February 2024

The Pilgrim and the Apprentice: A regenerative learning journey

We are each uniquely called to wholeness and Oneness within nature, rather than living a divided life from Self and the splendour of planet Earth, writes Dr Bern Nicholls.

“A regenerative human culture is healthy, resilient and adaptable; it cares for the planet and it cares for life in the awareness that this is the most effective way to create a thriving future for all of humanity” (Christian Wahl, 2016).

Over the past 10 years through careful curation of contacts on LinkedIn, I have noticed the emergence of a flourishing global community of influential regenerative thought leaders like Daniel Christian Wahl, Giles Hutchins, Laura Storm to name a few, who have provoked and encouraged me “to listen with the ear of my heart”.

It has been a time for rethinking, re-imagining, and transforming my ongoing relationship with nature and my place within a complex, intelligent, interconnected living system where human species are not exceptional.

Rather, we are being called collectively to humbly take our place within nature’s ancient systems as inter-beings, neither above nor below other species, deeply connected, and mutually reliant on each other for our continued existence.

As I began drafting this reflection, I was flying home from what had been a transformational experience discovering the grandeur and vulnerability of Iceland and Greenland’s remote wilderness.

My immersion within nature has dislodged the once safe moorings of my rational mind. I am not the same person. I no longer feel or think the same way about my place in our natural world, our authentic home.

I have begun the process of releasing some old ways of thinking, which has at times been painful, and allowed myself to be wholly immersed in the awe and magnificence of nature in these remote, wilderness landscapes. So why share this experience?

This is an attempt at processing some of what I experienced; however it is early days and will continue to evolve and shape my regenerative learning journey.

I have been humbled and awestruck as I witnessed the Northern Lights, not once but twice. Immense emotion washed through my whole being, resulting in tears of gratitude falling from my freshly opened eyes.

Whales and their young calves trustingly fed as we entered their territory in what must have sounded like intrusive engine noises from our Zodiacs. Their trust and generosity to tolerate us in their habitat once again overwhelmed me as I remembered our fraught history of whaling and sentient beings’ willingness to time and time again forgive humans’ exploitative relationship with Earth.

Landscapes filled with ancient glaciers and icebergs hundreds of years old, some so large they overshadowed our small ship, was a humbling experience. Their majesty and vulnerability in the face of climate collapse paradoxical.

Daniel Christian Wahl’s innovative explorations into the theory and practice of creating regenerative cultures, has been a transformative process both inwardly and outwardly. I resonated with the reimagined dispositions for leading in changing times, a pilgrim’s humility and reverence for life, and an apprentice’s questioning and open mind.

Wahl suggests that we need to prepare for the often-surprising twists and turns that allow us to chart our way forward into an uncertain future. To walk the path, he suggests, we would do well to cultivate the attitude of a pilgrim – with respect for all of life, in gratitude for the abundance we can share along the way, and with reverence for the magnificence of participating in this beauty.

That we would also do well to cultivate the attitude of an apprentice; acknowledging that nature in all its forms, whether through our fellow human beings or through the multitude of fellow species on this planet, has much to teach us.

As both pilgrim and apprentice we are invited to willingly question, to live deeply those questions and guard against quick feel-good solutions that may, in fact, lead to future problems and unintended consequences.

The willingness to be disturbed, as Margaret Wheatley discusses, may at times mean giving up what we know and who we are, for what we might become. Wahl believes that herein lies one of the secrets of the transformative regenerative learning journey that will take us beyond sustainability towards a more flourishing human presence on Earth; the willingness to travel this life with a pilgrim’s humility and reverence for life, and an apprentice’s questioning and open mind.

Parker J Palmer further writes about the pilgrim’s journey as living an “undivided life”, inviting us to deeply explore the topography of our inner landscape and the ways in which it reflects our outer life as one and the same. This is a lifelong journey that takes us to the depths of our very being, often referred to in the spiritual life as ‘the dark night of the soul’.

However, observing the regenerative cycles of nature’s seasons reveals the everyday ordinariness of change evident in times of growth, composting and restorative rest. Yet it takes courage (Latin cor, the heart) to be fully responsible for our lives and committed to a lifelong exploration of our inner landscape, recognising that our inner and outer lives interact as ‘One’.

The opposite response so frequently observed and experienced in our society is blaming, othering and victimhood when life becomes challenging or demands some form of transformation. Brene Brown has researched extensively on the relationship between externalised blame and internalised shame.

It is this intentional cultivation of our inner landscape that enables us to turn and face our unique lived experiences that have shaped and influenced who we are becoming. 

We are each uniquely called to wholeness and Oneness within nature, rather than living a divided life from Self and the splendour of planet Earth. Herein lies the call to live a regenerative pilgrim’s life, where we “do no harm” by ensuring our interactions, actions, decisions, and relationships result in health, wellbeing, inclusion and resilience within a living system constantly in flux, thus ensuring all life on Earth can thrive in these uncertain times.


Brown, Brene, (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are, Hazelden Publishing, Center City, MA.

Christian Wahl, Daniel, (2016). Designing Regenerative Cultures, Triarchy Press, Axminister, England.

Palmer Parker J, (2009). A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, John Wiley & Sons Publishers.

Wheatley, Margaret, (2017). Who do we choose to be? Facing Reality Claiming Leadership Restoring Sanity, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Oakland, CA.


Courage to be disturbed

May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers,

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.


May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.


John O’Donohue, excerpt from ‘A Morning Offering’ found in his books, To Bless the Space Between Us (US), / Benedictus (Europe)

Dr Bern Nicholls

Bern Nicholls PhD: My contribution to education is as a Regenerative and Transformative Coach for school leaders. The process focuses on the intentional cultivation of our interior conditions – how we think, reflect, communicate, connect – which influences our unfolding life purpose. Currently, I partner with school leaders open to exploring “how” to revitalise, restore, replenish and transform from the inside out.

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