Cultural Repair, Love Nature, Nature Connectedness, Sustainable Traditions

Unleash Your Inner Child

These are the musings of an ecological artist. Reflections on her experience and nature connection practices offered during ‘Bringing it Home’, a year long course year in nature connection and cultural repair. Based on the 8 shields model by Jon Young this course follows the seasons as it moves around the different points on the compass (or wheel).  It explores nature connection and how we can create deep loving relationships with the natural world.

As this year long cycle unfolds, ecological artist Ashleigh reflects on the different directions. Her REFLECTIONS seek to offer an impression of each shield – or at least what resonates for her through these teaching. This is the second instalment in an 8 part series.

This is the first instalment, representing the time between Spring and Summer. 
This time of the SOUTH EAST comes with an invitation to be playful.

“Children more than ever, need opportunities to be in their bodies in the world – jumping rope, bicycling, stream hopping and fort building. It’s this engagement between limbs of the body and bones of the earth where true balance and centeredness emerge.” 

– David Sobel

It is important for us to create opportunities to be in our bodies, so we – children and adults alike – may experience life to the full. We benefit greatly from such occasions that provide us the space to connect with our surroundings. Activities that encourage us to become present in the moment so we can engage with the natural world wholeheartedly.

There is a young child inside us all. Our inner child, that once we become adults we expect them to ‘grow up’ too. We often push that child aside, ignoring their needs as we attempt to become sensible, serious, mature, and let’s not forget act our age!  

But what does that even mean? 
Who has set these cultural standards and when did we agree to adhere to them? 

What I find most puzzling is that we do not set the same standards for other living beings. We do not use the same adjectives to represent other animal forms as we do to describe our own adult selves. For the most part we accept them as they are. We observe nature as it is. We take it as it comes with little preconceived notions as to how it should behave.

How often, for example, have you heard someone say “there was a robin in my garden this morning who really should have been acting more seriously than he was”; “the way leaf-cutting bees go about their business is very sensible”; or “I am very proud of my pet parakeet. She is acting so mature for her age”. 

All living beings have unique characteristics. Observing my two pet cats – Tilly and Lilou – is a perfect example of this. They have completely different personalities, and engage their surroundings almost as if they are different species. Each unique and perfectly formed. For the most part we give our pets the freedom to be themselves. We allow them to grow and develop naturally. Yet ironically most of us do not give ourselves that same privilege.

Why is it we confine ourselves to such debilitating, and often unattainable, social standards? Would the world not be a much more joyful place if we were encouraged to stay connected to our inner child as we grow and develop in adulthood?  The core centre of our being: our childlike nature that is inquisitive, open, playful, non-judging, and more often than not acting from a place of kindness. 

Adults need opportunities to be in their bodies in the world; this is something we explored in depth during the South East direction by way of story telling, journaling, nature connection games and other light-hearted activities. 

Stepping into the South East

This direction was an invitation to be playful. Yes playful. 
Joyful, upbeat, inquisitive, a little silly perhaps, and most definitely childlike.

The south east energy is that of the young children – alert – engaged – agile – and full of vitality. A time to energetically move forward and become active in the world. It is the transition between spring where new life begins to appear, and summer where everything is in full bloom. It is late spring when all our senses are awakening – bright, vivid and stimulated by natures’ abundance. 

The dominant energy of the south east is that of movement… of enthusiastic motivation and excitement in action. We can see this energy in nature with leaves unfurling, flowers blossoming, bees buzzing, birds chirping, and young fledglings learning to fly. 

There is a sense of expansion and rapid growth in the air. The natural world brimming with aliveness. A perfect time to unleash your inner child and encourage free play.

“Unleash your inner child, be a little wild.” 

– Laura E. Brusseau

Experience Nature: Embodying Otherness

One of the activities we were encouraged to engage in during the south east weekend was embodying an animal form. Choosing an animal and connecting with it. Feeling how it might be to embody its movements and overall way of being in the world. 

Imagine what it would be like to wriggle like a worm, or scurry around a room like a mouse sniffing for something to eat. Or what if you wanted to make a cup of tea while simultaneously embodying a small fledgling who only has the tiniest of wings for arms. What might that feel like? Would it be possible? What obstacles may present themselves? Would it be difficult to do your normal day-to-day activities?  What would your body need to do to adapt?  How might you need to manoeuvre yourself to complete a task? Or would you engage in a completely different task altogether if you were wholeheartedly embodying another animal form?

