On Being witnessed by Nature

“To touch the coarse skin of a tree is thus, at the same time to experience one’s own tactility, to feel oneself touched by the tree. And to see the world is also, at the same time to experience oneself as visible, to feel oneself seen” - Abrams

I recently had the privilege of walking in the beautiful landscapes of the South Island of New Zealand. I was witness to new people, different modes of expression, new sounds, smells, cities and towns. I travelled through many landscapes with birdlife and incredible vegetation the like of which I had never seen before. I loved it. I describe it as a retreat in journeying. I went to practice being with my Ecological Body (Reeve), noticing how  “ body and environment. . .  co-create each other through mutual influence and interactional shaping”  and to develop my own ecological consciousness  which is open to “…‘the environment’ or ‘world at large’ not as a mere backdrop but rather as Being”  (O’Sullivan & Taylor). Like all good journeys  the outer journey  became  an inner pilgrimage of awareness and recognition of how I move in, among and through spaces, places and people.

During this period I travelled through many airports, train and bus stations . Usually such places are teeming with people hurriedly going in all directions. Corridors tend to be long, made of some material that is often cold, sterile and impersonal. I found myself walking through these places with my head and eyes down, clear in my direction, keen to get to the end of the corridor and out to wherever I was going.  More focused on the destination than the journey these are the places I habitually walk through.

But that habit can permeate my life.  Walking in New Zealand it dawned on me this forward moving attitude was making the trees on either side of the road merely a backdrop to the direction I was walking in and to the very important thoughts going on in my busy head! I had walked the pathway almost as if it were a sterile corridor the likes of which I describe above. I was walking through it.

What was it that made me aware of this?  I suggest it was the practice of noticing my own movement and  the witnessing of nature. That may seem a strange way to put it.  Surely nature does not see me, I see nature?  Yet I know I was stopped by the awareness of being forward moving, my head ever so slightly ahead of my body, and of being perceived, influenced and witnessed by all around me.

I stopped. Perhaps it is more truthful to say I was stopped, arrested in my tracks by a tree.  It possessed a strong trunk, elegant limbs, and was on the point of budding. But my seeing was not what stayed with me. Rather it was the felt sense of  my own body/being  in conversation with the  being/body full tree, striking in it’s  beauty, rootedness, reaching upward and outward into the space that I call a road. In that moment I felt the reciprocity of our shared life in this world.  The tree asked nothing of me, spoke no words but was full of character, of life, of unique and inimitable presence. I bowed.. . . .  somehow keen to bodily  acknowledge our meeting.  But also to acknowledge the gift I had been  offered by recognising I was not alone on that road. I was no longer passing through it . I was among other living beings as I journeyed on. I had  experienced being witness and being witnessed .

This kinaesthetic awareness of the reciprocity of our being in the world is a key principle in my work and in a form of supervision which I have called Eco Supervision. I describe this supervision as embodied, embedded, emergence. It works with multiple intelligences i.e. a) kinaesthetic or  bodily intelligence mainly through the body moving (embodied), and b) natural intelligence, i.e  awareness of place and the witnessing of nature (embeddedness). Emergence is the final principle and refers to the emergence which occurs when we stay connected or in conversation with both our bodily and natural intelligence with equal value to our cognitive and verbal intelligence. It is a “letting go to let come” (Scharmer & Kaufer), an openness to stay with the not-yet-known and therefore uncertain, until the new arises.

For those who wish to experience a different lens to explore their own work, the next Eco Supervision workshop will take place in Sligo  on the  20 and 21st  May 2017. Drawing on key principles of  Creative Supervision, Move into Life work and Spiritual  Ecology this weekend will explore alternative  ways of working in supervision  through the body moving and incorporating the supervisory relationship and conversation into nature.  It is open to new and existing supervisors in all professions and to anyone interested in developing an embodied ecological consciousness in their work.

About the author: 

Therese is a psychotherapist, supervisor and movement practitioner who has been working in Sligo for the last 17 years. She established An Talamh (from the ground or from the earth) as a garden and cabin studio from where she works in the main. Her work acknowledges the importance of environment, landscape and place as co-creators of who we are. Further details of events and workshops held at An Talamh can be found on www.thereseodriscoll.ie

Further Reading: 
  • Abrams D 1996, The Spell of the Sensuous, New York, Vintage Books
  • O’Sullivan & Taylor, 2004: Learning towards an ecological consciousness – selected transformative practices. USA: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Reeve S 2011, Nine Ways of Seeing a Body, Axminster, United Kingdom, Triarchy Press
  • Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013 Leading from the Emerging Future , San Francisco, BK Publishers Inc