The Unexpected Teacher

January 3, 2017

On our spiritual path we often find teachers in the most unexpected people.

I have sat at the feet of quite a collection of really brilliant people, who all offer humility and tell me that they are still learning, and still growing. It seems that in some ways, the more you learn about yourself and travel through life, the more you realise there is to learn.

But one of the people who has had the biggest impact on my life is not who I would have expected at all, and I would imagine he would be surprised to know this too.

So I am going to share with you my ‘David Wrench’ story.


Embercombe paradise

Backtrack to 2010 and although I didn’t know it then, it was my last few years working in the corporations and a ‘mainstream job’. I thought at that time I would be in that career forever, and although I was unsettled and wondering if I was in the right place, I did feel signed up to the life I had chosen.

I was one of twenty people selected to attend a six month leadership development training programme, paid for by the company I worked for. We were on a short residential course in Cornwall, at a place called Embercombe. We slept in yurts, ate home grown food, spent some time working in the fields weeding runner beans and digging up potatoes and at night gathered around the campfire to share beers.

Of course there was the usual corporate training activities inter-dispersed in all of this, involving flip charts, role play, post-its and the like. We had a great time and I felt like it was home from home. I loved the energy at Embercombe and everything it stood for.

A few others on the course really didn’t take to the place, and found it too alternative. They were used the usual plush hotel venues with hot showers and stylish dining. These were stocky builder types. I worked for a large construction company, and the people I worked with were brilliant folk, but definitely mainstream. This was for some of them their first taste of the alternative way of life.

New to them, normal to me.

I was in my element but not everyone was.


David Wrench

One of the people who was not so taken with Embercombe was a chap called David Wrench. He was the health and safety manager at a major construction site for the London Olympics. Now for those of you who are not familiar with construction culture, health and safety runs through the backbone of of everything.

The health and safety mangers are often very forward, brash and bullish, and usually don’t ever hold back. They need to be like this for their job, as they are all about preventing accidents and saving lives.

As far as character types go, David and I were on opposite ends of all the psychological profile models. We knew this and often paired up in exercises to explore our differences and see where each other were coming from, and had a good working relationship. I was sad though that he and others didn’t love Embercombe like I did.

I could see that this was just the most amazing place. It was all about the land, and living from the land, and learning from the land. It was so beautiful there, and such an incredible community.

So fast track to the end of the four days together, and I was sitting on the minibus waiting to be taken to the train station. I was looking out of the window and I saw David waiting in the queue to climb on the bus.

I can see him as clear to this day as I saw him then. He was standing with his hands in his pockets, looking around, a far-gazing stare in his eyes. I watched him mutter to himself quietly, but just loud enough so I could hear, the words:

‘I am really going to miss this place.’

There it was. That life changing moment for me right there. I saw something shift in David in that moment which changed my life.

I realised that if we are to change the way we live on the Earth, and live in a sustainable way we need to do just one thing…

..we need to fall back in love with the Earth again…

…and to do this we need to get outside, and rekindle that relationship with her.


The Bullet

It was like a bullet into my whole being. You see for years and years, over a decade I had been searching how to help people understand that how we are living on the Earth right now will be the end of us, and that we need to change. I had made a career out of it, become a trainer, auditor, chartered environmentalists.

I could go on – I had done all sorts, and tried everything I could think of. But nothing was working at the rate it needed to. Nothing was shifting people in the way it needed to. I had been on the verge of a nervous break down about it a few years before, and was in psychotherapy as  a result.

At that moment I realised that it wasn’t about procedures, policies, auditing and programmes. It wasn’t that at all.

It was about helping people fall back in love with her. Fall back in love with the Earth.

It was that realisation that caused me to change my whole way of working.

When I was made redundant six months later, it was that message that I held on to. So instead of carrying on with work as a sustainability manager in large firms, I developed a plan to move into different work, getting people outside. I was never going to help people fall in love with the Earth through PowerPoint slides and syndicate exercises, and with the on-going recession I was never going to succeed in convincing the corporations to pay to send their staff on outdoor sustainability training programmes.

