Growing resilience: how daring to dream and time in nature make you stronger

| 26th September 2017
<p>Alan Heeks leads a wellness event at Hazel Wood</p>

Alan Heeks leads a wellness event at Hazel Wood

The modern era of shining iPhone screens, zero hour contracts, the threat of nuclear armageddon and continued global poverty can challenge your personal resilience. JACK ALEXANDER reports how the author Alan Heeks has turned to nature and to dreams to restore our strength and vitality
One of the themes that emerges from these groups is that people feel increasingly depleted by everyday life and work, and it’s getting worse

Compare the pressures you face in a typical week with a few years ago: have they increased? Now think about the years ahead: are the pressures likely to keep growing? If you’re answering 'yes', this could be a good time to review and renew your strategies for resilience.

Alan Heeks has many years’ experience of exploring how people can raise their wellbeing and resilience through contact with nature.

To help this, he has set up Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury, a magical 70-acre conservation woodland and retreat centre. He and his team have been running a range of events for individuals and work groups exploring resilience and natural happiness.

Time in Nature

Alan said: “One of the themes that emerges from these groups is that people feel increasingly depleted by everyday life and work, and it’s getting worse.

"There are many reasons for this, including the many hours spent with smartphones and screens, which mean that they are constantly overloaded with too much information, and alarming news from across the globe.

"A book published in 2012 by two doctors from Harvard Medical School quotes many research studies showing how long hours in front of screens put people in a continual state of alert, which makes it hard for them both to concentrate, and also to relax.

He added: "This book, Your Brain on Nature, also provides plenty of evidence that time in Nature is one of the best antidotes.”

One of the themes that emerges from these groups is that people feel increasingly depleted by everyday life and work, and it’s getting worse

The programmes at Hazel Hill Wood offer a range of ways to learn from Nature. An important part of most of these events is some solo time out in the woods, giving people a chance to relax, and open to fresh insights about the issues that they’re facing.

Nutrition for future growth

Alongside this, Alan has created a model, the Seven Seeds of Natural Happiness, which shows how people can learn from the resilience of natural ecosystems. 

An example of what we can learn from nature is composting: in woods, as in organic farms and gardens, the major source of future growth is waste, dead matter which can be transformed into nutrition for future growth.

You could do the same: imagine recycling negative feelings and anxious thoughts, and using their energy to give you insights and growth

Another theme which emerges for some people at the wood is their concerns for the state of the world, climate change, and damage to the environment.

Many people feel helpless about such problems, and simply stuff their worries down. Alan said: “I find that these deep, denied worries affect a lot of people, and sap their energy and resilience. We offer a range of processes, such as composting and deep ecology, to help people face these anxieties, and find a more positive outlook.” 

Daring to dream

One of Alan’s inspirations in this area is Thomas Berry, an American eco-philosopher. In his book, The Dream of the Earth, Berry argues that the way to positive change for the state of our world begins with dreams. He points out that dreams, in the sense of inspiring visions, and myths, in the sense of prevailing beliefs, have a huge influence in our world.

Berry is optimistic about the future, because he believes that the wisdom of Gaia, planet earth, can team up with the inventiveness of humans, to find solutions even to the current threats.

Alan observes, “I agree with Thomas Berry that this mega-crisis represents a mega-opportunity. You could look at it as a chance for humans to grow dramatically in resilience, and in their connection with Nature. I also agree with Berry that we have to dare to dream: if we can at least carry a vision of the future we hope for, it starts to gather momentum.”

Alan Heeks and Jane Sanders are co-leading a weekend workshop at Hazel Hill Wood on October 13-15, titled Dare to Imagine: Growing into the Future – exploring super-resilience with nature’s help.

Alan is the author of ‘The Natural Advantage: renewing yourself’ and many other books. He provides organic growth approaches for people and their work that help to build resilience. Jane has many years’ experience of working with mindfulness, deep ecology and other approaches to wellbeing, and is part of the Wisdom Tree team.

This Author

Jack Alexander is a contributor to The Ecologist website. For Hazel Hill Wood bookings and enquiries visit their websiteAlan Heeks tweets at @nathappiness



The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here