Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reconnecting With Nature, Buddhism, and Basketball

Last night I was walking with my girlfriend and her dogs. As I was paying attention to the dog, I was thinking about the documentary we had watched earlier called “no impact man”. I saw the dog come to attention, senses alive, she turned her head and then turned in the opposite direction. I followed her gaze to see a rabbit three houses in back of us. As we turned to go on down the road, I looked up at a massive tree and felt so grateful that I have the opportunity to be alive with that tree. I thanked the tree and felt gratitude back. It was like the tree was telling me that the story/drama we live in day to day is not a natural attraction, yet the love in the form of natural attractions is always present and that’s what grounds me when I get upset about the story and it’s effects on nature, those I care about, and me. Nature is designed to produce happiness and love in the form of our senses. Anything that does not promote that seems to be part of our nature-conquering story. I now understand more fully the Buddhist idea that being free from suffering is not the absence of pain, hurt, or death, it is fully experiencing what is real in the moment. So, when I feel disconnected at work, I know that it is accurate. Knowing that and being able to stay with that sensation is what leads me to connection with nature. It’s telling me what I don’t want/need. It’s telling what I’m not attracted to.
When I started this program, I had little knowledge about nature and had not made many significant connections to nature. Now I know that this was the missing link in my life. I have been well trained in psychology, which lead me to ecopsychology, but had not made the connection with nature. I had also studied Buddhism and eastern philosophy for years, which in retrospect helped me to understand RWN (reconnecting with nature) and even more RWN helped me understand Buddhism. It’s weird, I feel like the same person only almost completely different.
An example of this for me occurred while running the other day. I had been connecting with nature and then running. I was feeling the importance of paying attention to my surroundings for survival purposes. I was attracted to this level of attention. As I ran in this park, I came across a basketball. This object seemed so foreign and out of place that much of my attention was drawn to it. I thought “an unnatural ball of rubber just distracted me from paying attention to my survival attraction, that’s what happens to me (and us) so much of the time”. All of these industrial things are wranglers (wranglers are anything that promotes the nature-conquering story of our culture).
I started to feel bad: depressed, hopeless, trapped like I needed to flee into the forest. I realized that this is also not part of nature. Nature nurtures mutually beneficial relationships to produce harmony and love, which are natural attractions. That was not what I was feeling. I realized that I could connect with nature and feel those attractions come back. I can still know about what is going on and how I am being affected by the industrial world, yet the way to heal from this is not through thinking about how I can fix it. It’s how can I be more and more connected to nature and let nature guide my thinking. This develops a supported ground to meet these wranglers on and a feeling that I can joyfully connect with nature in all places.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Will the Natural Systems Thinking Process Impact Psychotherapy?

The Natural Systems Thinking Process is an important paradigm shift in the field of psychotherapy that moves away from therapist as change agent to nature as change agent. This shift utilizes natures unlimited strength, intellect, and openness that provides a way to see one’s self as a natural being. NSTP resolves many of psychotherapy’s conflicts by developing the relationship between the person and nature, and minimizing the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client as the foundation of the work. This is helpful due to the potential trauma that can be transferred on to the therapist making healing more difficult or impossible. Also, working with nature both parties start with gaining permission for engagement and for going at one’s own pace. This allows the person seeking reconnection with nature to develop the connection and healing process at the exact pace that is safe and comfortable, which increases their self-supportive functions. The ideas of developing self-supportive functions and letting the client set the pace are essential ingredients for effective therapy, which has been researched thoroughly by Miller and Duncan (2004). Reconnecting with nature through NSTP has other elements that are similar to Buddhism and existential philosophies like the idea of all living things being connected and following your natural attractions.
It appears to be common sense that nature has abilities that most humans have lost touch with. As we watch reports on looming environmental and social disaster, it is apparent that humans (especially westerners) are not utilizing the intelligence of nature. Nature does not produce garbage or any other social problem we see today (serious mental health issues, poverty, crime, war). It would also be common sense to think that humans could reconnect with nature and their natural selves as a way to utilize nature’s intelligence and other abilities. As Cohen (2003) asks the rhetorical question, “Do you recognize that any person who could conceive and perform the functions of Earth or nature would be considered a super genius ten times over?” This makes the point that if we connect with nature we tap into a super evolved intelligence that can help us develop new solutions and ways of living that were formerly unknown to us.
One basic aspect of nature is that it has mutually beneficial relationships with all other living things. This creates balance and harmony in the system. If we can see/recognize our natural nature, we can regain, recover, and reconnect to that which is in balance and harmony within us or that is us. Actually, using the word us is apt because all humans have this capacity and part of that capacity is to understand that us is not separate from nature. Furthermore, in nature cooperation is a vital element or an essential component.
Most mental health issues are brought about by the competitive element of society, which leads people to be disconnected from nature and each other. Of course, nature has what looks to humans like competition, but a description can be seen differently from different vantage points. The competition found in nature does not negate the fact that the competitors are involved in a mutually beneficial relationship. If one “wins”, by definition in nature, the “loser” has contributed an equally valued element in the balance of nature. So, there really are no winners or losers in nature, yet the battle for survival can remain intense and hard fought. The question may be better thought of as a combination of process and outcome. If we conceive of ourselves as one with all living things or are constantly engaged in mutually beneficial relationships with everything around us, then we may change the valuing process that occurs when looking at the outcome. For humans, this would include finding our place in nature. We may get to the point where we see all things in nature as us and thus be open to taking our balanced mutually beneficial place in nature.
Alternatively, when we look at most current therapeutic practices, we find therapists attempting to find ways for people (their clients) to cope with the insanity of society more functionally. People understand on some level that society created this issue and that coping will not free them from the suffering they experience. They often try with mixed immediate and poor long-term results. In my experience as a therapist, most of the people that I have worked with understood all to well why they were feeling the way they were, their issue was not knowing what to do about it. Their lack of understanding what they needed to do was mostly based on the extensive brainwashing that societies typically do to their people. My clients believed with all their thoughts and feelings that they were/are helpless. And they were helpless, or mostly helpless, to overcome the lack of power they experience in society. What they could not really come to terms with was that they knew they had to connect with nature, yet that contradicted their social training. Therefore, they would continue to fight a battle that was not theirs to fight. At the time, I had only an inkling of what they were missing. I was disconnected from nature also. Looking back, I can see that they needed to have the support that nature can provide to be able to see the reality of the situation.
Reconnecting with nature is what allows us the initial strength to stand on our own feet and reach out to the environment to find the webstrings that we are so intimately part of. Webstrings, another way to describe mutually beneficial relationships, are like an endless pool of connection to balance and harmony. When we allow our natural attractions to lead us to the webstrings connection, we are moving through barriers that no longer exist. So, as a nature connected therapist, I would be helping people to reconnect with nature and nature acts as the change agent. Of course, the therapist is part of nature, so they need to be a trusted member of the nature community, but one string of the web (therapist alone or disconnected from nature) has very little power compared to all the webstrings. This puts the therapist in the role of “leading the horse to water” so to speak, but the water is what is actually helping the horse or reconnecting the horse to its mutually beneficial relationship with water is what helps the horse.