Dare to Imagine: new responses to future pressures

By Alan Heeks

I am pleased to announce a new Wisdom Tree weekend workshop at Hazel Hill Wood on October 13-15. The idea for this workshop arose from feedback from several people who attended our 'Nourishing the Front Line' - Taster Day at the wood on June 19. We had similar comments from several people involved with health, care and other public services along these lines:

Many front-line teams have been in a squeeze for years between reducing funds, lower staffing levels, and rising service demands. Many people are already at the stage of burnout, reduced creativity, and there is a clear risk of service failures to clients. This squeeze is likely to continue or even intensify, which makes the future almost unthinkable.

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Our new workshop is titled Dare to Imagine: Growing into the Future – exploring super-resilience with Nature’s help. We want to explore the provocative idea that there must be a positive upside to these pressures, and to imagine them as a chance to evolve into even greater levels of resilience.

One of our starting points will be the work of Thomas Berry, the eco-philosopher, whose book ‘The Dream of the Earth,’ urges us to start at the level of myth, prevailing beliefs, to reconnect humanity with nature and a positive vision of change. The dominant myths of our time include belief in technical progress, and in man’s ‘ownership’ of the Earth as an asset to exploit. Surely we can dare to imagine better myths and practical dreams, both as individuals and collectively? This is what Berry calls The New Story.

The group will be guided by Alan Heeks and Jane Sanders. Our exploration will consider these issues both for individuals and for front-line service organisations who face similar pressures. The leaders don’t have answers, but can offer relevant processes and experience gathered over many years. This includes Joanna Macy’s Deep Ecology work, Alan’s research on resilience and future outlooks (see more at and, spiritual ecology and learning from Nature.

Cost including food and accommodation: £150, concessions £125.  Some private bedrooms available at a small premium.  Fri 7pm-Sun 4pm.  For bookings and enquiries please contact Charles Kemp Tel: 07737 892 891 / 01373 462606 E:
For more information on the weekend please click here.



Valuing Wild Margins- nature, people and teams

The wild margins are one of my favourite principles in organic systems. To qualify for organic certification, a farm must leave some corners and edgeland wild, uncultivated. These margins contribute a lot to the community of life in a farm or garden. They're a haven for wild flowers, plants, birds, insects.

Naturalists point out that diversity of wildlife and plants has many benefits for humans too, although often we don't understand them. It may be insects or bacteria in the wild margin which are essential to growing a crop we want, or inhibiting a new pest or plant disease.

So how do wild margins work for communities and groups? I've seen many groups of people who find it hard to include and tolerate divergent and challenging views.

The problem is aggravated because 'wild margin' people often feel isolated, angry, vulnerable, and may lack the communication skills to make their points diplomatically. When a group feels threatened and criticised, it's tempting to turn against minority members, to scapegoat or exclude them. We can see a lot of this in society generally.

One benefit of the wild margins analogy is to show the potential insights in divergent views. If the majority of a group can learn tolerance, patience and the skills to hear the essence under challenging language, they will access more wisdom and solutions.

There are plenty of human examples of the value of wild margins. Nelson Mandela, in solitary confinement for many years on Robben Island, may have seemed an unlikely person to resolve apartheid in South Africa, but mainstream society's crises are often solved from an unlikely and marginal source. Studies of innovation often show that its sources are unexpected and undervalued.

On November 10th, Hazel Hill is hosting a one-day workshop, The Wild Margins of Organisational Change with Alan Heeks and Marcos Frangos. This workshop will explore some of the less ‘conscious' territory in ourselves and in the organisations we work with when we’re working in organisational change – the wild margins. The aim is to bring new sources of resilience, greater self-awareness and creativity in organisational change and to help participants to become more effective and resilient change agents. We’ll be using a range of approaches that help us tap into the wild margins, including organisational constellations, coaching and exploring what the natural systems can teach us about organisational change.

For details of the Nov 10 workshop, click here.




Your Brain on Nature : book review

The science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness and vitality by Eva M. Selhub MD & Alan Logan ND

Jane Sanders writes: The first time I saw a substantial piece of research about the benefits of nature I felt both dismayed and reassured. Dismayed that us humans have got so disconnected that we need research to tell us walking in a wood is more beneficial than walking through a shopping centre – and reassured because in this crazy world we live in- the reality is that the research gives people like doctors the evidence base to prescribe ‘Vitamin G (greenspace)’ and organisationslike Mind and Wisdom Tree the possibility of setting up eco-therapy events & projects.

