Session 8 Nature as Metaphor Facilitator Instructions

Each of us lives in our own personal fairy tale called “my life.” We all have good things that happen to us, and we all have bad things that happen to us. We create our own personal myths by choosing which things to focus on in our own lives. The good news about the myth of our lives is that we are the author. So if we don’t like the way the story is going, we have the power to do a ‘rewrite’ at any time. We can’t always choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can always choose the story we create about those circumstances. If you go out into the woods and start observing things, you will notice something begin to happen. You will begin to create stories about the events you observe there in the forest. These stories that spring to mind in the woods can tell you a great deal about what is going on in your own unconscious mind, if you know how to pay attention to them.

Facilitator Notes for Session 8: Nature as Metaphor


Read the Session 8 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 are those concepts that are foundational principles of Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy, and must be covered in the session): Ecotherapy; Second-Order Change; Beginner’s Mind; the Power of Intention; Nature as Archetype; the Golden Road, and Nature as Metaphor


(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): True Self; A Closer Look Activity; the power of the unconscious mind; the Green Man; the World Tree; tree as metaphor, and animal as metaphor


As an icebreaker exercise, ask participants to discuss their experiences with nature as a metaphor. Start this activity by asking for volunteers to tell a story in which they saw themselves in nature, or they saw nature in themselves. Link this discussion to the idea that nature can be used as a teaching tool. 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: The Closer Look exercise and subsequent reflections will require most of the session. This activity is the central portion of this session because in the Closer Look exercise you are looking for ways in which students saw stories happening in nature as they observed it. These stories are projections of their own consciousness onto the nature scenes they observed. Don’t try to put too much interpretation on their stories; instead, let them interpret them for themselves. Try to dedicate at least ten minutes of today’s session time for the Closer Look exercise.


8.0 What is Ecotherapy?

Define ecotherapy by first defining ecopsychology, which is the study of the effects of nature on the psychology of humans and other animals. Ecotherapy is defined as “the use of the tools and techniques of ecopsychology in a therapeutic way and/or in a therapeutic setting.”

Introduce the idea of the pilgrimage as the optional activity from this section. You may encourage students to engage in their own pilgrimage, or you may suggest to them that in a way participating in this series of workshops could also be seen as a type of pilgrimage. If you wish, you may use the questions in the pilgrimage activity to facilitate a discussion about people’s experiences with this workshop series thus far.

The questions from the pilgrimage activity are:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Who do I want to be?
  3. What is my mission or purpose in life?
  4. How am I living that purpose?
  5. How am I not living that purpose?
  6. What would I have to change about myself in order to accomplish my life’s mission?

When I lead groups, I read over each question and ask students to discuss how their answers to these questions may have changed over the time they have been attending the workshops. Link their answers to these questions back to ecotherapy and nature as metaphor by asking how their experiences in nature over the course of this workshop series might have changed their answers.

8.1 Second-Order Change

First Order Change involves playing the same game over and over again by the same rules and expecting different results, while Second Order Change means thinking outside of the box and re-interpreting the rules so the game can be won.

I often illustrate this concept through the use of the Nine Dot Puzzle.

The Nine Dot Puzzle introduces the concept of the paradigm shift (Second Order Change). Give students the first page of the puzzle, and explain the rules to them, but don’t show them the solution until they’ve attempted to solve the puzzle. After they’ve attempted to solve the puzzle, share the solution with them.

The natural assumption for most people attempting to solve the puzzle is that there is an invisible boundary around the perimeter of the nine dots: A “box.” But if you assume there is an unspoken rule that you cannot go outside of the box, it is impossible to solve the puzzle. People who make this assumption cannot solve the puzzle. Their natural assumptions prevent them from seeing the solution. Relate this to the idea of Second Order Change. A paradigm shift has to occur in order for the puzzle to be solved, just as a paradigm shift has to occur in our minds in order to achieve beginner’s mind and to look at things in a fresh, new way. By seeing things in a new way we are able to escape assumptions that are keeping us from seeing solutions.

