Finding your own personal ‘happy’

How can we stay happy when there’s too much change and uncertainty? Are there ways to bounce back and thrive if everyday life and work is getting us down? The answer is to cultivate yourself like a garden, and grow your own wellbeing by learning from natural ecosystems.

Natural HappinessThe times we’re in are tough: it’s clear that we need new approaches and models to thrive in all this. Natural happiness is a simple, practical approach which can help in your personal life, and your work. It will show you how to cultivate your own human nature, and tend yourself like a garden: deepen your roots, and grow fruitfully through all kinds of weather.

Alan Heeks is a Harvard MBA and successful businessman, who since 1990 has become a keen gardener, and has created a 130-acre organic farm and 70-acre woodland as centres where people can learn about natural happiness and resilience.

On his new Natural Happiness website, learn more about the 7 seeds of natural happiness, and Alan’s forthcoming book on Natural Happiness. You can also learn more about upcoming events, access some useful resources and sign up for Alan’s free monthly e-newsletter on natural happiness and the roots of resilience. You can also learn more about Wisdom Tree, a team set up by Alan offering training on natural happiness and resilience.

Face-offs with cows, and flying chickens. Lessons in community from Ethiopian roads

Guest Blog by Alan Heeks, March 2016, first published at www.living-organically.com

It happens so often, you suspect the animals must enjoy it: why else do they spread the full width of the tarmac, instead of using the broad gravel verges? The cows are the worst: they glower balefully as if they might charge, and only turn aside from our approaching vehicle at the very last minute. At least the goats lose their nerve sooner.

Roads in Ethiopia are a community resource, with a stupendous range of users managing to share them. It helps that most roads are not just a two-lane tarmac strip, but a gravel belt each side. This gives lots of scope: for example donkeys on the far right, overtaken by a pony cart or a tuk-tuk, overtaken by a bus – with any traffic going the other way using the gravel strip on the far side.

 

Ethiopia road 2

I had rented a car and a driver for a long trip to the Bale Mountains, a beautiful, remote area in the far south-east of Ethiopia. We tried to overtake a slow lorry in mist, and car appeared, speeding towards us. My driver sensibly swerved off the tarmac onto the far-side gravel, alarming a lone riderless donkey whose lane discipline had been impeccable. We bounced along the gravel for a few hundred metres, and rejoined the traffic as if nothing had happened.

The sense of community remains very strong in Ethiopia, and qualities like tolerance and mutual support seem stronger here. There was never a sense that some users had a right to the road, and others didn’t: everyone flowed around each other. By contrast, in Britain it seems that car and lorry drivers believe they have an exclusive right to use the tarmac, and slower, more erratic travellers are an intrusion.

Livestock are a big part of rural life in Ethiopia, and the roads are constantly used to move them to grazing or to market. A lot of animals meander along with no supervision, especially donkeys, who have a strong impulse to turn suddenly across the road.

Because rural prices are much lower, my enterprising driver bought two chickens to take home to Addis Abbaba. They had a nice box with airholes, on the roof of the car. However, after driving through heavy rain, the box fell apart, leaving the chickens flying through the air.

The community response was impressive. Cars going the other way flashed lights and shouted to tell us of the problem. A huge lorry behind us stopped, and the driver rescued the shocked chickens from the middle of the road. I imagine one chicken telling the other, “I always had a bad feeling about today”.

Ethiopia Road

I haven’t yet mentioned the pedestrians, horse-riders, motorbikes, handcarts, nor the fearsome potholes, ruts, gulleys… but what’s impressive is how these myriad users flow peaceably around each other. British drivers could do with more of that tolerance.

Back to Work: Drag or Delight? Find yourself or lose yourself in the daily task

roadworks-signAs we approach September, you may be going back to a regular job, or not.  Either scenario may leave you happy or blue.  August seems a good time to reflect on how work fits into your life.

I observe people talking a lot about work, but in a very selective way.  They talk about what they’re doing, maybe moan about the boss, but rarely say what work really means to them.  I believe that’s because work is so important, so personal, so bound up with their sense of self, that it’s too sensitive to talk about.

