What extraordinary and poignant stories we tell when we are invited to write with Nature’s pen. Here is a hole in the ground for depression, here an explosion of autumn reds for love. Here is a gateway of sticks that marks a new beginning, here a cold, hard wall of stone that stopped us dead. Here is a new seedling for a baby born, here a grave for a loved one lost. Here is a big stick for violence, here a bed of moss and feathers for a safe and happy home. Each trail unique, bewitching and utterly meaningless to anyone that might stumble across it. But for the person that made it, it may be the first time that they have ever stepped back and shared an overview of their life not based on what they have done but on how it felt. If only our lives were judged in this way. How heroic would the everyday become.
Every day I watch intuition guide people through the forest to places of release and healing that they did not know were there. I have watched people witness their family dynamics acted out by tiny creatures in a pool of water, or sculpted by the stones upon the ground. Distinctive trees tell distinctive life stories, from birth among the roots to an unseen future among the branches and all the twists and turns marked upon the way. A deep and cobwebby gash in the trunk for abuse. A flourish of barbed wire overgrown by bark for a time of entrapment. A branch torn away by storms for the loss of a loved one. Beautiful mysteries come to us as well, an eggshell shaken off by an unseen chick in the branches above and landing at the feet of a women who was talking about her new beginning. A deer crossing our path as we reflect on love and gentleness. The haunting hoot of an owl as a secret is at last unveiled.
As the days grow longer and warmer and the countryside greener, we feel the power growing around and within us. By mid May the oak tree’s foliage is lush and full and its shadowy realms buzz and rustle with life. These mighty trees, so aged and strong, have long been a symbol of power. But this power is tested. Of all the trees, none draw the lightning like the oak. When the bolt strikes, the sap heats up in a second to a thousand degrees, bursting the tree apart. Yet so many survive, great ruptured giants upon the land, doorways through which we can pass in ritual, symbols of resilience, endurance and strength. Throughout our lives we too draw the test to ourselves. When the lightening strikes, everything is in that instant illuminated. Our strength, our weakness, our courage, our vulnerability, all becomes visible. We learn our limits, the sweep of our power and that which we can endure.
Just as water is a metaphor for feeling, fire is a metaphor for power and the manner in which it manifests itself, our passion, our authority or our rage. Now that this flame has been lit in the belly of the mother, it begins to grow. In order for spring to come, we now need the masculine principle, the thrust up through the soil, the child to emerge from the womb. Miraculously, it must all happen within this month. At the beginning of March all is slumbering still in the cold embrace of the earth. By the end, spring will have arrived. The power to make this happen must be urgent, unyielding and persuasive. We feel this power arise within ourselves and it can force open the lid of Pandora’s Box and expose us and others to the shadows within. Often the scariest brute in the box is our anger. In our culture today, it is hard to know where to release this, but this was not always the case.
At the heart of environmental arts therapy is the relationship between the natural world and the feeling self
Environmental arts therapy offers us the opportunity to make ritual a living and evolving feature of our lives again. Because Nature is the only true container for wildness it allows us to release our dark and feeling selves in ways that our culture would not otherwise allow. It shows us again and again that we can survive even the most difficult transitions if only we honour our feelings and surrender our intent. It rewards our courage with astute insights and startling synchronicities. It teaches us faith.