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New Beginnings

By Joanne Hanrahan

This edition’s volunteer contribution was written by Joanne Hanrahan. Joanne is the new EEAI Committee Vice Chair and a much valued eeai volunteer.

The 14th of December 2012 was the most beautiful, clear, crisp Winter’s day. I can visualise it with great clarity, and as I do my body responds to the memory; memories of skipping, twirling and yelping with pure joy on Lahinch beach with my husband. That was the day the removals vans arrived with all of our belongings and we finally moved into our new home in Liscannor Co. Clare. My very visceral experience of moving to this beautiful coastal village was not just of moving house and of relocating from a city suburb but, for me, seemed to reflect a coming home to my Self. Before pondering on this new very personal awareness, let me share a little of my connection with nature prior to this last move.

As a child in Ireland in the 70s and 80s, regardless of where I lived, I was never too far from open spaces and a rural landscape. Pre ten I lived in County Dublin and made forts in the field at the back of my house. My third and fourth class teacher encouraged me to watch David Attenborough programmes as part of my homework. These amazing documentaries transported me to the marvels of the wider world and the weird and wonderful creatures in it. Attenborough’s voice and remarkable presence in the grand scheme of things seemed, somehow, to settle me too, into a sense of being part of or belonging to, place. As a teen I lived in a quiet suburb on the outskirts of Limerick and regularly walked or cycled a three mile rural loop near my house to clear my head from thoughts of study and to steady myself. Holidays were spent on my uncle’s farm in Mayo and climbing mountains and exploring beaches in Kerry. My father had a passion for hiking and introduced me to the wonder of outdoor adventures. My mom taught me to be present and notice – notice the falling leaves, the buds, the bulbs coming up; the magic of the changing seasons. From her I learned of plants and trees, flowers and planting, long standing treasures that remain in my knowledge bank. At eighteen I started university in Galway and lived in Salthill for four years. My first time living by the sea, this also seemed to be the first time that I noticed my own psychological world being reflected back to me in the environment. The sea was so exciting. To me, just like the new world I was experiencing, the sea had the power to renew itself and had an awesome freedom and energy.

It was not, however, until my adult relocation to Liscannor with my husband and children, that I experienced a fundamental shift in my relationship with nature. At the time I was completing my Psychotherapy training and it seemed to me that my contact with nature heightened my understanding of therapeutic theory. I was also more aware of my own psychological process through contact with the natural world. My environment trained me to be in the here and now. I felt that looking out seemed to facilitate my looking within and my making contact not only with my embodied present self but my higher order self. I was fascinated by what was enlivened in me. In 2014, knowing nothing of Eco Psychology, Shamanism or Nature Based Therapies I decided to complete my MSc masters research on exploring the integration of Nature and Psychotherapy. Initially I found myself feeling anxious by the lack of Psychotherapy specific research in the field and wondering what literature I’d actually review. However my fears soon turned to excitement as I discovered I was on the cusp of something very new. I waited with great enthusiasm for the results of some of the Scandinavian research that was just emerging and the arrival of Martin Jordan’s first book in my letter box.

Since then I have completed trainings in outdoor psychotherapy in the UK and attended a number of conferences and talks on related topics. I have facilitated workshops and delivered speeches but have most enjoyed developing my Psychotherapy practice both indoors and out on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Where We Stand

By Aidan Ring

Gifts from the Natural Word |  This edition’s research contribution explores humanity’s relationship with rock, the substance from which most of the planet is made. It was written by Aidan Ring.  Aidan is our interim newsletter co-ordinator and a much valued eeai volunteer.

