Ecothought: Nature of the Soul

When I think of “me”, my ego identity, it isn’t the whole of me, just a fragment. The whole of me, my soul, is something higher, wider and deeper than anything I specifically identify with. It transcends. The body, seen by many as a mere container for the soul and/or ego, is closer to the wholeness of being than this “I”, so the body is closer to the soul than the ego… or it is the soul. It is higher, wider and deeper than the ego, and far closer to the wholeness of self than “I am…” The body transcends the ego.

My body isn’t a separate object, it is the convergence of many different interactions, connections and sensations. Everything is sensation, immersed in the webstrings of the senses. I do not need to search for a connection to nature, because I am nature, and it is only the fragment of the ego that takes seriously the illusion of being “disconnected.” My soul, my being, stretches and connects to the whole cosmos.

I am part of the continuum of nature. Nature is my soul.

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Beith: Regeneration of Forests

Valleys covered with Aleppo pine.

Valleys covered with Aleppo pine.

In both Britain and Spain there is a common phrase: there was so much forest that a squirrel could have gone from the South to the North without touching the floor. Nowadays we cannot talk of a continuous forest but of landscapes dotted with woods,  very few of which are ancient. But nature regenerates and renews itself, and that is the message of Beith, the first few (or letter) of the Ogham, an old Celtic alphabet, which is well known for its association with trees – though there are other lists, like birds, colours, lakes, tools and so on.

In the Tree Ogham Beith corresponds to the birch tree, which is quick to propagate and grow. Where there is no forest in North European countries, this will be the first one to establish new forest and pave the way for other species, hence its association with regeneration and renewal. But in our part of the Mediterranean there are no birch trees since it is far too dry and hot for them, leaving Beith without a tree. Enter the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), resistent to heat and dry weather, and also a tree that will quickly cover forest-less landscapes. Here, we refer to it as the “white pine” (distinguishing it from “red” and “black” varieties), further strengthening its association with the birch tree.

Spain, like many places in Europe and the world, has been subject to a lot of deforestation from the times of the Romans onwards, so only the fastest growing trees would come back, like the Aleppo pine, leaving slower growing trees struggling to recover.

I was looking one day at old aerial photographs of the valley where I live and was amazed to see that just a few decades ago there were hundreds of terraces used for hazel, olive and apple orchards. Now, all this land has become forest, and the terraces are hidden beneath a skin of Aleppo forest. The forest is regenerating!

When I came from England to live here, I didn’t appreciate this pine enough, since I was used to deciduous, broad-leafed forests with a lot more greenness and humidity – knowing what I know now, I can appreciate it more. The land has been cleared of forest, but now it has been left to its own devices, and the Forest is coming back. Long may it continue!

Transition Between Spaces

Inspired after reading Stepping into ritual space

In many ritualistic traditions, the marking of space and our transition from “outside” to “inside” is structured so that we have a change in attitude. In Druidry and similar traditions, a circle is marked in preparation for magical or celebratory acts.

The dojo in martial arts is considered “different” from the world outside it. You can’t enter with shoes, and in some there is a certain ettiquette that has to be observed upon entering. It marks for me the moment when the work begins and informs my attitude from then on

In Ecopsychology we’re taught to ask “permission” of a natural place, following the non-verbal signals of the body (“natural attractions”) to verify what the place is “telling” us. We can’t just go in as if we own the place and do whatever we want – other beings live here, and they deserve our respect.

I think this transition is important, but I think it’s also important not to create a bubble of it, in that you only live this within that moment or place, and never apply it in your life. In OBOD ritual we’re taught to say “may memory hold what eye and ear have gained”, meaning that whatever we experience “in-circle” becomes integrated into us and we carry that attitude with us to “out-circle”.

Ecothought: the Ego and the Body

You go out into nature and there is a sensation of forgetting oneself, yet remembering something more fundamental. All the “cheats and tricks” you’ve learnt being amongst people (flirting, appeasing, intimidating, deceiving, negotiating , etc.) don’t work the way they “should” do, and questions like Who? become unimportant. These masks just fall away, and for anyone that identifies strongly with these masks, being in nature can be disconcerting, because you can no longer rely on the rules or script of society.

The ego is a social tool, and relies on society and human relationships for its image and structure, and as a social tool it is quite useful, but it does not reveal the entire picture of who or what you are. It is a narrow beam of light that highlights certain details (the ones we want to show), but leaves others very much out of focus.

