The following blog post was inspired by my master’s thesis which inquired into ‘How to Last?’ specifically looking at the role of love in the face of climate emergency.

‘Eco’ comes from the Greek word ‘oikos’, meaning home. I think most people experience a sense of ‘being home’ in the natural world, which is not only consistently shown by the field of ‘Green Therapy’ but was also supported by the participants in my research project to whom the natural world was the easiest and most obvious way of experiencing such enduring connection. While understanding that we are connected to nature in ways that we can never fully perceive of, radical acceptance which nature demonstrates appeared to be another key lesson for most of the participants, as well as me. My learning process was demonstrated following heuristic inquiry which allowed for my direct involvement and participation in the study. However, due to the limited scope of my master’s thesis, I had to inevitably leave out a lot of examples of how my time in nature was often accompanied by the endlessly deepening task of self-acceptance. While taking the time to revisit my experience, I was frequently transported back to those expansive states. This blog post assembles many descriptions of my process and journey towards acceptance as taught by nature.

Can you accept yourself as you are?

While putting my research project together felt incredibly rewarding and inspiring, on occasions it also felt completely overwhelming trying to cope with the pressure of deadlines, the enormous amount of literature to digest, some of which inevitably included new and scary revelation on climate emergency. Not surprisingly, the best solution to this was to simply take a break and go connect with nature. On all my walks, nature was constantly presenting me with opportunities to drop out of my mind and come into present. Either a heart-shaped leaf would orbit into my awareness or I would step into a puddle of same form, which fine-tuned my presence and created tranquillity in an instant.

One of the most moving moments of being pulled out of internal conflict was by the magic of sudden insight: ‘can you accept yourself as you are?’. Not only did this immediately give more access to mental & emotional clarity, but with it came a powerful reminder to simply invite life in its entirety. Instead of trying to push aside, resist or control our emotions, we need to learn how to become better hosts to our discomfort and allow it to be there, without judgement. Nature simply exists and allows us to exist with it, fully. This self-acceptance is exactly what begins the healing process and instead of attempting to “fix” the problem, we gradually open to unfiltered reality beyond confusion, doubts, fear or worry. It is by welcoming the messy process of writing my thesis and simply allowing for things to take form, that I was able to recognise how beautifully the themes of my research project aligned. My creative synthesis is a perfect example of this.

The intention of the creative synthesis is to allow for the discoveries of the study to come together as an integrated whole through a work of art which is often an amazing time of synchronicity, harmony, connection, and integration.

To support me in my writing process, there is one practise that I have consistently returned to, especially during emotionally intense periods. Quantum Light Breath meditation by Jeru Kabbal focuses on breathing, while the music and verbal guidance direct the practitioner to experience themselves in the moment. The practice takes about 40 minutes, just enough to feel the heaviness move through and out slowly allowing the body to release anything it longer needs. Since I always used the remaining gentle guidance of the meditation to put me to sleep, the actual words did not fully reach me until this very last stage of the thesis, not until I was ready to hear them. This gentle guidance not only embodied the qualities and the themes of my research project, but it also made many nature related references. Throughout the process of writing my thesis, I had hoped to consistently provide examples of the many ways that human life is reflected in natural creation. Looking back, I am not sure I was able to do this successfully. This meditation came as a reminder of my original intent and I have instead weaved the reflections of my participants as well as my own observations into creative synthesis.

The process of writing my master’s thesis may have knocked me around for a bit, but despite of all the challenges, a seed pushes up past the soil.

What is, is.   

Despite of the passion for a particular subject, one of the challenges in writing a dissertation is to simply find the motivation. Many hours were sometimes spent staring at the computer screen with barely a paragraph to show for at the end of the day. Betts Park, right behind my house, is where I would go to most days, to help quiet my mind of the distractions. The cloudy grey sky not only reflected the lack of inspiration I was feeling, but also the heavy emotions I was wrestling with that day. The park is very small, so I was sure I knew every corner of it. It turns out, I didn’t. To get unstuck from a loop of painful memories from the past, I began tuning into my natural surroundings by becoming more aware of the community of local plants around me. In front of me I noticed an opening into what felt like a shelter created by a group of trees. As I found a spot to sit, I looked up to see that the sky was still grey, but the trees seemed completely serene. I felt an enormous sense of comfort wrap around me, allowing peace and acceptance to permeate whatever state I was in. These trees, like all nature, have no concept of ‘fair’, ‘correct’ or ‘pleasant’. What is, is. Be it adversity, weather, predator or a prey, be it change in conditions or fate. There is ultimately no real sense of correctness, nor is there permanence in circumstances. Unlike human beings, natural law simply moves on without resistance, control or demands. Like the seasons of the year, those pleasant or unpleasant sensations don’t last forever. Bringing this type of acceptance into human form:

involves learning to hold the impossibility of ourselves and others in the way that the sky holds clouds—with gentle spaciousness and equanimity. The sky can do this because its openness is so much vaster than the clouds that it doesn’t find them the least bit threatening.”
J. Welwood, 
 A Broadleaf and a Conifer

Given the impact of the pandemic, it had become a challenge for me to complete the assignment on time. The approval for extension was not difficult to get and I was relieved to have more time to do justice to heuristic inquiry as it does not suit a tight time frame. There were significant disruptions on other aspects of the study, including data collection which was critical criterion in order to be able to participate in the first round of research presentations. Although I would prefer to avoid public speaking entirely, not needing to worry about the seminars for another few months was good enough. Yet receiving an email informing us of dates and not seeing my name on the list, felt unexpectedly disappointing and I couldn’t help but compare my progress to others. I made a note of this in my diary so I can explore this lesson on my next nature walk in a more intentional way.

While it’s a familiar feeling for any lingering disappointment to be gradually removed when in nature, the timeless wisdom that comes through as a result of that never becomes any less exhilarating. I had been walking for a while, when I noticed two very tall but very different trees standing next to each other. A narrow shape and light crown of a pine next to the broadly spreading crown of an oak. The pine tree looked a little rough, with open and bare spots in the canopy. Then I got to thinking and reflecting that through our distorted lens, shaped by experiences and expectations, it would be easy to assume one to be more rich than the other. But this tree was not focused on where it stands relative to other trees, it spends no time wishing its appearance looked more like its neighbours. No matter the size or shape, regardless of specie and condition, they have roots in the same soil, they reach into the same sky, their branches are moved by the same wind. Tough unique in many ways, they work exactly alike by helping to improve life on our planet. The immeasurable value each of them bring, is warmed by the same sun and soaked by the same rain.

To halt the comparison habit, my focus now shifted towards a much deeper appreciation of the entire academic journey. While I may have very briefly felt inadequate when my colleagues took the stage to give their presentations, below the surface we all grew together, sharing the shade and the light with each other. Although our paths, like the branches of the tree, reached in different directions, our unique gifts were forever intertwined in a common goal of making a difference in the world.
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