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Becoming the Deer

Hi there, this is your guide, Josh Lane. Welcome back for today’s lesson in the Mindfulness In Nature course.

In the last lesson, we began to explore how the mind directs attention, through the power of skillful questions. Today, we’ll take this further by engaging our inner senses. We’ll discover how the imagination can help us experience becoming different parts of Nature.

As I write about in my book, Conscious Nature, the art of Becoming is one of the most ancient of nature awareness skills. Hunters learned to become the animals they tracked, by placing themselves in the mindset of the animal...As they followed each footstep, their mind and senses would attune more deeply to the world of the animal. This helped them better predict where the animal could be found, and how the animal might move across the landscape.

Today, we see these same skills applied in a variety of modern contexts. One example is character acting, where an actor seeks to truly step into the mind, emotions, and behavior of the character they are playing. We also see this ability utilized in advanced sports psychology, as high-level athletes envision themselves performing at peak excellence.

In fact, brain studies reveal that when we imagine ourselves performing an activity in full sensory detail, the same areas of the brain light up as if we were actually performing the task. This enables us to further build our skills, just through the power of the mind. Studies of athletes show a significant improvement in performance when this kind of mental conditioning is added to the practice regimen.

Remembering the Art of Pretending

We can also harness this skill to help us experience some deeper aspects of mindfully exploring Nature. The great thing is, we already know how to do this, and it’s a lot of fun! This is because as kids, we were already experts at pretending!

What did you pretend to be as a kid—a superhero? A princess? An explorer? If you can recall what you enjoyed becoming, you’ll find you have a key that can help you access this inner state once again now. Now, we’ll simply be transferring this skill, to discover how we can become an animal from our local ecosystem.

But first, why might we want to do this? Many Wisdom Cultures share that the animals are keepers of knowledge. When we step into their world, we pick up bits of their teachings. This is because each animal has a special way of relating to the world. Each animal has its own unique way of sensing, moving, and being part of Nature.

When we become an animal, we begin to imagine how the landscape might appear through their senses, and how we might move like that animal. This helps us perceive our place in a new way. Each time we do this, we open our perception to learn something new.

Meditation: Becoming a Deer

For today’s meditation, I’ve chosen the deer as our animal, because members of the deer family appear on almost every continent. They are also more visible than many other mammals, and they dwell not only in the wilderness but also in suburban areas. You can easily adapt this meditation to become any other type of animal.

You’ll find that this meditation draws upon many of the skills we’ve practiced earlier in the course, and that’s why I’ve chosen to place this here towards the end of the series. Though you can do this meditation in your home or backyard, I recommend listening to this at your Meditation Spot. This is because once I have guided you to become the deer, you can then walk around and explore the area around your spot from the deer’s perspective. This will teach you something new about your place, the animals, and your own perception. Let’s get started now.

So, let’s begin with a few deep centering breaths…breathing in, we invite the vitality of Nature to energize and refresh us. Breathing out, we exhale any tension or distraction… Let’s do a couple more breaths like this now...

Next, I invite you to look toward the horizon and allow your vision to expand… notice how your awareness expands to take in your complete field of view, seeing the sky above and the ground below…

Now, imagine a deer is standing in front of you… you see the animal grazing, with the head bent down nibbling the plants around your Meditation Spot. You sense a relaxed presence about the deer, relaxed yet alert, as the deer continues to feed…

Now, this relaxed alertness spreads around and through you like a soft cloud. You are attuning now to the feeling of the deer, to the softness and intimate feeling of connection to the plants that feed you, to the trees that provide you with cover and safety, and to the special places on the land that you walk and rest upon…

As you feel this relaxed awareness fill you up, you notice in the corner of your eyes that something is changing… your arms and wrists become covered with short hairs, and your hands become hooves…

On your rear end, you feel a tail that you can lift up like a warning to the other deer, or drop down as you wish…

Sensing the breeze, you sniff the air with a long nose, sensing for any danger or opportunity on the wind… perhaps detecting the pleasing scent of a tasty plant not too far away…

As your hearing expands around you, your ears seem to lengthen and grow, and you notice how you can swivel them to detect sounds… and you notice the sweet songs of the birds, who are telling you that all is well and no danger is nearby…

Expanding your awareness out around you, notice what the land is telling you… is this a time to feed, or to rest? What rhythm do you feel called to move at? Let your body follow the pace of the deer… maybe you’ll even be called to sit down somewhere and rest!

As a deer, how are you meeting your survival needs in this season? If it’s the growing season, where are the green, tender plants to eat? If it’s the winter, where are the most nutritious twig tips to eat? If it’s hot, where is a cool shady place to rest? If it’s cold and windy, where is a sunny spot that you might lay down in, to get out of the wind? Observe the land, and let your body be drawn to move, investigate, and interact with the landscape as you enjoy connecting through the world of the deer.

When you are done, simply thank the deer for what you’ve learned, and allow the feeling of the deer to drift back onto the landscape, as you return to your own regular way of perception. Take a moment to sense your body, take a few breaths, and center yourself. Then, continue forward with your day, inspired by the new insights and feelings gifted to you by the deer today.

I’ll meet you next in Lesson 16, our final lesson of this series, where we will tie together all that we’ve been learning.

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Josh Lane