Presence & Empathy: Animal Form

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Forest and nature therapy enables deep reconnection with ourselves through immersion in nature. An important part of this is being present in the moment, or in other words being mindful. Achieving a state of mindfulness is useful in enabling that reconnection but is also a byproduct of that immersion. This is one of the distinct qualities of the therapies we do.

An advanced activity that we do is called ‘animal empathy’ or ‘animal forms’. This technique studies the physiology or ‘form’ of an animal and its movement. It also involves observing the behaviour of the animal. Finally it is about connecting with the thinking of the animal by imagining being that animal. This technique has its roots in the African hunter-gatherer tribes going back 60,000 years. For the hunter and their community, a strong empathic connection with the animal they were hunting made them more effective in understanding what that animal was doing, how it was feeling and what it’s needs were which leads to finding it! Matching observation, perhaps from tracks or signs of the animal, with a developed sense of empathy makes an effective hunter. This form of sensory awareness or animal empathy was a critical survival tool. So developed was it that for the Tribespeople it was a connection that took on a spiritual dimension.

There are of course other benefits of using our imaginations to develop an empathic relationship with an animal. ‘Spending time as an animal’ seeks to re-create an intense focus on ‘being’ and ‘imagining’ that animal as you move through the forest. This is a form of ‘flow‘. This is a form of being mindfully present. At a more immersive level the sense of connection, as previously mentioned, can border on the spiritual. This can be an almost ‘ecstatic’ or ‘exuberant’ experience. Both are also a forms of ‘presencing’ or mindfulness. Let go of your daily routine, your commute to work, your meeting schedules and just ‘be’ in the woods. Moving without ‘purpose’. Gently browse as a deer. It leaves you nowhere but in the ‘here and now’.

Upon returning to our worlds as ourselves we feel a greater connection with the ‘nature’ that can appear as distinct from us. This exercise also allows us to step out of our being to gain greater perspective upon our own challenges. Empathy and its development is a great tool to manage spikes in emotion, to help rationalise potential conflict, to connect with people and to reduce associated stress and anxiety. Try it for yourself!

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