‘Why are we here? Where do we come from? These are the most enduring of questions’ intones Professor Brian Cox at the beginning of an episode of Wonders of the Universe, one of my favourite documentaries of all time (Wonders of the Universe, 2011). Such questions have dominated the human experience for all of human history; as we gaze up at the stars, we cannot help but wonder at them and wonder about them. This insatiable curiosity has manifested itself in reams of literature and whole disciplines like Cosmology and Astrophysics. However, before you can look up at the night sky, you have to be standing somewhere. Indeed, the question of why we are here presupposes a knowledge of where, and what, is meant by ‘here’ and how it is possible for any of us to be here at all. To those of you who are quick to point out that we are on Planet Earth, I ask what is Planet Earth? What I want to explore are the most basic physical features of this beautiful planet we call home, how these features support us in every sense of the word and, most crucially, how it relates to our story.

When you strip everything back, in its most basic form this planet is a massive sphere of rock, 8 billion years old and 1 trillion cubic kilometres in volume. The Earth is a terrestrial planet, meaning that rock is its primary constituent material. Moreover, it is this rock which has given us life. As such, examining its inner workings offers us vital clues to the Earth’s history and how we came to be. Geologists know more about this than anybody else. The story is written in the rocks. In places where they are visible, looking through the Earth’s strata is like entering a time machine. Massive craters in the Earth’s surface hint at vastly different realities that previously beset our planet. Deposits of different minerals in the strata of the rock at different times tell us all kinds of things about Earth’s history.

The Earth is Art

Slightly more anthropocentric are archaeologists. These are the people whose job it is to unearth artefacts, soil samples and other evidence of human activity from past aeons. In the annals of Archaeology and Anthropology, there is perhaps no discovery more exciting and thought-provoking than the range of drawings done by our ancient ancestors on cave walls. Today, we have discovered such cave drawings in every continent except Antarctica, making them a global meme which united thousands of our ancestors over time and space in a common pursuit, even if they did not know it (Ehrenreich, 2019). Such drawings have much to tell us. For one thing, we humans have, historically, not been anywhere near the top of the food chain. They also speak to us of the ingenuity and cooperation these people displayed; it took wooden scaffolding to reach cave ceilings and complex chemistry to create the ochre used to paint them. These images also, more than anything else, help us to relate to our ancient ancestors by offering a window into their psyche. They were also artists and they too wished to leave a mark and be remembered.

Yet a particularly interesting feature of many of these paintings is the absence of human faces. The absence of faces was not due to lack of skill; many animals are represented in astonishing detail. However, humans take a definite secondary role in the stories written on these cave walls, being shown as small, weak, faceless silhouettes. It seems that the artists simply did not find it as important to depict themselves or their faces as they found it to depict the world around them. This thinking stands in stark contrast to the endemic narcissism that pervades modern society with the age of social media, selfies and constant advertising which exploits people’s insecurities. Halpern, Valenzuela & Katz (2016) have identified a self-reinforcing cycle to this whereby narcissist individuals take ‘selfies’ (photographs of oneself) and post them on social media more frequently over time. Simultaneously, an increase in selfie production raises subsequent levels of narcissism. It seems that our ancestors did not take themselves nearly that seriously and so avoided putting an emphasis on the human face as they, perhaps, had a better understanding of their relative significance than many of us. They knew that they occupied a place no higher than the middle rung on their food chain. As Ehrenreich (2019) asserts, ‘They knew they were meat, and they also seemed to know that they knew they were meat – meat that could think. And that, if you think about it long enough, is almost funny.’


For information about people from eras predating recorded history, we depend almost entirely on archaeological discoveries of buried artefacts and of signs of human settlement to fill in the gaps. The stories buried underground, if one cares to look, inform us about our past habits, the areas we congregated, the patterns of migration that shaped our past and, by extension, our present. The specific items themselves provide information about what era of history they came from and, thus, how advanced humans were at those times. The Stone Age lasted about 3.4 million years, ending only around 4,000BC. During it, we used the rock of the Earth itself to make rudimentary tools, such as weapons, pottery and stone slabs for cooking on known as quern-stones. However, our relationship with rocks extended beyond the purely practical. Megalithic monuments (famous examples of which include Stonehenge and Newgrange) played a key part in cultural and religious rituals by honouring the dead, marking sacred sights and representing myths and legends. There are many examples of megaliths being carved with patterns, being moulded into anthropomorphic shapes and of the use of rocks of different geographical origins in the same sight (Scarre, 2009). This all indicates the intention of marking the significance of these places… and of these rocks.



