In this episode, Katie Churchman is talking with CRR Global co-founder Faith Fuller and CRR faculty member Janet Frood about viewing Nature as an ally when we consider relationship systems intelligence. This isn’t just about considering our relationship with nature but also, thinking about how nature is a part of us and looking at what nature can teach us. Across the episode, they cover a variety of colorful topics including: nature’s ability to shift our perspective; the healing power of nature; and nature’s insight into relationship challenges.
Janet Frood is an executive, team and leadership coach who focuses on human and relational dimensions of organizational development. After 20 years of what Janet calls her “accidental” career, she made a big leap and completely changed my own career path. In 2005, she founded Horizon Leadership and dedicated her work to supporting leaders and teams on their journey. Janet’s inspirational work focuses on the human and relational dimensions of organizational life – cultivating the talent and resourcefulness of individuals and teams so they move towards their goals together.
Faith Fuller is co-owner and President of CRR Global. She is a psychologist and experienced trainer and coach, with over 15 years of experience in working with organizations, couples and communities. Faith takes a systems approach to coaching, namely that all aspects of the system need to be addressed in order for effective change to occur. Her particular skill is empowering powerful, productive and joyous relationships in couples, partnerships and teams . She also has a background in consultation, team building, conflict resolution and community crisis intervention.
For over 18 years, CRR Global has accompanied leaders, teams, and practitioners on their journey to build stronger relationships by focusing on the relationship itself, not only the individuals occupying it. This leads to a community of changemakers around the world. Supported by a global network of Faculty and Partners, we connect, inspire, and equip change agents to shift systems, one relationship at a time
We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole.
Relationship Matters Ep 1 – Nature as an Ally
KC – Katie Churchman
FF - Faith Fuller
JF – Janet Frood
[Intro 00:00 – 00:06]
KC – Hello and welcome back to the Relationship Matters podcast. We believe relationship matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole. In this episode I’m talking with CRR Global co-founder Faith Fuller and faculty member Janet Frood about viewing nature as an ally when we consider relationships systems intelligence. I’m delighted to be welcoming Faith back to the show and introducing Janet to the Relationship Matter’s listeners. After 20 years of what Janet calls her accidental career she made a big leap and completely changed her own career path. In 2005 she founded Horizon Leadership and dedicated her work to supporting leaders and teams on their journeys. Janet’s inspirational work focuses on the human and relational dimensions of organizational life, cultivating the talent and resourcefulness of individuals and teams so they move towards their goals together. In this episode Faith and Janet explore the power of seeing nature as an ally. This isn’t just about considering our relationship with nature but also thinking about how nature is a part of us and looking at what nature can teach us. Across the episode we cover a variety of colorful topics including nature’s ability to shift our perspective, the healing power of nature and nature’s insight into relationship challenges. To quote Wallace J. Nichols, author of Blue Mind, “Nature is the number one source of awe and wonder that expands our empathy and compassion. By experiencing awe and wonder, it takes us out of ourselves, makes us rethink our world view and opens our hearts and minds to other places.” So without further adu I bring you Faith Fuller and Janet Frood, join them in this special episode as they take pause with purpose and find their way back home to self and nature.
Well Faith, Janet, it’s an absolute delight to have you both on the show today talking about nature and ORSC. And I guess that’s how I want to start, why nature and relationship systems intelligence?
FF – Well, it’s time is the short answer to that. Also, Janet and I feel that we are not in touch with what is actually a giant resource to all peoples, particularly coaches, a resource of allyship, imagination, possibilities that can be tapped if we reconnect with nature as a restorative way of working with our clients and with ourselves. So, it’s an opportunity to really enrich our practice by helping bring nature in to be our ally in that work. So that’s one reason!
JF – and I would add that when you think about relationship systems nature is the ultimate relationship system. If you want to think about the co-creation and the different roles that play out in the natural environment, the way the beings interact and support each other and, you know, how they can have destructive forces as well. So it really is this powerful living metaphor that’s right in front of us, so when we think about relationship systems and helping connect people to what is a relationship system, sometimes the mirror of nature is such a beautiful teacher for us. We wanted to try and link that a little bit more to the relationships systems intelligence work.
