Session 10 Nature as Nurture Facilitator Instructions

A large and growing body of research has demonstrated that nature has incredible healing powers. People who go into the woods become calmer, more relaxed, less stressful, and healthier. Embracing the nurturing power of nature, we are healed.

Facilitator Notes for Session 10: Nature as Nurture

PREPARATION

Read the Session 10 Course Materials, review the exercises listed in the chapter and try them at least once yourself prior to facilitating the group.

Practice presenting the materials in this session alone before facilitating the session so you will have a good idea of how long it will take you, given your own speaking and presentation style, to go over critical materials. Adjust by adding or leaving out materials as needed, but do not cut key concepts or Priority 1 exercises and activities if at all possible.

KEY CONCEPTS

(Key concepts are those concepts that are foundational principles of Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy, and must be covered in the session): Doing Mode; Being Mode; non-verbal communication; animal totems; animal as nurture; your animal True Self; an attitude of gratitude; the cycle of nurture, nature as nurture

SECONDARY CONCEPTS

(Secondary concepts are those concepts that are not foundational, but that are important if the facilitator can work them into the session – otherwise students will read about them on their own in the reading assignments): Connecting with animals; the archetypal energy of animals; “the map is not the territory;” permission from nature; the Four Mantras, and the mind trap

INTRODUCTION

As an icebreaker exercise, ask participants to discuss their experiences with nature as nurture. Start this activity by asking for volunteers to tell a story in which they received nurturing from nature, or they had the opportunity to nurture nature themselves. This discussion lays the groundwork for the activities in this session.

If homework was assigned (e.g. exercises from the workbook that there wasn’t time for at the previous session), ask if there were any questions about the materials and have students share their experiences in completing the activities. Try not to spend more than ten minutes or so on this portion of the session.

NOTE: Since one of the activities in this session involves establishing the cycle of nurture by practicing an attitude of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start this session with some sort of thanksgiving offering, and by seeking permission from nature to engage in today’s activities. For more information on how to do this, see Sections 10.5 and 10.7.

SESSION 10 OUTLINE

10.0 Nature and Nurturing Relationships

During this part of the session I often do a little experiment in creative visualization. I have students take their resting heartbeat, then I guide them through a visualization in which they are stuck in traffic in a hot car with a leaking radiator. In this visualization they have only a few minutes to get to an important appointment like a job interview or a doctor visit. After a few minutes of this visualization I have them take their pulse again, and write down the total next to their resting heartbeat total. I then do a creative visualization in which they are in a peaceful nature scene with no place to be and nothing to do but to enjoy the experience. I then have them take their pulses again.

Most of the time when I do this exercise, most of the class has a lower heart rate after the second visualization. The point is, of course, that nature relaxes and nurtures.

10.1 Non-Verbal Communication

 Illustrate the idea of non-verbal communication by asking students to describe ways in which their pets have made their needs known to them without the use of language. Expand the idea to include humans by asking if students have ever known what someone’s intention or thoughts were by simply reading their body language without having to hear them speak.

If you are conducting this session in an outdoor setting, continue the idea of non-verbal communication, if time permits, by having students spread out and find an animal, insect, or even a plant to communicate with. Have them non-verbally send a message to a creature of their choosing and wait for a reply. They should then report their results to the group. Note that if they are not successful in communicating non-verbally, that’s okay too. Nature has its own agenda and it doesn’t always match up with our own. One of the lessons of mindfulness-based ecotherapy is to allow nature to be what it is, regardless of our own intentions.

10.2 Your Animal Totem

Define “animal totem” for your students. For the purposes of this course, an animal totem is “The archetypal energy of an animal that can be used to facilitate personal change.”

Note that these animal totems do not have to be real animals. I’ve had students in my classes who have had dragons, griffins, and unicorns as their totem animals. What’s important is the archetypal energy of the animal totem, and not whether or not the animal really exists.

