Learn Again to Be an Earth Creature

Humans are part of nature. How to reawaken innate skills and reconnect.

Posted Apr 12, 2020

All humans are part of nature but in industrialized societies we learn to shut down our animal minds and nature connection, says Tamarack Song. My students are using Song’s wisdom and that of Josh Lane to relearn attunement to the natural world.

What must we relearn? First, that we belong to the earth and not the other way around. Jack Forbes (2008) tells it like it is:

“The fact of our absolute, utter, complete dependence upon the earth is used by native teachers as a part of self-understanding… I can lose my hands, and still live. I can lose my legs and still live. I can lose my eyes and still live. I can lose my hair, eyebrows, nose, arms and many other things and still live. But if I lose the air I die. If I lose the sun I die. If I lose the earth I die. If it lose the water I die. If I lose the plant and animals I die. All of these things are more a part of me, more essential to my every breath, than is my so-called body. What is my real body?” (pp. 181-182)

Okay, so I agree that I need nature. I’ll look out the window, memorize the birds in my neighborhood, sit in the park and appreciate it.

Ah, but this is not enough. Tamarack Song tells us:

“To know Nature, observation and study are not enough. We might be able to score well on a test… yet that is only a beginning… When we approach Nature through study and research we become technical naturalists. Rather than our intrinsic way of connecting from the heart and using our intuitive sense, we rely on technology and intellect. In other words, we are out of touch.”

Realizing our dependency on nature, appreciating nature’s beauty and finding places in it for solace and inspiration are a great start. But Song urges us to expand our awareness even more, to this:

We are nature. We come from nature and will return to it when we die. But how about in between? Song writes for those who don’t want to wait 'til death to feel deeply connected to nature. He tells us we can relearn the “Old Way” of feeling connected to nature, a way more familiar to us as children.

We have abilities that go far beyond the kind of intelligence we test and encourage in schools. Tamarack Song discusses an intelligence he calls “animal mind” that understands “nature speak” where we understand immediately what is being communicated, we take it at face value and respond accordingly. “In our Animal Minds we feel automatically centered. We can think without thoughts and act without getting caught up in shoulds, woulds, and coulds.” (p. 6)

Our animal mind is part of our implicit systems that govern much of our behavior without awareness (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999).

What are the advantages of relearning our animal nature?

To know nature is to know ourselves. When we are fully in our “animal mind,” we no longer feel separated from nature but feel kinship with the animals around us, with the trees and natural entities around us.

“When we find our Animal Minds we will discover something so earthshaking that it turns lives upside down: life is a verb.” (p. 6)

But Song tells us the core reason why it is so important to restore our capacities for nature connection:

“When we are brother and sister to the Birds and Trees, we see how easy it is to treat them with kindness and respect, just as we do with our Human family. As we take care of our Human family’s home, we will want to take care of forest kin’s home. We will naturally evolve a sustainable lifestyle, consuming and polluting less as we relearn how to live in harmony with all of life.” (p. 5)

Transforming yourself through the animal mind.

  • Find a sit spot in nature to visit routinely.
  • Stop thinking and shift away from the planning, calculating, judging mind.
  • Bring an attitude of curiosity, observation, sense of mystery.
  • Practice being present, attending to the feelings of our body and our senses in the moment—sounds, sights, smells, touch.
  • Deep, belly breathing helps get into the alpha brain wave state of relaxation. If we become afraid, we can breathe through the fear (fear is an absence of breath, said a therapist of mine).
  • Accrue mindful moments of presence, peacefulness.

For online help, Josh Lane describes his journey to becoming a leader in nature connection, the physiology of meditation and mindfulness in nature, followed by a 10-minute meditation.

References

Bargh, J.A., & Chartrand, T. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist. 54, 462-479.

Forbes, J.D. (2008). Columbus and other cannibals: The wétiko disease of exploitation, imperialism, and terrorism, rev ed. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Song, T. (2016). Becoming nature: Learning the language of wild animals and plants. Rochester, VT: Bear & Co. Video interview: