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Mariposa Reflections

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly online post by Gay Bradshaw that explores contemplative perspectives and their relationship to Animal and Earth revitalization. Weekly Reflections are stand-alone, but are aligned with ongoing course content of Mariposa Meditations.

The Duck and the Ego

By Mariposa Reflections

T his week we delve further into what the experience of ego and egolessness might be, and how our nonhuman kin, while living with a full sense of self, are not compelled to close over natural openness with the shell of separation.


In the third chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice and a medley of Animals stand together trying to figure out how to get dry. [1] They had all become drenched to the skin from slipping into the pool of tears that was created by a distraught young Alice when she had eaten a little cake and grew to “ten feet tall.” [2] The Mouse in the group had an idea of how to solve their soggy situation. His solution was to give a lecture on English history because history, the Mouse asserted, “is the driest thing I know.”

“Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria,” the Mouse began, “declared for him: and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable—

“’Found what?’ said the Duck. `Found it,’ the Mouse replied rather crossly: `of course you know what “it” means.’ `I know what “it” means well enough, when I find a thing,’ said the Duck: `It’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?’ “

Likely, the Duck would also question the meaning of another abstraction—“ego.” Although it may not be visible, the ego is something palpable that we experience whether we know “it” or not. Perhaps it’s easiest to grasp what the ego is by first experiencing what egolessness might feel like.

Think back to the feeling when, for example, you were walking down the street and suddenly, you see an old, dear friend whom you had not seen for many years, or, after waiting anxiously at the clinic to hear results of your Dog’s operation, he bursts through the door and runs into your arms. At these moments, everything in the mind seems to vanish. Pure joy breaks through any mental and emotional blocks. There is crystal clear connection. As Charlie Russell put it, “no one and nothing else matters.”[3].

But, too often, the ego steps back in and takes over. Almost instantly, even though your arm wraps around the shoulder of your long lost friend or as you and your Dog lovingly make your way home, old stories, worries, and schedules start to creep back and fill the mind. Before you know it, the sun of the golden present is covered by the preoccupying past and future. Moments of union—the indivisible us, the experience of a world beyond ego—are replaced by separating “yous,” “mes,” and “thems.” Ego resists taking a backseat in life.

Nonetheless, these tiny, but momentous, gaps between the fortressed ego and the spaciousness of awareness provide a taste of egolessness. They are breadcrumbs of realization which, if we follow, can lead us to life’s substrate of oneness. Unobstructed moments of our true self sans ego, which meditation, prayer, and mindfulness invite, are portals into unconditional love, a quality and state of egolessness.

As we heard the London teacher, Kendra, speak about the Gecko with whom she lives: “He always loves me just the way I am,” Animals are often described as showing unconditional love. Certainly, humans are rarely or never met with condemnation from a forest of Pines and Fir. Unless they have been abused or grievously harmed, nonhumans do not seem compelled to paper over others with labels and judgement—they retain an open, present self. As Dame Daphne Sheldrick testifies, their capacity to forgive, the refusal to don the armor of ego, is breathtaking:

“During the 50 plus years that I have been intimately involved with Elephants in Africa, and the rearing of over 80 orphans, I am astounded about how forgiving they are, bearing in mind that they are able to recollect clearly that their mother, and sometimes entire family, have perished at the hands of humans. . . .And since Elephants never forget (which is a fact), they demonstrate a level of forgiveness that a human would in all likelihood have difficulty in achieving.”[4] A decade later, the Sheldrick Trust has rescued 263 forgiving orphans.[5]

By relaxing into Nature consciousness—releasing ourselves from the grip of ego to re-join the rest of the unbroken cosmos—we become part of the unconditional love that surrounds us. When awareness is allowed to shine without the vigilance of ego, we begin to hear what the whispering wind and gaze of a Raven are telling us. We learn what it means to become Nature again.

Putting Practice into Action

While sitting in prayer or meditation, indoors or outside, explore if and how your perception of a Tree, your family Cat or Dog, or other being begins to shift. When you recognize that these beings are as (or more) aware and conscious as you, does this change how you behave? Share these ideas and your experiences with family and friends and discuss concrete ways in which Nature consciousness can infuse every day human life to support Nature.

Learn More

[1] Carroll, L. 1865. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Macmillan.
[2] Slick, G. 1967. White Rabbit (song).; retrieved 20 November 2021
[3] Bradshaw, G.A. 2020. Talking with Bears: Conversations the Charlie Russell. Rocky Mountain Books.
[4] Bradshaw, G. A..2009.  Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity (pp. 115-116). Yale University Press.
[5] The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 2021. Retrieved from

Photo Credit: Biel Morro

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

The Mountains Are In Us.

