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.  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.” 
Next week, we delve further into how the human ego affects connections with Nature consciousness.
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.
 Bradshaw, G. A. (2005). Elephant trauma and recovery: From human violence to liberation ecopsychology (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute).
 Bradshaw, G. A. (2009). Elephants on the edge: What Animals tech us about humanity. Yale University Press.
 Low, Philip, et al. (2012). The Cambridge declaration on consciousness. Francis Crick Memorial Conference, Cambridge, England.
 Tolle, E. (2006). A new earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose. Penguin Group.
 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.