Les arbres et les animaux peuvent-ils faire preuve d’empathie et d’altruisme?

L’empathie fait une partie intégrante de notre nature. En fait,  nous pouvons améliorer ces qualités en entraînant notre cerveau à travers la pratique de la méditation, de la pleine conscience et la bonté aimante. Les humains sont-ils les seuls êtres capables de montrer ces traces positives de gentillesse, de compassion et d’empathie les uns envers les autres? Qu’en est-il des êtres vivants, comme les animaux et les arbres? Quelles leçons pouvons-nous apprendre en observant le monde naturel qui nous entoure?

Empathie et altruisme chez les animaux non humains 

Les êtres humains ne sont pas les seuls à développer des sentiments positifs. Dans le règne animal, nous pouvons trouver de nombreux exemples. Dans son livre « Le temps de l’empathie », le biologiste Frans De Waal nous montre d’innombrables histoires de comportement altruiste et empathique dans diverses espèces d’animaux, selon des études scientifiques de grands primates tels que les chimpanzés et les bonobos, entre autres. Ces études montrent une véritable capacité d’équité et de réciprocité; aussi, à quel point ces espèces se soucient de leurs pairs et sont disposées à venir à leurs aides, même en mettant parfois leur propre vie en danger.

Certains comportements étudiés chez les chimpanzés par exemple, montrent aussi comment ces traits de l’empathie et la compassion sont ceux qui maintiennent la cohésion sociale et l’harmonie dans les groupes. Ainsi, les les hommes et les femmes qui occupent les postes hiérarchiques les plus élevés peuvent avoir un rôle clé dans la résolution des conflits au niveau des groupes. Ils interviennent souvent lorsque des différends entre les membres commencent à devenir plus agressif. Ils arrivent à aider par la médiation et la réconciliation. Ces individus sont donc extrêmement importants pour maintenir la paix et la survie des membres de leurs groupes.

Image : Selvan Tamilman, sur Unsplash

Mais qu’en est-il des plantes? – “The Wood Wide Web”

L’empathie est un trait ancestral qui caractérise les animaux et, récemment nous commençons à découvrir que les plantes aussi possède cette faculté. Des études conduites par Suzanne Simard, chercheuse et professeure à l’Université de la Colombie-Britannique, qui a passé plus de 30 ans à étudier la communication entre les arbres, raconte: «dans des forêts tempérées nous montrent comment les arbres ont un système de communication complexe dans le sol à travers leurs racines qui s’étend même sur des kilomètres dans la forêt, comme s’il s’agissait d’un immense « internet » souterrain secret. Ce réseau est appelez “large réseau en bois” ou en anglais, “Wood Wide Web”. Ce système de réseaux de communication et d’échange d’information est vraiment brillant: il est appelé «mycorhize» et se compose de la relation étroite entre les racines des arbres avec un champignon qui pousse autour d’eux. Ces mycorhizes favorisent la communication entre un arbre et un autre, leur permettant même de distinguer entre ceux qui sont leurs parents directs et ceux qui ne le sont pas.

Ce système de communication est si complet et efficace qu’il aide considérablement la survie des arbres, a travers des actions coordonnées dans des situations d’urgences et en montrant une solidarité remarquable. Ainsi, ces réseaux souterrains entre les racines des arbres et les champignons leur permettent de transférer des nutriments, de partager des informations sur les dangers comme les ravageurs, et aussi d’attaquer des plantes envahissantes ou des animaux prédateurs. Quand un arbre se sent menacé par des parasites (de l’attaque des insectes, par exemple) ou d’autres plantes comme les mauvaises herbes, il déclenche un signal pour les autres arbres et une «barrière» est réalisée sous la forme de substances volatiles qui modifient la production de protéines, donnant aux feuilles un goût désagréable.

Solidarité dans le règne végétal

Image: Wood Wide Web par “Hiking Artist”.