By Mariposa Reflections

W elcome to Mariposa Reflections! In our first post, we begin by exploring how the intersection of science and contemplative practices reveals the portal for deep connection with Plant and Animal kin. When mind and body relax and the thoughts and emotions to which we cling, fade, the I/other gap of separation created by the ego falls away and pure awareness emerges into the presence where Nature lives.


Let’s start out with these three quotes:

He loves me just the way I am.” – Kendra
She is there for anyone at any moment, with empathy and love.”- Andrew
No matter what happens, he lives in harmony, centered, and nonjudgmental.” –  Jeremy

Are these testimonies of love for a cherished friend, partner, or spiritual teacher? The answer is “yes” and “no.” Kendra, Andrew, and Jeremy are three humans talking about Animals in their lives: Kendra about her Gecko, Andrew, a White-Tailed Deer, and Jeremy, a Crane living on a Kenyan lakefront beach. Yet, they speak of something more than companionable care.

If you listen carefully, these descriptions echo such qualities as Buddhism’s metta (lovingkindness) in the Gecko, the Hopi value of nami’nangwa and Islam’s rahmah (compassion) in the Deer, and hózhǫ́, the philosophical heart of the Diné, in the Kenyan Crane. Their human friends agree – and so does science.

Among neuroscientists, finding qualities formerly assumed uniquely human is unsurprising. Animals are used routinely to study human minds precisely because we share comparable neuro-capacities. This scientific understanding was openly reified in 2005 with the diagnosis of Complex Post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) in free living Elephants, and seven years later, in 2012, when eminent neuroscientists and Nobel Prize winner Stephen Hawking declared that all vertebrate and invertebrate Animals are conscious. [1,2,3] But, there is much more to this realization. Fundamental species’ differences do not derive from unequal minds, but from how these minds are used. While human minds create thoughts that lead to guns and genocide, Salmon, Eagles, Elephants, and Oaks, do not. Why not? Animals and Plants feel and think, but they do not lose themselves in ego.

Eckhart Tolle defines ego in this way: the identification with form that includes thoughts, emotions, and the material body, all of which disappear with death. [4] When we identity with stories of past and future thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, we disconnect from the present. Our minds contract into a bubble of isolation, our ego, and our seamless connection with the world is cut. Our perception of Nature, experiences, and relationships are reduced to objects whose value and meaning are defined from inside our egoic fortress. Accumulated over time and maintained through custom and culture, ego became collectively codified as civilization, defining humanity as apart from and superior to Nature. In stillness and meditation, however, when ego retreats, pure awareness is allowed to shine in the unobstructed present. This is where the Animals live. This is where we re-discover that our true nature is Nature. This is where we listen and learn how to be Nature, again.

Surprisingly, science has ended up partners with contemplative traditions in dismantling the human ego. By demoting the primacy of the human species through its democratization of consciousness, science has also demoted the primacy of form. One species is no “better” than another species. One form is no “better” than another form. Fur, feather, skin and scale are merely beautiful, diverse costumes that temporarily clothe consciousness. This is what John Muir evokes when he wrote, “We are now in the mountains and they are in us.” [5]

Next week, we delve further into how the human ego affects connections with Nature consciousness.

Home Reflections

Sit or lie somewhere quiet, indoors or outdoors. When you are settled and comfortable, close your eyes and gently bring attention to your breath. Don’t try to change it- just lightly lay your attention on the in and out breaths. Notice any tension in your body, your shoulders, neck, legs, and use your out-breath to relax your mind and body. After a few minutes, sit or stand near a Tree or if indoors, bring up an image of a Tree you know, someone you may pass every day on the way to work or one who lives in your backyard. Or instead, you might listen and feel the wind. Refrain from thinking about the Tree or the Wind. Just keep relaxed and hold the image or sensation as you breathe naturally in and out. If your mind becomes active or emotions begin to rise, return to your breath, and then bring your attention back to the “real” or imaged Tree or Wind. Listen to the Tree (or feel the Wind). What do you hear? What are you experiencing? Try this practice over the week and watch if any shifts or changes in your perception develop.

Putting Practice into Action

Learn about your Tree by asking and listening in to the Tree to see s/he is in any danger or need. Support and explore what other Trees and Forests are in need of protection.

Learn More

[1] Bradshaw, G. A. (2005). Elephant trauma and recovery: From human violence to liberation ecopsychology (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute).
[2] Bradshaw, G. A. (2009). Elephants on the edge: What Animals tech us about humanity. Yale University Press.
[3] Low, Philip, et al. (2012). The Cambridge declaration on consciousness. Francis Crick Memorial Conference, Cambridge, England.
[4] Tolle, E. (2006). A new earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose. Penguin Group.
[5] Muir, J. (1911). My first summer in the Sierra. Houghton Mifflin.

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.