FF – Yeah, yeah. I think that resource is rich and generous, when I say that resource I mean nature, and we could collaborate with it and it well inform us on how to work, I mean Janet, you do work with teams doing nature work, I actually, can I tap you to say a few words about how you use it with your teams?
JF – Yeah, so there’s one team I work with, we were not able to be outside but I did want to bring something in because they were going through a myth change and I wanted to help do something that’d be a really beautiful ceremony and helping them create something from nature, and I brought in a bag of driftwood and just laid them all out and I asked them all to go and pick up a piece of driftwood that, for some reason, called to them. And we stood in a circle and I asked them to then start saying why that piece of wood and what it represented for them about how they were feeling about the team. And they spoke and then they placed their wood and it ended up being a co-creation of a sculpture. So, individual pieces of driftwood but then they created together a sculpture that reflected their team. And I had them walk around it and look at it from different angles and, you know, really invite them to observe and notice. And we did a circle of just saying, you know, what is it that you notice? And really it was an emotional field piece because it got very essencey very quickly. So that was sort of a primer for them to find their way into connection, acknowledging the difference in change and with a natural element. And honestly, what I would say is the minute people put their hands on a stone or a piece of wood or moss, that tactile connection, something about who they are emerges and the way that they engage and see the system, it’s sort of magic the way it unfolds.
FF – I love that. I love that.
KC – Mm hmm, I thought that was just me. The way, when I go say to a forest or I’m away somewhere in the woods I feel so much calmer and I do think nature has this deeper healing quality perhaps, but as you’re mentioning there, it’s maybe accessing a different kind of intelligence, would you say?
JF – Well, I think it’s accessing the nature that is in us. We are nature. We are nature, we know nature and we may feel disconnected from nature. If we really work and walk in the world with I am nature and nature is me there’s a relationship and there’s an opening to something that’s in us, and so yes, you walk in the forest and you have this moment, there’s this visceral connection, you feel something but I think we can call on it any moment just as we visualize it or imagine it. And it’s really powerful when you go into those places to connect a part of ourselves.
FF – You know I was thinking Jen, I think a lot of people think I can’t possibly work with nature with my clients because I’m not in the forest, you know. And I know there’s a little personal eco system thing we can sometimes do with people and I’m wondering whether you’d be willing just to take a few minutes to help us all connect with nature as being insiders, not outsiders?
JF – Yeah, so this is an example that I just did with a team and it was a check in question so we’re going to practice here. And so the question is thinking about our own eco system that is in us, and if you tap into that and notice what are you feeling, tumbling with, noticing? There may be some dreaming, but just that eco system of self, what do you notice is present today? We’ll invite, you know, Faith, do you wanna lead us off?
FF – Yes. What I’m noticing today is a little ball of excitement in my solar plexus area, it’s just excitement about the topic so there’s a sort of frisson of energy, a little sun in my solar plexus that is radiating out a little bit. That’s what I’m most aware of right now and I feel light in it.
JF – That’s gorgeous. Katie what’s in your eco system today?
KC – As soon as you said the word eco system I saw the image of sort of an over grown garden that feels a bit packed with stuff, you know, there’s almost not enough land for all the thoughts and the ideas going on today. So it felt like one of those really messy overgrown gardens in the neighborhood that you get annoyed at when you see the tree going over the fence. That’s my eco system today.
JF – That’s awesome. Yeah. And you know, as I’m connecting with the eco system there’s something about a lot of spaciousness that I’m feeling today and just sort of like that, almost like a bird flying and you know that ariel view and swooping, so there’s that joyful energy but there’s something about spaciousness which today I’m just delighted in because it hasn’t felt like that, I would have not have said that yesterday to be honest.
