Tag Archives: Art of Mentoring

Don’t just do something, sit there… The power of the sit spot.


I think i saw a hare today! It was jumping about under some trees, bigger than a rabbit, with big ears, and much more of a hopping gait. I got to watch it hop from one tree to the next. It did a few circles around the place i had recently walked through – i guess i had made it smell human and funny with my bare feet – and then it buzzed off. I don’t think it spotted me – I had been sitting very still, wearing earthy colours under a nearby oak tree for 45 minutes by that point… I had been sitting (and at one point snoozing)  listening to the daytime birds sing their evening songs and occasional alarm calls, in a world of falling acorns, rustling leaves, eternal branches and dappled shadows. At one particularly magical point I heard a night time bird start its weird hooting.

I’m having a rare few week where i have some unscheduled time – I’m not teaching, consulting, learning or moving between countries. So finally all the things i need to give some time to, have some time. I have a very full to do list, several actually, and despite that, for these 2 weeks I have committed to go out into the woods and sit still, observing the life around me for at least 30 minutes every day. Its one of the core nature connection routines that i use to keep me open, connected, and aware. Its called a sit spot, and I came across it in the 8 Shields/Nature Culture Network movement a few years ago.

If I sit down in a life-filled place, and stay quiet for about 20 minutes (less if i have walked in slowly and quietly), the birds stop fussing about me being there, and then the other animals stop worrying that the birds are fussing, and life in all its shapes and sizes and colours and patterns and gaits, goes back to baseline. It helps if I’m wearing broken pattern earthy coloured clothing too, but the time, silence and stillness are far more important. Then a fox may stroll in, sit for a while, licking itself in a sunbeam, and stroll away again. Or a hare (?) might lopingly bounce through the woods, with huge ears. Or an arrow like bird fly straight in front of me. More likely, i will simply hear the sounds of life all around me – the falling leaves and nuts and branches, the birds seeking insects in the leaf mulch, the alarm calls and joyous songs of the treetop birds, all the rich and deep aural tapestry of ancient English woodland. It doesn’t have to be about charismatic animals and birds – time spent looking at a half disintegrated holly leaf, or watching an ant on the ground can bring me so much.

I value and prioritise this ‘do nothing’ nature connection time because it does a lot for me (and even knowing that, i still need to set daily  commitments to make me do it…) It is a rich, connecting, heart opening, relaxing, learning experience that brings me closer to the more than human world, closer to the complex, interdependent, diverse,  beautiful systems dynamics that my work in regenerative design is based on. ‘Nature’ observation is the foundation of Permaculture design – using the patterns and principles and techniques of the inherently regenerative ecosystems around us to design systems for ourselves (hoses, gardens, communities, farms). And even if it wasn’t so fundamental to my conscious design work, spending time each day listening to bird song, leaves rustle, acorns fall, creeping out barefoot among the oak and holly trees, seeing the sky through the tree branches, sensing how it all changes slightly everyday, nourishes me in deep ways i deeply appreciate, do not fully understand, and love.

The Permaculture Jigsaw

Last week I cycled from the Meadow Orchard project in Crouch End, London, to OrganicLeas’s Hawkwood plant nursery, where I was guest teaching some sessions on people-based permaculture for a Design Course.

I mixed cob with my bare feet at Meadow Orchard for their new eco building – a straw bale, cob and wooden circular structure to enable the site to host events and courses. In the fading sunshine others were rendering the strawbale wall with lime, while my companions and I mixed the clay, sand and straw to make the pile of homogenous, sticky cob a little bit bigger, to be added to the wall the following day by someone who knew how to do that.

As I cycled along the Lea valley towpath I had a vision of the pieces of the jigsaw fitting together, networks of regenerative Permaculture projects taking root, spreading skills and information, creating places where people can meet and learn and celebrate and heal, and springboard onto setting up other projects. Down the road from Meadow Orchard there is a supermarket growing food and running food growing and Permaculture courses on its roof (Food from the Sky), and there is a forest garden up the road at Crouch Hill run by other London Permaculturalists… they also run courses there…

This jigsaw is already starting to fit together, and I am proud to be a part of this work/play/evolution at this time, while our mega systems all around creak and crack, and a lot of humans and other animals walk knee deep in their effluent and ruins.

Arriving at the Hawkwood nursery was even a shift up a gear – Permaculture on a larger scale. OrganicLea run various community growing projects around the Lea valley, and in 2007 they asked the council if they could take on the council run plant nursery, which was being closed down and they arranged a 10 year lease for their worker’s co=operative to use the glass houses, building and surrounding land to grow food for local people. They run courses, apprenticeships, open days and people can go along and volunteer. A lot of the produce is sold and distributed through the co=operative’s Hornbeam Cafe in nearby Walthamstow. who also provided delicious food for us on the course.

Its great to see people in London getting such quality access to land and growing space – on their roofs, on disused sites, on spare pieces of land. People are joining together to work and learn and educate others, whilst creating community, shared spaces and great, local food. The British Empire’s first colony was England itself – most people here were dispossessed of their land long ago in the enclosures.

I was reminded last week how every land based permaculture project has a people based design holding it up – whether its a local community group, an individual living by themselves, a workers cooperative or an intentional residential community – people need to find ways to meet their needs and work together before the land based stuff can begin. And this is the area of Permaculture I am most drawn to at the moment –people based designing – how people can communicate better together, vision together, trust each other, improve their self-understanding – increasing their own ability to create and lead and look after themselves and therefore others. How to create a culture of fulfilled, creative people mentoring each other and learning and expanding.

Its not as clear or as tangible as designing land based systems, but the principles are the same, the same wise learnings from the non-human world apply; ie. Catch and store energy – in healing and improving yourself, in gathering resources visible and invisible in your community. Stacking – what can you get out of coming to london to do an intro talk in Ealing, what extra yields can I imaginatively create by thinking like an ecosystem (selling books, meeting up with my sister, connecting with another transition group, emcouraging people to connect with each other during and after the talk, promoting my upcoming courses…)

I have been hugely enriched this year by getting involved with the ‘8 Shields‘ work on nature connection and culture repair. This synthesises so well with Permaculture – it is about connecting to and learning from the ‘more than human’ world (or ‘natural’ world – but I believe we need to realise we are a part of nature and not separate from it), and learning from intact indigenous cultures. Our western web of culture is as damaged and as reliant on fossil fuels as our agriculture is, and we need to rediscover and design ways to improve it. Ways to give our children multiple contact with wise attentive adults, ways to bring out the best in each other and ourselves, ways to ensure that those entrusted with leadership are making the most beneficient choices, ways to heal and grieve and dance with joy, ways to healthily support each other in the deep experiences that help us grow.

I went on the UK Art of Mentoring course this Summer, and started to see ways of doing all these things, and it has brought a lot to me as a person and to what I have to offer to the world. The course happens once a year, and models a holistic, nurturing, nature connected culture for a week, and gives participants tools to bring this web of culture into their everyday lives – I learnt the importance of eldership, singing, gratitude, griefwork, happiness, creativity, processing thoughts and feelings, curiosity, questioning and mentoring. They will run another course next year 3rd -9th June in E. Sussex.

And on another positive note, my Permaculture intro talk in Ealing a few days ago had about 40 people at it, having given the transition group about 2 weeks notice to promote it. People are eager and hungry for this regenerative culture.

Contacts –

Meadow Orchard

Food from the Sky

Naturewise Forest Garden at Crouch Hill

Organiclea – Hawkwood Plant Nursery

Hornbeam Cafe, Walthamstow

Art of Mentoring UK

8 Shields Institute