Here are the rules for working this puzzle (the solution is on the next page):

  1. Connect all nine dots below, using only four straight lines
  2. Once you begin to draw, you cannot lift your pencil; the lines must be connected to each other in one continuous movement (think connect-the-dots)
  3. It is possible to solve the puzzle!

Click here for the solution to the puzzle

As you can see, the only way to solve the puzzle is to literally “think outside the box.”

The natural assumption for most people is that there is an invisible boundary around the perimeter of the nine dots: A “box.” But the rules for solving the puzzle didn’t say that you could not go outside the box! If you assume there is an unspoken rule that you cannot go outside of the box, it is impossible to solve the puzzle. People who make this assumption cannot solve the puzzle. Their natural assumptions prevent them from seeing the solution.

Think about how you’d like to live. How many of your natural assumptions prevent you from consistently finding solutions to the problems you encounter in your day-to-day life? How many of your natural assumptions are preventing you from becoming the person you would like to be? How many of your assumptions are keeping you from living in True Self? What “rules” would have to change in order for you to make that leap? How can nature help you to challenge those assumptions? Discuss with your students.

8.2 Beginner’s Mind

Define beginner’s mind here for your students. It is a key concept for the exercises to follow. Beginner’s mind is the ability to greet each day with a new mind, without assumptions, preconceptions, or judgments. It is about cultivating a childlike sense of wonder about the world around us, and about ourselves. By doing so we are more easily able to achieve Second Order Change in our lives. Second Order Change is lasting because it is a change in the way we view the world.

8.3 True Self and the Power of Intention

When we live in deliberate and intentional ways, we are utilizing the power of intention. Intention is conceptualized with the following two questions:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish with my life?
  2. Is what I’m doing, saying and thinking going to help me to accomplish my goals?

If we are using the power of intention we are taking a solution-focused approach to problem solving. We can talk about problems all day, but until we start talking about solutions nothing gets solved. The power of intention is about solutions.

The way to live in True Self is intentionally. If you have time, you may facilitate a discussion about how students can use their power of intention to live more fully in True Self, and how nature might help them to do so.

8.4 Nature as Metaphor

Review how fairy tales like the Aesop’s Fables are nature metaphors used to teach valuable life lessons. Link this to the idea that we can create our own “fairy tales” by observing nature and using it as a metaphor for the challenges in our own lives. If time permits you may discuss how intention and nature may work together to create metaphors that allow students to live more fully in True Self.


This exercise has to be done outside, so if you’re experiencing inclement weather you will have to postpone it until weather permits. When I do this exercise I use Hula Hoops™ and have students place them on the ground in front of them for their period of observation. The hoop marks the boundary of observation. Allow at least ten minutes for this exercise. I usually have at least one student who gets bored, gets up and wanders away during this exercise. That’s okay too. I generally ask them, during the discussion portion of the session, what caught their attention outside of the hoop. I then ask them to create a metaphor based on their observations of nature outside the parameters of the exercise. What did they see that wasn’t in the hoop?

8.5 Reflections on a Closer Look

The exercise that follows is designed to take the story created in the Closer Look exercise and to turn it inward; that is, to use the story as a metaphor for the individual’s own inner journey. Keep this in mind as you have your students complete the Reflections on A Closer Look exercise.

EXERCISE: Reflections on A Closer Look PRIORITY 1

Have your students answer the questions in this exercise after completing A Closer Look. If time permits, you may facilitate a discussion by asking volunteers to share their responses to the questions. In the interest of time, I usually read through the questions one by one and ask students to volunteer answers. I don’t take more than one or two answers before going on to the next question. You may then assign this exercise as homework once the students have a clear understanding of how to answer the questions.

8.6 A Closer Look Inside

The Closer Look Inside exercise uses the Closer Look to remove barriers to connection. This is done by using the story students created in the Closer Look exercise as a metaphor for their own internal states.

EXERCISE: A Closer Look Inside PRIORITY 1

Have students complete this exercise during the session. If students notice that they created stories that contain things that may be used to eliminate barriers to connection, this exercise should help them to figure out what those things are, and how to use those metaphors in intentional ways to connect with nature and with themselves. If time permits you may facilitate a discussion of student responses to this exercise when it is completed.