Out in nature, a crack appears in the ego, the narrow beam of light dims slightly and lets other details appear, details which you may or may not be familiar with, and which you may or may not find agreeable. In society we may come to believe that we are an ego that wears a body, but in nature this becomes reversed and we have space to realise we are a body that carries an ego.

I feel the same doing aikido too. When practicing a technique, I am in physical contact with another person, and cannot rely on my social image to interact with them. In this way I come face-to-face with my own physical limitations, which I cannot overcome by presenting a new image to them, but only by confronting the existence of my body.

The body is our organic contact with reality, and the ego is a social tool. Perhaps we’ve spent more of our lives living in a social mode than the organic, and it’s difficult to change that habit. But the more we spend time with nature, the more the organic reality asserts itself and the social reality is put into perspective.

Eco-Thought X

My trip to England was interesting. It outlined the nostalgia I have for a greener, wetter climate. In Spain, I live in the midst of nature, and I love it, but it’s not the one I grew up with. Here, it is dry and covered with pines, a result of heavy deforestation that left only the quick growing trees to recover. I grew up with an abundance of green and deciduous trees.

We visited several parks, and I had the sensation of an inner thirst being quenched, and the song birds seemed to sing a richer song here, too, or perhaps evoked something more familiar in me. The birds there are more trusting because there’s less history of hunting songbirds.

On the other hand I’m aware that England (specifically the South East) is “tamed” nature. I might miss it, but I know that living there can feel oppressive in another sense because, although there is a lot of nature, it lacks a “wild” quality. It’s all contained by human activity; every corner feels civilised and inhabited by humans. SE England feels cared for and nature is given a sympathetic space to grow and express itself, but it can be cloying. Spain feels ruined and abandoned, scarred by centuries of misuse and little care or sympathy, but this also means that there are corners that have escaped the human gaze (the “benefits” of negligence, you might say), and where really wild creatures can flourish. Spain can (just about) boast of wolves, bears, lynxes and wild boar, which have inhabited the British Isles but have since seen extinction there because of human intervention.

I’m reminded by the expression “grass is always greener on the other side.” There are pros and cons to either argument. Living in either, I can find things to be dissatisfied by. But this is outweighed by the benefits. I have nostalgia for my native England, and it’s good to have a “top-up” now and then, but I don’t think I could limit myself to it.

Eco-Thought IX

Meditation is usually done by “shutting out” interference from the world around us in order to concentrate on and see what is within us. But to discover and have this same effect even in contact with other people and nature is incredible!

Eco-Thought VIII

For me, nature isn’t an impersonal thing, that we can use and abuse as we like with no consequences. Nature too is sensitive, and capable of being “hurt, molested, invaded and trespassed.”

In some ways we could project our human experience onto nature, saying that nature “thinks and feels” like us, which I don’t think it does. However, I think we have a natural empathy towards nature that allows us to relate our states of being with nature’s states of being. This empathy, I believe, is naturally occurring. Our thoughts and feelings are part of nature, so when we say “this landscape is suffering”, it is, albeit through us and our sense of suffering. This is an important connection that occurs naturally in us.

Eco-Thought VII

There’s a place for “unpleasant” feelings. They tell us if something is not good for us, or when we’ve had enough of something. They tell us our limits. In my aikido training, I’m not forced into anything I don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing. Some falls and rolls I won’t do because I am scared and don’t know if I can do it (and if I do them wrong, I may injure myself). Or if I do something that hurts me, I know I’ve gone over my limits. There are times when I need to go over these limits, not because they are natural, but because they have been conditioned into me.

My own experience is that there is pain-fear that tells me something is bad for me. Another that stops me from developing my potential. My work is to distinguish between the two. Usually, one comes from the body’s own sensations, the other, from the “stories” that I have inherited from my culture and social conditioning. In this way, I can “overcome my fear” and transcend my limits with denying my natural sense of danger.

Eco-Thought VI

There’s a whole lot of connections here: connections between people and responsible relationships, between the person and nature, between consciousness (i.e. what we know) and the potential deep within us, and that through these connections we may find peace and wellbeing. This is something that resonates a lot with my experience of nature.

Eco-Thought V

The personal level is brought into contact with nature again; it is not separated from it. Moreover, it allows us to get into contact with parts within us that as adults we are accustomed to putting aside. There’s no judgement in nature, so the “childish” curiosity and playfulness we have within us are given space to express themselves. For me, contact with nature doesn’t just mean healing the estrangement between me and nature, but also with the parts within me that don’t have space to express themselves in other circumstances.