What was your path to Mindfulness?
Of course, I can only speak for myself, but from chatting with other practitioners over the years, many of us come to Mindfulness because of our personal struggles.
I was a really anxious child and as I got older my anxiety ebbed and flowed. When I hit my 30s, there was a more significant change, I started to get panic attacks on a regular basis.
Anyone who has ever suffered from panic attacks knows that they are “real”: the physical sensations can be severe and you literally think, this is it, I’m going to die. They really started to impact my everyday life and I knew I had to do something about it.
I started counselling, and I came across a couple of books through my therapist at the time. One was Jon Kabat Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living”, the other one was by a German author and I can safely say that these books were lifesavers and a gateway to exploring mindfulness further.
I enrolled in my first 10-week mindfulness course and I knew very early on that this was fundamental. Learning that the goal is not to get rid of my anxiety and overwhelm but to sit with it compassionately was a game changer.
I grew up in a relatively alternative household, my mum was one of the first Reiki Masters in Germany and yoga, naturopathy and other holistic approaches would have been a normal part of my life but mindfulness really expanded on these experiences.
The concept of acceptance was as if someone had just literally taken a rock off my shoulders. It was okay. It wasn't too pleasant. It wasn't great. But I was able to find a balance in that moment. The practices just really resonated with me and I knew I wanted to find out more.
How did you get involved in Ecotherapy?
I grew up literally beside a forest in rural Germany. Both of my parents had a really deep nature connection which they passed on to us three children. We spent a lot of time in the forest, always building dens and dams in the stream, foraging for blueberries, raspberries, mushrooms or nuts, in the winter we’d stay outside in the snow until our hands turned blue. They are beautiful childhood memories.
We grew most of our vegetables in the garden, which was still very much a common lifestyle in rural Germany at the time. Both my parents were quite forward-thinking in relation to sustainability and climate awareness, we sourced a lot of our food locally, organic where possible. My dad was a biology teacher so we learned a lot about the flora and fauna around us. Environmental issues were very much on our radar even then.
Nature connection and environmental awareness also played a big part in our schooling, and we’re talking over 40 years ago.
When I moved to Ireland and started teaching, I was surprised by how little play and experiential learning took place in the mainstream system. I was very lucky to start teaching in a special school with a wonderful principal, where we had a lot of freedom and opportunity to “think outside the box”. I took my class outside as often as I could, we went for Nature walks bringing our Golden Retriever Harry, we regularly visited my friend’s horses, we did gardening, and visited nature sites in the locality...
The first investment I made when I started teaching was weatherproof suits and wellies for all the children. I remember some of the teachers looking at me questioningly as we headed out into the rain. There is a wonderful saying: “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... It's about learning to dance in the rain.” Otherwise, we’d be spending a lot of time inside here in Ireland.
I didn't even think of it as ecotherapy or even nature education, I just thought of it as common sense education and an essential part of childhood.
In my opinion, it’s as important for kids to be outside in nature as it is to have a healthy diet.
Any curriculum subject can be integrated into a nature context. In addition, children learn to experiment, take risks, respect and love the natural world, become more independent, think critically and creatively and feel themselves as a part of Nature’s rhythms and cycles.
Through the years I specialised more and more in Mindful Nature Connecting Approaches, both for adults and children. Especially in these challenging times, I believe that reconnection to nature is vital for both human and planetary health and our future on this planet earth.
What’s the best way to learn more?
Mindful Nature Pedagogy Training for both educators and parents