FF – So, a question for you out there who might be listening is what is in your eco system today, if you imagined that’s what you are, a part of nature and in your eco system what do you feel, do you sense, what’s trying to get your attention? It can be done in an instant, it’s a little bit like reading the emotional field. I think there is one thing I just want to add about this because I’m feeling it more and more – when we’re disconnected from nature, and we learned how disconnected we were during the pandemic, in some ways when we couldn’t go out much and nature began to explore the out into the cities and fields and places it hadn’t been in years. And also, some of us got our butts out there to walk because it was the only thing to do! So, you know, we began to reconnect. But something that I feel strongly is that not being in touch with nature as a personal relationship with nature is a kind of terrible poverty. When we’re human centered and it’s all about us and what. Ben Page, one of our teachers, talks about spiritual narcissism, we are cut off from the creatures around us that have things to offer in their own wealth of experience and wisdom. And so it’s like cutting ourselves off from a generative bank of energy, wisdom, possibility. So there’s a terrible poverty to being cut off and that we experience in our body, in our mind, in our soul and our clients feel as well. I want to reconnect with that generative possibility, inherent in nature because it’s part of us and we have cut ourselves off from it.
KC – I guess coming to this conversation, to be completely transparent, I thought it was going to be more so about our relationship with nature as opposed to how we understand ourselves in nature and I guess for someone who’s never thought about it like that before, how does one start thinking about themselves as a part of nature?
JF – That is actually, a really important element is if you don’t spend time in nature you may not have much relationship with it. And so I think that it is around time and exposure and starting to consider, you know, when we are in the presence of nature, even today I’m looking out my window and I can see the trees and the movement, so starting to say it’s not oh, there’s a tree moving, it’s more what’s in the movement? Where’s movement in my soul, my space, my life? So you use it as a way of a bit of a mirror, to learn. But I think it’s just noticing and being aware but then it’s not just othering it, it’s over there, it’s how does this live in me? So I think the most simple way, Katie, I can say is let nature be a mirror for who you are and who you be. Ask nature for its wisdom, if you are feeling a sense of uncertainty or confusion just to pause long enough to say that my ego has to come up with the answer, instead it’s like what is available here to inform me and when I see it is actually part of who I am. So I think it’s the way we think of it, we tend to other nature. Nature’s over there, we humans are over here. And yet, if you think about it from a DNA perspective we have all come through millennials of connection with land and nature and interacting and collaborating with it until we got to this industrialized way of living where we now see nature as a resource that we dominate and use. So, I think there’s structures in the world today that causes us to have that disconnection but acknowledge it and lay it down, then you go back to nature is me and I am nature.
FF – Love that, Janet. And I just want to layer in another little piece around that which is somehow, how did this happen, and I think it is the industrial age, somehow as you mentioned there’s me and then there’s nature over there but it’s ridiculous. First of all, you have pounds of pounds of microbiota that are digesting food and saving you from illnesses and bacteria that are sharing with you but even more in a more primitive way, there isn’t a single part of our body that didn’t come into the world from, literally, the dust of stars. All of carbon, everything that isn’t either hydrogen or helium came from the death of a star, from the explosion of a star. We are literally, this is not a metaphor, everything within us is made up of star dust. It just doesn’t get more nature based than that. And somehow we’re separate, so remember that, remember that when you look out at the sky, you’re made of that, those stars. You are made of the earth. We are inherently, naturally of the earth we just forget sometimes!
JF – 75% of our being is water.
KC – I remember reading a book called The Reality Bubble, it’s a fantastic book about parts of science and nature that we often just miss and I remember reading about how we actually have this small spider, well they’re all over our face and I was like you’ve gotta be kidding me, I scrub my face and it’s still there!
FF – Also, you know, I love your response Katie because I remember feeling like ew, I have mites, we have mites on our faces and so on and the first reaction is like ew. When we are disconnected from nature then there’s a way in which we want to distance from it, I think. And it leads to a situation of human centric behavior where nothing much matters in the world. If we extinguish a life of a spider, no problem, we can’t have one in the house after all! An if we extinguish a species it’s like oh well, you know, it’s sad but you know. But there’s a way in which when we recognize interdependence, I am made of these beings, we look out at the trees and know that they’re sharing their roots, they’re living examples of interdependence. Eco system’s rely on all kinds of things so I think when we begin to connect we begin to feel present in our world in a different way, we are part of that world. We don’t feel so lonely as human beings.
