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Hussain Manawer: ‘The Great Outdoors Unlocks A Deeper Spiritual Sensation’

Mental Health

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Poet Hussain Manawer writes about his relationship with the outdoors and why it can transform your mental health and connections.

Poet Hussain Manawer 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 are taken on a day of outdoor experiences by mentors Hussain Manawer, Mark Ormrod MBE, Dwayne Fields and Roman Kemp. The aim was to highlight the positive effects that natural outdoor spaces can have on mental health. Here Hussain writes about his personal relationship to the outdoors…

What was appealing about doing this Explore Your Nature hike day to Epping Forest is I’ve always been such a big fan of going outside. It’s good for the mind. But then when you take a back seat to look at it, you see that the outdoors isn’t really inclusive. When I was asked to get involved, it was a perfect fit because I’m always outside, but second of all, I’ve never really seen somebody that looked like me taking up so much space in this area. The clothes look sick and are affordable – that’s another thing: the outdoors is usually expensive to get involved in – but I also felt a responsibility, because of the amount of people who will look at me and see themselves.

There was a mad moment on the day with a few of the lads when we trying to start a fire. When they showed us the flint for the first time, most of us said, ‘What’s that, I’ve never seen it before?’ One of the guys had but the other four hadn’t, and the four of us that hadn’t were from an ethnic minority. I thought that was crazy.

My relationship with the great outdoors started for me around 2010 when me and a group of friends decided to climb Ben Nevis, in Fort William Scotland for the Pakistani flood appeal. It was the first time any of us had ever thought to trek up a mountain and we were all really excited/nervous. I remember we hired a minibus and departed from Ilford, Essex. We stayed the night in a hostel by Lake Loch Ness, met our guide in the morning and began the trek. I was around 19-20 at the time. I remember experiencing mountains was always something I really wanted to do growing up but for some reason it was never really encouraged.

This was quite strange to me, especially because my family comes from Kashmir, Pakistan which is a mountainous place in itself. It’s something I have never really understood, even till today.

The views of Ben Nevis were spectacular. Jumping between stones through running water, saying hello to fellow climbers whilst eating our kebab sandwiches wrapped in foil, the vibe, the atmosphere but more importantly the conversations were game changing and life saving. This group were all guys aged between 18-30 and throughout the entire minibus journey, which was long, there was hardly any depth to the conversations we were having. The moment we stepped on the grass and the cobbled paths to trek, everything, and I genuinely mean literally everything, changed.

But that is the ‘great’ in the great outdoors for you. It unlocks something, a deeper spiritual sensation that allows you to feel free, disconnected from the world and plugged into the roots of Mother Nature. Wrapped in her arms, you feel at peace, you feel the air for what it is, a powerful tool that serves us human beings. You take in the surroundings and you begin to feel human in a world full of pressures, deadlines and things that ultimately steal our joy.

The depth of the conversations I noticed began gaining more value and momentum the higher up we got on the climb. I think it’s because somewhere in spending time outdoors with each other you naturally build such authentic bonds that you automatically lower your guards and form a trusted companionship.

Experiencing nature in a group or solo allows connections to be formed and bonds that can not be purchased for any amount of money. The climb up Ben Nevis was spectacular and from that day my life was never the same. I began exploring more and more. I climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, visited the Atlas mountains in Morocco, K2 in Pakistan, the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and so many more. If it’s not mountains its national parks, a personal favourite of mine is the park by the white cliffs of Dover. I find there is something very sacred about that place.

One thing I have noticed is the insane lack of diversity on these treks and trips, not just ethnically but also economically. I have found that amongst my varied friendship groups – many of whom tend to spend a vast amount of time outdoors and understand its value – come from backgrounds where finances are truthfully not really a problem. I guess I do understand this: if going outside and experiencing nature for a day or a few days is not something you have been brought up with because you do not have that luxury to do so it’s a hard concept to not only adapt and adopt instantly into your life but also to begin, because you have lived so long without it.

I remember one of my birthdays, I must have been turning 25, and I decided to book a camping experience for my friends (all of us at the age of around 24-26) who had never been on a campsite in our lives. It took us a fair few hours to get the fire going – as I mentioned earlier, I was not familiar with this! – and once it was roaring it then took a good amount of time to get settled, but nonetheless once we were…the memories, the conversations, the vibes and the moments of magic that were created that night will truly be remembered forever.

I do my best to make sure I encourage myself, before anyone else, to go outside not because I am trying to increase diversity in the fields but because of the magnificent benefits the outdoors has for my own mental health. As mentioned earlier, being able to breathe in air for hours on end that is not heavily polluted feels fresh and revitalising – taking in views of spectacular landscapes is soothing for the mind and aids my creativity and just being at once with no technology or devices attached to me really does allow me to be human.

I think it’s really important, especially the older we get and the more plugged in we are becoming. It’s not enough to explore the world on explore pages, we must make the effort to get stuck in the mud (literally!).

The natural world has beautiful wonders and a great essence and magic to it, and if you just let it embrace you as much as you embrace it, I think you may be pleasantly surprised where you just end up…

Follow Hussain on Instagram. 

Head to H&M to find out more about their new sport hiking range – 10% of proceeds are being donated to Campaign Against Living Miserably.

Photos: Hamish Brown

Creative Director: Marian Paterson

Stylist: Sophie Paxton

Stylist’s Assistant: Sanda Bell

Grooming: Ezana Ove

Production assistant: Alex Teng

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