time, and wintertime; put that on the map. We also have human maps that reflect this model; psychological maps and plant maps as well.

What they all have in common, though, is this intra relational aspect. We are all separate, object subject to object, but really, we're quite porous. There's this thing going on that is beyond the self. So these maps reflect that everything is influenced by influencing each other. Sometimes we just aren't aware or have enough bandwidth in our senses to pick this up.

We are not taught to notice things; we’re taught to not talk about this relationship. And of course, what this does, when we pay attention, is it gives us this holistic view. This word holistic comes up a lot. It is this whole view and integrated model that actually gives us this whole perspective rather than just a human lens perspective. It gives us the possibility of seeing things from different perspectives.

We could say that this is a perspective that absolutely includes the non-human world. I love this idea that there are billions of languages going. There are non-humans who are definitely nonverbal—they don't speak the same language as the humans—but these languages exist. Of course, these languages, human or non-human, have stories. And these languages tell us about our lives and how things are. As a human, it's just really easy to forget that we are being immersed in a particular story.

We all know that we've grown, we've grown up in all sorts of situations and stuff has happened around us—some really not very nice stuff. We have our story about that. And sometimes that story is spot on and we know exactly how that felt. And sometimes that story was a story that we made up to help make sense of something that actually may not, in any way, have been the whole story.

I love this idea of story, that we're story-makers. And when we can catch that, we can also start to change stories or ask good questions, so that we're informing the story from other lenses. This has big implications for our personal life, and the wider culture in deciding for ourselves and for others, what matters and the policies that need to be in place. And remember, going back to those pretty harsh statistics and thinking that these are symptoms of a kind of worldview, a story that we're telling ourselves if they are important only to humans. I get this. I want to survive, I want to thrive. But I'm not going to survive, and I'm not going to thrive if I'm not really appreciating the things that helped me survive and helped me thrive.

Again, going back to this model—we're only touching on the nature-centric model. You've got this map, you've got this circle, you've got these directions. We can, for example, think of the east as the place of the sunrise, so we put the sunrise in the east. And we think of east aspects, we attribute aspects to that. This could be things like inspiration, imagination, vision, all the things that perhaps a sunrise may evoke. This particular area of the map sees this pre-dawn quality that is sometimes really quite magical.

If you've seen the sunrise over the sea, it's a wonderful kind of otherworldly feeling., we could say it hold a key aspects of what it is to be human, our spirituality. So we put that in the east. And I just think of that nice, otherworldly kind of feeling. If you've ever been lucky enough to hold a baby who isn't crying and screaming, and you can look at them, they feel otherworldly, but they still feel connected to something that is unexplainable.

We put that in the east, and it also is the elder, that time of elderhood, when, if you've ever been around someone who dies, and there's that—obviously, there's all kinds of deaths—kind of quality where you feel the peace, and you see this kind of otherworldliness. They're all connected, and we can put them in right at the beginning in the east at that sunrise moment.

What does that mean for application? What do we do with that kind of knowledge?
But we honour that - of course, it doesn't happen for all kinds of reasons, but that is a place of trust.

As the child starts to grow, of course, like animals (we are animals), that child needs to move, it needs to play to be curious and really find the body; the body is the centre of this phase of moving from the east to the south. So my programmes need to reflect this; I cannot be working with that age group 3 through10 and not consider that they need to be in their body. We want to be supporting curiosity, we want to be supporting that intuition, that inner teaching, that sense that they can follow and explore. They need boundaries, of course; They need the connection to the older people looking after them. But our programme needs to reflect this

Then we might have the south; let's move to the south of our little dried diagram, the place of the summer. The sun is the highest in the sky. And in the northern hemisphere, this is where we have a lot of the flowering times, and all that kind of sexuality. We might put that stage of life of adolescence, or at least moving through that into adolescence. And, of course, puberty, sexuality. You become very self conscious at this time. It’s a really key time. So we don't want to waste people's energy at this point either. We might give them activities that focus them and maybe activities that help them be more aware of the animals, the birds, the plants—something that they can really apply that energy and focus on. So again, we're reflecting the age; they're in the time of day, the season, and so on.