How might it be to experience the world from another living beings perspective? 

This is the core routine for the south east direction – connecting with other animals while also awakening our own animal body. A powerful tool that can help us stay connected with nature and our wider self. It involves exploring ways to mimic other beings around us, and experiencing the fun that comes with that. If, of course, we are open to it.

At first I was energised at the prospect of engaging in this activity; it brought a smile to my face and a chuckle to my heart. An inner child excitement perhaps? Yet to my surprise I found this exercise harder than expected. I struggled to come into the body and fully embrace another animal form. Quietening my critical mind was the real challenge – “you look silly”, “don’t you feel foolish right now”, “sure how long do you think you can keep this up!”

Admittedly I have at times chirped or squawked like a bird, yawned and stretched like a cat, and have been know to mimic a monkey or two. Albeit not for quite some time now.

Pondering this a while… … … Wondering why I am now less playful with my animal antics… … …
I began to realise how serious I have allowed life to become. I have excluded my once vibrant and excitable inner child, squashing her into a box of other peoples expectations. Let’s be honest, probably listening to my own inner critic far too much as well. No wonder this little girl  struggled with this exercise. She has forgotten what it is to be playful. What it feels like to connect, and how to act freely. To tread the world lightheartedly. She will need a little encouragement for sure!

Luckily the south east direction brings with it an energy that encourages us to let go of ‘shoulds’, ‘needs’, ‘whats’, ‘ifs’, and ‘buts’. Motivating us to step outside the adult mindset once in a while so we may embrace a more childlike mentality. 

As my grandparents would have described, she is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.” 

– Rachel Carson

The Art of Reflection : Collaborative Poem 

Like a compass all the directions of the 8 shields, whether on opposite sides or lying directly adjacent, are connected. So it makes sense to reflect on the energy of the east as we transition into the south east. Personally I feel like I am only now awakening to the energy of the east.  I am not usually a morning person. It can take me a while to energetically embrace the day, or indeed assimilate new things. So I very much welcome this reflection time. (more about that in my east shield article)

We were invited to reflect on our experience of the sit-spot activity, a nature connection exercise and core routine introduced to us during the east shield sessions.
Together we wrote a south east (sit-spot) poem.
Each participant taking a moment to reflect on the following questions: 

What are you noticing at this time of the year? 
How are you noticing the south east is alive?

We wrote our reflection sentence into the chat, then on the count of three pressed enter together. With a little sprinkle of magic – zoom arranged our poem. This is the delightful verse that unfolded before us.

South East (sit-spot) Poem

Full vibrant bursting lime of leaves,
kittens frolicking… gleefully playing amongst the long grass where I sit.
A favourite time of transformation and beauty unfolding with ferocious energy.

The liquid song of the blackcap drenches me in flowery vitality,
with Busyness and colour.
Baby birds taking their first flight out into the world,
sunshine and singing.

With Ash leaves opening and swifts return to blues skies above,
wakening bird song, joyful colours & aliveness it creates in my day.
Present. I am here. Now. Alive. Awake.
Visible source of my energy.

Awaken : Enlivening The Body

After a beautiful moment of connection, we entered into a series of playful games. Relaxing, yet energising we began to awaken our bodies. Enlivening the skin and stimulating our senses. 

One of the exercises, for example, was a ‘warm oil body treatment’, where you imagine oil gently trickling into your body, dripping from the top of your head down to the toes,  ever so slowly filling the body. Even now as I type I can feel the smooth sensation of oil nourishing my skin – warming my body from the inside out. Divine, and as good as any massage!

I also loved the ‘body sound bath’, where the whole body is awoken with vibrational sounds. A wonderfully energising sound bathing exercise, where you shake sound all around your body, over every limb and meridian line.

This exercise started with an invitation to find a rattle – or indeed make one if you are that way inclined. In my studio there were some flat dried seed pods – similar to a Pacay Shaker – which I found in South Africa a number of years ago. When rattled they have a very soft gentle sound, which was perfect for the quiet and somewhat sleepy mood I was in that morning. Although I could have easily reached for a pepper grinder, a salt shaker, or a jar of lentils.