In other cultures, pre-existing rock formations are woven into a narrative of mythology. For example, the stones that litter the countryside of central Madagascar are, according to local lore, the remnants of an ancient battle between the Earth and the sky (Kus & Raharijoana, 1998). Special attention is paid to these rocks, their forms and colours. In modern times, rock is still just as inspiring as ever. Jagged mountain peaks, gnarled coastal cliffs and even the plethora of brightly coloured rocks on beaches and riverbeds the world over have inspired artists, explorers and scientists of all kinds. After visiting the renowned Altamira cave before being routed from Spain in 1934, Pablo Picasso was alleged to have said that ‘Beyond Altamira, all is decadence.’ Human beings have always related to rock in some way, a relationship which was sometimes subtle but always powerful. It is no wonder, then, that this relationship provokes our imaginations so fiercely, making the inanimate become animate and helping rocks to become symbolically charged. Why else would human beings build monuments by dragging enormous rocks weighing over 2o tonnes across hundreds of miles or risk their lives summiting the highest mountains on Earth?

In modern times, while we may not recognise it, we are still completely dependent upon the rock of the Earth for, literally, every physical thing we use, eat or consume in any way. We use concrete in the creation of everything from roads to buildings, we inhabit cities which could not exist without the chemicals extracted from the Earth used in the making of cement. Pencils for writing and communicating are made of graphite which is a naturally occurring form of carbon. We use diamonds to tip drills for a range of purposes from dentistry to construction.


Even more fundamentally, around 25% of the Earth’s land mass is covered in soil which we rely on for all of our food. Without soil, we would not exist and neither would any of the other plants and animals of the ecosystems in which we evolved and on which we still depend. Soil is generated by the erosion of rock particles over time and its interaction with the hydrological cycle. This is another of the gifts which is bestowed upon us by the floating mass of rock we live on, no strings attached. There are some ecosystems which can thrive without sunlight or fresh water such as sulfuric acid caves and deep sea hydrothermal vents. However, there is not a single species of plant or animal whose lives would be possible without rock. Indeed, there are some species of bacteria, algae and funghi, known as Endoliths, which actually inhabit rocks and feed by extracting minerals from them.


Venturing even deeper into the intrinsic value of our home, we note that human beings have been able to evolve here only under very specific physical parameters; a rock of the Earth’s particular mass and density produces a gravitational strength of 1G at the Earth’s surface. Where we stand is on this rock. The only reason we can is because this rock produces gravity of the perfect strength for us to survive and thrive. Gravity keeps us bound to our home and stops us from drifting off into the unknown. It has been such an integral feature of our reality for such a long time that, humans have even developed a specialised sensory capacity for perceiving gravity, known as Somatic Graviception (Mittelstaedt, 1996). This sensory capacity involves the mixing of input from multiple organs including the eyes, the spine, the muscles and the fluid in our joints. In fact, gravity is such a strong and fully immersive aspect of the human experience that our bodies and brains have become entirely dependent on it for a vast range of physiological abilities ranging from time and space related judgments to body orientation and motor movements (Jörges and López-Moliner, 2017). And it’s all because of the ground beneath us. It has only been within the past 100 years that we have managed to move beyond the bounds of gravity and out into our solar system. But even in space, astronauts adapt very slowly to gravitational differences and experience measurable changes in cognition. And we still need a launchpad.

