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A Bed of Leaves

British winter days are short. Throw in a blanket of grey cloud cover and any daylight there was soon diminishes. For some this sort of weather is just too much - I think of those suffering from SAD. For me though, and I’ve lived in and loved many other climates, I feel a deep affinity with the British winters. Access to a warm, dry house does help.

While living in South Wales, the winter times were particularly quiet. The trees stripped of their leaves, frost on the ground, or rain falling brought fewer people out to the Retreat community, apart from those seeking the solitude that this time of year brought. When I had finished work I would like to put on a good coat and boots and head off across the fields for a walk. The sheep would bleat as you drew near, watching you skeptically before darting off after deciding that you had nothing for them. Their constant nibbling had given the fields a close crop.

I remember one walk that took me to a small woodland. At the edge of the woods a tree draped its branches over a small depression in the ground. The hollow was full of leaves, I would guess more than a year’s worth of autumnal offerings. It was late afternoon, still, cold and a damp mist hung over the region. I walked down into the depression. In that dip the distant roar of traffic was silenced. I laid out on the mattress of leaves, spread out my arms and just starred up at the branches above me. I don’t know how long I lay there, but I allowed the leaves to support me, seeming to sink deeper and deeper into the natural cushion beneath me, allowing the fallen foliage to hold me up, take on my tiredness, my wish for some silence, my wish to let go of any stress or bothers that were nagging at me. I stayed there as long as I dared myself, as long as I wanted to. It all seemed like a luxury to be able to do this and at the same time I was saying to myself, I need this, I want this,” so I let go and allowed myself to just be’.

Ten years on this experience is still very vivid and real to me.

Why do I share this story? I share it because of what it gave me and what it enabled me to do, but also because of the theme of being held and what that can give you.

Time in nature has always been important to me and led me to the study of ecopsychology. Because of the nature (pun intended) of my life and work in Wales, I found myself experiencing the world which I lived in in a very intimate way. A way that I believe can only come from time spent being and observing. So that experience of lying on a bed of leaves in the stillness and coolness of a winter’s evening gave to me so much more than what simply resting on a bed might have done. There was a visceral experience of being held and experiencing something that I was very close to and with that I could trust, namely the earth.

To be held is a very empowering process - introvert, extrovert, whoever we self-identify as. That sense of being deeply held whatever the challenges of life bring to us. We can be held by family, by a loved one, by a community of like minded friends, by our faith, by a coach. When we are held in this way, there is no expectation put on us to be anyone but ourselves. With that belief in us, the holder is with us wherever we are, whatever we are doing. In conversation with us they might celebrate us, encourage us, or perhaps challenge us, but it is always done because they believe in us unconditionally. That is powerful, strengthening, emboldening.

That winter’s day in South Wales the earth held me. I breathed in her scents, dressed myself against the evening chill, felt the dampness. It was real and instinctual, and I think because I have a deep love and connection with that small corner of the world, the experience lives with me. The earth is always there.

So who is holding you? Who is always there for you unconditionally? What do you need to create that relationship, a relationship beyond conditions?

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