Admittedly I have tried this exercise a few times since, each time with a different rattle, all sourced so far from the kitchen cupboards. Each sound creating a different sensation and energy flow around the body. It is so invigorating. Ideal for waking up the body of a morning, or reenergising yourself during the day. To be honest I’m not sure which part I enjoy more, discovering a new rattle or the act of shaking the different vibrational sounds around my body. Either way I would highly recommend giving it a try – it puts a smile on my face every time!

Come autumn time there will be loads of interesting seeds, conkers, and other sound delights to be found in nature. I foresee lots more homemade rattles in my future. They could even double as musical instruments too – ideal entertainment for the dark winter months that follow…

Another sound activity that resonated with me was ‘free dancing’. A fun, upbeat, energising exercise that helps release tension and shake loose any stagnant energy in the body. Unfortunately that morning I did not feel like dancing in front of the screen – there was my inner critic again! Or perhaps it was my monkey mind? Though if I continue to welcome this activity into my routine I am sure I can get that little Macaque to quieten down, enough to give my inner child opportunity to shake her tail feathers. 

We each selected our own music; together dancing with our mute buttons on. The song I chose was  Robert Miles – Children [Dream Version]. A great connector for me – filled of happy memories! It also seemed an appropriate choice for this direction.

*** These wonderful activities were introduced to us by storyteller and nature connection facilitator Chris Holland – one of our facilitators for the south-east direction.

“Until we teach our children that they need to be concerned with how they look and with what other people think, they dance.”

– Brené Brown

Questions We Can Ask Ourselves : Journaling

  • How is this direction of the wheel showing up for you at the moment?
  • What tender new growth is within you – that we want to give attention to right now?
  • What blessing would you like to give the Earth?
  • Do you have any gratitude you would like to share with yourself or others? 
  • Is there anything you would like to be acknowledged today? 
  • When was the last time you asked a child what they do to feel alive? 
  • What are the things that motivates us?
  • What motivates other species?
  • How can we bring animals more into our life?
  • Are there lessons we can learn from other elements / beings in nature?
  • In what ways have you, or do you imitated other animals?
  • What animal inspire you by the way they move?
  • What does it feel like to embody another being?
  • How are animal forms alive for you?
  • How can you overcome some of your self-consciousness that has developed in adult life?
  • What are the things you do to prepare for important things? 
  • How do you prepare?
  • What morning routines do you have?
  • In what ways can you expand more into your ecological deeper self?
  • What do you need to give yourself permission to fully commit?

“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” 

– Christina Baldwin

The Kingdom of Living Things : Identification

One of the things I have taken to on this 8 shield journey is recording the species that arrive during each session. Whether it be a species associated with a given direction (like the frog and otter is for the south east direction); a plant someone has mentioned or newly discovered; an animal we have heard as a call back from one of our breaks or perhaps embodied; a species that was referenced to in a story or recollected from a memory; something foraged or grown; or simply  observed during a sit-spot.

I have attempted to jot them all down, as a way to create a biodiversity guide. An interactive way to expand my own personal nature based knowledge, and develop a key identification list.
South East Species List – see table below:

The south east direction marks the beginning of Summer, which is traditionally known as Beltaine in the ancient Celtic calendar. It sits halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. At that time we are encouraged to jump into action, with the dominant energy being that of free flow movement. A time to engage a playful presence, 

– active in the moment. 

The south east holds an energy that enlivens the spirt, 
and gifts the feeling of freedom… … … 

Openness… … … 

  Inviting us to awaken our senses, deepen our breath, 

… … …coming into our body and engage our inner child. … .

The south east is also about healing, 
removing blocks, and personal development through mentoring. 

Further refection questions could be:

What is currently blocking you in your life right now? 
What will help you move forward, lightheartedly and in joy? 

What are you grateful for today?

What might your inner child say to you right now?

“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. 
Artists play with colour and space. Musicians play with sound and silence. Children play with everything they can get their hands on.”

– Stephen Nachmanovitch
‘Visual Mind Map’ : drawn in a Royal Horticultural Society diary (2022).
It combines a beautiful orchid illustration by botanical illustrator Deborah Lambkin

The musings of an ecological artist Ashleigh Downey
Reflecting on 2/8 shields, 2022
Bringing it Home (year long course)

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