Cambridge has so many wonderful green spaces and I love to see the small day to day changes in nature as I walk through them en route to the city centre. Whatever the weather, it feels good to be connected to nature and to be aware of the turning of the seasons.
Last week, I met with Claire Thompson, who is running a range of Mindfulness of Nature courses, aimed at connecting us with the natural world through our senses and emotions rather than our thoughts. “This in itself is therapeutic. It’s not about solving a particular problem,” Claire says. “It’s about enhancing our experience of life itself and exploring different aspects of what it is to be alive. We’ve forgotten that we’re part of nature and if we don’t spend time in nature, we’re disconnected from something innate.”
Born in England but raised and educated in France, Claire came to Emmanuel College here in Cambridge where she read Natural Sciences, graduating in Zoology, with her particular interests lying in animal behaviour alongside conservation of nature and plants. During a gap year pre university, Claire worked in Andalucia, Spain, which not only improved her Spanish but gave her a love for the warmth of the culture with its passion for life.
Subsequent summer breaks were spent volunteering on a nature conservation project centred around Pucon in the Chilean lake district, an area of volcanoes, rivers, mountains and temperate rain forest. This time in Chile had a profound effect on Claire and has shaped her career and well being. It fuelled her desire to spend time in wild places and to work in nature conservation. In her late teens, like many of us Claire had experienced anxiety and she found this time in the wilderness amidst the beauty and power of nature, together with a growing interest in mindfulness, liberating. It calmed her anxiety and gave her a greater sense of purpose. “Mindfulness gives you a choice as to where you put your attention,” Claire tells me. “You are not your thoughts.”
After graduation, Claire volunteered in Mexico on a bird monitoring project in a nature reserve. Returning to England, she worked in Suffolk for World Land Trust (an international nature conservation charity) before moving to Cambridge, where she works part time as a Project Manager with Bird Life International, co-ordinating a project supporting Mediterranean NGOs in their efforts to address illegal killing of migratory birds in the Mediterranean.
Claire has also authored two books. In 2012, she was commissioned to write “Mindfulness in the Natural World” for Leaping Hare Press as part of their series of books on mindfulness and last year saw the publication of her second book, “The Art of Mindful Birdwatching.”
Upcoming courses in and around Cambridge include “Introduction to Mindfulness of Nature” workshops at Byron’s Pool in Grantchester, “Introduction to Mindful Birdwatching” at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve and evening “Meditations in the Meadows” on Stourbridge Common. In May, Claire will lead a three day retreat “Rewilding the Mind” in Snowdonia, North Wales. Further afield, Claire is holding retreats and workshops in Austria (East Tyrol), the US (Rhinebeck), Argentina (Patagonia) and Chile (Chilean Lake District), the place where it all began for her. Details of all these and more are on Claire’s website. In a world where it’s easy, in the hustle and bustle of every day, to live as if we’re separate from nature, here’s a chance to reconnect. I think we owe it to ourselves to take the time to stand and stare.