How the COVID-19 has taught me to surrender to my inner knowing.

By Leona Johnson

(I wrote this in July 2020 but somehow I didn’t get round to posting it, so here it is. Just as relevant as ever)

As I sit listening to the sweet chatter of birds and the jovial sounds of neighbours playing and pottering in their gardens I am so grateful for the many signs of life around me.

Never have I been more aware of the need for good connection to myself, to others and to nature.

Never have we as a species – unanimously and simultaneously – had the opportunity to experience the very precious nature our relationship and interconnectivity to all things as we do now in COVID 2020. Whether it’s because we have it or because we are having to go without it the need for connection is felt as never before.

For millions around the world, right now, is unparalleled in history. The illusory backdrop of life as we knew it has fallen away and that which truly matters has started to unfold more clearly.

Family, friends and freedom can no longer be taken for granted. The fragility of the system that upholds us has been exposed. Where, in the global north at least, we have previously been able to rely on medical systems, food networks, financial institutions, fuel, education and more, they have recently been exposed as unsustainable, unreliable and failing in many ways.

The veneer of certainly has been peeled away by lockdown. The busyness, perpetual forward motion and the mindless compulsion – or duty – to produce and consume has, in my opinion, been exposed as unbalanced, disconnected and destructive.

This is not what makes life worth living.

Health, relationships and growth with balance and connection are what bring the quality of life that I believe we are all striving for. All humans need to reconnect to the sense of being a part of an interconnected ecosystem. Belonging, meaning, connection, relationships, great mentoring and guidance, opportunities to share joy, opportunities to share grief and be held: these are some of the things that are left or lacking when the societal structure that usually holds us up has been taken away.

For me this time has been a ‘becoming’. A rite of passage. We have left the world we knew behind and now step forward into the unknown. In this process I’ve really been untangling that which really matters and that which serves only to distract me and destroy connection.

Nothing like this has ever happened before. Our primal response when all that we know has been threatened is to want to run, to fight the cause, or to freeze. We have a very sophisticated capacity to deal with pressure and respond due to our human programming, which comes from a time when we really had to survive in the wild. Some of it is healthy and allows us to go into autopilot and get things done. Some of it, is unnecessary and unhelpful, especially in the face of many of our modern-day threats. The fear created by COVID 2020 is unhelpful to me.

Personally, the intensity of my new living situation, my limited free time and personal space, and the lack of externally imposed structure and routine in my home triggered deeply embedded safety mechanisms. I’ve locked myself away at times when I cannot face another negotiation between my children. I’ve raged with my loving partner. I’ve shut down and gone numb in order to get through the day sometimes. I’ve cried a lot.

And yet there is something about this situation that has been such a blessing for me. The word surrender has been forefront in my mind when in a state of panic that can so easily come over me. I’ve met my edges and I’ve seen the habitual patterns of behaviour that I hide behind or often fall into. It’s exposing and makes me vulnerable and yet it’s raw, and for some reason, without all the trappings of the usual distractions, I’m more authentic and more untamed. When I surrender to it, whether it’s the situation as a whole or the shame I feel for something I’ve just said or done, when I accept it as it is, there is a powerful healing that occurs, a kind of peace and I’ve longed to share this with everyone.

This is where the opportunity lies for all of us.

Finding strength and resilience in ourselves is empowering. It has always been there, both for individuals and as a human species, and I’m sure many of us have witnessed and experienced it before. The exciting part of this collective experience could be the evolution that so many have hoped or prayed for. The noticing, the being, the releasing and the acceptance. Surrender is an amazing mantra. Surrender has been my lifeline, my joy, and I believe it could be what brings and sustains the enlightenment, transformation and adaptation we all need in order to face the next and future stages of our ever-changing world.

The strongest catalyst for me finding this strength and resilience has been my time with nature. I am fortunate to live in the beautiful Calder Valley in the North of England. This good fortune has never been felt more keenly than in these last three months. Alongside this nurturing environment though, the force behind my growth has been my relationship to the elements and to other-than-human beings.

Candlelight, showers, my hands in the earth, growing seeds, breathing practice. All have helped. Believing in something mysterious and wonderful which I do not understand but am able to access. These have been my steadying ropes of connection and strength. These are relationships we all can access whether we live in a tower block in the inner city or a cottage in the countryside. Whether we are surrounded by people or going completely solo, with these relationships we are never alone. The elements that lie within us are our integral connection to nature wherever we are.

Finding meaning in the smallest of things has been awe-inspiring. I have turned off the news and social media for days at a time, dropping into a space of presence and appreciation for all that I have. It has been challenging, rich and beautiful. It has brought the peace within that I have needed. It is a peace I want to create for myself and for those around me.

I am not perfect;  I get many things wrong, but I am whole and human and I love life and I learn. Knowing that I can learn and listen hard when things don’t quite work and then feel into a solution-focused way of being has enabled me to thrive.

It is possible to struggle and grieve and get things wrong and thrive all at the same time.

When a sapling grows and encounters an obstacle it doesn’t stop growing, it changes its path or alters course then keeps growing. When a river flows and meets a boulder it doesn’t stop flowing, it splits or rises up or changes path and keeps going. This is the stuff of life.

