At STARSEEDS, we’re big on connecting with and preserving nature. We also believe that our separation from nature and from viewing ourselves as part of nature has contributed to the neglect and misuse of our home, leading to our current climate problems today. Not only has this disconnect harmed our planet, but it’s arguably harming us. We’re no longer responding to the natural rhythms and messages from nature, but from artificial signals in our environment like shrill alarms and notifications. So how do we connect with our natural habitat again? How do we move with the current of our seasons rather than forcing ourselves to white-knuckle it at extreme speeds?
Enter Madeleine Lawson. Maddy is the multi-faceted, slow living entrepreneur who’s doing things at her own pace - and checking in with nature for pointers. Maddy is the co-founder of Folk + Field; a membership platform with online and real-life meetings, gatherings, workshops and courses; for those who are craving to connect with their natural roots and seasons. Maddy is also a life and business coach at A Slow Adventure, a practice designed to support women looking for guidance on how to live creative and intentional lives.
As autumn creeps in with crisp leaves and warm hues, we chatted with Maddy about what slow living really means, how to live seasonally and why getting in touch with nature is good for the body, mind and soul.
What does 'slow living' mean? Is it the same as seasonal living?
I would say they’re firmly intertwined, but not necessarily the same. To me, living slowly is all about choosing to do things in an authentic, wholehearted way at a pace that feels comfortable for the individual. Ever since I first read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, my outlook has been shaped by his idea that we each have our own ideal pace of life (a thought inspired by the concept behind the Italian musical term il tempo giusto - literally ‘the right speed’) and that this is the baseline we should always strive to return to. With this in mind, we can accept the inevitable fact that sometimes things will get busier and faster, safe in the knowledge that we will eventually find our way back to our natural rhythm.
This is the overall principle that guides my thinking and I feel it’s a much more realistic way of approaching the idea of slow living, as opposed to being bound by a set of hard and fast rules that don’t allow for any flexibility. Contrary to popular belief, the slow philosophy isn’t about literally doing everything at snail’s pace, but simply being mindful of how our actions affect our energy: having an up-front awareness of the tasks we consider to be draining, and scheduling periods of rest in order to maintain a sense of balance and wellbeing.
When we start to pay attention to how our pace of life makes us feel, we open up space to create and follow our own unique paths rather than simply getting swept along with the crowd. We find ourselves questioning the status quo - embarking on a process of deep reflection that often leads us to re-evaluate everything from our work and social commitments to our self-care routines, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the items that fill our homes. We become more intentional; more actively engaged in the small decisions that make up our everyday existence.
In terms of how this relates to the seasons, I truly believe that tuning in to the patterns of the natural world can help us to slow down. There’s a well-known quote attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” It’s true, and I see the cycle of the seasons as a constant reminder to counter productivity with rest. By encouraging ourselves to notice - and celebrate - small changes in nature as the year progresses, we also become more aware of what’s happening around us and build a better understanding of how we’re affected by the ebb and flow of the seasons. We’re part of nature in just the same way as plants and animals, and yet our connection to the environment has largely been lost with the rise of industry and technology. By seeking to realign with seasonal rhythms, we can begin to find our way back to ourselves and to each other.
How do we tune in to the cycles of the seasons and how can this benefit us?
It sounds obvious, but the first step is to spend more time outside. Over the centuries, we’ve physically separated ourselves from nature with walls and artificial sources of heat and light: we no longer truly understand or appreciate the effects of seasonal changes on our lives, and I passionately believe that it’s our duty to remedy that. Committing to getting outdoors regularly - daily if possible - allows us to rekindle our relationship with the natural world and reconnect to the ebb and flow of the seasons.
This doesn’t need to involve setting out on a three hour hike or spending the night sleeping under the stars - those activities are wonderful but, in order to normalise spending time in nature and make it a consistent part of our routines, there needs to be a simpler starting point. This can look like a walk in the park on your lunch break, an evening run, an afternoon spent in the garden with your little ones, or even just ten minutes by an open door or window with your morning cup of tea. Creating small rituals that include spending time in nature is such a great way to carve out pockets of time for ourselves in what can be a hectic and overwhelming world.
Once you’re getting outside regularly, you can start increasing your awareness of the seasons by really noticing what you see. It’s easy to think we’re paying attention when we look around us in nature, but so often we’re just seeing generic ‘trees’ or ‘flowers’ or ‘birds’ rather than recognising the individual species or considering what it means that those particular things are present at that time. Learning to accurately identify what you see brings a much greater understanding of the cycle of the seasons - being able to spot a blackthorn tree in a hedgerow, for example, will help you know where to look for blossom in early spring, and where to find sloes in the autumn. If you don’t know where to start, there are lots of pocket-sized identification books that you can take out on walks with you, or even apps that you can install on your phone. Keeping a nature diary or seasonal scrap book can also be a lovely thing to do, so that eventually you can look back on the whole year and compare all the subtle shifts in colour and texture.