JF – You know, one of the things that I love doing, again bringing it into how do we link it to ORSC and relationship systems and sometimes you know, working with teams and organizations I’ll use nature based inquiries and so to say if you are a season what is the season of your team or your organization? And they don’t always answer the same question and it’s wisdom, it’s using the metaphor of the season to describe what you’re noticing. You know, so it’s like somebody might say we’re dormant, we’re in winter and this is what’s generating, and other people might say well that’s really interesting because I’m already in the dry, hot depths of summer and feeling lazy and that we’re kind of coasting right now. And I think it’s such a powerful metaphor because people do have that ability to connect and find a way to bring language to something that may in fact be harder to say. I just wanted to weave that in as well because it’s very interesting to see how people can use it as a channel for revealing their own system that they’re a part of.
FF – And I’m curious, yeah, do you have any other questions Katie at this, because as you said, it’s unexpected this way we’ve gone.
KC – Yeah, I guess, I’m wondering as well the impact of nature on ones sense of self in the world, just in this conversation I’m aware of my problems feeling quite a lot smaller and I’m just wondering what the effect is perhaps on some of your clients or the teams you work with when they do feel that? That sense of perspective, perhaps, through nature?
JF – Well I can talk, I do some individual coaching and I take people to nature and we use nature as a literal backdrop for whatever the coaching agenda is, see how we can look at it. If you want to talk about perspective taking, it’s rich. Because sometimes it’s like what’s the issue, what’s the concern? And then say like look around you, just notice something that is in this space that you’re drawn too and go so you might move towards a tree or a rock or the water, and it’s like as we are here what is available to you from, let’s say water, relating to your issue? And I often give people quite a bit of time and space and silence so that they can really connect because they drop in to a different part of themselves. And to say, so, what is water telling you? What is available? And so, again, we’ll say let’s go take another perspective, let’s go over here, what calls your attention here? So it’s always about let your client find their way to what it is instead of, you know, go, I will prescribe for you now go have rock therapy. You know, it’s like no. But they’re like oh and it’s like what is available here? So, again, it’s teaching people, I love doing it because it’s opening people to say you do this every time but it’s opening the door so they can have access and find their way. But it is perspective work in a really simplistic way, so that they find a new way of seeing it, a new solution, an insight about themselves or the issue, and then they’re always lifted you know energetically, it also gets them so out of their head, right? They’re walking on the land, the earth, really different way of engaging in whatever your coaching topic is.
FF – I think and the simplistic inquiry around that is just to say imagine that everything you encounter that attracts your attention is in relationship with you and has something to share. It may share about itself or it may share about you, the relationship. And just a simple statement like that can open it up.
JF – And nature is inherently generous. It’s always there in service, you know, and I think that’s the thing too. Where it’s like oh to be held in that generosity, beautifully grounding.
KC – Yeah. And I think when you were talking just then I was aware of the awe that can come from sort of the everyday, ordinary stuff. And I remember from that same book, The Reality Bubble, reading about how water’s ancient, water’s been here for so long just recycled and I just couldn’t quite believe it that I’m probably drinking some water that’s probably been at one point at the top of Everest and we miss all of that because our lives get busy and we miss the extraordinary in the ordinary.
FF – I love that Katie. Every breath we take has been breathed through the tree, has been breathed through some green being, just as it’s busy breathing in our carbon dioxide. So this exchange, every single second of your life you are breathing in that nature and it is breathing you in.
KC – Yeah I think that that really does make the ordinary feel quite spectacular. Shows you don’t need Netflix to have fun, just a glass of water and an imagination.
JF – And looking out of a window!
KC – Oh, we live wild lives. I guess, a final question would be for someone like myself that lives in a city what would you offer as advise to connect more with nature because it’s not so actively around and accessible in the city.
JF – So simply just even going outside. The minute you’re outside you are with natural elements – the sky, feeling a breeze, noticing senses. I think it’s a sensory experience, even if you have pots of flowers in your house or on a balcony, just go and micro engage with them. The other thing is if you have access to parks. The key is go to the park but slow down…
FF – Slow down!
