This weeks blog post is by Ros Sandhu, Brecon & District Mind's new Mums Matter Facilitator. Ros is also a Mindfulness teacher & founder of Brecon Mindfulness. www.breconmindfulness.com
As a new member of the Brecon and District Mind team, I am delighted to have the chance to write a blog for the Green Minds Project’s new website. I am a new Facilitator on the Mums Matter project and I am also a Mindfulness teacher. I was brought up in a city and until recently, I had always chosen to live in urban areas. My family and I moved to Brecon 7 years ago so I’m relatively new to living in the countryside and, for the record, I feel very much a novice ‘Green Mind’. I am, however, very keen to learn, and perhaps equally importantly I am completely captivated by nature’s healing powers and its potential to improve our wellbeing.
The simple idea of mindful walking is that we focus our attention on what it feels like to be walking – the feeling of our feet on the ground, and some of the sights, smells and sounds that are unfolding around us- each step is a moment of arriving in our feet and our bodies. When you think about it, this is very different to our usual habits when walking; we tend to walk with a destination or goal in mind ( e.g I will walk from a to b, or I will walk 30 minutes etc) Mindful walking can be incredibly soothing because it can take us out of our heads and away from thinking and worrying and move us more into our sensing mind when we are listening, seeing and smelling.
One of my favourite places to walk is along the canal. I think it is to do with being near both the still water of the canal and the moving water of the River Usk. Both reflect aspects of human experience – the potential for stillness that is in us all, alongside the ebbing and flowing of life. In certain places the trees’ canopies at this time of year are almost womb-like, in the way that they surround me - the leaves seem to grow thicker and greener by the day. I can allow nature to talk to me and wonder what she is telling me….
As I walk, I feel safe, cocooned, almost held by nature. I am surrounded by reminders that everything is allowed – this is particularly powerful when I focus my attention on the sounds of the birdsong., I am reminded that, as Rumi wrote, “ I want to sing like birds sing, not worrying about who will listen or what they will think’. As far as I know – scientists are not in agreement about why exactly birds sing but I am so glad they do. I can hear the innocent sweet tunes of the Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Great Tits, this plays alongside the definitive alto of the woodpigeons and the magpies. Then there is the are assertive songs of the Crows and Jackdaw coupled with the random outburst of the pheasant and finally my favourite noise at the moment, the persistent percussion of the woodpecker. It all sounds beautiful even though it is unplanned, spontaneous and unfolding moment by moment – just like life necessarily is.
Life during a pandemic, is clearly a fertile ground for our thinking to go into overdrive as we all worry about our health and the health of those we love, and as we try and predict the future. For this reason, I have found the time I spend outside each day to be the most helpful thing for me, when trying to live healthily through this period, oh and I have also noticed that birds still sing in the rain :-)
Hello, Jess here at Green Minds. Today I would love to share with you my experiences of listening to the dawn chorus along the River Wye.......I hope the recording will transport you to life at 5am along the river bank, and maybe even inspire you to listen in to the dawn chorus one morning this month :-)
Last week on the 3rd May I made it up and out for the dawn chorus and to join in celebration of International Dawn Chorus Day. An annual event taking place on the first Sunday in May. I slowly wended my way down through a quiet woodland, the bright white of the hawthorn blossom lighting my way, until I reached the river. Under a canopy of oak, ash & sycamore I sat and listened in wonder, absorbing the chorus that surrounded me, watching the sky's gradual fade into light. I find it deeply calming and restorative tuning into bird song. For me, finding stillness in a woodland, or sat quietly at the rivers edge can provide the immersive experience, and an antidote to the challenging times we find ourselves in like no other.
The birds are at their busiest this time of year, the males protecting their territories, singing their hearts out in the hope of attracting a female companion. Many of the birds we see and hear this spring have arrived after long and often perilous journeys back to the UK to breed and I am reminded again how very precious they are. During this time of lockdown, with much less noise and traffic on the roads and in the sky we have a wonderful opportunity to tune in to the natural sounds around us, and we don't have to go very far. Even from our beds or within our immediate outdoor spaces we can hear the birds singing.
At this time of year sunrise is around 5.20am, so if you are up about an hour before then you will be able to hear the dawn chorus in all it's glory....(It's an early start, but I guarantee it's worth it!)
The audio recording above is from my dawn chorus walk along the river Wye last Sunday.
I'll sign out with this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver.
Such Singing in the Wild Branches
"It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves –
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness –
and that's when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree –
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky – all of them
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last
For more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away."
- Mary Oliver
The hedgerows and verges are buzzing with life. Birds are busy making their nests among a prickly tangle of hawthorn, beech and bramble, a dense thicket of shrubs and tree species. Carpets of wildflowers adorn the verges and Spring is now in full song. I find that I am noticing the wildflowers far more at the moment, with more time to stop and explore, excited by new discoveries and reacquainting myself with those I've met before, like seeing old friends return again.
