What sort of journey does Gawain go on? I asked this when thinking about the interior and exterior journeys in children’s literature and traditional tales. Today – cold as cold, but sunny even in the woods as the leaves lose their grip – I was struck by the challenge in how I ask my students to take some time alone and quiet in the woods. No ‘phone, no eye contact with one another, just ten minutes (today five, since they were so cold) stood or sat alone in the sunshine of a little wood.
I do this because one of the dominant things when we think about outdoors is the opportunity for boisterous play – the “let kids be kids” argument is full of this. However, I saw this picture of one of my class and suddenly remembered a little girl who “played camping” all one long summer afternoon in a nursery garden. I repeatedly asked her if she was OK, if she needed anything, and she always smiled and said “no.” Letting humans be human is often about the powerful and energetic ways we interact; today’s shelter building and “One Two Three Where Are You?” games were great examples of this. But to “be” outside may also need time: time to listen to the angry little wren, the panic of a jackdaw, the wary crackle of feet (a hoof, I suspect) in the undergrowth. Time to not listen to me melling on, or to the demands of social media –
till what I find, I find
because it’s there
as John Burnside puts.
Rachel Kaplan‘s sustained work on the benefits of being outdoors (for example here) emphasises the restorative effects of being out in nature. She is also clear you don’t need a wood, and I can understand that. I might contend that these forays into expansive environments also can/might include a spiritual encounter – with silence (or, as the students today identified, a lot of different, smaller noises), with our own feelings and intentions. For some this is familiar, welcome; for others, I know from debriefing this activity in the past, it might entail a confronting of an individual’s own discomfort. What sort of journey do we go on to our respective Green Chapels, and what might we find? Time to be alone with (or without) our thoughts can lead to all sorts of different paths and encounters – even in five minutes in an autumn-cold wood.