A team replenishment experience: reconnecting with beauty & nature.

By Sonja Blignaut

Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves because of the cool things we get to do. Today I want to share one of these with you.

We were approached by a client towards the end of last year with a request to help a team regain their "mojo" after a very tough 2021 to prepare for significant planned changes for 2022. Like most other teams, this one had to deal with members who had experienced loss and trauma, many members close to burn-out, and the simple fact that people had to get to know each other again - they were no longer the same team they were in 2020. They also needed to think differently as the challenges that lay ahead in 2022 were complex and would require new thinking and practice.

This was a team in need of replenishment, and we have learned that spending time in nature and in the presence of beauty are the best ways to replenish for most people. So we called on our friend, Dr. Ian McCallum, to co-design and facilitate a 2-day journey with this team. Ian is a medical doctor, analytical psychologist, psychiatrist, specialist wilderness guide, author, and poet. His book, Ecological Intelligence , is a must-read. We were delighted when he agreed to work with us, even more so when he suggested the Dylan Lewis sculpture garden in Stellenbosch as the venue for a half-day immersive experience with the team.

I think we were more excited than the team members were when we set off for the garden that morning. We weren't sure what to expect, but we were sure whatever happened would be profound. The day before, we had prepared the group with presensing and mindfulness practices and a sense-making exercise to help them get a new perspective on their work. This formed the backdrop for a morning with Ian. And what a morning it was!

To be in the presence of a poet, especially one with a deep understanding of the human psyche is an exceptional experience. The day started with a simple question: what brings you here? Ian carefully noted down each response and then gifted the group's own words back to them in the form of an impromptu poem. It was a profoundly moving experience. Ian then shared his perspective on the impact of COVID before guiding the team on a walk through the garden.

To understand this profound experience, I need to try to describe the garden. Set in a beautiful hidden valley outside Stellenbosch, the beautiful mountains create a natural sense of containment and a beautiful natural backdrop to a garden that not only contains works of art but is a work of art. Many of the sculptures in the garden are accompanied by poetry or quotes, many by Ian McCallum. One of the first quotes one encounters is by Jung and reads: "To the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images– that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions– I was inwardly calmed and reassured. Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them."

This provides a hint of what awaited us in the garden. Dylan Lewis is a world-renowned bronze sculptor. He is well known for his sculptures of leopards, but his later works explore the inner wilderness of being human. Many of the sculptures and quotes induce a visceral response; they speak to us on a level that words alone cannot. Ian's calming presence allowed every person in the group to go on their own individual replenishment journey. 

In the debrief afterward, people shared their own unique meaning-making of the experience, allowing the team members to reconnect with each other on a deeply personal level. The foundation laid by this process then allowed us to move forward from a different perspective to have conversations about the year ahead and how the team could best prepare for it. The realisation that we are not separate from nature, wilderness, viruses ... that we are deeply connected and entangled with life on this planet, and therefore with complexity, was a profound learning experience for us all. It is a realisation that shapes our mindsets to engage and navigate the uncertainties of the future in fundamentally different ways.

I don't think I'm exaggerating if I say this was a career highlight for me. If you are interested in a similar, uniquely crafted experience for your team, get in touch. And if you ever have the opportunity to visit the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden, do!

I end with a poem by Ian McCallum and a few images from the day.  

Sculpture by Dylan Lewis (The Rising


One day

your soul will call to you

with a holy rage.

"Rise up!" it will say …

Stand up inside your own skin.

Unmask your unlived life …

feast on your animal heart.

Unfasten your fist …

let loose the medicine

in your own hand.

Show me the lines …

I will show you the spoor

of the ancestors.

Show me the creases …

I will show you

the way to water.

Show me the folds …

I will show you the furrows

for your healing.

"Look!" it will say …

the line of life has four paths –

one with a mirror

one with a mask,

one with a fist,

one with a heart.

One day,

your soul will call to you

with a holy rage.

                Ian McCallum

Ian reciting his poem The Rising
A selection of images from the garden.
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