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Dwayne Fields: A Life In Nature

Mental Health

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Dwayne Fields writes about growing up in nature in Jamaica and why his life and career has been about sharing that passion for natural environments...

Explorer and adventurer Dwayne Fields joined The Book of Man, H&M and Campaign Against Living Miserably for the ‘Explore Your Nature’ campaign, in which a group of men who’d never met before were taken on a day of outdoor experiences by Dwayne along with the other mentors Hussain Manawer, Mark Ormrod MBE, and Roman Kemp. Here Dwayne writes about his early connection with nature and why it remains central to his life and his messages to other people…

I’ve always been an adventurer. When I was a kid, Jamaica was my playground. I grew up in a little spot just outside Linstead and I remember running round the woods and the forest, and down by the stream – everything was about exploration. It was about turning over that log, climbing that tree as high as you could go and then maybe taking a little step higher. If there was a hole in a tree, I’d dare myself to put my hand in and figure out what’s inside. There was always a drive of curiosity. To be honest, there wasn’t much for me to do in the house. We had no electricity, no running water, no gas, so I’d literally be outside from dawn ‘til dusk. Even when everyone else was taking shelter from the rain, I’d be the one running around, kicking the water and just having fun.

It makes sense that I felt so at home in the elements. As a species we’ve only developed to live in cities for the past 200 years or so, but for millennia before that we were at one with nature. Our bodies and our minds have an innate relationship and connection with the natural world and there are certain signals we have evolved to recognise but have been taught to ignore. For example, there’s a reason that when we hear birdsong we feel more at ease. It’s because when they’re chirping in a particular way, it’s a signal to us that there are no immediate threats in the environment – it’s safe. When they start a panic chirp, we register that and it becomes a stressor for us. So naturally, we are much more in tune with these things than we realise and the science backs it up. Studies show that spending time in a natural environment does wonders for us both physically and mentally.

Having said that, it’s important to strike a balance that works for you. An extreme example is when I was trekking to the magnetic North Pole. On that trip I walked over 400 nautical miles in 22 days. In that scenario, yes it was physically demanding but your body can adapt pretty quickly – it’ll usually start to find it’s rhythm in about 2-3 days. However the mind doesn’t always work in the same way. That’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just about knowing how best to cope with the challenges your mind will face – and this is important for everyone. Far too often we look for external things to validate us and I think we need to take some time to recognise our own strengths. Also, recognising where we can develop ourselves is massive because the only way to improve is to understand that there are things to improve upon. This is where the outdoors itself is a massive help; it gives us that time to breathe and to think about things in a different way.

Being in the city, it feels like we are constantly and exclusively exposed to stressors. Whether it’s the sound of sirens which are designed to stress you and alert you, or the ambient noise which is at a level which we shouldn’t be exposed to all the time. There’s constant pollutants and even just the busy hustle-and-bustle; we’re exposed to so many inputs that contribute to the stressful state we’re living in. That’s why going out to a place like Epping Forest almost resets me. It’s so quiet. You can only hear the sound of the breeze, the trees, the birds and a few other animals which is why it de-stresses you. I’m not saying it’s the answer to all mental health problems or challenges but it’s certainly part of the solution.

I actually spent most of lockdown out in Epping Forest. I live not too far away so I’d wander out here pretty much every day for my daily one-hour exercise. Being restricted initially made me really anxious. I’d had plans to travel to all sorts of places across the world and I was worried that lockdown would go on for so long and be so harsh that I wouldn’t be able to get out at all. Having this place on my doorstep though, I recognise how lucky I am! It’s an amazing resource that should be accessible to everyone and of course in the bigger cities like London, forests and natural spaces in general can often feel like a world away.

I spent part of the day we spent on the Explore Your Nature project helping the guys with their survival skills: building shelters, getting the campfire going, that kind of stuff and one of them said to me ‘it’s like being a kid again’. He kept repeating it over and over and that’s exactly what it should be about! Another said ‘honestly, it’s just slowed me down’ and I’ve said this so many times – coming out here really feels like I’m moving in slow motion a little bit. I really think the guys got so much out of the day and left feeling better than when they arrived.

There are so many people who could benefit from something like this and it’s amazing for a brand like H&M to be involved. They’re huge and they’re recognised all over the place. I think the moment they get behind something like this, the force that they are, it can only do good. They’ve got millions of people walking in and out of their stores and on their website every single day. Their support for something like this can only end up being great because they have so much influence. Let’s not forget, the range is pretty good too! I’m very much a lover of patterns and order. This range is well-ordered, it fits well and it’s functional for all sorts of outdoor activities, not least, the ones we’d been doing in Epping Forest.

I was asked if there are any parallels between the way I approach an expedition and the way I approach life and the simple answer is ‘Yes!’. Firstly, don’t take it too seriously if you can avoid it. We’re here to have experiences and to enjoy those experiences. Also, it’s important to plan and prepare for things that will go wrong, and remember things will go wrong! It’s often not your fault and there’s very little you can do about it. You can’t always prepare for everything but you can go into it with a positive attitude as best as you can and ask for help! We all need help from time to time; whether you are Dwayne Fields, Bear Grylls  or whoever else, there comes a point where we all need a helping hand and it’s about recognising when you’re getting to that place where you need help and asking the right and responsible people.

Find out more about H&M’s new menswear sport hiking range here. 10% of proceeds are being donated to Campaign Against Living Miserably.

Photo by Hamish Brown.

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