YOU don’t need perfect vision to enjoy a deep and sustaining relationship with nature.
No one knows that better than Andy Shipley, who has been visually impaired for much of his life but whose love of the natural world is matched by his belief in an inclusive society – and his absolute determination to bring those two passions together.
Over the years he has channelled his experience into his work as a facilitator, campaigner, speaker and coach – and he has even developed a fortnight-long sensory odyssey designed to deepen everyone’s relationship with nature.
“I believe our future depends on people acquiring a deeper relationship with those around them, and with the natural world,” says Andy. “To achieve this, we need to open people’s hearts to the value of nature and awaken their sense of belonging.”
The multi-sensory nature immersion experiences he has developed enable people to start to fully notice the textures under their toes, the breath of the breeze and the banter of the birds.
“They help reconfigure and rebalance your sensory relationship with nature, and shift your perspectives in everyday life,” says Andy.
“Nature is our life-support system. As well as providing us with the air, water and food vital to keep us alive and breathing, time spent connecting with the natural world sustains our physical and mental health.
“By spending time experiencing nature’s diversity more deeply, we have the opportunity to propagate a life-sustaining relationship that will support us from here on.”
His sensory odyssey was all the more relevant with so many people in isolation because of coronavirus or finding more time to explore nature on their own or as a family.
The programme involves a series of daily audio messages lasting a few minutes which encourage participants to develop a more intimate relationship with the natural world.
Each sensory exercise includes a link to “little nuggets of inspiration and revelation” – about how plants communicate, for example, or how the human nose can detect a trillion smells, along with other audio stimuli ranging from wind in the trees to the dawn chorus – or even the sound of rhubarb growing.
Participants can do the sensory exercises standing, seated or lying down, outdoors or even in the living room with the windows open wide.
And the resource allows visitors to repeat the odyssey, spending more time on the detail, changing the sequence, or repeating the exercises they enjoyed the most.
“Like any exercise, the more you flex your sensory muscles the richer your experience will become,” says Andy, an experienced campaigner and project leader whose activities have ranged from blindfolded team-building exercises, adventure activities and dining experiences to workshops exploring how natural heritage sites could become more inclusive for the visually impaired.
He explains: “Healthy habitats are those which are abundant with diverse species occupying all strata of the web of life, filling their particular niche, but also contributing to the health and well-being of the whole.
“It seems to me therefore, that for our own human communities to become healthy, we need to work to create the conditions for all, whatever their background and circumstances, to find their niche, flourish and contribute to the well-being of our world.”