In the 1990s I led many weekend workshops on the theme Find Your Gift in Work: these groups gave a safe place and structures to explore how work and life can fit, and I feel honoured to have shared so many journeys.  These taught me a lot too: here are a few highlights:

  • Know what’s holding you back.  Do you have doubts or beliefs that limit you in your work?  For example, some people believe they should not earn more or succeed more than their fathers…
  • Are you re-creating your childhood family at work?  I was amazed in my workshops to see how often this happens.  For example, were you bullied as a child by your father?  Was the family always arguing?  Did you have a habitual role, such as the joker or the scapegoat?  Any echoes in your current work??
  • Reduce your financial needs.  It’s easy to feel trapped or pressured about work because of money needs.  Cut back on your needs, and free up your choices!
  • Understand about human sustainability.  I believe that environmental depletion and pollution has close parallels in human work: this is fully explained in my book, The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself.  If your work is exhausting you, you need a systemic view of the problem and how to change it.
  • Believe you can fulfill your passion.  First you need the courage to discover your vision, then you need patience and intelligence to make your dream practical.  You don’t have to jump off a cliff, you can find the right steps…

Whether you’re in work or out of work, if you’re unhappy about the situation, believe you can change it for the better.  And if looking within doesn’t give you the clues, look around you: notice what issues concern or excite you, and explore how you could make a difference.

All of these issues matter even more for most men, as their work is often central to their sense of self.  This is one of the issues you could explore on the weekend of August 28-31, at a weekend led by Alan Heeks and Nick Mabey: Manfulness, Mindfulness, Music and more.  For full details click here

Nourishing Resilience: Seedlings of Change

On July 21, Wisdom Tree hosted a highly successful day at Hazel Hill Wood, on the theme Nourishing Resilience For You And Your Work Community.  It felt like a day of planting many seedlings of new ideas and contacts.

NR3Our diverse group of over 20 people, from near and far, included professionals in organisational development, coaching, health and psychotherapy.  The day offered methods and space to explore our own resilience and wellbeing, and how to grow these within the organisations we work with.

Wisdom Tree’s natural systems model of resilience was one of the key resources, and two of the sessions were spend out in the wood, experiencing this model and applying it for ourselves.

Fortified by a delicious lunch, we moved on to explore ways to nourish resilience, including the various approaches Wisdom tree offers.  We received a lot of positive and creative feedback, and the day generated many useful ideas and contacts which we will explore in coming months.

For example, several participants were excited by the idea of ‘Creative Away Days’ at Hazel Hill.  Bringing work teams to the wood immediately creates a sense of relaxation and opens new perspectives: one-day events could achieve a range of objectives, such as teambuilding, creativity, everyday resilience skills, and more.NR5

The day also seeded some useful insights on how Wisdom Tree could extend its range of programmes in the workplace: for example, building on the Resilience Toolkit already used successfully with several clients.

Here are a few quotes from feedback forms:

“I thought the day had a really good balance between structure & flexibility and gave me a great space to reflect. Share and nourish my own resilience and how I might use similar tools with clients”

“I learned from seeing you each facilitate especially easy, light touch and talking from position of experience”

“Thank you, an inspiring day. See you in year for a top-up!”

“I am taking away some new tools to use”

“Excellently structured, resourced and presented day”

50 Shades of Twilight: The Magic of a Wood in Spring

twilight in woodsTwilight is a special time for me in nature: and especially so at Hazel Hill Wood in Springtime.  Very recently, I sat on the deck of one of our buildings, facing west as the light very slowly faded.

Whilst the stages of the dawn chorus are well known, twilight too is a great time for birdsong: in different corners of the wood, I could hear a range of birdsong, with calls and responses.  The trees are not yet in leaf, so the bare outline of the branches provides exquisite sculpture against the last of the light.

The best bit of the whole experience was when the owls started calling, which was when night had almost fallen.  From where I sat, I could hear them calling as they flew in a huge circle around the wood: such a beautiful, evocative sound.  In traditional folklore, the owl is often seen as the gatekeeper between the worlds of the dark and the light, and this is certainly when their presence is strongest at Hazel Hill.

We go through several phases of spring flowers at Hazel Hill: from the snowdrops, through the primroses and wood anemones, with the climax being huge areas of bluebells, vibrant in colour, and sweetly intoxicating with their scent.  The bluebells are at their best in late April and early May: so if you would like to share this and many other woodland delights, join us for the Natural Roots of Resilience weekend, April 24-26.

Unwinding with Trees

HHW Women under treeMany of us find it hard to relax and switch off these days: busy lives, change and uncertainty, hours connected to smart phones and the rest, all contribute.

Spending time at Hazel Hill Wood is a great antidote. We don’t have mains power to charge your appliances, the mobile signal is poor, Wi-Fi hasn’t been invented in this neck of the woods.

This week I arrived at the wood after a busy, exciting day in London, with my head buzzing.  I took myself off to sit at the foot of a favourite beech tree, and within 10 minutes I was really unwound.