This book presents a fascinating review of a huge variety of scientific studies –for example just to name a few-  the Japanese ‘forest bathers’ increasing NK cells (hugely beneficial for the immune system) by 40% after just three days of morning and afternoon walks, - the benefits of human interaction with dogs in raising oxytocin levels (a hormone like peptide linked to promoting empathy and enhancing a sense of security and trust),  – and the effects of windows on post-operative patients who needed 22% less pain medication if they were in a room with a window giving natural light.

This collaboration between a medical doctor and a naturopath has created a holistic and well- rounded offering. It’s pretty comprehensive – covering horticultural and wilderness therapy, the effect of animals on humans (and humans on animals) light (why the East Japan Railway installed $200,000 worth of blue LED lights in train stations to curb suicides), smell (physiological effects of the mix of smells in the forest) , green gym and even nutri-ecopsychology (e.g the effects on our brain of  de-natured foods which produce oxidative stress and inflammation).  

One of the chapters which really caught my attention was also about the use of nature to mitigate the effects that our growing technology driven existence is having on our brains. It explained the way our brains are changing in response to technology, why screens are so addictive & what we can do about that. This book is essentially very practical in terms of applied ecopsychology and how we can all build in very simple and effective strategies for lowering stress and increasing wellbeing, some as simple as having a plant on your desk.

Have you had your vitamin G today?




Wild Margins of Organisational Change

Ever heard of the concept of "Wild Margins?" They might have something to teach us about organisational change. It's a topic that is becoming of increasing interest to me, particularly against the backdrop of whole-systems thinking .

If you're interested in exploring this fascinating area further, there are two workshops being run by Wisdom Tree at Hazel Hill Wood :

 Thursday 15 September: exploring relationships and roles that lie in the wild margins of our awareness.


Thursday 10 November 2016: examining how whole-systems can respond to change and what a 70 acre woodland real-life ecosystem (at Hazel Hill Wood) can teach us about resilience to change.

    Wild Margins in ecology and permaculture describes the parts of an ecosystem that are uncultivated, and where solutions to mainstream crop problems often reside.  Research is under way to source seeds of more resilient strains of common plants from wild margins deemed far more likely to withstand predicted climate change.

So what might does this have to do with organisational change?

As a change agent with many years experience, I've often seen the Wild Margins of our organisations leave huge untapped potential: hidden dynamics often drain an organisation's resources to change or transform because they are unconscious to those driving up the change. And in the 'wild margins', sometimes people, whole teams, or even whole departments are abandoned.

What might happen if we re-focus our attention and become interested in the wild margins? We can tap into human energy, creativity, and inspiration that could be key ingredients to the very change we're seeking.

If you're interested in finding out more about Wild Margins of Organisational Change area or workshops speak to Marcos at Wellspring Change Ltd




Wildful walking

Earlier this summer two of the Wisdom Tree team - Joana Formosinho and Daniel Korner led a 'wildful' walk at dusk on the magical grounds of Dartington Hall in Devon


Joana writes:

The weather was on our side—a warm, bright evening, the beautiful colours of spring flowers almost hyper-real against all shades of green. The Dartington Hall gardens are full to bursting with life at this time, perfect for our nature-focused mindfulness adventure.

We gathered with participants about an hour before sunset, and proceeded to walk the grounds for three hours, leading through a series of exercises designed to expand our vision and hearing, fall into greater awareness of our body and its contact with ground, air, sounds, smiles and and smells, and encounter close-up the magnificent trees that inhabit the grounds.

From evening light to twilight and its dusk chorus, and into the silence of night, we finished the walk in darkness.The moon was half full and provided some illumination but, humans that we are, we needed more; just a little more light, so we could better appreciate the darkness. I stayed behind with participants and Daniel created a path lined by candles which everyone followed to a half-hidden spot in the woods, where we found a tree illuminated with candles.

Together, we sat and reflected on the walk, which had been a silent experience. Some participants sat quietly, others whispered beautiful words into the night: ‘Enchanted”, “Magic”, “Beautiful”, “I sank back into myself”, “So good to slow down and pay attention”, “It was so good to share a deep experience with others in silence”. “Thank you”, a participant said, his eyes wide, gazing at the candle-lit tree. “Thank you so much”.

That is all a facilitator needs—to see the difference in someone’s eyes, to hear it in the words. We look forward to our next adventure.

Joana & Daniel will be at back at Hazel Hill Woodson October 21st-23rdfor a week-end called 'Wild Wisdom in creative action' read more here:



Back to work: Drag or Delight?