JF – Walk very slowly or just go and sit. The practice of a sit spot, just be outside and look at some element of nature and sit for an extended period of time. I think that a lot of people associate going to nature as going hiking and I have to climb a mountain and I’ve got all the gear and I’m walking really fast and how many steps I’m getting. And what I always try to say is if you want to tune into nature, nature works slow time. If you don’t slow down you will not access what she is offering. But you can find it everywhere, even in an inner city and it’s even how you tune your ear, pay attention to the nature sounds, not just the car, traffic, honking, but listen and the more you do it you’ll start to hear, those layers of sound will come to you.
FF – And the final piece of magic is you can connect with nature in your mind. We all have lots of memories of places we love in nature. We know from ORSC that you can access your channels inside the head or outside, the channels of your senses. So, it’s also possible to connect with nature by connecting with it in your own imagination.
KC – So, Faith you’ve got an exercise haven’t you to help us access this inner nature? Particularly useful if you’re living in a city and it’s raining and you can’t get outside, I quite like the idea of connecting with my internal paradise on days like that.
FF – Absolutely. So, Katie, is it ok if we use you as a model for this exercise?
KC – Mm hmm.
FF - Ready Katie?
KC – I think so.
FF – Ok, good. Well, this exercise is really a simple guided imagery exercise and it’s helping us to open up to the concept of nature as an ally. So, we’re going to start with thinking of a disturbance or a difficulty in your life Katie. You don’t have to say exactly what it is, maybe just a word or two, and you don’t have to pick the biggest most serious disturbance of your life. You know, it’s a rumble, it’s a difficulty and just give me a few words about what that might be.
KC – Someone I collaborate with and we’re on slightly different pages right now, feels like we’re struggling to align in different ways. There’s a real heartfelt deep connection there as well so there’s a longing to really maintain the relationship.
FF - Thank you. So now we’re going to take that relationship and put it aside and we’re going to do something different and that’s that I’d like you to think about a place in nature that is important to you, a place maybe you’ve been that you loved. Could be your own backyard, could be the woods or mountains or beach. Wherever feels safe and restorative to you personally. When you have a place just say ok.
KC – Ok.
FF – Great. So Katie, first just let yourself be there fully in your imagination in that place. And once you’re there what do you notice around you in that nature spot?
KC – Mmm. The vastness of nature. The mountains are just so big and wild and there is a sense of feeling really small but also so do my problems, you know, it’s like a real perspective shift.
FF – Got it. You’re off to a great start. And first notice what do you see around you Visual channel, what do you see? Take your time.
KC – I see lots of snow. And then the pine trees like poking up, some of them are covered in snow but eventually they poke higher up the mountain.
FF – Got it. And what do you hear, if anything?
KC – The sound of a light breeze. Maybe a few birds.
FF – What are you standing on and what is the temperature?
KC – I’m standing on skis, the temperature is cold but not too cold because I’m a fair weather skier.
FF – So, breathe deeply for a moment. What do you notice about the air?
KC – Ah, it’s so fresh. It’s like I’ve never breathed like this before.
FF – So take a minute to just relax deeply into this place. It’s your place. Enjoy it for a minute or two and we’ll be quiet as you enjoy it.
[Music 27:19 – 27:37]
FF – and now let’s open up to the possibility that this place has its own wisdom and it could be an ally to you. So we’re going to bring back that disturbance with a collaborator that you have a deep relationship with but you’re not quite aligned, you said. We asked you to think of that disturbance at the beginning of the exercise and now you’re going it to this place of nature with you. So just tuck it in with you in that spot, nothing to do just yet. And continue to fully experience this nature spot and see what you notice. I want you to imagine that this spot maybe has something to offer you about that disturbance, could be the mountains, the trees, the breeze. Take your time, there may be more than one message. So we’ll be quiet Katie for maybe two minutes while you check in with parts of your nature spot and maybe what they might have to offer you around that disturbance, so take a few minutes in quiet.
[Music 29:06 – 30:05]
FF – So let me check in with you Katie, would you like a little more time or have you got some information?
KC – I’ve got some information.
FF – Great. SO, tell us a little bit about what nature offered you in your spot about this issue.
KC – Yeah, there were a few pieces of wisdom. The breeze sort of gave me a sense of just slightly letting go and it was like my fists were clenched and just releasing slightly. That deep, long inhalation, exhalation. Not holding on so tightly, perhaps, with the ego. And then there was a sense around sort of the snow and the environment in general being quite dangerous and hostile and yet so beautiful at the same time and sort of being able to honor that it can be both, maybe something incredibly creative and unexpected can come out of something quite challenging. And then for some reason, this idea that actually a lot of fairy tales are set in sort of snowy mountainous backdrops came up and I was just wondering maybe it is the start of something different and new and it’s just reimagining it perhaps in a different way or just allowing it to emerge in its own way.
FF – Ah. So it sounds like there’s almost an invitation to what would that fairy story be? We won’t do that right now but there’s a direct invitation saying hmm, if this was a fairy tale what would happen next.
KC – Yeah. I was genuinely sort of taken away in that meditation, it was really strong. I think I mentioned when both of you came onto this call, a little but flustered about my many multiple cloud issues, I’m talking about the virtual clouds, not the literal clouds, given we’re talking about nature. I feel in a completely different state now. And I can see it and I could feel the environment of that mountain top, it was very powerful.
FF – Great. And I just wanna add that we’re all sitting in our offices right now, we’re not sitting on the top of a mountain but it’s right there for you. Your effortless with it. Thank you for a great model.
JF – Yeah, and I’ll just say again the witnessing of this, the space that got created and how restorative, again, the restorative power that lives in nature is remembering of what is possible in our own lives, what we access. So just so you know, again, these exercises are simple connection exercises and yet profound in terms of where we can go with them.
FF – You may also wanna think Katie about whether there’s an action step or a memory or something that’s a result of your experience that you wanna take with you today.
KC – I think it’s coming back to that good old ORSC phrase, who knows what’s good or what’s bad? And sort of holding the binaries of nature because I guess nature is awesome and it’s jaw dropping and it’s sometimes terrifying and very hostile and dangerous – it’s both. And can we hold both in our relationships with ourselves and our partners and our colleagues and our friends?
FF – Beautifully said. Thank you.
KC – Thank you! That was… yeah. I feel like, I can almost feel the breath now in a different place, sitting differently in my body. I need to get back to my mountain top I think more regularly.
JF – No that’s awesome, well Katie thank you for creating space for us to share as we are literally experimenting and playing and the more we talk about it it’s almost the more real it gets too so very helpful for us actually.
KC – Yeah. Thank you both. Take care.
FF – Thanks everybody, bye.
[Music 34:21 – 34:24]
KC – Thanks to Faith and Janet for that fascinating discussion around seeing nature as an ally. My key takeaways are as follows. Nature is the ultimate teacher for slowing down and being aware in a different way. Tuning in to different sensory channels when in nature or even when imagining a nature place in your mind’s eye can help to shift your perspective. What might you notice or see differently when you expand your sensory awareness? We tend to other nature, we think of nature as over there and we humans are over here. This thinking tends to disconnect us further from nature. However, nature is inherently in us too, 70% of our being is water so let nature be a mirror for who you are and who you be. Nature can be a powerful metaphor for relationship inquiries. Couples and teams can use nature as a language for revealing their own systems and perhaps say things that are harder to say. For example, if you’re a season what is the season of your team or organization right now? If you find yourself being called to the idea of pausing with purpose and reconnecting with nature then check out Faith and Janet’s Nature Connections retreat series, currently being hold in North America. The virtual retreats offer space to explore how nature could be a support and ally in a volatile world. For more information do check out CRRglobalusa.com/nature. For over 18 years CRR Global has accompanied leaders, teams and practitioners on their journey to build strong relationships by focusing on the relationship itself, not only the individuals occupying it. This leads to a community of changemakers around the world. Supported by a global network of faculty and partners we connect, inspire and equip change agents to shift systems one relationship at a time. We believe relationship matters, from humanity to nature to the larger whole.
[Outro 36:40 – end]