The Earth is that launchpad, not just for our spacecraft but also for our dreams and ambitions. It has given us all of the material we need to build spacecrafts and has kept our species alive long enough to develop the intelligence and imagination necessary to venture into outer space. And seen from the outside, this rock effects us in a different way. The Overview Effect is the term given to the cognitive shift reported by many astronauts when they have looked back upon this rock from space. The experience is characterised by feelings of awe, transcendence and deep identification with the human race in its entirety as well as its fragility (Yaden et al., 2016). Astronauts, unlike our early cave-drawing human ancestors, can perceive how delicate and isolated this one glorious rock is and are humbled by that. However, like our cave-dwelling ancestors, they are gifted a sense of place and relative significance within their particular circumstances. Both parties share the experience, on vastly different scales, of seeing the Earth for what it is, inside and out, in all of its stark, sublime beauty; a rock.

The Earth is teeming with life, full of vibrant biodiversity and impossibly complex relationships but it is also fragile and totally unique. Cosmologically speaking, a habitable planet which supports intelligent life is rarer than a diamond in the ground and biologically speaking, it is more precious than all of the diamonds in the world together. Whether you’re a rock-climber or a geologist, or simply a gardener or a hiker, get out there and lay your hands upon this rock and feel the connection to the billions of square kilometres of rock that make it up. Simply the act of doing so is something many people rarely do but this rock, regardless of whether it is buried under a layer of concrete or is obscured by smog, is silently, constantly, holding us all. There is something very beautiful about the way that it interacts with us, simultaneously holding us up to gaze at the universe while also gently keeping us from drifting upwards to be swallowed by it. It supports us all, every living thing. It is the only thing that ever has and, for everything living on Earth today, is the only thing that ever will.



Ehrenreich, B. (2019). The Humanoid Stain. The Baffler Magazine, [online] (No. 48). Available at: [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].

Halpern, D., Valenzuela, S. and Katz, J. (2016). “Selfie-ists” or “Narci-selfiers”?: A cross-lagged panel analysis of selfie taking and narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences, 97, pp.98-101.

Jörges, B. and López-Moliner, J. (2017). Gravity as a Strong Prior: Implications for Perception and Action. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11.

Kus, S. and Raharijaona, V. (1998). Between Earth and Sky There Are Only a Few Large Boulders: Sovereignty and Monumentality in Central Madagascar. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 17(1), pp.53-79.

Scarre, C. (2009). Stones with character : animism, agency and megalithic monuments., in Materialitas: working stone, carving identity. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 9-18.

Wonders of the Universe. (2011). [film] Directed by C. Holt, S. Cooter and M. Lachmann. United Kingdom: BBC.

Yaden, D., Iwry, J., Slack, K., Eichstaedt, J., Zhao, Y., Vaillant, G. and Newberg, A. (2016). The overview effect: Awe and self-transcendent experience in space flight. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 3(1), pp.1-11.

Never Mind the Cold

By Rob Lewis

This blog post was written by our very own Rob Lewis and delves into the psychophysiological reasons why it can be very good for us to brave the cold in Autumn and Winter and get outdoors. Rob is the EEAI Interim Committee Chairperson


One of the most common phrases I hear from people who have moved to Ireland from warm countries is that, in Winter, it is too cold to do anything – and it often is! With shorter and colder days, many of us leave for work when it is dark, wrapped up, figuring some way to avoid the cold, and end up getting home when it is dark again — never getting to engage with nature.

If you are on this website, I’m going to assume that you have some connection or delight in the outdoors and our natural world. You may have noticed the spectrum of yellows, reds and browns that the trees have been showing off over the last few weeks, but as Winter arrives, we can find ourselves retreating indoors more than we would like; many of us choose to head home to warmth or to be dry.
In these short, dark and cold days, instead of coming home and going to the Phoenix Park and hiking at the weekends, I find myself retreating indoors. My cycle to work becomes a kind of battle against the elements as I try to see how much rain I can keep out, which means taking an extra 5 minutes of prep before I leave. We leave for work when it’s dark and return home when it’s dark.


We have moved from the long warm days of Summer, the colourful, crisp Autumn. It can be hard not to build up a negative association with Irish weather, or even the outdoors. Our brains have a negative bias and an amygdala that is continuously scanning our environment looking for threat and danger that need to be avoided, and Winter can offer a vast amount of stimuli that can present as danger: The cold! The barren trees, darkness and rain… lot’s of rain. When the amygdala senses a threat, it activates our sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight response. Our brain takes over our thinking and begins to create feelings and emotions that help us avoid the harmful or threatening stimuli. When that is nature – we avoid the outdoors and, thus, we avoid connecting with something that often energises us, reduces stress and makes us feel better.


There are many theories as to why nature makes us feel good; it can give us perspective as we see the vastness of our world; endorphins are released (more than exercising indoors) as we hike or exercise in nature. The biophilia hypothesis says that since we lived in nature for millennia, when we reengage with it, it is like coming home for our mind and body.


What research is showing us though is that this is true. MIND in (2007) carried out a study of 108 nature psychotherapy participants. They found that 71% reported a decrease in depressive symptoms after spending time walking. 53% experienced a reduction in sadness and anger from time spent outdoors versus 33% from time spent indoors. 71% experienced a decrease in stress from a green walk. Overall, 81% experienced an improvement in mood from the green walk, while 43% experienced a reduction in mood from walking in a shopping centre.


As mentioned earlier, when our brains experience a threat, it goes into a fight or flight mode – instantly. This happens in a part of the brain where we are not often engaging in conscious thought. Instead, we get feelings and automatic thoughts. This is the activation of our sympathetic nervous system. During Winter – these can be manifested in decisions not to go outdoors and to choose to stay by the fire or watch Netflix, etc.


Part of why we get a good feeling from engaging with nature is due to its activation of our parasympathetic nervous system; this is the part of our nervous system that releases calming chemicals and hormones. When we are relaxed and de-stressing, it is the parasympathetic that is being activated.


We can measure some of this in the body through the presence of cortisol in saliva. When we are stressed, the body produces cortisol. Research from Hartig, Evan, Jamner, Davis and Garling (2003) demonstrated that when participants went for a walk in a rural environment (parks or nature reserves), they recorded lower levels of cortisol in their saliva – in essence, they reduced their stress levels.


So as Winter deepens, and you feel the desire for comfort, warmth and to be dry, take a risk, get your wet gear and thermals and get outdoors. Find a way to be one with nature; not just went it is warm, but also when it is cold and wet. You will still get all the benefits, but also you will be getting that chance to reconnect with something that is part of you. Enjoy the beauty of Winter.


Hartig, T., Evans, G., Jamner, L., Davis, D., & Gärling, T. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal Of Environmental Psychology23(2), 109-123. doi: 10.1016/s0272-4944(02)00109-3
MIND. (2007). Feel better outside, feel better inside: Ecotherapy for mental wellbeing, resilience and recovery. London: Mind. Retrieved from

On Being Witnessed by Nature


By Therese O’Driscoll

This edition’s volunteer contribution explores, through personal anecdote, the ways in which human beings can be humbled when we remember that natural beings are just as alive as us. It was written by Therese O’DriscollTherese is an EEAI committee member and a much valued eeai volunteer.


“To touch the course 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 1996, The Spell of the Sensuous, 68).

Some  years ago I  had the privilege of travelling to New Zealand and Australia; a brief gap of unobligated time in a busy life. I spent glorious hours walking in the beautiful landscapes of the South Island where I was witness to new people, different modes of expression, new sounds, smells, cities, towns. I walked in open 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 practiced being with my Ecological Body ( Reeve 2010),  noticing how “ body and environment. . . co-create each other through mutual influence and interactional shaping” (Reeve, 2011: 48) and developing my own ecological consciousness which is open to “…‘the environment’ or ‘world at large’ not as a mere backdrop but rather as Being itself” (O’Sullivan & Taylor, 2004: 15). 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 going in all directions. Corridors tend to be long, made of stainless steel or some such 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. I was rarely called by these places to stop and stare. Usually I just wanted to get through them and out the other side.   