8.7 Nature as Archetype

Discuss the concept of archetypes and have students name some nature archetypes like the Sacred Tree or the Mandala. Link the idea of archetypes to the power of the unconscious mind by noting that archetypes reside in the unconscious mind and are inborn. Metaphors in nature that make use of archetypal energy are very powerful metaphors that can lead to Second Order Change when used properly.

8.8 The Power of the Unconscious Mind

During this part of the session, ask students to volunteer experiences they may have had with their unconscious minds. Such experiences might manifest as a hunch or intuition, or a dream that tells them something about themselves, or just a feeling that they should do something at a particular time in a particular way.

8.9 The Golden Road

Freud considered dreams the “Golden Road” to the unconscious mind. In the Nature as Metaphor session, we explore some ways in which we may use nature as a metaphor for our own unconscious thought processes. Introduce this idea with the Green Man exercise that follows.

8.10 The Green Man

The Green Man exercise that follows in Section 8.12 involves using trees as a sort of Thematic Apperception Test. In other words, what we see in the tree is a projection of our own unconscious minds. For now, just discuss the idea of the Green Man as a face in the trees. Different people may see different faces, or even animals or other objects. This is because such images are merely projections.

8.11 Wise Mind and the World Tree

Discuss the archetypal image of the World Tree as a metaphor for mind. This metaphorical tree of mind has branches that reach into the life-giving sunlight of order and rational thought, while its roots stretch deep into the dark, moist and chaotic soil of the unconscious mind, where the darker emotions dwell.

8.12 Connecting through the Green Man

Prepare for the Green Man exercise by explaining the rationale for it. You will be asking students to find a face or other image in a tree of their choosing. They will then sketch it and interpret it based on what they think their own subconscious minds might be trying to tell them.

Prior to the exercise, facilitate a brief Tree of Life meditation as a means of grounding and centering your students.


Have your students engage in the Green Man exercise by selecting a tree of their own. When they feel that an image has formed in the tree, have them sketch it, then go on to answer the questions in the next exercise.

EXERCISE: Reflections on the Green Man PRIORITY 2

When this exercise is complete, facilitate a discussion by asking volunteers to share their responses with the rest of the group. Focus on using the Green Man as a metaphor for unconscious mental states.

8.13 Tree as Metaphor

Facilitate a discussion on trees as metaphors for our own internal states. Do trees have personalities? What can you learn from yourself by observing the trees?

8.14 Animal as Metaphor

Animals are used quite often as metaphors for human interaction, as this section points out. When using animals as metaphors for our own personal lives, we can draw upon the strength of these archetypes to achieve our own mindful states of being. Session 8: Nature as Metaphor prepares us for the idea of using totem animals as metaphors for our own internal states. This concept will be introduced in the next session’s materials.

8.15 Nature as Metaphor for True Self

I illustrate the concepts in this section by asking students, “What is the nature of your True Self apart from material possessions?”

The next question I ask is, “What is the nature of your True Self apart from the natural world?”

The idea behind these two questions is that while we could exist without material possessions, we could not exist without nature. The more in tune we are with nature, the more likely we are to be living in True Self. Compare and contrast answers to these two questions with your students, using nature as a metaphor for True Self.


Have students read the Session 9 materials prior to the next session; have them complete any exercises from Session 8 that weren’t covered in the session itself; ask them to bring any questions about the materials or the exercises to the next session.

NOTE ABOUT PREPARATION FOR SESSION 9: The My Own Animal Legend exercise in Session 9 is quite lengthy. In interest of time, you may wish to assign it as homework prior to Session 9 so the bulk of the Session 9 class time may be used for the reflections and the discussion regarding the exercise. If you choose to do this, make sure your class understands ahead of time that they should bring the completed exercise with them to the beginning of Session 9. Have them do the My Own Animal Legend portion for homework, but save the Lessons from My Own Animal Legend portion for next week’s session.


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.