This is what our work is all about at The Way of the Buzzard. Getting outside, working with nature and falling back in love with her, and ourselves. There is such richness in this work for us, our communities and the Earth herself, and such healing.

So David Wrench gave me an incredible gift.

Fortunately I was open enough to spot this message. I was already searching whether I was on the right path in life, and David gave me a brilliant signpost to divert my efforts and take a new path.

After that it took me another five years to get there, to turn my back on that career and step fully into a new one. I had to run both areas of work concurrently for that length of time whilst I retrained, and went through a huge amount of inner work myself during the process.

Each step of the way the right teachers presented themselves and I grabbed every opportunity I could. So when I look back now to that point, I almost can’t compare the life I was living then to the one I am living now.

It’s not been easy, far from it. But that is another whole series of blogs!


Finding your way

The message I want to close with is aimed at those of you who feel you want to make a change in your life. To take a new direction but can’t figure out what that new path will be.

I know how excruciating that place can be. The feeling of being stuck, treading water, the unhappiness, the lethargy at times and the confusion. The tears, the worry and the never-ending chatter going round and round in your head.

So at the start of this new year, I encourage you to set yourself a little new years resolution. That is to be open to the teachers that need to come into your life in order to set you on course to where your soul desires to be.

These teachers can come in many guises. Look out for workshops which speak to you and sign yourself up. Read that book which is calling to you from your bookshelf. Get out in nature and be open to the messages which come through in the call of the crow and the bend in the river. Hang out with people who think and feel like you. Seek support from professional people who can help hold you as you work through past trauma. Have an encounter with your own David Wrench, who will show you something profound without them even realising it.

Some of these will cost money and you will need to prioritise your spending away from little luxuries. Some will be low cost or completely free. All will lead you to the place where you need to be if you remain open and keep on asking the questions.

Let 2017 be the year that sets you firmly on your path.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Natural Beauty in north Lancashire, England.

Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. Such a simple message – “we need to all fall in love with the Earth again” – but so, so profound. Thank you, Nicola, for your insightful blog, not just this one but all of them. I always enjoy reading them and also Jason’s beautiful photographs. Together you have created something very special in Way of the Buzzard. Let us hope that 2017 will grow our love for our Mother, planet Earth, exponentially and stop any further destruction. Love and blessings, Jillxx

    1. Thank you Jill for your message and feedback – that is so good to hear you enjoy our blogs and the work of The Way of the Buzzard. Yes it is such a simple message – to fall back in love with the Earth again – and there is such deep healing around this for us, our communities and the Earth. Its quite a journey! Yes lets wish for 2017 to bring beautiful things 🙂 x

  2. Thanks for sharing this Nicola. I enjoyed reading it and will endeavour to explore different places in nature this year! LindsayX

  3. I lived in London in the 90s it was a crazy noisy and chaotic, I went completely crazy when I returned from a life changing trip to the Southern Thai islands in ’99, within 9 months I had changed everything, my “social circle” had gone, my space head was focussed, and I too fell in love with the earth again, even though Id grown up in the Cotswolds, it had all gone, so I lived in a caravan and worked on organic farms for 2 years, I too re-fell in love..! Now the Buzzard clan I found nearly a year ago has helped me find my way again, this time with a community…thankyou so much for starting the clan! I really needed it…to the future

    1. What a story Chris, and a huge life turn around for you back then. So pleased you have found a home in The Way of the Buzzard and yes, To The Future!!

