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Deep Ecology Exercises



Deep Ecology Exercises

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Dharma/deep ecology experiential exercises

Reading Plato or listening to a lecture on T.S. Eliot doesn’t educate the whole human being; like courses in physics or chemistry, it merely educates the symbol manipulator and leaves the rest of the living mind-body in its pristine state of ignorance and ineptitude.

Aldus Huxley

In the remainder of this lesson you work with a variety of exercises and approaches that can help you reconnect with nature on an ecological, experiential basis.   

Awareness exercises in nature

Although preferably done outside in nature, some of the following exercises can be done indoors when weather or circumstances require.

Awareness of the six sense doors

The six sense doors as described in the Buddhist teachings are: ears, eyes, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

Close your eyes, close your nose with one hand and gently breathe through the mouth and listen. Try to put the whole consciousness into the sense of hearing. What are the sounds you encounter? Sounds near you or in the distance, sounds from the wind and animals such as birds and insects.

Close your ears with your hands and open your eyes, note everything that your eyes encounter, the colors, shapes and forms, the light, the dark, the shadows and movements.

Close your eyes again and see what your nose will experience. Take a few deep breaths and smell . . . Then breathe through your mouth and try to distinguish between different tastes of the air, the air that enters your body and the air that leaves your body when breathing out.

Walk around and touch the trees, leaves, berries, flowers, grass or water; whatever is there, touch it gently and examine the different surfaces of form.

Let your mind wander for a while. What does the surrounding environment remind you of? Recall pictures from the past and see how they affect your present mind.

Looking for signs of impermanence

Find signs of impermanence in your present environment. Look for natural indications of dying or death such as dried leaves or fallen trees, dead insects, rotting fruit, etc. Also look for signs of "arising” such as buds, new young leaves, seedling trees, etc. And, finally, look for indications of "existing” with regular trees, flowers blooming, insects crawling, etc. It may be possible to find all of these signs of impermanence on the same tree.

Outside a natural area, observe artificial indications such as roads, electric overland cables, logging sites, dams, and other changes brought about by humankind. What impacts have these changes had on the land? Inside the natural area, observe signs or impacts of human beings such as trees that might have been illegally cut, littering, pitted or burned out trees. Discuss in the group how these different signs or indications of impermanence affect your emotions and thoughts.


Observing nature

Observation of nature is a tool of acceptance. To observe is to think, feel, taste, smell, hear and see without attachment or judgment.

Observe whatever information your senses offer. If your mind judges
or evaluates, observe that. Don’t get involved with the thoughts or try to change them. Just observe them. We understand by doing. After fifteen or so minutes of observation, you may begin to notice the part of you that’s observing. Give yourself time in which you will not be disturbed. Decide for that time to do nothing but observe. Sit or lie comfortably. Be still and be.

The mind will present some good ideas to do something else. Do nothing with these ideas—simply observe them. Emotions will want something more exciting. Do not fulfill them. Observe them. The body will demand attention. Do not attend to it. Observe its demands. Notice how ideas, feelings, and body demands are impermanent and changing in form and intensity just as nature is always changing.

If you ache to change positions, do not. Just observe the desire to change positions. If you itch, do not scratch. Observe the itch. Your mind, body, and emotions may become agitated. Observe the agitation. You gain authority over them by doing nothing, by simply observing.

You can extend sitting observation to moving or walking observation. As you move through nature, observe everything. Observe your reactions to everything. Observation is a basic tool of awareness. The more you observe what you are normally unconscious of, the more conscious you become. Thus, you will notice the small, dead leaf on the trail, the orange brown butterfly on the tree trunk, the different colors of green in tree leaves, the small bird flitting through a distant canopy, and other of nature’s phenomena and impermanence by really observing and becoming aware and conscious of nature.


Looking for the elements

Acknowledge in your surrounding environment the different manifestations of the four basic elements with their corresponding qualities: earth (solidity), water (fluidity/coercion), fire (temperature), air (motion).


I see a thing (for two people)

This experience can be carried out while walking or sitting while outdoors. One of the participants chooses one object in the surrounding environment and says: "I see a thing and it is. . . .(i.e. green, round, long, making a sound, etc.)" Now the other participants can ask for more characteristics which are answered only with yes or no. The participants have to guess what the object is and the one who guesses can select the next object.