We've decided to get to know some of our local business partners a bit better - and today we speak to Alistair Duncan from A Way of Natural Being...

Photo of Alistair Duncan from A Way of Natural Being, Brighton

  • Please tell us about yourself and what you do?  

What do I do? I take a group of people out into a wood. We sit round a fire. I show them some different ways of moving, seeing, listening, touching, feeling. I send them off into the woods on their own. I blow my horn. When they come back I ask them what they just experienced and what has changed for them. How they feel about themselves and the world around them after their experiences. They tell me they feel incredibly calm and relaxed and that they feel deeply aware of and at one with everything around them. At the end of day people say, “I didn’t quite know what to expect, but that was amazing!”. At one level, that’s it.

And me? I label myself as a trainer, an ecopsychologist and a coach but really I find it hard to describe myself. My mission is to create meaningful experiences in, what I like to call, the “more-than-human” world. 

After half a lifetime of working with technology in the corporate world (including at American Express in Brighton for 20 years), followed by a few years of running classroom based training, I now work in only nature, mainly in woodland. There is something about trees! I offer workshops and experiences that focus on a range of things that matter to people. This might be mental and physical wellbeing, deeper connection and awareness of the natural world, all the way through to self-identity and life purpose. I like to ground my work in my best understanding of the latest neuroscience and psychology. 

But what I am always trying to create are moments when people have life enhancing experiences of themselves and everything around them.  So they go home with great memories, new things to experiment with and their eyes open to new ways of living their lives more richly and meaningfully.

  • What do you love most about what you do?

I am hugely fortunate. I have brought together the things that I most love doing in life into work that brings me great pleasure and contributes positively to the lives of those around me. What more could you want?

I have always loved being in nature. Even aged eleven, I used to camp in my garden through the summer holidays and get up at dawn to hunker down in the Three Cornered Copse in Hove to listen to the dawn chorus and pay attention to everything that was going on before the grown-ups were out and about. For almost as long, I have been deeply curious about how we humans run ourselves and experience our lives. Then I worked out quite late in my first career (the corporate technology phase) that the thing I love best, and am hopefully reasonably good at, was working with a group of people in a workshop setting. So running workshops in nature, facilitating deeper connections with the natural world and helping people explore ways of living life with greater fulfilment ticks pretty much every box for me!

  • What’s your average day like, or is it ever average?

I really don’t have an average day but every day begins with that wonderful first cup of coffee whilst I read a book or online, delving into what ever subject is capturing my imagination at that moment. It might be neuroscience, poetry, psychology or philosophy. I am deeply curious and my greatest pleasure is exploring new ways of making sense of life. Most of my friends find me very odd! Then I  spend some time playing with what ever meditation or body practices I am currently exploring. Then I turn to writing - journaling or doing a bit on the book that might one day appear! I never take for granted the fact that I have the freedom to spend several hours doing these things each day.  But it’s not entirely indulgent as the fruit of this morning routine shows up in the workshops I run.

After that, it all depends. I might be off to run a workshop somewhere. I love everything I do but Wild Mind, where over seven weeks folks discover ways of being in nature that often dramatically alter their relationship with anxiety or depression, brings me a lot of joy. Or I might be sitting at my kitchen table with my MacBook being highly inefficient at the things I wish I could just get out the way quickly. Admin, marketing, finances, etc. Or I might be turning round my AirBnB room. I make far more out of that than I ever do out of my workshops and love the interaction with the endless variety of people I meet through it. 

  • There has been an increasing focus on health & wellbeing since the pandemic hit, what advice would you give to people who want to improve their general mental health? 

I have two bits of advice. 

One is, get yourself out into nature. There is no pandemic out in the wild, there is no anxiety, no conflicting opinions, no fear, no agendas. Slow down, don’t think but just feel, sense, become aware. Let the woodland, the downland, the sky, the wind, tune you into a different way of feeling. 

My second is perhaps harder to take on board but I think it is the key to a fulfilled life (so it’s a key part in most workshops I run). It is to recognise that the experience of life that we are having is almost completely internally created. Yes, there are things happening outside of us - whether it’s an upsetting text message, someone cutting us up on the road, or a pandemic. These things are real but the thoughts and emotions that happen under our skin are not the only ways we can respond to those external events.  If we can notice how we are making meaning about those things, “what stories are we telling ourselves?”, then we have choices about the way we make ourselves feel. Hard to say in a few words but it can really be a life changer for most of us. I often ask myself, “what am I having to tell myself in order to feel like this?”.

  • Have you got anything new planned for the coming year? 

Yes, loads! 2022 really feels like a new beginning for me. This spring, in lockdown, I created my new website and over the winter months I am planning to put lots of free and, hopefully, useful resources on it. 

And I am planning to expand the range of workshops and experiences that I offer next year. I have a range of “entry level” workshops on offer at the moment but I will be creating pathways for people to have some amazing deep experiences of nature. 

Then, I am pondering how to run nature-based “Life Coaching” style workshops to provide settings for people to explore how they want to live their lives from a place of connection with the natural world. After all, as we are nature ourselves, is it really that wise to try and make sense of our own lives if we are not in a real relationship with the very foundations of our livelihood? 

And also, in the spirit of The Living Coast, I will be offering experiences that join what I love doing - connecting people deeply with the local landscape - with people who are creating quality produce from the very same landscape. A day experience fuelled by good food and drink created from the land we are on. Surely a delicious and delightful experience?

During the winter months I won’t be running much. But if what I do sounds interesting, people can sign up to my mailing list on the website, they will be the first to hear of things next spring!

  • What do you love most about Brighton and The Living Coast?

I was born in Brighton and lived there for 55 years, so it has a deep place in my  heart. I now live in Lewes and have to confess I do love the slower, quieter pace of life in my new town! I have always loved the connections between the sea and the downs and the history of the city. The Living Coast, the Biosphere concept, captures and spotlights that interplay perfectly. I also love that The Living Coast is promoting and encouraging the success of small local businesses who are committed to the land and its produce. It is fostering a supportive, community of local, nature-based business people that is really inspiring to be a part of and watch develop. 


  • The city of Brighton & Hove sits within a designated urban biosphere known as The Living Coast. To find out more visit: thelivingcoast.org.uk

Related

A Way Of Natural Being - Mindfulness in Nature
Health & Wellbeing
Forest

Come away with me and have a day out in nature like no other. Learn techniques for shifting your awareness, changing how you use your senses, and even shifting your familiar ways of thinking. And turn being in the wild into a whole new experience.

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