 Walking in rural pathways of Ireland recently, I noticed I was doing the same. I became aware of my own forward movement with little regard for what I was moving through.  I suddenly realised I had made these trees merely a backdrop to the direction I was walking in and to the 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.

I stopped. Perhaps it is more truthful to say I was stopped, halted in my tracks by a tree. To my eyes it was majesty and beauty itself.  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/bodyfullness of this 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 and to acknowledge the gift I had been offered by recognising I was not alone on that road. I was no longer passing through. 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 psychotherapy, supervision and movement practice. Arising from it I have developed a form of supervision which I call Eco Supervision, a process of embodied, embedded, emergence. It is work which is aware of mutual learning and multiple intelligences. Specifically I work with 

  1. a) Kinaesthetic or bodily intelligence through the body moving and stillness, (embodied)
  2. b) Natural intelligence, i.e awareness of place and the witnessing of nature (embedded).
  3. c) Emergence as the final principle.This 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, 2013: 29), an openness to stay with the not-yet-known and therefore uncertain, until the new arises.


The schedule for 2020 workshops will shortly be on my website Please feel free to take a look and join me should you feel drawn to anything there. I look forward to meeting you and moving with you among our natural world.





Abrams, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous. New York: Vintage.


O’ Sullivan, E. & Taylor, M. (2004) Learning towards an ecological consciousness – selected transformative practices. USA: Palgrave MacMillan.


Reeve, S. (2011) Nine ways of seeing a body. Axminister, UK: Triarchy Press.


Scharmer, O. & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future. San Franscisco:.BK Publishers.



By Aidan Ring

Gifts from the Natural Word |  This edition’s research contribution explores humanity’s relationship with fire. It was written by Aidan Ring.  Aidan is our interim newsletter co-ordinator and a much valued eeai volunteer.

‘Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin’ 

(There is no hearth like your own hearth)

Old Irish proverb


Scholars from many ancient civilisations identified four classical elements as the essential materials from which everything else was made; Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Now, while modern Chemistry has identified over 100 unique elements, the actual building blocks of matter, the four classical elements symbolise humanity’s quest to understand the nature of things. This quest has shed light upon our history, a story which we can now tell with more precision than ever before. And none of this illumination would be possible without fire, the most elusive, dangerous and mysterious of the classical elements but also the most vibrant, playful and alive. Why is it so relaxing to watch flames slowly play over a log in a fire? Why do young children play with matches? Why is the red light of early dawn such a feast for the eyes? Though we may not realise it, we are creatures of fire. Human beings, uniquely amongst Earth’s species, have unlocked its secrets… and boundless potential. As Pyne (2012) points out ‘So while the earth had long experienced fire, it had not truly known a fire creature… The creature that possessed fire had a power unlike any species before it.’


Living Flames

In the natural world, a fire regime refers to the pattern of frequency and intensity of wildfires that occur in a particular ecosystem over an extended period of time. Like climate, a fire regime is a statistical composite. Fire-dependent organisms are ones which, to survive, depend on fire regimes at some point in their life cycles. Sound strange? Well, consider the scrublands of Australia’s Outback which are regularly lit ablaze in the dry season, or western North America, where wildfires have become endemic and infamous in recent decades. The plants living in these regions, known as Pyrophytes, actually depend on seasonal wildfires as a trigger for germination. Indeed, fire-adapted ecosystems exist all over the world (Kozlowski, 2014). Wildfires clear out dead vegetation, enrich the soil and facilitate reproduction. Perhaps fire is not the first thing that one would associate with survival… but hardly anything could survive without it.

And that includes us.


Camping in Cobram at Easter