D’un autre côté, les arbres plus gros (appelés «Hubs» ou « arbres-mère») donnent une partie de leurs nutriments aux plus petits, étant chargés de favoriser et de protéger leur bonne croissance. Mais cette aide ne se produit pas seulement entre des parents de la même espèce, mais entre plusieurs espèces interdépendantes, ce qui serait des signes de solidarité entre les plantes.

Au suget, Suzanne Simard raconte: «Nous savons tous que nous privilégions nos propres enfants, et je me demandais si le cèdre pouvait reconnaître sa propre espèce. Alors nous avons commencé une expérience: on a planté des arbres-mère de cèdre avec des muettes « familières» (lié à l’arbre-mère) et d’autres non « familières». Dans tous les cas,  les arbres-mères on reconnus leurs descendants, et les ont favorisée en leurs donnant des réseaux mycorhiziens plus grands, en leur envoyant plus de carbone sous terre; et ont même réduit la concurrence de ses propres racines pour créer un meilleur cadre pour ses « enfants ». Lorsque les arbres-mères étaient blessés ou en train de mourir, ils ont envoyé aussi des messages de sagesse à la prochaine génération de jeunes plantes. En définitif, on peut conclure que les arbres ont aussi la capacité de se parler entre eux.

Image en vedette:  Valeriy Andrushko sur Unsplash.

Turn off autopilot, be a warrior with an open heart

Habits, morning routine, places we go out to eat, the behaviour towards our partner – this all can slip into an autopilot mode. To be mindful and turn off this mode means to be a warrior with an open heart.

Sometimes the battle is against being on autopilot mode, which due to its familiarity, can be quite a comfy state. It keeps one in the comfort zone but prevents access to new experiences, to what our heart truly desires.

Here are some tips that will help you turn off this setting in your brain and start making more conscious choices in your daily life:

  • Create a morning ritual: pay attention to the way the alarm makes you feel, the way your restful state changes if you start the day with checking your phone. Set an intention for each day.
  • Alternate your work out and physical activities you do and the time you do them. Moving the body – walking, dancing, swimming – works wonders for your health and mood.
  • Take your partner on a date and try different locations for your regular hang outs with friends as if you were just discovering each other.
  • Take a different route to work, observe the scenery and the environment. Using different vehicles to get to the same place can prevent your commute from turning into a routine.
  • Connect with others. Try to be a good listener, receive pieces of information and personal stories that are being shared with you with compassion and without judgement.
  • Unplug. Watch less TV, take breaks from social media and you’ll find yourself having more time for the unexpected, even challenge yourself to start learning something new.
  • Volunteer. Find a cause in your community that you are passionate about and feel the urge to make a difference on it. Along the satisfaction that comes from helping you’ll meet interesting individuals you don’t normally interact with.
  • Spend time in nature. Observe the colours, the layers of vegetation, the silence and peace of mind that it generates.

These practices open insight on simple ways to break out the rut, find inspiration right where you are and genuinely connect with others.

Photo credits: Jason Leung @unsplash

Can Trees and Animals Show Empathy and Altruism?

Empathy is a genuine part of our own nature. Moreover, we can improve this quality by training our brain through the practice of focused meditation, mindfulness and loving kindness. But, are humans the only beings capable of showing these positive traits of kindness, compassion and empathy towards our fellows? What about other living beings, like animals and trees? Which lessons can we learn by observing the natural world around us?

Empathy and altruism in non-human animals

Photo credits: Zanna Clay

The answer is, we are not unique in this, and by observing the natural world we can find many examples. In the book The Age of Empathy, biologist Frans De Waal shows innumerable evidences of altruistic and empathetic behaviours in various species of animals, mostly based on his own scientific studies of great primates, such as chimpanzees, bonobos and capuchins. These studies show how they have a true capacity for fairness, and reciprocity; they care about their peers and are willing to help each other, in some cases even risking their own lives to do so. 

