Being a child of city parents, with the early part of my childhood in London, I wasn’t too aware of the natural world. One of my earliest memories, though, is of being taken to Richmond Park; I had a bag of bread to feed the deer (not now recommended!), and in a misunderstanding between a deer and me as to who was going to pick up a dropped piece, I was knocked on the head by antlers and temporarily concussed! Outside space and wildlife – definitely not to be trusted!
We moved to Letchworth Garden City when I was six, and lived in the flat above my father’s shoe repair shop. There was no garden, but I can remember, a few years later, the excitement when my Dad arranged to have a small raised bed built in the yard, positioned so that my Mum could look down and see it from the kitchen window. Flowers and lettuces were grown – a revelation! With hard-working parents, Sunday afternoon was a time for relaxation and we often had a drive out through the surrounding villages. The countryside was to be enjoyed from the car window, though, with the occasional stop at a farm shop.
A favourite walk near the village of Coneysthorpe in North Yorkshire
School was instrumental in helping me to connect with the Earth. I can remember a day out from junior school to a local river, where we studied the life in the water. We also each chose a square yard of the river bank to note the numerous plants growing in that small space. I can still recall loving every minute. We were also taken to Cuffley Camp in Hertfordshire in both lower and upper juniors which was a wonderful immersion in the local natural environment. I loved it; I could feel free from constraints and (I see now) connected with a deeper experience of the ‘real’ world. I was an avid reader, and all of my knowledge of plants and wildlife – such as it was – came from books. An interest in birds came later, again, all from books as I never actually saw any of the birds I was reading about. I was very interested in spirituality, too, and from a young age was going to the library for both fiction and non-fiction. Not that I would have thought of my interests as being spiritual then, though that’s what they were; anything which spoke of mysteries and magic drew me in. I enjoyed Sunday school and the bible stories, but my reading met a deeper need. I was captivated, too, by books such as the Laura Ingalls-Wilder stories, with their description of her family’s life on the prairies of North America which was so inter-twined with the land and the weather.
In my late teens, I left home to live and work in London, followed by a move to Cornwall in my mid-twenties with my then husband. Moving back to Letchworth with my husband and two very small children, I had my first proper garden – what a delight … and plenty more books from the library required! I grew to love going for walks and, after my husband and I separated, my brother and sister-in-law invited me to join them on a walking holiday in the South of France/Northern Spain. This was a major step forward for me – walking every day with no agenda and just being present; it was a healing time. Through my teens and twenties I had read extensively about – and had varying spells of interest in – different religions, meditation and Theosophy, and sought to live my everyday life with an awareness of God. In my early thirties I had become a Christian. This met many needs in me at the time, though not one of inter-connectedness with the Earth and all beings, though this I had hardly begun to understand.
Enjoying trees at Yorkshire Arboretum, near Castle Howard
A new role in a large complementary health and education centre in Letchworth opened my understanding further. I learned about energy medicine, experienced every type of therapy from homeopathy to hypnotherapy, medical herbalism to Ayurvedic medicine – and did training in some modalities myself. It was an amazing time of learning through experience. During this mind and spirit-expanding time, I was growing away from my evangelical church. I still loved the community it gave me, but my growing understanding wasn’t fitting comfortably with the theology of my church. This was another painful time of letting go, coinciding shortly afterwards, with meeting Chris, and a new direction. Straight after our marriage in 2005, we adventurously moved up to North Yorkshire to take up short term voluntary roles at Scargill retreat centre, just outside Kettlewell in the Dales. Another period of huge learning and growth for both of us – some of it through challenging times. During our time at Kettlewell, Chris and I had our first visit to Findhorn, the spiritual, sustainability and co-creation centre in Scotland, for an Eco-Village Experience Week. Being at Findhorn, and immersing ourselves in the community and the history, was a revelatory time and we both feel its beautiful and healing reverberations. A further course at Findhorn on Shamanism, a few years later, was even more powerful. Back home, we had the opportunity to take part in a sweat lodge. The whole experience of working to create the lodge, the ceremony itself, sitting on bare earth (no clothes!), the fire, the hot stones, the nearby river, the moonlit evening, was all a strange and mind-opening experience. Following Scargill, we chose to stay in North Yorkshire. I had two part-time local jobs, one in an arts and health charity and the other at an organic – and Quaker-inspired – nursery, both helping me to appreciate more deeply a love and caring for the Earth and the importance of inter-connected care for our bodies and emotions.
I feel blessed to have had a few revelatory experiences, these being sudden ‘understandings’, or a picture or dream. An experience on coming back from a family wedding in Cornwall and stopping to visit a well-known ‘faery glen’, was a little different. In this quiet hillside glade, I noticed a leaf ‘waving’ at me. Then, inexplicably, I had an impulse to giggle … more than an impulse, an over-powering urge! So giggle I did, rolling into laughter, coming from a place of profound joy, with a sensation that all was just as it needed to be. Bliss.
Some years back, we came across GreenSpirit, which chimed with all that I had been thinking, feeling and learning … and more. We attended our first event in 2010, the Annual Gathering at EarthSpirit in Somerset. This was a delightful few days of creativity, sharing and learning. In 2018, we launched our current local GreenSpirit group, meeting in Malton, the market town in North Yorkshire where we now live. Together with a small ‘focalising’ team we plan and hold celebratory get-togethers to mark the turning of the Celtic calendar. Since our first get-together for Imbolc three years ago, we have made many new like-minded friends. Our gatherings are joyful, creative and inspiring times together.
Recently, during Quaker meeting for worship held in the Meeting House garden, two thoughts came to my mind. One was the Bob Dylan song, Blowing in the Wind, and the other was Siddhartha, the book by Herman Hesse. Both of these remind me that the answers are all around us in the natural world, but we can’t catch hold of them, we need to allow ourselves to hear or feel them, to be ‘whole’ through and with them. We are inseparable from the natural world, it is part of us – or, rather, we are a part of it – and our learning and joy comes through our connectedness, both within ourselves and with all of life. GreenSpirit is now an integral part of my onward spiritual adventure.
Janice is a retired charity manager and counsellor, now training as a spiritual healer and learning to paint.
All photos ©Janice Every