Have students name their totem animals if they know what they are. If they don’t, just have them pick an animal. This discussion is a prelude to the exercise that follows, so don’t go too far in-depth when discussing totem animals. Just have them name theirs and hold off on going further until the My Totem Animal exercise has been completed.

EXERCISE: My Animal Totem PRIORITY 1

Have students answer the questions in the My Totem Animal exercise. This shouldn’t take more than five or ten minutes. When they are done, ask volunteers to share some of their replies to the questions and facilitate a discussion on the meaning of totem animals.

10.3 Animal as Nurture

Explain how “the map is not the territory.” The basic idea inherent in this concept is that we don’t perceive reality. Instead, we perceive our own concept, or narrative, of reality. This narrative is subject to our own assumptions, perceptions, and interpretations of a greater reality. If our maps don’t match the territory, it is the map that must change, and not the territory.

Link this concept, through group discussion, to the ideas in My Own Animal Legend from the previous session. Archetypal energies are largely unconscious. One of the goals of the My Own Animal Legend exercise is to bring these unconscious energies to the surface; to make the territory more clear so that we may alter our own maps accordingly.

When the energy inherent in animal archetypes helps us to do so, it is a very nurturing experience because it reflects our innermost needs and allows the archetypal energies of nature to help fulfill these needs in new and sometimes unexpected ways.

When facilitating a group discussion on this section of the session, be sure to include these questions: What qualities does your totem animal possess that are nurturing? What qualities does it possess that aren’t nurturing? How can you use these qualities, both nurturing and non-nurturing, in your journey to your True Self?

10.4 Your Animal True Self

At this portion of the session, discuss the idea that your animal totem is different from your animal True Self. Your totem animal assists you with what you may need on your journey, but your animal True Self is how you see yourself now, at this time, on the path. Your animal True Self may or may not have all the archetypal energy you need to guide you on your way. In those areas where your animal True Self is lacking, you may call upon the archetypal energies of your anima totem to assist you.

The way for your students to find their animal True Selves is in their answer to the question on the My Own Animal Legend exercise, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”

Note that for some their animal True Selves and their animal totems will be the same animal. If this happens during your discussion, check first to make sure that they understand the difference between the two. If you’re satisfied that they do, then having the same animal totem and animal True Self could just mean that they’re already fairly well grounded and centered along their own journey.

10.5 An Attitude of Gratitude

Reality is constructive. This means that what we perceive about the world creates our reality for us. We make assumptions about how the world works, and those assumptions create our perceptions. Our perceptions are the filter we use to view the world. For example, if we have an assumption that “people are out to get me,” we automatically set our perception filters to look for evidence that supports that assumption. Once our perception filters are set in this manner, even people who aren’t out to get us look like they are out to get us. That’s because if they’re being nice to us we automatically assume that since “people are out to get me,” they’re just being nice because they want something from us.

This eventually creates a reality around us based on our initial assumption. Here’s how that works: If the initial assumption is that “people are out to get me,” and then I treat everyone I meet as if they are out to get me, then eventually the people who aren’t out to get me are going to get tired of being treated as if they are out to get me, and they’re going to give up and go away. Eventually the only people left in my life will be the people who are out to get me.

So my assumptions and perceptions have created, or constructed, a reality based on my initial assumption.

The purpose of the “attitude of gratitude” section and the exercise that follows is to reboot our perception filters. By willing our assumptions to conform to this attitude of gratitude, we re-set our perception filters to look for evidence of things to be grateful for. When we find things to be grateful for, nature, or the universe, responds by creating a reality in which there are even more things to be grateful for. In short, practicing an attitude of gratitude opens the doors for nature to be able to nurture us.

Review the concept of the “attitude of gratitude” with your students

EXERCISE: An Attitude of Gratitude PRIORITY 1

For the purposes of this exercise the “sacred space” will have to be somewhere on the site you are using to conduct your workshops unless you elect to have your students do this at home. If you’re going to have them do this at home, it’s better to do it prior to today’s session, as the materials that follow build on this exercise and if they haven’t done it they’ll be missing out on some components of the exercises that follow. This is especially true of the Cycle of Nurture exercise that follows.

