Finding freedom in nature: Interview with Fabienne Cuisinier (Berlin, Germany)

Fabienne Cuisinier
Fabienne was born in France and has lived in six countries on four continents. She speaks four languages fluently. She worked for many years in global strategy, business development and sales and marketing in Europe, USA, South America and Asia. In 2012, as a a board member, she paused and felt something was missing, deeply. She took a year's sabbatical to study integral coaching and to explore her health. Through that process she became much more aware of who she was and how to work with that. Today she is an integral coach and works with the body and in leadership development. She is also involved in various art projects. Being in nature has always been important to Fabienne, though today it is much more conscious.
When and how did you get involved in being with nature?

I grew up in nature. We lived in the city and on the weekend we'd go to the countryside and, on holidays, we'd travel to the mountains or the sea. My grandparents had a house in the country.

I've been skiing since I was small. These days I also go kayaking, hiking, bicycling and diving. Each of them is different.

When I was younger, when I found a good job I just took it. My escape from that was to go into nature and go 'over my edge'. It was a way of freeing myself. I've always needed nature and to be in my body. It's in me and has always made me feel alive. These days, it's more of a conscious aliveness.

Today I'm always thinking: "How can I be in nature everyday?" I believe I always have a sense of it - it is very important to me. From my home in Berlin we look out onto nature, which changes with the seasons. At the moment we're in winter, so the trees are bare. I also bring nature into my house - pot plants and flowers - it's been especially important during COVID-19.

What do you enjoy most about being in nature?

Being in nature gives me a sense of peace. It calms down the nervous system. I've become more and more conscious of the feeling of freedom I have when I'm in nature - being in the mountains, feeling so small in the world. It's hard to describe the feeling - it's about freedom, definitely.

Increasingly, the more alone I am in nature, the better I feel. I don't need or want to have a lot of conversation. I was walking recently hiking with friends for five hours. After three hours, I noticed I needed silence. When Uwe and I are on our bikes, we cannot speak - we're happy to be in silence. I find a lot of people can't be in silence. I couldn't before either, for quite some time. It's become quite natural now.

This coming year I want to go hiking for four to eight weeks. It is so resourceful.

What qualities do you develop being in nature?

Feeling free, feeling me, just being... it is very deep stuff when it's happening. There's no critic in my head. I just am. It's also about accessing what's real and what's present - such as vulnerability and acceptance.

What challenges or struggles have you faced in nature?

Sometimes it's about moving in a powerful way. When cycling in Denmark it was hard to keep going. My head was going so crazy - going over and over in my mind. I learnt, however, in aikido, that if I can relax my body and centre in the most challenging situation, it becomes easier. I was on my bike and it wasn't flat. There were very strong winds in my face. I could felt my head going. Then I remembered to go back into my body and connect with source, and the energy shifted.

I use alot of my integrated coaching and leadership embodiment work in my cycling. I was cycling 60-70 km a week in Berlin going to work and back, and it helps be really centred. It's becoming more and more integrated into who and how I am. My husband Uwe has helped me see it in skiing. I'm the more experienced skiier and i could see his mind take over and say "I cannot!" Yet we can overcome that and he did.

Nature is crucial. What are we doing? We're destroying it.

Tell me about some of your trips.

I like diving and the sense of floating in the water. The silence is different. It came by accident some years ago, as I didn't really want to dive. We flew from Hong Kong, where we were living, to The Philippines and just happened to stay in a diving resort. After a while we said "Let's try." We went into the water and loved it, asking if we could do a course. It's a totally new world! The diving was showing us the beauty of a world I didn't know even existed. I used the experience to publish a book - a mixture of underwater photography and poetry, and later held an exhibition in Germany. It was the beginning of a process of opening up.

We recently cycled from Berlin to Copenhagen - there are lots of cycling paths and long ride ways throughout Europe - crossing here and there. We rode nearly 400 km in six days. It's a way of feeling the world at relative speed. It's all so close. When it's sunshine, I get the sunshine. When it rains, I get the rain. It's different from hiking - it's faster and it's a different feeling of peace. There is a lot more space - in and around me.