Due to the loss of many ancient woodlands, hedgerows are a vital source of food and shelter for many species. Some hedgerows may be lines of former ancient woodland, providing corridors between more fragmented areas of woodland habitat and creating a safe passage along which wildlife can travel.
Now that May is almost here, the verges and roadsides are full of colour and fragrance. Have you noticed any of the verges around your area being left to go a little more wild during the lockdown?. The Dandelions are certainly having their day around Hay & Brecon, which is great to see, and even better for local wildlife.
I have been spotting others too and Ceri Hayes kindly offered to translate into Welsh some of the more common wildflowers and plants that we might all be able to spot along the hedgerows and verges at the moment. Ceri is setting up a new project called ‘Ceffyl’ (the Welsh word for horse). You can find out more about Ceri's work with Brecon & District Mind below.
But for now please enjoy these gorgeous words & wildflowers.....Over to you Ceri!....
Wildflower names yn Gymraeg/in Welsh
There are wonderful, varied and interesting Welsh names for wildflowers as well, but they are disappearing rapidly as we lose the older generation of Welsh speakers for whom they are a familiar part of everyday life. While it is common for garden flowers to be given names borrowed in some way from English, for example ‘lafant’ (pronounced lavant) is the Welsh word for lavender, wildflower names are more obviously Welsh and some have very different meanings to the English names. Why not try learning a few?
Here are the Welsh translations of nine wildflowers to look out for in April and May. To help we have included the pronunciation below each word and also the literal translation of the words into English so you can compare the two meanings. Have fun!
(for a closer view please click on the images)
If you’d like to learn more, the National Botanic Garden of Wales has produced a short guide to wildflowers you can find in hedgerows at this time of year in both English and Welsh, with some helpful colour pictures:
For those who are really keen, they also have a very comprehensive list of all wildflowers in English, Welsh and Latin (but no pictures): botanicgarden.wales/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/List-of-plant-names-for-website.pdf
More about Ceri Hayes & her work with some our members at Brecon & District Mind.
Ponies for People
Just as spending time in nature can help our physical and mental well-being, so too can spending time with animals. Whether it’s being with a pet cat or dog at home, or even just sitting in the park or garden watching the birds, time spent in the company of animals can be a very good way of releasing stress, helping us feel calm and relaxed and, if we’re feeling lonely, making us feel less isolated.
During a period of chronic illness, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time recuperating on a friend’s farm alongside a herd of beautiful Welsh mountain ponies. The experience was incredibly healing and made me realise the power of animals to bring comfort and joy, and to teach us how to be more mindful in our own lives.
I am setting up a new project called ‘Ceffyl’ (the Welsh word for horse) to provide opportunities for others to spend time with these amazing animals, engage in hands-on activities such as tacking up, feeding and leading ponies and learn more about what they can teach us about living ‘in the moment.’
Some Mind members have already benefitted from spending time with the ponies and we hope to expand the project to enable other Mind members to spend time with the ponies. to have this experience later in the year. If you’d like to find out more, then do get in touch via the website.
I don't think I have ever sown as many seeds as I have over the last month or so. Since we all listened to the government explain the new restrictions surrounding our freedom of movement, what we all have to do as a community and country as a whole to protect ourselves and each other, we all find ourselves adapting and responding in our own ways to the current situation. It's been a scary, worrying and uncertain time for us all and in many different ways.
During our last few Green Minds Ecotherapy sessions our group started to sow many different seeds, we discovered how differently each seed looked and felt, some tiny, barely there at all nestled between the lines in our palms. Some were big and prickly and didn't need to be buried beneath the soil that deeply at all. So many seeds great and small, as diverse as we humans are, all responding differently to the conditions that we find ourselves in.
I watch each day as the seedlings begin to sprout and slowly unfurl themselves, some with more ease than others, reaching higher towards the sky. I am in awe of each one as it changes structure and shape, develops another leaf, becomes a plant. Inside each seed there is life complete, everything it needs to germinate and flower and fruit encoded within....Somehow the seed knows exactly what it needs to do. As a gardener I am learning to develop deeper levels of patience, and I have so much enjoyed the conversations with our group members earlier on the year, whilst our hands were in the soil, questioning how things grow and what it means to nurture something.
My personal response to the Covid-19 outbreak is to keep on sowing seeds, for me that's where I find a sense of hope and where I can imagine a future beyond. Spring is an incredible time of renewal. I hope we can all take comfort in what is happening around us in the natural world here and now, even within such difficult and challenging times.
Perhaps when you are next outside, in the garden, in the park or in a woodland take a closer look around you.....What lies beneath Winter's old decaying leaves?. What new life is germinating and beginning to grow around you?...Are there any new colours beginning to appear on the verges and at the edges of the pathways near you?...In noticing what new life begins to emerge around us we realise that we are part of a much greater web, one that doesn't recognise boundaries and walls. Here we can be reminded that things are always changing, and this time we are in too shall pass. We are always somehow connected to one another, even from afar, all part of the same web.......
What seeds of hope are you sowing?
How does nature inspire you in times of uncertainty?
We'd love to hear your stories too and please feel free to share any comments you may have below.