Ikigai, or A Reason for Being

Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Ikigai or A Reason for Being, by Suzanne Fysh

Splish, a cold drop of rain lands on my face.

It is 3am. I am lying trussed up inside a sleeping bag, inside a bivouac bag, inside a mosquito net next to a tree on the edge of a lake.

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The local school’s annual sleep out started well. The Education Centre at Whisby Nature Park was bathed in beautiful warm sunshine and a barbecue prepared over a campfire had successfully filled a ravenous hoard of thirty 10 and 11 year olds.

As dusk gathered, we quietly and calmly made our way into the main reserve where we experienced a myriad of small wildlife wonders - the flight of a silent tawny owl patrolling the woodland edge; the rising of large fish in the lake and the insistent whine of hungry mosquitoes. We paused at the top of a railway bridge to observe the shadowy area between woods and open meadow, searching for foxes slinking through the undergrowth.

Whisby Nature Park

Whisby Nature Park - Robert Enderby

In a glade surrounded by mature birch trees, the bat detectors were switched on giving rise to the audible clicks, chuckles and wet slapping noises that indicated pipistrelle bats were flying above our heads.

Some of the children were determined to identify as many wild plants as possible in the dwindling late evening sunset until only white, luminous flowers could be seen glowing alongside the path.

As dusk deepened into night we slowly made our way back to the Centre.

Everyone was sleepy by 11.30pm. Our beds were laid out amongst the pennyroyal mint on the slope in front of the lake. Gradually the rustling and chattering dwindled until all that could be heard were the black-headed gulls settling down to roost on the nearby islands. The cool, calming scent of mint wafted over the campsite as we drifted off to sleep.

Then it started.  The gentle pitter-patter of rain.

Never mind! I pull up the drawstrings of my sleeping bag and waterproof bivvy bag, unzip the hood from my waterproof jacket and place it over my face under the mosquito net. I fall asleep once more, to the gentle murmuring of summer rain on leaves.

I wake again. This time I become aware of a huge grin on my face. I am absolutely loving this!  Being here, now, in this moment. I have never felt so at ease with myself and the world around me. What does it matter that it’s raining? I am warm, cosy and mostly dry. It is June and dawn will break within the hour. The birds will sing - even in the rain.

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Short Eared Owl

Andy Rouse/2020VISION

My name is Suzanne. I started work with the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust in January 2018 as an Education and Community Officer for a Heritage Lottery Funded project called LoveLincsPlants. In the middle of that night in June, whilst sleeping outside in the rain, I realised that through working for the Trust I had finally achieved ikigai or my reason for being.

Throughout my childhood and teens my parents passed on their love of wildlife, nature and caring about the environment. My Dad introduced my sisters and me to birdwatching: at home, in the Peak District National Park and along the North Norfolk coast. My Mum was interested in wild plants, their uses and gardening organically at a time when this was thought to be strange. It was not a surprise that I chose to do an Environmental Studies degree.

After college I had a number of jobs ranging from interior design to community arts outreach ending up in local government as a Head of Service. Latterly, my days consisted of endless meetings; emails; performance targets; more emails; budget and people management; yet more emails and annual rounds of departmental and organisational restructuring.

Where did respect for the environment, nature, people and myself come into this? I spiralled down into burnout and six months off work.

Eventually, restructuring led to redundancy for all Heads of Services, providing me with the opportunity to re-think my priorities. 

So, I trained as a mindfulness teacher with a special interest in mindfulness and the natural world and re-connected with gardening, wildlife and the environment.

Could I find a new career working in wildlife conservation as I had planned years earlier? 

In December 2017, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust advertised for two project officers to deliver the Heritage Lottery Funded LoveLincsPlants project. After a whirlwind process, 10 days from handing in the application to being offered one of the posts, I achieved my dream. A job within wildlife conservation.

Being employed by the Wildlife Trust has significantly changed my life for the better.

Now, I work with hundreds of primary school children a week during term-time sharing their natural curiosity and enthusiasm. I inspire them about all aspects of the natural world and its importance to our lives.

Love Lincs Plants

Sue giving plant collection training as part of the Love Lincs Plants project with the Natural History Museum at Whisby Nature Park.

Plant scientists and botanists from the Natural History Museum are teaching me new and exciting skills such as collecting, pressing and mounting plants for the British and Irish Herbarium.

Best of all, the people who work at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust are warm, welcoming and generous with their knowledge. They really care about what they do and demonstrate that it is possible to make a difference. They have helped me regain my faith in people and shown me that it is all right to be passionate about the environment and wildlife. It has been and still is a humbling, uplifting and rewarding experience. I feel I have come home. 

I have achieved ikigai, the Japanese concept meaning a reason for being.

The Japanese believe that it is possible to achieve ikigai when four elements of life come together - what you love; what the world needs; what you are good at and what you can be paid for. When all four overlap you have reached your reason for being.

Thank you everyone at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust for enabling me to achieve my reason for being.