I can’t explain why sitting with your back to a tree (or hugging it!) is so relaxing, but many people find that it is.  Maybe it’s just being in a beautiful woodland setting with clean air and lots of birdsong, but I believe there is a wisdom in trees which can nourish us if we let it.

This is just one of the many sources of resilience which we will be exploring on the Natural Roots of Resilience Weekend which I am co-leading at Hazel Hill Wood, April 24-26.

Growing Natural Resilience: how can we learn from ecosystems

AHArkClose2 - WebSizeBy Alan Heeks

I talk about resilience a lot, and I hear very varied definitions of it from others.  Some regard resilience as a hard, cold, mechanistic idea, whereas my first images are of a green, creative springiness: the growing through problems that we can see in sustainable ecosystems.

This blog offers my views on how humans can learn about natural resilience from ecosystems, drawing on my twenty-five years’ experience in managing two cultivated ecosystems: a 130-acre organic farm in Dorset, and a 70-acre woodland in Wiltshire.

Magdalen Farm and Hazel Hill wood are both residential centres where people can learn through contact with nature.  The best insights don’t come from nature in the wild, but from cultivated ecosystems: managed to deliver targeted outputs in a sustainable way, which renews resources instead of depleting them.

Think about intensive or factory farming, where artificial stimulants (fertiliser) and suppressants (pesticides, antibiotics) are used to drive outputs, and the underlying resources are depleted and polluted.  Now compare this to a typical work organisation….

My model, the Roots of Resilience, highlights eight features of cultivated ecosystems, and shows how these translate to people in work and life generally.    One benefit of an ecosystem as a model is that is easy to embody as living, dynamic and intuitive, not as fixed or cerebral.  Most of us have a deep felt connection with nature around us, so why not relate this to human nature?

The Roots of Resilience articulates the main principles of organic growth and shows how people can apply them.  For example, here is Principle 3:

  1. The joy of crap: composting waste

The beauty of any natural cycle is that there is no waste: every output becomes the input to the next stage of the cycle. In a wood, dead leaves rot down to enrich the soil.  Organic farms compost both animal manure and plant waste to create a major source of future fertility, and this is a key to renewing resources whilst increasing outputs.

Where is the waste in your life and work that has discarded energy and value? Think about negative feelings like anxiety, or conflicts and failures. It’s often easier to ignore the waste, but it builds up within us and around us. Waste is usually messy: it takes new skills to collect and recycle it, but it can be done. For example, negative feelings can become a source of fresh understanding and constructive energy: both for you personally and in your relations with others.  For many people, a key resilience need is skills to handle increasing conflicts with other people.  This is another example of composting: if conflicts are faced and processed, they can generate growth in a relationship, but this takes good skills, and may need support from a third party.

This model explores resources/inputs, processes/approaches, and outcomes/results.  It offers a linked set of principles and methods useful for individuals, teams and whole organisations.   The benefits include: strengthening and renewing your resources, better ways to handle setbacks, and fresh inputs of energy and insight.

An important feature of the model is the relationship between the forester/farmer/manager and the natural resources they are guiding.  Here, for example, is a short description of Principle 5:

  1. Wisdom from Stillness and Tracker Vision.

If you spend time with organic farmers or foresters, you’ll notice a quiet, reflective quality alongside huge capacity for action.  Their vision, strategy, and response to problems arise partly from listening to the land, or whatever natural resources are involved (for example, yourself).  Foresters and farmers spend a lot of time alone on their land, walking it or just sitting still.

There are two crucial skills here: sitting with stillness, and ‘stalking the vision’.  This relates to the way observation and tracking are taught in wilderness skills: you must learn to sit or walk in total silence, and to cultivate wide-angle vision, so that you can see what is peripheral.  Tracker vision is invaluable for people in all walks of life.  The skills of Mindfulness are another approach to this same topic.

The best way to get into this model is to experience it and actually feel yourself as part of the system, with a guided walk through a cultivated ecosystem, such as Hazel Hill Wood.  This model will be the core of the weekend workshop on The Natural Roots of Resilience, which I am co-leading with Marcos Frangos at Hazel Hill wood, April 24-26.  For further details of the weekend, click here.

The model is too long to reproduce in this blog, and it is better to experience it first: so come to the April 24-26 workshop!

For more about Magdalen Farm, see www.magdalenfarm.org.uk

Alan’s book: The Natural Advantage: renewing yourself, inspired by his work at Magdalen Farm, which relates the principles and practises of organic growth from land to people and organisations,   is out of print but can be obtained second-hand. See www.living-organically.com for a summary.