In the case of chimpanzees, for example, these traits of empathy and compassion have a determining role in maintaining the cohesion and social harmony of the group. Thus, males or females occupying the highest hierarchical positions can have the key roles in resolving conflicts, often intervening when disputes between the members of their group become more aggressive and helping to mediate reconciliation. As a consequence, these individuals on top of the chimpanzee social hierarchy, are extremely important in sustaining the peace and survival of the members of their groups.

But, what about plants? – The Wood Wide Web

Wood Wide Web by “Hiking Artist”

It’s been recently discovered that empathy, as an ancestral trait, characterizes not only animals, but also plants. Studies conducted by Suzanne Simard, who has spent more than 30 years studying communication among trees in temperate forests, have shown how trees have an intricate system of communication in the soil through their roots, that extend even for kilometres in the forest, as if it was an immense underground secret “internet”. This system of communication and exchange of information through a network is called Wood Wide Web and consists of mycorrhizas. The word mycorrhiza describes the mutually-beneficial relationships that plants have, in which the fungi colonize the roots of plants. The mycorrhizae connect plants that may be widely separated. This network promotes communication between one tree and another, even allowing them to distinguish between those who are their direct relatives and those who are not.

This communication system is so complete and effective that it considerably helps the survival of the trees, allowing coordinated actions in case of emergencies which lead to a remarkable solidarity between individuals. Thus, this underground network between roots and fungi allow them to transfer nutrients, share information about hazards such as pests, and also allow them to attack invasive plants or predatory animals. When a tree feels threatened by a pest (insect attacks, for example) or by other plants such as weeds, it sends a signal to other trees to produce a protective barrier in the form of volatile substances that modify the production of proteins, giving the leaves an unpleasant taste.

Solidarity in the vegetal kingdom

Photo by Ryan Wan on Unsplash

On the other hand, larger trees (called Hubs or Mother Trees) give part of their nutrients to the smallest, favoring and protecting their growth. But this help does not only happen between relatives of the same species, but also between different species that are interdependent, which would be signs of solidarity in the vegetal kingdom. Regarding this, researcher Suzanne Simard stated: “We all know that we favor our own children, and I wondered if cedar trees could recognise seedlings from its own species. So, we started our experiment by growing mother trees along with “kin” seedlings and “foreign” seedlings. As a result we evidenced that they do recognise their relatives, but not only that: mother trees colonised their “kin” seedlings with larger mycorrhizal networks, sent them more carbon underground, and even reduced the competition of their own roots to give more space to these seedlings to grow. So, mother trees created a frame for their children in order to secure their survival. In other words, we found that trees can really speak.”

Featured image: credits 

 

5 Hacks for a Happy Life

When was the last time you observed the beauty of the tree next to your house? Or plants in your lawn with those lovely colours and incredible flowers? Or how long has it been when you watched the sunrise or sunset with a cup of tea without any stress or tension about what you need to do next?

In our everyday life, we are blessed with nature’s miracle and great opportunities to stay happy, yet most of us tend to ignore them in a mad rush of ever changing professional achievements, assignments, pending bills, hours of wait in daily’s traffic and what not. There is an old saying in Sanskrit, which could be translated into “life is happy and joyful when you take it slowly and have time to do nothing”.

With thousands of years of struggle and tendency of fighting for survival, the human brain enjoys the adrenaline rush, which has become a new normal for our brain instead of being relaxed, calm and content. However, most of the scientific and ancient text concludes that our brain is most efficient and productive, when it stays in its natural state, which is being calm, clear and tranquil.

Here are some simple hacks to stay happy and enjoy the beauty of the world around us.

1) Social connection

Humans are designed to live in society and having people around them. Our lifestyle has a huge impact on physical and mental development. Social cohesion has a positive impact on our longevity and happiness. The Ted Talk by Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness but also could be a key to health and longevity. Hence, our happiness greatly depends on quality and quantity of time spent with others.