  4. What a wonderful story. I am on a similar journey myself. Have recently stepped away from the corporate world. I am being called to working with women’s circles, our connection to nature and our ancestors wisdom…. It’s a wonderful joourney slowly ufolding before me. Five years ago I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible but now it has flow and is slowly growing as I grow and learn myself. And the teachers simply appear. Beautiful. I love what you wrote about falling back in love with the earth. That really touches on something in me. Thank you for your story. ❤️

    1. What a great thing that is happening to you in your life Pia too. Moving away from the corporate world and working in a new way like you are. Just wonderful. So touched that you liked my blog, and its heartening to hear you are on a very similar journey to me. I wish that a hundred thousand blessings flutter down on you as you walk your path 🙂

  5. I found that very moving, you have been my inspiration, Nicola. All sorts of things have changed in my life for the better since the taster drum session and mind body event. Even little things like my butterfly ‘garden’ on my balcony and walking in the trees, Thankyou Buzzards everywhere.

    1. This is so good to hear and rather humbling 🙂
      What amazing things can grow from a single encounter eh. Its great to work with you Cindy and just imagine where it could lead…

  6. This is a great story Nicola, I was literally moved to tears and felt such a swell of emotion when I read ‘I am really going to miss this place.’ – poor bloke, to get a tiny taste and have to go back to Corporationland. I hope it planted a little seed for him. This piece was beautifully written, I enjoyed it very much.

    1. Wow, did it?! Amazing. Thank you 🙂
      Some people really love being in corporate land – I suspect David is still very happy there, although I wonder what became of that planted seed. It wasn’t home for me though – I love the woods too much!

  7. Thank you Nicola, very inspiring, I don’t know why I listen to the mind that says ‘you should have it all sorted by now’ it would seem I have much to gain from admitting my vulnerabilities and as you say, trusting and opening my heart.

    1. My teachers tell me that after decades of work the work is never done. They still have things ‘to sort’. They are still learning. I found this strangely comforting when I heard this, and also surprising. Goes to show how many layers of ‘stuff’ we have to work through – a lifetimes worth! Yes trust and love go along way to resolving things.

  8. Hi Nicola. Very uplifting and heartening story. I too am in the Construction industry and have been trying to find an escape route for years, I have left and returned a few times without finding a permanent way of ditching it completely. However, your story has galvanised me and I am redoubling my efforts. Thanks, Tim.

    1. All the very best Tim. It took me many years of soul searching but I got there eventually. It was a great training ground for my next step in life so I do thank the Universe for those years, hard as they were.

  9. Happy new pathfinding! I’ve put a request in with my spirit guides for a spirit teacher that likes eating ice cream! Think they are ignoring it….They are so wise!
    Excited to have another 365 days for outrageous creativity to help balance the heartbreaking things we humans seem to do to each other and mother earth.I can feel a warrior teacher approaching my path..And not expecting her to eat ice cream. Still I’m hopefull!
    In love and affection for change that brings healing ,and no doubt a little wild chaos for us and the earth . Tracey x

  10. Thank you so much for sharing Nicola 😀
    What a inspiring story indeed 😀
    And a very powerful message indeed, I’ve been struggling to get out and do the things I’ve been called to do but have been held back by anxiety and depression, but I am definitely going to try make 2017 the year of achieving the goals I pushed away by trusting Earth’s callings. Good job I made that vision board haha.
    Looking forward to your new blogs through out this year 😀

    1. Anxiety and depression are heavy emotions bit a brilliant guide to finding what is wrong in our lives and within u enabling us to set out to put things right. Here’s to making everyone on that vision board a reality Kyla 🙂

  11. thank you for sharing Nicola…I often block myself up to those messages, when I find they are always all around me.
    You encourage me to remain open and to trust. A useful reminder for myself, as my monkey head often steps in to “convince” me otherwise.
    I keep hearing to it’s chatter at times, but my natural, home- felt voice is becoming louder and louder, and am able to hear it’s tune, when I keep quite…

    Thank you!

    1. Oh yes that chattering monkey mind! It is constant isn’t it if we let it. To learn to hear our true inner wisdom is special thing – thank you so much for your comment Maria 🙂

  12. A totally wonderful story, Nicola. Not threats, nor apocalyptic scenarios, but a rekindling of love for our Earth, our community, and ourselves, is the only way forward. Aho!

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