For those who are seeking an even deeper connection to the seasons, I’d really recommend exploring the concept of the Wheel of the Year, an ancient sun calendar traditionally associated with Celtic religions such as Paganism. It’s a system that creates a cyclical structure for the year, rooted in nature and based around eight festivals that mark the beginning and high point of each season. Although its origins have a religious connection, the wheel can be applied in a secular way, too, and this is how I use it - as a reminder to notice and celebrate every phase of the cycle. Glennie Kindred’s book, Earth Wisdom, is a great place to start if you’re interested in finding out more.
Some of us are summer babies and prefer hot weather and sunshine! How can we embrace the nature of the autumn and winter months, in a way that suits our lifestyles and personalities?
I hear this so often! It’s hard for me to understand, because I find summer really difficult and feel much more at home in autumn and winter, but of course I totally appreciate that’s not the case for everyone. The colder temperatures and especially the lack of light can be tough to deal with, so I think these are often key factors for those who struggle during this half of the year and finding ways to reduce the effects of these changes can make a positive difference.
I rely on a sunrise alarm clock to wake me up gently in the mornings, for example, rather than being jolted awake in the dark and having to turn on the bright overhead light. Making your home as cosy as possible is also a lovely way to bring a sense of joy to this season - bringing out cushions and blankets, lighting candles, spending evenings by the fire, creating seasonal playlists. Although I’ve been talking about the benefits of getting outside, it’s also important to recognise that most of us will spend much more time indoors at this time of year so it makes sense to make our space as inviting as possible. This could include decluttering, too, as late autumn is the perfect time to let go of things we no longer need as the leaves begin to fall.
If you feel it’s too cold, dark or wet to spend long outside, it can also help to bring nature inside so that you can enjoy certain elements of it from the comfort of your home. You could consider starting a nature table to display foraged treasures found on short walks, or gather colourful leaves to make a garland or wreath. There are lots of helpful tutorials online!
Food can be another lovely way to connect with the seasons at any time of year, through researching seasonal ingredients and spending time cooking a meal from scratch - either by yourself or with friends or family. You can even take it one step further and host a special supper to celebrate a particular moment in the year (the Celtic festivals mentioned above offer wonderful starting points for this) by decorating the table with leaves, branches and seeds interspersed with candles or fairy lights.
You can also make small changes to your routine that can help you to bring a sense of autumn or winter to your day - for instance swapping regular tea or coffee for a herbal blend that includes seasonal flavours such as cinnamon or elderberry, eating breakfast by candlelight, going to bed earlier, or seeking out a yoga flow that supports emotional balance or a meditation to inspire gratitude or reflection. I touched on the idea of creating rituals earlier, and it really is a powerful way to bring joy and meaning to each season, even - or maybe especially - if it’s not your favourite.
What are your favourite ways and tips on living in harmony with the colder seasons? How do you personally embrace this time?
Apart from the things I mentioned above, I love wrapping up warm and going for long walks before heading back into the warm to enjoy a hot chocolate by the fire, or cooking hearty soups and stews. I spend more time reading during the winter than I do at any other time of year, and I also use these more reflective, introspective months to focus on dreaming and planning for the new year to come. Oh, and candles and blankets are everywhere in our house from September through to March! I also like to burn warming or uplifting essential oils such as orange, sandalwood, clove and cinnamon.
For anyone who's interested in this way of living, where can they learn more?
Head over to www.folkandfield.com, where you can browse the blog and sign up for our Wheel of the Year letter, which we send out roughly every six weeks in celebration of each seasonal shift. We also have a free Facebook group called Wildhearted Creatives, through which we hold monthly online chats on different nature-inspired topics, and we’re on Instagram @folk_and_field.
If you’re looking for more, on our website you’ll find information about our membership community for those who are seeking to reconnect with nature and the seasons in the company of like-minded friends - as well as details of our 2020 retreats, which will be taking us to Wales in April and Scotland in October. And if you’re self-employed and would be interested in learning how the seasons can shape the way you do business, you might also like to explore A Seasonal Year, our twelve-month online course to help you rewild your approach to work. (Enrolment has closed for now, but will be open again in late spring or early summer.)
Finally, my coaching services are on a bit of a hiatus at the moment as I’m currently doing a masters degree in Coaching & Mentoring Practice (through which I’m exploring how nature and the seasons can help us better understand ourselves), but I’m hoping to start offering sessions again next year. In the meantime, if you’d like to follow along with my journey then you can find me on Instagram @a_slow_adventure.