Can nature itself provide meaning and purpose in these troubling times?

| 13th June 2018
The endless stream of adverts, arguments and antagonism on social media must have an impact on our wellbeing. But what can we do? Natural Happiness author ALAN HEEKS explores how a potent mix of creativity, spirituality and time in nature can bring connection, inspiration and better health

Having worked with many people on creativity and resilience, a major issue which pulls them into despair and apathy is the state of our world, and the damage humanity is doing to our planet and each other.

Let’s face it, the basic aim of social media is to make us spend more. This means one effect of all our screen time is to make us more self-centred, more anxious and more materialistic.

All this erodes our capacity to be creative, to feel we have some power to shape our own lives and the world around us for the better. In my life, there’s a spiritual aspect to my creative energy, whereby I define 'spiritual' according to the following qualities it brings.

Meaning: our sense of meaning in our own life, and the world in general, is badly eroded by the power of fake news and social media. To find meaning, we have to use our intention and seek meaning at a higher, non-material level.

Spiritual aspect

Purpose: we’re constantly exposed to messages persuading us that our lives are pointless unless we buy Brand X. The best antidote is to find a higher purpose, one which inspires you and serves more than material needs. 

Connection: how have your ways of connecting changed in the past 10 years: probably more online, more information, but less connections with people, Nature, purpose and meaning? For me, a main part of spiritual life is feeling the connections between life of all kinds, a fellowship which I find very nourishing and meaningful.

I have also found nature to be a powerful stimulus for creativity. People have turned to nature as a way to find inspiration and connect with a bigger picture of life for centuries, which has been a key focus of the many workshops and groups I’ve been running at the Hazel Hill Wood retreat centre near Salisbury these last twenty five years.

One of the many benefits of being at this magical 70-acre woodland centre, which I founded thirty years ago, is that it’s easy to connect with an expansive community that includes not only people, but all the many forms of life that share this ecosystem.

And if you’ve read the book The Hidden Life of Trees, you’ll know that many people believe that trees themselves have wisdom and healing we can share in.

Spiritual wisdom

My spiritual path weaves many strands together, including Celtic, Christian, and Sufi. An approach called creation spirituality draws on the original teachings of Jesus in Aramaic, the native language of those times, and suggests that the creation of our universe is an ongoing story, in which our job description as humans is to find our creative part in this divine process. The books of Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme will tell you more.

Having worked with many people on creativity and resilience, a major issue which pulls them into despair and apathy is the state of our world, and the damage humanity is doing to our planet and each other. The spiritual wisdom of Thomas Berry can help with this: he believes that positive dreams, prayer, and feeling both our pain and our love for the Earth, can move us forward. 

A special feature of the Celtic spiritual tradition is the way that pagan and Christian approaches are included. Groups have been celebrating the eight Celtic seasonal festivals at Hazel Hill for many years, and our upcoming Creative Spirit weekend will include ways to mark the Summer Solstice and inspire our own creativity from the abundant growth in nature.

A spiritual path typically means aiming to serve some wider purpose than your own material needs, and there’s plenty of research to show that helping others is a great way to enhance our own wellbeing, which is something we often explore in the groups and workshops at Hazel Hill Wood. 

Our Creative Spirit weekend is a rare opportunity to drink deep from this enriching wellspring of creativity, spirituality and nature, in the magical oasis of Hazel Hill Wood. 

We will also offer chances to experience some Sufi practices, such as movement meditation, songs and poetry. I value the Sufi outlook, which sees divinity in all life, and meets life with a loving heart, more than a rational head. The poems of Rumi and Hafiz remind us that humour can also help our creative outlook!

This Author

Alan Heeks will be co-facilitating the Creative Spirit workshop at Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury from Friday 22nd - Sunday 24th June, with musician and group leader, Cordelia Jilani Prescott. The workshop costs £180, including food and accommodation. For more information on this and other programmes with Alan Heeks, visit his website

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