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Can you hear the land yet?

Sometimes the work I do with my clients has as profound an impact on me as it does on them.

I often use a somatic inquiry process, asking questions that help direct my client’s attention to various aspects of their body and experience, supporting an inner exploration and conversation. I decided to take this process out into the local forests, aside the rivers, creeks, and marshes, among the surrounding mountains, to expand the boundaries of my client’s sense of their body.

Now, the conversation is much bigger.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m weaving in the voices and bodies, the beingness of trees, mountains, land, sky, birds into my therapy sessions, but suddenly – after years of studying biology, environmental degradation, indigenous cultures, societal collapse, climate change, ecotherapy, environmental restoration, and everything in between – only now am I feeling how very odd and awkward it is that the vast majority of humans around me only talk about and to other humans when it comes to healing and health. As if no one else is here with us.

We’re acting like we’re the only living things on this planet and then wonder why the biosphere is going berserk.

And I’ve understood this intellectually for years. You know, it “made sense”.

But now I feel it. I feel like I’m at a party and everyone is talking to everyone else pretty much without issue.

Except we humans.

Almost all the humans I see completely ignore everyone else except other humans. Everyone’s hanging out together, chatting, playing, eating each other, but relating nonetheless, and then there’s this awkward dynamic where humans just act like no one else is standing right there wanting connection with them too. They only talk to each other. It’s so strange and disturbing.

This wild, incredible community of beings is just some kind of two-dimensional backdrop to human interpersonal dramas. It’s a kind of narcissism.

“But you can’t have a real relationship with other living things like that, Kristy.”

Yes, you can. You absolutely can. In fact, most human beings for most of human history were doing it. Some of them are still around, and some of these cultures have managed to live on the same land for anywhere between 65,000 and 100,000 years without destroying themselves or it. Do we think that’s coincidence?

This is not a technological problem. This is not an intellectual or governance problem. Not at its core, at least.

This is a consciousness problem. It’s a perceptual problem.

We think we’re so advanced. We think modern society is the apex of human evolution.

I’m throwing my letters down hard here. As a therapist who works with trauma regularly, I watch the way perception shifts, sometimes dramatically. Our consciousness has not advanced; it has regressed.

And I don’t mean figuratively. Down to the fundamental experiences of our senses, we cannot perceive reality as mature adults. When relational skill and capacity is decreased, reduced, increasingly limited, that is regression, not maturation.

And so even the people talking endlessly about healing and trauma are still largely ignoring the extent to which we will have to heal on such a deep level we can have a conversation with the trees. We can feel the sentience of the mountains.

Not imagine it. Experience it directly.

That’s how we’ll know we’re beginning to truly address the roots of this crisis.

We’ll ask ourselves the question:

Can you hear the land yet?


Get back to healing then.

Kristy Johnnson is a licensed somatic ecotherapist widening the definition of the sense of self and supporting clients in learning to listen to and dance with the wildness of their bodies and the other-than-human beings around them. She can be reached at her website for her practice, Dreaming Forest Counseling:


  • YES, YES, YES! How beautiful and true. Thank you for these words. I also feel very strange watching people ignoring all the life and other presences around them. I would think all our human tribulations would be easier if we understood at our core that we are not separate, god-like beings, but that we are completely interwoven with all the other creatures, the air, the water, the rocks, the green creatures, the land. I don’t know where you practice, but your community is lucky to have you. May you go from strength to strength.
    From an older poem of mine:

    From “Breathing”:

    I think we would be pleased to know who we are.
    This human creature is better than we think.
    Life is easier than we experience,
    A more comfortable fit between abandon and restraint.
    When both flow from the center, abandon and restraint,
    Like tears and joy, also flowing from the center,
    It works, life works, being human fits.
    Our breathing mixes with all breathing.
    The grasses support us.
    The bees support us.
    Breathing together, with the Earth,
    We find the way
    And the way is beautiful.

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