You have bags hanging on the sides of your bike, so you think: "How much do I really want to carry?" I feel I have all I need with just an 8kg back pack. We stayed overnight in B & Bs so didn't need to carry any food or camping gear. It makes me think "Why am I here in front of a computer so much?" The neediness and attachment just goes. I love it! In Copenhagen we stayed in a nice hotel and we arrived just with our helmets and two small bags. I loved that we could enjoy both nature and the city - just being in the moment. There's a real vibrancy to that.

What is kayaking like?

I discovered that in Berlin, we can travel from our house to the sea - there are thousands of lakes! At night there is no light pollution so you can really see the stars. You can kayak in the city - it's a really novel way to see Berlin. Or you can kayak for several days. The kayak is flat on the water, so the water is very very close. I feel more vulnerable. If I fall in, what happens? I went for four days, camping along the way, so we were really in nature.. When you're on a bike on a road, there's the road and cars. On the water, it's more wild and organic. We lost ourselves in nature.

At one point, we were in the middle of a lake and it started raining strongly. I have alot of respect for nature and it can change so quickly. An aspect of my personality is that it can be quite controlling. In nature though, we can't control it. I have to be in flow. Nature is a good teacher in that way. It's about knowing your limits. If you can't control it, you have to let go, get connected to your acceptance and vulnerability.

What do you see as the benefits for your health?

I use my being in nature as a container... like a cocoon - there's a simplicity to that. I can then evoke the feeling of freedom with me wherever I am and whatever I'm doing.

It's just a part of who I am, but yes, it is good for my health. Movement is essential to me - to being a human being. It helps me physically, emotionally and mentally.

My health, when younger, was all tied up with doctors doing things. It took quite a while to work through all that and be able to listen more to my body. These days I listen much more and are more intuitive.

I know that spending time in nature helps potential issues such heart health and mental well being, and avoid various physical health issues such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

What's an inspiring or moving story you have to share?

When I first went diving some years ago, there were two ladies who couldn't go down into the sea - so we all had to come back up. I was frustrated as I was enjoying my dive. Finally we all went down into the water again. Our dive master signalled to us 'Look behind you." There was a beautiful shark gliding by. I couldn't believe how slow the pace was in the water - I'm generally a quick person. It was so impressive. We wouldn't have seen the shark had it not been for the interruption.

Recently, I was listening to the poet David Whyte, who does a lot of hiking. He made the link between hiking and a pilgrimage and I've really brought that to the forefront. It's like a detox of all that I have in my mind. I recently went hiking for 12 days - I didn't take a book and we had no games to play. I've previously been on 10 days silent meditation retreats and there's a link. It's not the same but there's a similarity - listening and connecting to the silence. Nature is relaxing my nervous system. I don't need anything. I can observe myself inside - it's a form of walking meditation. It helps me realise how small and irrelevant I am, in a good way, in the vastness.

Just like David Whyte, I wrote a simple phrase of what I wanted to let go of on a piece of paper and put it my my back pack. When it was over, I tore it up - I cannot explain it though I know it helped.

Do you think you'll always live in the city?

It's interesting. When I'm in the city, I really embrace what it has to offer. With COVID-19, however, I think: "Why am I here if I'm not going to movie, dancing, juggling, whatever? What am I doing here when there's none of the benefits of being in the city?" These days, when there's construction or a road block, I feel as if it's an aggression on me. I need to move and be in nature.

Who do you think would like being in nature more? What advice would you give them?

Everyone! For people starting out, just being in and around your home. We need to open our eyes. Inside and outside - watch nature. There's a lot of nature even in the city. Yesterday I went outside when it was dark and a goose was flying over me. I walked around and saw a fox. That's what I want to give people - how to look and appreciate. There was a squirrel hiding, who'd dug up all the garden. He was always there but I didn't see him until I slowed down.

Open your eyes. Take the time to be with it. Build a connection. Just try it out. There's no right or wrong. Then after a while, start spending more time - going out in nature for a day. It's so good for your health - give it a chance to heal you.

Disconnect with your mobile. I noticed my dependency on my phone. Last year we had no connection on our mountain hike, but this year there was connection. After two days, i decided to unplug - I made a conscious choice. Enjoy the mountain for what it is. Give nature a chance - open up to the possibility and relax into it.

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