Whilst there has been an increase in the number of Level 1 ecotherapy practices and activities on offer, these are primarily focused on the human experience and the benefits that such activities provide for the individual. However, ecotherapy practices and activities which function at Level 2, instead go deeper, seeking ways to create a more reciprocal experience, in which humans not only benefit from nature, but in so doing, provide something back to the natural world.
In the final instalment of our series on ecotherapy, we explore what Level 2 ecotherapies are and some examples of these, as well as considering how we may bridge the gap between Level 1 and Level 2 experiences.
What Constitutes Level 2 Ecotherapy?
Ecotherapy at Level 2 focuses on the “whole-systems” approach. Within Level 2 practices, ecotherapy moves away from the human-centred approach and instead, considers the wider connection between humans and nature. As Linda Buzzell states, Level 2 ecotherapies focus on a “wider approach rooted in the ecologically based, whole systems understanding that there can be no true human health on a sick planet” (Buzzell, 2016:71).
As such, when practicing activities at Level 2, the focus is instead upon cultivating an understanding that humans are a part of nature, not superior to it. Therefore, in order to heal ourselves, the health and wellbeing of the natural environment must also be taken into consideration. Moreover, such activities also seek to consider the different ways in which a practice can be used to address wider ecological concerns, as well as the needs of the human/self engaged in the practice. At its core, Level 2 ecotherapy aims to cultivate and heal the human-nature relationship.
Examples of Level 2 Ecotherapies
The difference between activities conducted at Level 1 and Level 2 is not simply black and white. Instead, it can be considered in terms of a scale. Many of the activities practiced at Level 1 can be also be used at Level 2. It is the shift in how these are undertaken and the wider connection and context of the activity which allows it to transform from a Level 1 to a Level 2 practice.
Some of the most common examples of ecotherapy activities practiced at Level 2 include slowing down and engaging in active listening. Rather than simply imposing our presence upon a natural environment, Level 2 ecotherapies encourage us to first take the time to pause and attempt to deeply engage with the natural environment. By taking the time at the start to try to empathise with the natural space we have a better chance of truly connecting with it on a deeper level.
Active listening is a common grounding activity for many therapies, but the focus is often on the self, listening only to one’s breath and focusing on the experience within oneself. However, at Level 2 this listening and awareness is open and expanded to the natural setting instead. In so doing, practitioners can seek to find balance and connection with the natural setting itself. In the audio guides created by Dr Anna Dako, this is an aspect which is often explored and is yet another example of Level 2 ecotherapy in practice.
Another common practice is to seek permission to the particular aspect of the environment we are hoping to connect to/with, before we begin. This enables the practitioner to establish a relationship of mutual respect, equal value and importance with the environment.
Additionally, many people also engage in the practice of showing gratitude to the natural environment. This may be a simple moment of acknowledgement, as the individual takes the time to realise the value that the natural world around them has to offer. However, it can also include the giving of gifts to the natural space, showing reverence and even engaging in reciprocal service. At Level 2, there is increased awareness that what happens to the planet is of extreme importance to what happens to humans. If the natural world is providing a healing service, then we can provide a similar reciprocal service by engaging in healing practices of a space or of the animals that inhabit it. As such, partaking in volunteer programmes or community activities which seek to restore and repair natural spaces is one way to achieve this.
Animal-assisted therapy, which is often practiced at Level 1, also offers the potential to be practiced at Level 2. The difference at Level 2 is that the wellbeing and consent of the animals used is thoroughly considered and sought. For example, instead of capturing animals and using them for therapeutic purposes, at Level 2, the activity might instead focus on helping or rescuing animals. Instead of forcing animals to engage with humans, animals are allowed to choose which humans to interact with and to form connections and relationships based on choice. This not only allows for respect and compassion of the animals, but ultimately leads to a much richer and more positive experience for both the animals and the humans involved in the activity.
Horticultural therapies are also able to be practiced at Level 2. Whilst school and community gardens are often primarily focused on the social benefits and the production of local food, by engaging in rewilding practices, the activities can then be extended into Level 2. For instance, instead of simply planting or cultivating food with only human need and consumption in mind, groups can instead consider growing plants and vegetables which are ideal and important for the local ecosystems to develop and thrive. By considering the positive impact that horticultural practices have to offer the environment, we are able to engage in a reciprocal act of healing and support.
Moving From Level 1 to Level 2 Activities
Level 2 ecotherapies are the activities we ought to be striving for. However, it can be a challenge to simply start at this level. By beginning with Level 1 activities, individuals have the opportunity to learn to engage with their natural selves and to connect with their inner nature. With practice, they can then learn to shift, deepen and expand their awareness to the wider world round them. In this way, we can learn to reconnect not only with our selves, but also with nature itself. In so doing, we can achieve a better understanding (intellectually, emotionally and kinaesthetically) of the interconnectedness of all things.
Somatic practice is a particularly good example of this. For many people, it begins with Level 1 activities. However, somatic practice, including the audio guides and Walks to Wellbeing devised by Dr Anna Dako for example, allow for a natural progression into Level 2 activities to evolve.
By engaging in Level 2 ecotherapy activities we have the opportunity to learn to view ourselves as an equal part of the natural world and not above or removed from it. In this way, Level 2 ecotherapies allow us to develop the skills, not only to support ourselves, but also our environment. More importantly, such experiences help to better equip us to make more conscious choices about our daily habits and to find more sustainable ways of living in cooperation with the natural world.
This week, we invite you to join us in considering what you can do to reconnect with nature on a deeper level. September is Environmental Awareness Month and is a great opportunity to reassess your relationship with nature. What can you offer nature that is meaningful and supportive?
Perhaps you can plant a native species in your garden to help support the local ecosystem? Maybe you can engage in a local clean-up of your local nature reserve? On Saturday 18th September, it will be World Cleanup Day, which offers you the chance to give something back to the natural environment around you.
Or perhaps you can use this week as the trigger to truly learn how to better reconnect with nature in a more in-depth way. Take part in the new season of 12 Walks to Wellbeing or download of the audio guided walks to do in your own time.
Please share this blog with others and, as always, feel share to share your thoughts and experiences with us on our Facebook page or in the comments below.