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’Driscoll. Therese 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
- a) Kinaesthetic or bodily intelligence through the body moving and stillness, (embodied)
- b) Natural intelligence, i.e awareness of place and the witnessing of nature (embedded).
- 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 http://www.thereseodriscoll.ie/. 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.