Verbalizing Feelings and “Tree Preaching”

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Integral Studies, Pedagogy & Education, Philosophical Debris

One of the insights that hit me a short while ago came as I was reading a part of Daniel Siegel’s book, Mindsight.  In it he talks about how younger children and teenagers (and I would suspect adults as well) can help to integrate feelings and other mental experiences into a wider awareness in their brains/minds by verbalizing them.  Siegel calls it “Telling The Story” when relating the technique to kids, but that about sums it up for anyone.  By going over an emotional incident and relating it in words to others or self, it provides the brain/mind with the opportunity to integrate the experience into the more rational parts of the brain, thereby giving that rational part more control over both the experience and the consequences of the memory.  Or in plain terms, it leads to better understanding and self control.

After reading this I immediately thought of a story told by Tom Brown Jr. in his Tracker classes, where his mentor, Stalking Wolf, would tell him to do something unusual whenever he turned up angry about something or emotionally preoccupied. Stalking Wolf would direct Tom to “go tell the trees”.  So Tom would go to a secluded place in the forest and proceed to rant at the trees, expressing his emotions, sometimes yelling at them.  It would, he said, always make him feel better.

It is interesting that this practice, suggested by someone following an ancient aboriginal tradition, is so similar to a practice suggested by a modern neurologist.  The practice and the outcome are identical.  It is only the conceptual perspective that is different.  In “tree preaching” the understanding was likely that the trees would listen to your problems and provide you with soothing understanding and energy.  The trees were seen as animate and helpful in and of themselves.  In the verbalization practice suggested by Siegel the explanation is a neuroplasticity and an integration of brain function.

From an Integral Studies point of view I find this fascinating.  It is an example of a single practice that functions the same at different world views.  The “tree preaching” is looking at it from a Mythical or Magical perspective, while “telling the story” is from a rational and scientific perspective.  The truth of the matter, though, is probably that the mythical practice predates the scientific one by centuries.  A lesson to be learned that those ancient practices deserve great respect in spite of the fact that their context may no longer seem valid in our scientific world view.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

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