By Rosie Tomkins, author of ‘N-stinctive’

So far 2020 has been, shall we say, ‘challenging’ for many businesses and when you’re dealing with constant stress and uncertainty it can be easy to lose the passion you once felt for your business. The good news is; you can reconnect with that passion, and use the opportunity to create a new balance in your life.

About a year ago, I was working with a CEO whose company was very successful. The context for the session was ‘communication’, a very challenging problem in most organisations and in life generally. I particularly wanted this client to ‘feel’ leadership rather than ‘think’ strategically.

The meeting took place at my farm where we are lucky enough to have space to play with ideas outside in nature. I wanted to engage him with ‘out of the box’ thinking, thus I obtained his permission to work without the sense of sight or language. In other words, to blindfold my client and work without speech; purely by touch. I proceeded to lead him outside using different techniques. Firstly, I was collaborative and supportive, giving him my arm and guiding him with care. Secondly, I gave him the end of a rope to hold and quickened my pace and distance, taking him out of his comfort zone. Thirdly, I went behind him and pushed him gently into the unknown. This carried on until I had exhausted all the different leadership styles that I knew. What he didn’t know was that he was moving towards a horse. Finally, I took him into the outdoor arena and placed his hands on the withers of one of my horses.

What happen next will stay with me, and him, forever.

The expression on his face was unbelievable as he felt the strong warm coat of a living thing. He spontaneously buried his head in the horse’s side, and he wept. His sense of relief was palpable. The strength and sheer presence of the horse standing strong and patient by his side was immensely poignant. Another living creature had his back and somehow the horse understood that the man simply needed to be in contact with him and needed support. My thoroughbred horse did not move a muscle. The client was able to let go of his own power for a minute and simply be. To take a breath, feel the moment and gain the insight that it gave him without words, without sight, simply feeling the animal connection and shared understanding.

During our debrief I asked him whether he was happy to share this powerful moment. There was no embarrassment or hesitation.

“I was born in the high mountains of Pakistan” he said, “where nature in all its glory is on your doorstep. Connection with all living things had been part of the culture. How far away all that seems now. I had forgotten that deep connection and how much I long for that in my life again”.

He had voiced the central issue that brought him to work with me in the first place. Loss of connection with nature.

“I knew something was unfulfilled in my life I now know that the way I am living has to change dramatically. I had all the trappings of success, but no idea why I felt this emptiness inside.”

Later he told me the most liberating aspect of this experience.

“I re-evaluated the way I conducted my business and brought in a senior manager who now runs the day-to-day operation. This has freed me up to connect with nature and I have found this to be a wonderful bedrock of ideas. I am now positioned to utilise my natural creativity and have someone else handle the daily process for me. Our company has gone from strength to strength.”

As the naturalist Edward Osborne Wilson once said, “humans depend on nature for more than food. We have an evolutionary need to connect with the natural world for cognitive, mental, emotional, spiritual development, growth, meaning and fulfilment. Without contact with the natural world we become impoverished.”

Why is this anecdote important? Well, perhaps it is time to consider some unconventional ideas…

Here are my ten suggestions for allowing nature to ground us at this difficult time (and beyond):

Connect in your kitchen – Simply add some potted plants to the windowsill. There’s something very rewarding about planting seeds and seeing new life grow, taking responsibility for cultivating something organic and beautiful. Science tells us that plants ‘bring happiness’ to a room. Choose some pretty pots and get growing.

Connect in your garden – There’s a lot of joy to be taken from simply noticing birds. Their unique calls, their vibrant colours, the innocence of their existence. We all hear birds, all the time, but we very rarely take a moment to fully appreciate the beauty of their song. Take a moment to stop, close your eyes, and listen.

Connect in your local area – Walk in the park and count the different types of animals you see, trot up the highest hill in your neighbourhood and take in the vastness of the sky, stroll through the woods and smell the under-forest. There’s an incredibly emotive experience to the feeling that you’re a small part of something bigger.

Connect with adventure – Swim in your local ‘open water lake’. Embrace the brisk water, and the rewarding feeling of being physically connected to nature. The cold water soon feels warmer, enjoyable, invigorating.

Connect with your reading – Find an engaging book that describes and visualises nature. “Rewilding Yourself” by Simon Barnes is particularly good.

Connect with a documentary – Who doesn’t enjoy a David Attenborough documentary? In the ‘doom and gloom’ of many social media campaigns these days, and in the face of lockdown restrictions, these documentaries are a fantastic way to remind ourselves that there is a world of beauty out there.

Connect digitally – Add a beautifully scenic screensaver to your computer, or change your ‘Zoom’ background to something aesthetically natural. Sometimes these small changes to our regular working lives can reignite our enjoyment of the outside world.

Connect with natural phenomena – Watch a sunrise or sunset, either on your own, or with the other members of your household. The ‘dawn of the day’ and the ‘end of the day’ are perfect times to reflect on the beauty of nature.

Connect with philanthropy – Subscribe to an intuitive, reputable and beautiful wildlife magazine. I find the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to be exceptionally good.

Connect with fun – Support your sanctuary or wildlife reserve. When COVID restrictions are lifted, go spend the day with your family, surrounded by the world’s most beloved creatures. And, for an extra sense of connectivity, ‘Adopt an Animal’ to harness support of the natural world.

What does this all mean? Why do we need to stay connected to nature?

Nature has an incredible ability to restore the human spirit. If we ignore it and continue to believe that manmade solutions will supplement our connection to the wildlife, we are deluded.

“We are not in nature, we are nature,” is something I often tell my clients. Nature connects us to the present moment. It makes us savour the here and now, instead of always striving for the goals of tomorrow. With the constant presence of nature outside our window we feel connected to something bigger than ourselves, something timeless, endless, out of our control.

Rosie Tomkins is founder of the Natural Capital Consultancy and author of ‘N-stinctive’, an inspirational book that introduces an alternative to traditional leadership training by unlocking the power of the natural world to provide strength and confidence to people who are shouldering huge responsibility.

Rosie’s clients include the GB Olympic hockey and England rugby teams, the NHS and multi-national companies in the airline, engineering and pharmaceutical industries.

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