Find yourself or lose yourself in the daily task

As we approach September, you may be going back to a regular job, or not.  Either scenario may leave you happy or blue.  August seems a good time to reflect on how work fits into your life.

I observe people talking a lot about work, but in a very selective way.  They talk about what they’re doing, maybe moan about the boss, but rarely say what work really means to them.  I believe that’s because work is so important, so personal, so bound up with their sense of self, that it’s too sensitive to talk about.

In the 1990s I led many weekend workshops on the theme Find Your Gift in Work: these groups gave a safe place and structures to explore how work and life can fit, and I feel honoured to have shared so many journeys.  These taught me a lot too: here are a few highlights:

    Know what’s holding you back.  Do you have doubts or beliefs that limit you in your work?  For example, some people believe they should not earn more or succeed more than their fathers…

    Are you re-creating your childhood family at work?  I was amazed in my workshops to see how often this happens.  For example, were you bullied as a child by your father?  Was the family always arguing?  Did you have a habitual role, such as the joker or the scapegoat?  Any echoes in your current work??

    Reduce your financial needs.  It’s easy to feel trapped or pressured about work because of money needs.  Cut back on your needs, and free up your choices!

    Understand about human sustainability.  I believe that environmental depletion and pollution has close parallels in human work: this is fully explained in my book, The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself.  If your work is exhausting you, you need a systemic view of the problem and how to change it.

    Believe you can fulfill your passion.  First you need the courage to discover your vision, then you need patience and intelligence to make your dream practical.  You don’t have to jump off a cliff, you can find the right steps…

Whether you’re in work or out of work, if you’re unhappy about the situation, believe you can change it for the better.  And if looking within doesn’t give you the clues, look around you: notice what issues concern or excite you, and explore how you could make a difference.



Book review: Challenger Spirit

 THE CHALLENGER SPIRIT by Dehnugara and Genkai Breeze
The value of resilience, and purposeful instability…

The focus of this well-written book is creating successful, innovative organisations, and the personal skills to enable this.  The authors are co-founders of Relume, a small team who have helped top businesses for many years.  Claire Genkai Breeze draws heavily on her Zen Buddhist training in her approach.

Challenger SpiritThe book offers a series of key skills and principles to bring the Challenger Spirit into an organisation and each chapter has a good Practice Ground section, highlighting inner and outer work, and describing what good would look like. The book is also bought to life by a series of excellent quotes and mini case histories from named organisations.

They are clear that changing attitudes, culture and values are fundamental, rather than large change programmes of pre-designed activity.  As one quote puts it:  “As well as a ‘to do’ list we also had a kind of ‘to be’ list.  Which was about how we related to each other… what we valued as a company… That really has been the enduring stuff and the least comfortable.”  (Director of a financial services company)

The book is perceptive about ways that Establishment organisations blinker themselves, including the 4 A’s:

  •     Arrogance
  •     Avoidance
  •     Antagonism (energy-consuming dynamic of ‘sides’)
  •     Agreement (can mean oversimplifying, not facing real issue)

One of the powerful elements in the Challenger Spirit is Purposeful Instability: in other words deliberately cultivating a degree of challenge and change, which puts the organisation and its individuals into a growth zone somewhere between chaos and the status quo.  This instability is only fruitful if matched with a range of other skills, such as drawing out the vision and ambition of the individuals within the organisation, and real learning skills.

Chapter 7 is all about resilience, and offers some great guidelines especially for those in leadership or management roles, who need even more resilience than the rest of us.  Some of the key points are:

  •   Handling stress and having negative feelings directed at you require very high resilience skills.
  •  High personal resilience is crucial if you are aiming to create and grow through instability in a work organisation.
  • Maintaining momentum, repeatedly stretching the organisation, demands a lot of energy.
  •  Emotional competence – handling your own and others’ emotions, is vital.
  • There will be periods of ‘no hope’ when it seems a situation or project has failed – handling these is a crucial part of individual and team resilience: see these as transformational opportunities.

The key skills for resilience listed in the book relate closely to mindfulness, but expand on it, including:

  • Managing stress reactions,
  • maintaining mindfulness in hectic contexts;
  • challenging their own and others’ habitual responses;
  • staying connected to purpose;
  • recognising emergence;
  • embodying compassion.

The main omission which surprised me in this book is any question about the underlying values and purpose of business in general.  I believe that innovative businesses can combine their profit goal with a leading role in social responsibility and same approaches to climate change, but none of this is mentioned here.

Although the book’s focus is on organisations, many of the ideas, such as purposeful instability, can be well applied by individuals to their own growth and resilience too.