Challenging Habitat Blog

It’s lovely blackberry time in the Cornish hedges and it occurred to me:

To get the sweetest fruit, you have to be patient, allow space and time to grow and ripen.

Now and then you check and taste to choose the right moment.

Then you step off the path into the thicket and accept the stings of nettles and scratches of thorns as you stretch and reach for the best…

…and you know you’ll come back for more.

It’s just as for many good things in life :)

Challenging Habitat is changing…my blog will become just one of a range of activities I’m sharing online, and this will soon be reflected in an additional website.

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Everyone on board has received basic sail and safety training and we’ve had quite an interesting start to our voyage.

Sea cadets Ollie taking the helm.

Out of Cumberland basin and under the Clifton suspension bridge, down the Avon and into the Severn Channel…

Jo Morley from City to Sea, with whom we are collaborating on the Darwin200 voyage saw us from Bristol’s shores.

…where the ‘fun’ started, with a lot of people looking and feeling decidedly ropey.

(no pictures!!!)

A night sail under starry skies, bioluminescence in our wake and seasick feelings were left behind.

We rounded Land’s End in the morning in the company of common dolphins, gannets and a fulmar.

Sails set and the voyage becomes more sustainable.

We’re all busy with the watch routines, setting and handing sails, daily cleaning and helping in the galley.

That’s an important learning process for the three young scientists, who will lead the citizen science programme during the Darwin200 voyage. Their understanding of how the professional crew is working the voyage crew will help the smooth running of the scientific programme.

I am here to hand over the citizen science programme I wrote for Seas Your Future to the science coordinators, recent graduates of ‘salty’ degree programmes with decidedly biological flavours.

Discussions with Rachel, Miles and Hannah are stimulating and every day, we’re learning something from each other.

Sometimes it is simply necessary to have a big horizon.

Even, or more accurately, especially during lockdown.

It’s good for my spirit to be near (or on) the sea.

The horizon, the sound, the smell and the breeze!

…and things to discover…

Feeling a little bedraggled in this wet winter lockdown?

I did today…

thought I needed to see people face to face,

must get out of this valley for a different perspective,

crave a glass of wine in the sunshine with good company…

Then I remembered the song my friends wrote and performed in the first UK lockdown:

These kids know how to be resilient!

It’s all created in my head and not outside of me…

And humming along as I walked the dog, that dandelion flower changed in my mind from a wet, bedraggled looking thing to a sign of spring coming: first of the species I see this year :)

Does the rain add sparkle to your world
or just make it wet?

Exactly: it depends…

…on what you think at the moment

…and that depends on the context, outside and inside your mind.

Have you ever been in a situation where your hopes were dashed repeatedly, only to be built up again and dashed again…in a seemingly endless cycle?

Perhaps a friend or partner made a promise never to be kept, or you’ve been encouraged to apply for promotion that is knocked back again and again, each time for a different (to you) spurious reason…

I’m sure we all have our own experience of that in relationships, business/work or health issues, to name a few. Perhaps you even broke your own promises to yourself about kicking a bad habit?

Whatever the circumstances, the game of hope yoyo grinds you down: loss of trust, frustration, anger, hopelessness, anxiety and depression and compensation behaviour can all be (unintended) consequences.

What prompted this reflection is the hope yoyo the UK government appears to be playing with the nation right now. It may be unintended, but the sequence of end-dates for covid-19 lockdowns giving way to yet another restriction with another timeline to be revoked, picked up again….is endlessly giving hope and taking it away again.

And it appears that the basis of this game is the ‘wish’ that all will be fine by whatever date set, or the ‘want’ to avoid the ‘pain’ of giving bad news. Check out @MarinaHyde‘s take on that here!

What anybody ‘wants’ to happen in this context doesn’t really matter: the virus does not sense our wishes or exercise empathy in its ‘behaviour’.

The hope yoyo’s consequences for the individual are reflected in the words and the eyes of pub and restaurant owners, teachers and parents, shop owners and anybody dependent on the tourism industry. We see them every day on the news.

(And I’m not even talking about the situation of NHS and other frontline workers, severely ill patients and for the bereaved here. That’s an entirely different story.)

Don’t get me wrong: managing a global epidemic isn’t easy.

The very nature of the challenge is unpredictability, the only certainty that people will suffer and die.

What isn’t unpredictable is the impact of the hope-disappointment-hope cycle on wellbeing and mental health. Check out Ack’s personal take on that or a more general appraisal of the importance of hope as a resource.

This post is really about leadership and managing expectations.

What matters is the truth, including a rational appraisal of probability and uncertainty. What matters is to learn from mistakes.

As Jon Stokes and Stefan Stern in The Conversation put it as early in the Covid-19 crisis as April last year: “Solving wicked problems requires a post-heroic mindset. Heroic leadership of single-minded dogged determination inevitably fails to develop and enlist the collaborative and empowered response required for their solution at the local level. “

Can we wait for the country’s leadership to transform its style during the Covid-19 crisis?

Probably not.

Moreover, experience shows us that we cannot rely on external circumstances to protect us from the game of hope yoyo, or for that matter, suffering any other setback.

That leaves us with the only option: to rely on ourselves.

To decide what we think, hence how we feel and respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

That requires insight, acceptance and resilience.

Perhaps it is best to go to people with direct experience to illustrate how that hangs together: Andrea Rosenhaft does this succinctly, simply and beautifully here.

Featured Image: “Yoyo” by XuliánConX is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Here and Now

What better role model of this mindful principle than your dog?

Eyes, nose, ears, body, motion, breath, terrain – all as one – one experience.

No thought of yesterday, no dream of tomorrow.

Here and Now.

Sometimes, even I have to admit that it is a little bit unpleasant outdoors.

Like today.

I walked out with heavy rain and wind on my back and returned walking into it.

A couple of miles and even my dog had enough.

And yet…a breeze of fresh air filling my lungs, a stretch and brisk walk is invigorating, energising and ultimately, uplifting.

Even in the rain :)

Watch a summary of the circumnavigation and big thanks to World Parks on YouTube:

In times of monumental change and all the questions that uncertainty provokes, it can be refreshingly calming to let the mind settle on the steady rhythm of nature.

It’s the time of the year when moles become visibly active, perhaps running out of their stashes of live earthworms or getting ready to mate.

You may find their mounds a nuisance on your lawn, but I find comfort in the fact that nature is doing its thing, unaffected by the pandemic or Brexit or how the cancellation of school exams will affect young people’s life chances…

Moles will have their own threats: perhaps a predator, a cold spell curtailing food supplies, the ploughing of a field…but seasons change and with that, cycles of life are renewed.

And this brings me to another benefit of contemplated the resilience of nature’s rhythm: there is hope and positive change, too, if you choose to notice.

The election of Raphael Warnock to the US Senate for Georgia would be one of them. Fingers crossed.

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