The basic premise of this exercise is that students make an “offering” of some sort to nature, and wait to see if nature has granted them permission to use this sacred space. You may wish to have materials that can be used for this “offering.” I often supply birdseed or bits of bread for the local birds. On occasion I have also had a bottle of wine or ale that may be poured out on the ground as a libation. Smokers (or even non-smokers) may wish to offer a pinch of tobacco, or gardeners may wish to offer herbs from their gardens. It’s up to you what materials to use for your offerings. It is better to offer something that has meaning for the individual making the offering.

Have students spread out on your site, make their offering, and wait for some sign of permission being granted, then return and answer the questions on the worksheet.

Usually I have at least one or two students who didn’t experience anything that would look or feel like nature giving permission for the day’s activities. If that’s the case, I explore their answers on the worksheet in a little more depth, as changes within themselves could also be considered to be nature granting permission. The reason for this is simple: They are a part of nature as well.

Link the offering and the granting of permission to the idea of nurturing. Have students discuss whether or not they felt nurtured, or if they felt they were nurturing, during this exercise. Ask them to relate gratitude to nurturing before going on to the Cycle of Nurture exercise.

10.7 Establishing the Cycle of Nurture

This section is preparation for the Cycle of Nurture exercise that follows. When conducting this workshop, I have students pair off with each other, taking turns to say both of these sentences to each other:

  1. “I understand that you are suffering. I am here for you. I hear you. I care. Please tell me how I may help.”
  2. “I am suffering. I see that you are here for me. I hear you. I care. Please help me.”

Now ask your students to pair off and have one speak the first sentence to the other. Ask the other how it felt to hear that. Then have the other student speak the sentence to the first partner, and do the same. Repeat this procedure for the second sentence.

Use this to segue into the Cycle of Nurture exercise that follows.

EXERCISE: The Cycle of Nurture PRIORITY 1

For this exercise, have your students return to the place where they made their offering. Have the students complete the Cycle of Nurture exercise on their own, then have participants return to the meeting place. Ask for volunteers to share their responses to the questions on this exercise. Focus the discussion on the idea of nature as nurture, and whether students felt nurtured and/or nurturing during this exercise. If any students received an answer to the question, “How may I help?” have them share the answers they received if they are willing to do so. Again, keep the focus and the responses on how to receive nurturing from nature by offering nurturing in return.

10.8 Reflections on Nature as Nurture

The quote at the beginning of this section is from the movie Never Cry Wolf, about a man who goes off to learn about wolves in Alaska but winds up learning more about himself.  I use this quote in my groups to process the idea of the mind trap.

To be caught in the mind trap is to be trapped by the mind into dwelling on memories of the past, or projections of memory onto the future. When we focus on thinking we are trapped inside our own heads. Such a state is eternally self-focused, even if we are ruminating over past or future events involving others, because it is we who are doing the ruminating. If we are nurturing others or nurturing nature we are moving out of the mind trap because we are focusing on the needs of others instead of our own. The more we nurture, the more we are nurtured in return because we have established a two-way nurturing cycle.

Use this part of today’s session to discuss ways in which people have learned to nurture nature, and to be nurtured by nature. Ask open-ended questions then just let the group discuss it for themselves. This usually extends to the question-and-answer period as well, as this session tends to get quite emotional at times. We all need nurture and healing, and so does the planet. This session tends to bring those needs to the surface, so be compassionate and supportive as your students discuss these topics.

HOMEWORK

Have students read the Session 11 materials prior to the next session; have them complete any exercises from Session 10 that weren’t covered in the session itself; ask them to bring any questions about the materials or the exercises to the next session.

DISCUSSION PERIOD

At the one-hour mark, invite group participants to stay for the discussion period. Point out that the thirty-minute post-session discussion period is optional. Note who stays for the discussion, and who leaves. Work at the next session to more actively engage those who leave.