When I was a visiting professor in Malaysia, a student approached my desk at the end of class one day with a question. He was among the Indigenous people who had accepted the government’s offer of a free college education in exchange for giving up land rights.
“Why is learning to read important?” he asked.
Written words were not part of his upbringing. He grew up in the rugged rainforests of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. He needed to be informed about approaching tigers, rising rivers, possible tsunamis, edible sections of bamboo, and using the stem of tubu medicinally. He learned to “read” leaf movement and animal scat.
My own education on communicating with nature differs from his. Unlike this student, I may not be able to sense a tiger until its hot breath and piercing eyes land upon me, but I can readily navigate a busy highway with numerous road signs and a chaos of speeding cars and trucks.
Culture and circumstance determine what is worth our attention. For most of us, that includes electronic screens, driving, shopping, and sitting at a desk. Our sensory intelligence—what we choose to focus on and how we process the information coming in through the five senses—functions well enough. We recognize phenomena like hunger, thirst, tiredness, stress, and pain. But we overlook the greater field of what is perceivable. Given climate challenges, experiencing more of this field may be crucial toward our individual wellbeing as well as a sustainable future for us all.
A valuable practice to expand your senses is ecosomatic listening, which brings a heightened awareness to our body, the environment, and the pivotal interaction between them. In the ecosomatic perspective, the body is not experienced as a separate entity apart from the environment, but instead is in a dynamic relationship with it. Ecosomatic listening encourages using your senses with the fullness of your being, with your ears, eyes, skin, tongue, and nose, as well as your heart, mind, imagination, and intuition.
Ecosomatic listening opens the senses up to connect with nature: an oak tree, a stream, rain, cicadas. And here’s where it gets interesting—the living world senses us. Trees, fungus, plants, animals, and insects not only communicate with each other, but they also communicate and respond to us.
What Does Communicating With Nature Look Like?
Which senses we use to communicate with nature varies from person to person. The visual sense is dominant for many of us. My background in energy healing, dance, and meditation contributes to a heightened proprioception, a sensitivity to the subtle activity within my body. This ability, along with touch, imagination, and intuition, lets me feel and see into a client’s body. It also proves useful in detecting bears and snakes during hikes (I sense them before I see or hear them), ridding the dogwood in my yard of a deadly fungus, assisting my neighbor’s chickens to lay eggs, and befriending bumblebees.
Ideal communication involves both parties attentive to and respectful of each other. This degree of respect creates a resonant kinship. Yet when it comes to communicating with nature, many of us have one-sided relationships. We impose our ideas upon the environment without considering its point of view. This one-sided relationship leaves us feeling out of touch and alienated from our surroundings. The environment suffers, too, as evidenced by the destruction of the earth and the climate crisis.
How to Use Ecosomatic Listening to Communicate With Nature
Use Your Fives Senses (and Your Intuition)
Be with nature. Sit with it, dance with it, walk with it, breathe with it, open your heart to it. Welcome impressions from whatever senses deliver information. What do you detect from dandelions? From a magnolia tree? From a squirrel? From soil? How do you experience the life force or morphogenetic field involved in growth and decay? Step away from the bias of expectations and preconceptions and witness what appears in your awareness. Consult biologists and other experts for their knowledge to complement your firsthand experience, but do so after the flutter or poke of nature touches you.
Some environmentalists believe the ability to understand and share the experience of the natural world is a form of empathy. Not to be confused with projecting feelings and ideas onto another, empathy is the ability to sense what someone else is feeling or thinking. Consider asking a bee or dogwood what it wants to share with you. Ask it questions. Greet it as you would with a friend. Be open to how it responds.
Be Present With It All
Instead of focusing on thoughts or emotions, focus on physical sensation, a foundational sense which assists in grounding you in the present moment. Allow your being to come into a vibratory coherence with the environment. Watch for shifts in your heartbeat and breath, or look for another sign of your nervous system settling down. Stilling the physical body increases presence, which allows you to hear the whispers of the wind, feel the cry of soil, and sense the weariness or excitement of a praying mantis. I recommend trying this with morning’s first light or at dusk, but any time will do. The bloom of new relationships with their many gifts await.
Learn more about ecosomatics here.