art : nature : words
Indoor and Outdoor Art Therapist
Indoor and Outdoor Art Therapist
The changes we see in nature during March can be some of the most dramatic of the year and can resonant deeply with our own fascination with transformation. Compelling TV shows treat us to instant transformation – whether that be someone’s house, their appearance or lifestyle. However, Nature has its own celebrities, not least the Hare. March is dating season for the Hare and it’s the period when they let their guard down, racing around open grassland adjacent to arable fields. Although they are usually solitary, you may be lucky enough to see the females boxing with their ardent suitors. The hare is often associated with moon deities and signifies rebirth, resurrection and fertility.
From March onwards the black bowler hats of Tadpoles with their wiggling ribbon-tails, can be found tucked away in sheltered pools and ponds. This is the start of their eleven-week transformation that will see them emerge as hopping frogs. Look up into the trees and you will see neighbourhoods of noisy rooks. Atop their arboreal high-rises they have start their cacophonous breeding (no wonder the collective name for these raucous birds is a Parliament of Rooks).
By the end of the month we are treated to a riot of colour but my favourite is the carpet of brilliant white stars that is the Wood Anemone. We feel the warming sunshine on our faces but the cold wind still nips at our ears and snaps at our fingers. We begin, still on winter’s icy shore but by the end we are standing on the Spring Bank. The air is filled with promise, our senses are stirred as colour returns to the world.
However, whilst the appearance of transformation draws our attention – from nature’s point of view it is only part of the yearly cycle. There is something very seductive about the thought of being transformed into the person you’ve always wanted to be. But I would offer that we are all different and life is about realising our potential - whilst coming to terms with our imperfections.
Up in the mountains, streams begin to flow with movement and life. The water is tantalising, sparkling in the new sun. Yet dip your fingers in and you’ll find it still meltwater-cold. We are tempted to cross but wonder whether it is safe. We only really know what the other bank has in store until we cross over. Standing on the shadowed shore we can peer, fantasise, walk up and down, trying to find the courage to making the leap. How often do we pause on a bridge to look at the stream rushing beneath us, feeling that we are watching life go by? The March equinox is one of the two thresholds of the year, marking the bridge between the dark half of the year and the lighter half. Balancing our own internal light and dark is a life’s work – there can be no light without shadow and vice versa.
For many animals – including ourselves – March marks the end of hibernation. For some people, the month sees their release from the cold grip of Seasonally Affective Disorder. Most butterflies will not wake from hibernation until early March when the first flowers appear, especially catkins which are a vital food source for butterflies so early in the year. There is something delicate yet robust about butterflies. They are a reminder that we may be stronger than we give ourselves credit. But often our emotional resources are frozen along with the aspects of ourselves we’d rather not look at. We may be frozen by our own guilt, shame or fear. However, strength can come through using love – for ourselves, for others, rather than our darker emotions. It is worth remembering that the softest of shoots have the capacity to push through the hardest of rocks.
The Art of Transformation
Transformation, in part, is about letting go of aspects of ourselves that hinder us and celebrating those facets that enhance our lives. Sometimes engaging with symbolic art making can assist in manifesting change.
You are invited to find a small stream that resonates with you. Then, find a natural object that represents that which you would wish to leave behind on Winter shore. Next, find or make an object that symbolises something you wish to take forward with you on to Spring’s bank.
Standing on Winter’s bank (it may be the shady side), hold Winter’s object in one hand and Spring’s object in the other. Take a moment to imagine that you are actually holding the two parts of yourself in the respective hand.
When you are ready, drop the Winter object to the ground and traverse the stream carrying only your Spring object. On reaching the sunny Spring bank, cradle the positive object in both hands. Embodying your new self, keep this object safe – it is the promise to yourself to allow transformation in to your life.
When Spring Doesn’t Arrive
In March, tantalizing greenery begins to emerge. Circles of colourful flowers appear, swaying and gossiping together. Our expectation is that we become more sociable with the advent of Spring. However, it may be that we find ourselves stuck in a wintery gloom that is not persuaded to lift. Sometimes looking at what should be a joyful sight further deepens the depression because we cannot engage with the anticipated delight.
Connecting with Nature’s positive energy may be a challenge and we find ourselves consigned to Winter’s icy shore with no bridge in sight. Even if a better life is possible, we may be fearful of taking the necessary steps. It can be hard to let go of the fear that protects us from disappointment, risk letting in the good for fear of having it taken away. However, recognising that we need someone to walk and talk along side us for a while is the first step across the rushing stream. Give yourself the gift of transformation - find someone who is knowledgeable about traversing the psychic terrain you wish to cross.
In February, the long wait of Winter continues and we may be challenged by difficult feelings. However, by the end of the month we see the first signs of hope in the emergence of the Snowdrops. Whilst January was possessed of foggy mornings and cold crisp days; a change to the weather has brought us more wet and windy weather.
The deluges seem to quickly overwhelm the gutters and lie about in sullen, grey pools. Everything slows, commutes become a soggy trudge and our world closes in behind smeary windows. (Perhaps the only charm is watching the erratic earth-bound race between two rain drops). This is the sort of weather that really tests our patience. Despite being bogged down in dreary work-day commutes, there are plenty of apps providing guided meditations to ease our passage. (Insight Timer is particularly good).
In wet weather like this it is a challenge to connect with the great outdoors. However, with the right sort of clothing and an eye on the weather forecast, we can venture out under grey skies for hour-or-so. Wetland areas, ponds and lakes can be a source of inspiration—watching the bird-life that seems oblivious to rain.
We are taught from an early age that water will run and collect and the lowest point it can find. With this in mind, even sodden days can allow us to deepen our appreciation of the landscape around us. Collections of water sometimes defy understanding as to their choice of destination. Observing the water-filled dips and hollows can inform us of the subtleties of how the land is shaped.
The slide of water into the lowest points can be a potent metaphor for our mood in rain-sodden times. Our darker thoughts seem to accumulate, find no external release as engaging with nature becomes more of a challenge.
The long wait of Winter really begins to test us in maintaining our inner spark. Towards the end of the month we become short-tempered—our fiery frustrations hammered out against February’s bitter-cold anvil. Poorly-tempered, we wonder if we will survive till Spring. It is now that we have tested out our resolve, our mettle. We are quicker to temper with our loved ones and sometimes loose sight of why we are with them. However, part of developing our emotional maturity is the capacity not to act on our impulses, like the long wait of Winter we must hold on to our patience. If anger, often stored in the body, needs to be released, then through throwing stones into icy water can be a cathartic act – especially if it combined with a heartfelt curse. (Indeed, the human body is wonderfully designed to sling objects—a characteristic evolved for hunting millions of years ago).
Anger sometimes cries out for immediate release, at others it is worth storing – using it as the energy of change. It will test out what it is that we really want. Even at this time of year, look closely and you will see that the buds of trees are waiting patiently for the arrival of spring. Stand in the forest and witness the inseparable nature of creation and destruction.
Snowdrops* herald the end of February. These seemingly delicate flowers are a welcome signposts imbued with the hidden strength to defy Winter’s grip, appearing at a time when the slightly longer day-length is significant enough to be noticeable. The first sighting of the year provides a flush of excitement and are a timely reminder not to lose hope.
In many cultures, Snowdrops are a symbol of rebirth. However, resurrection involves some sort of death. Indeed, whilst many societies associate the Snowdrop with hope and rebirth, the British Victorians used it to symbolize death. Grief can feel overwhelming at times and it can manifest itself in many ways, not least anger. Inevitably, for change to occur, we must let go of parts of ourselves that are tired and worn – ready ourselves to discard old ways of being, habits and unhelpful patterns.
*The snowdrop was probably introduced into Britain around five hundred years ago but feels a natural part of our landscape and woodland. This popular little flower is celebrated in various festivals throughout the country; joining others in celebration may be a great way to lift your mood.
In the month of January, the lure of the glowing hearth can be more attractive than the challenges (and rewards) of being outdoors. However, Winter days are often the best time to explore the wilder parts of our countryside. The elements can feel more present, tugging at our clothing and nipping our skin - reminding us that we are still very much alive. Even in London it is possible to be touched by wilder places. Venture to the outskirts of the metropolis to places like the Crayford Marshes(1) - a reeded pocket of wilderness. Cormorants, and kestrels a breath away from recycling plants, in the distance the gravity-defying Dartford Bridge. But one still feels the wildness: the cries of estuarine birds as they cut low over the water; wind rattling the reeds; the mud flats gleaming in the low Winter sun - light coating the undulating soft tidal muds, ripples of light.
And of course, you have the anticipation of the blissful return indoors, the glow around our noses and ears as we step over the threshold and the giddy promise of the warming hearth. Toes tingle and curl as we remove muddy boots, slipping off our feet with a satisfying sigh.
This year we have been blessed with brilliant blue skies and golden shafts of light that do not allow the morning mists to linger. However, these crystalline days have been interspersed with heavy grey skies, a flat-screen on which to project our gloomiest feelings; the foggy days seem to be reflected in our stodgy minds, grasping at thoughts in the gloom. Despite this, Winter is the perfect time for reflection rather than action. But in our 24/7 world finding time for contemplation may seem a bit of a challenge. It can take practice to sit with just ourselves, all the media devices turned off, to overcome the uncomfortable mental fidgets and adjustments.
Come January, the festivities are over and the only thing to look forward to is sobriety and the distant promise of Spring. Traditionally in January we make our New Year’s Resolutions. Many of us quickly find that by the end of January our good intentions - without the seasonal energy to carry them through - have withered away like seeds caste on frozen ground. However, huddled in our caves, wrapped up in our woolly armour, we can discover what our true quest is for the year. In order for our changes to be resilient, we cannot rely on will power alone. Instead, taking time to create an inspiring vision of what we’d like to achieve may produce the longevity we seek. This is the time to discover our truths, what we really want. If our desires survive the long wait of winter, like the buds already on the trees – then these are the ones to really act upon come the energizing gifts of Spring.
January Art Making: The Candle in the Cave
We find that it is often helpful to engage with an art making ritual to crystallize our intentions. With this in mind we invite you to find a cave large enough to house a candle. Your cavern could be a hollow in the ground or in a tree.
If you have some clay to hand, you could fashion your own. Once you have securely placed your candle, light it.
As you gaze upon the flame, contemplate that which you would wish to change, to ignite in your life. We would suggest that your vision is inspiring but also realistic. Remember, it is so much easier to think and engage with what we want rather than what we don’t want. Write down your plans and keep them safe: at this point in the year, take time to sit with what it is that you wish to be different in your life. As the year progresses you will find that the energy to act upon your thoughts will grow within you as you draw your power from Nature. We suggest re-lighting the candle once a week to remind yourself of your golden vision.
Simon Wodward, Indoor and Outdoor Art Therapist