In practising many ways of connecting to the elements around us – earth, air, fire, water and spirit – I feel that we all have the capacity to develop and strengthen our relationship to ourselves and our inner wisdom. We have the capacity to listen and learn, surrender and grow with support from the natural world around us. If we choose, we could all be resourced by the elements and enter into a sustaining and purposeful relationship of connection in order to resource us enough to be truly helpful to creation.

Breathe, sit with a tree, light a candle, plant some food in the ground, savour each drop you drink, take each moment as a gift. This is my hope for the world.

Dedicated to the next seven generations I throw this dream into the world. Health, happiness and growth.

How nature restored me after becoming a Mum; and how inadvertently I modelled an invaluable lesson to my children

Six years ago, as a mother of two small children, I went through something that previously I couldn’t have imagined. I went through something that I now know many women face after having children; I lost my sense of self. I lost my sense of confidence and seemed to develop low self-esteem, which was pretty new to me. I didn’t seem to know anymore, outside of being a mother, who I was in the world.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved being a mother. I loved the freedom I had to be with my two gorgeous children in those precious years while they learned about the world through their expanding senses. It was magical. I enjoyed making informed and empowered choices about our lifestyle. More than ever, I recognised the need for healthy living and a sustainable world, and now I was a mother I was more inclined than ever to make good choices.

What I didn’t expect was the alienation I felt from everything else that was going on in the world. I couldn’t engage with friends and family in the ways I had previously. I was exhausted and overwhelmed; I sometimes felt lost, lonely and decidedly confused about who I was and what I wanted to do next.

I used to be able to go on breaks away, or sit up late talking it through with friends. I used to have a job that gave me freedom. I didn’t resent motherhood, but I craved something that I could do that would give me the sense of space and connection I so needed. I didn’t just want to do what I’d always done. Maybe before I’d have gone for a drink to let my hair down, now I just wanted something peaceful and healthy without children. It had to be free, and of course, easy to do because I was not working and was always so tired.

One day I’d just had enough, I was tearful and, dare I say it, emotional. My partner was around, and I asked him to take the kids so I could go for a walk alone. Once I was out, I managed a hundred yards before I just sat down under a tree to cry. I sat there for forty minutes, just watching and listening and being still. I listened to the birds, I watched the squirrels dive about on their essential missions, and I breathed in the vitality of nature. At the end of it, I felt decidedly restored.

I was surprised just how energised and happy I felt from that short interaction with the outdoors. It was quite profound. So from then on, I decided to find ways for me to do that every day.

Sometimes it was just 15 minutes before breakfast or half an hour before bed. For the next weeks and months, I committed to myself, for the benefit of everyone around me, that where possible I would do this as a practice every day. As a result, I can honestly say that I felt my sense of belonging soar and my happiness and sense of purpose with it.

Now if that was all, I could stop writing here. Hopefully, it would be a sweet story and a useful suggestion to support women in their emergence from the early years of mothering, and that would be it. But the thing I most want to share is what happened one day after I’d been doing this for a few months.

I was at the same tree, the one I’d made a point of returning to, the one where the birds seemed to know me now and where I felt quite at home. I was sat there mid-afternoon on a sunny mid-spring day when I heard my son chattering away to his Dad as they made their way along the path on the other side of the wall. He couldn’t see me, but it was nice to know he was there.

All of a sudden I heard him again shouting ‘Mummy, mummy I see Mummy’. My partner tried to guide him away from the gap in the fence where he’d spotted me, but we both knew that now that he’d seen me he would not want to leave without me.

It was then that I decided to invite my nearly 3-year-old to join me. My partner took the baby away for a walk. I explained to my little one that I was doing a special thing and if he wanted to join me, he could, but he’d have to sit very quietly and very still, and we were to look out for exciting and magical things around us. To my surprise, he agreed and seemed to sense the air of reverence and magic. He sat there still and quiet for about 7 minutes. Now, if you have ever known a 3-year-old, you will understand that 7 minutes of stillness and quiet at this age is quite a feat. Still, he really did manage this and when he finally spoke it was with a sudden burst of excitement about a little robin he’d spotted on the far bank of the gully.

It became a thing from then onwards to do a little ‘sit spot’ whenever we were out for walks to see what we could see if we were quiet and didn’t scare the wildlife away.

One day a few years later while we were out for a walk, both my children ran up and asked, ‘can we do a sit spot mummy, can we do a sit spot’. I had a tremendous sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. I honestly felt at that point that if I do nothing else for my children for the rest of their lives, I can almost say my job is complete. Well maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but really, I feel proud, I feel so so glad. They have discovered and still have a deep connection to nature in a way that it took me years to re-learn. They have a practice that they can always go back to, wherever they are and whatever they are doing. And with this also comes that sense of belonging, peace, ability to find stillness and pure joy that this practice brings. If you know me, you will know how much this means to me. Nature is a healer. This was my discovery, and now this is my passion.

For more tips of simple things to do in your everyday life to build your connection to nature for healing or restoration or even just for joy, or for simple ideas of ways you can effortlessly nurture that sense of connection to nature in your children I offer 1-to-1 nature mentoring and a programme of personal mentoring to raising nature connected children linked to the model of the Eight Shields.