As everything keeps moving in nature, nothing stays the same. It's another great teaching of the natural world

We then move to our real sense of feelings and emotions, which we could say are placed in the west: emotions and feelings. As we grow, we move into our adulthood. And this is a time of the sunset, the west, the autumn. So often in our programmes, we are remembering to gather people together at the end, to have time to reflect, to hang out, to be together to share things if we want to, and so on. So our programmes refract and reflect that in our planning as well.

Finally, we move around that wheel to the north, to the winter time. Here, we put the head, the rational thinking, the capacity to organise to make plans.

Again, we think about that, in terms of our planning, the night time is the time for reflection; perhaps the programme has ended. You've sent the group with a little task, something that they may do in their own time, something to consolidate learning. They dream ,they think about it, they go into the night, and then they come back.

Of course, we start again because these wheels, the circles, never stop. So let me just recap for me, whether you call it the four shields model or a nature-centric model, what it's calling on is really bringing to our attention. These four aspects—spirituality, the body (the physical_, the emotions (the feelings and the senses) and of course, the rational thinking. So these models are complex, I'm only touching on these today; I don't want to spend too much of your precious time.

But these models expand our understanding of these four aspects of what it is to be human—the rational part, the emotional part, the spiritual part, the physical part. And from that, we can learn to develop these aspects all the time, remembering that our lives are in the hands of many others, making sure that we remember the land, the animals, the birds, all the different people with all the different perspectives that inform our life so enables us to expand our worldview. And it takes us away from these structures that are very top down and as so many of you have heard, it brings us back into this deeper understanding of this web of life.

Betsy also talked about rites of passage—that's a subject for a whole other episode, no doubt, and probably many more. But here, I just want to acknowledge that we're talking about life as being full of transitions. And sometimes, we really like to mark these transitions and acknowledge that we're going through something that a change, a happening, from a transition from being not a mother to a mother—huge transition—and what that can bring.

And there are ways of marking it and honouring it, and understanding that both developmentally transitions happen that enable us to see things from different perspectives. Of course, in other cultures, they knew that and they marked it, and they celebrated it. They also enabled it: they pulled the cut, the pulp population, the culture along, so that we would stop seeing the world from a very narrow lens, and this enables us to have experiences that suddenly—sometimes without really understanding why—opens our minds.

To see something from a different perspective doesn't necessarily make you happier. But it certainly opens your experience. This idea of mind—that it's beyond the head—is much more inclusive.

I think I have said a lot here, folks, so I'm going to end it there.

Remember, you can go and look at some of the show notes; you can read over it. And I'm going to invite you to consider how much you may be stuck in your head. Perhaps you work too hard and you don't play enough. Or maybe you're too airy fairy, and you're not grounded enough. Maybe you're too much in that pre-dawn phase. Perhaps you're not listening to what your body knows, or you're just too self-absorbed.

Or maybe you spend too much time in self-reflection and introspection, and you feel lonely and depressed. Just consider those things and think why.

Treading and exploring these models might be valuable for you personally or in the work that we're all doing, and hopefully to expand this sense of self. Yes, there's the eye. Yes, Marina, here is the eye. But we also have this relational self that is constantly being influenced and fed and exchanged with the natural world, but also other people as well. We'll be exploring that a lot more over these podcasts. So also, a lot of the work that I'm doing draws on these models; a lot of the courses that we're developing are centred on using the wheel, and an understanding the wheel and making it an experiential experience to really build and understand how this can influence our programmes.

I don't know if we're going to improve or get better mental health, or move our understanding about what we're doing with and to the earth like in the climate crisis, without actually exploring these aspects more deeply. And I certainly want to find another story, a way of reimagining and finding ways forward and change the way that we do things and I hope you're going to join me on this journey.