2) Being generous

Generosity is one of the basic human characters and by default, we all feel happy while doing a simple act of kindness and generosity. An experimental study by researchers at the University of Zurich explored the connection between generosity and happiness, providing behavioural and neural evidence that supports the link between generosity and happiness. So, believe it or not, you feel happy when making the decision to give.

3) Practicing gratitude

Saying thank you is one of the simplest ways to make someone happy. The small doses of gratitude have huge impact on chemical reaction in our brains and they make us happier and more joyful. We have a lot to be grateful for in our lives, starting from having a good meal, being healthy, waking up smiling for another day, being surrounded by good friends, family and a lot more. So, if you want to be happy, start expressing your gratitude to them.  Want to know more about science behind it? Check this Harvard medical school publication on a research done by two psychologists.

4) Power of mindfulness

Sitting idly, trying to relax, doing nothing and focusing on one thought at a time. This is the key to happiness. Huge amount of ancient text from Eastern world says that happiness depends on ourselves, and a practice of mindfulness is one way to ensure it.  Several scientific studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter of the brain. In simple terms, meditation helps grow the happy mind. It is the best stress buster available for free. Moreover, researchers have found out that with regular mediation, brain tends to have noticeably thicker tissue in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for attention and control functions of the brain.

Excited? Give a try with Peace Revolution’s 42 days online self-development meditation program for free!

5) Spend time with nature and stay physically active

Nature has a power to rejuvenate us quickly with full of positive energy. Results showed that those who have done 30 minutes of light exercise including jogging in forests had significantly lower heart rates, they were more relaxed and had less cortisol level leading to less stress and anxiety and better moods than others. The researchers concluded that there’s something about being in the nature that had a beneficial effect on stress reduction. For instance, researchers from Stanford University found that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety, rumination, as well as more positive emotions in comparison to the urban walkers. They also improved their memory, creativity and liveliness.

Lastly, although it comes from our modern lifestyle, staying away from phone and computer for a day in a week and focusing on building a connection with you own self is another way to make yourself happy and relaxed.

Photo credits for featured image:  Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Kuldeep Singh can be reached out at twitter @Kuldeep_lko

 

How Nature Can Inspire Some Habits

I have been observing the curious life of meditators for a certain number of years. From the journals of people who are writing their daily thoughts and experiences, I have come to notice that we often feel motivated to pay attention to the patterns arising in the mind, the quality of our inner talk and learning how to access the feeling of a mind that is settling down and, at the same time, be less patient with our bodies, the connection between the way we feel physically and how far we can get, mentally.

A meditator can patiently wait for hours for the mind and thoughts to settle down and have the feeling of inner calm restored in the process, yet be less tolerant with a back pain, cold, sleepiness creeping in at the end of a long day.

In the words of Alan Harrington “We must never forget that we are cosmic revolutionaries, not stooges conscripted to advance a natural order that kills everybody.”

Health is wealth and for that to be attained or maintained we must honour the nature in ourselves.

One of the best things we can do for our health is to fill ourselves with fresh air and leave aside the city hassle as often as we can.

I am not talking about the-once-a-year big get-away in the heart of nature or a retreat in an isolated place, but rather about making time to be in nature as often as we can.

In the past year, I feel nature has taught me a lot and there is much more to explore. 

From overcoming laziness to getting an early start for the day and spending time in the quietness of the forest at least 4 – 5 times a week.

Changing the weekend routine from sorting out things I did not have time to deal with during the week, shopping, eating out and catching up with friends to hiking from sunrise to sunset and sharing a lunch box with friends out of wifi reach and preferably somewhere at high altitude. From relying on my phone to tell me how to get to places to paying attention to the landscape, mentally recording landmarks so that I would be able to make my way back, learning about the clouds and the direction and intensity of the wind so that I would be able to tell which way I’d need to move to be out of storm’s reach.

The rules of nature are clear and nature respects everyone. Nature is welcoming and it makes space for all the plants and the trees, allowing all projects to grow and to flourish so that when one does not work out, not all is lost and the soil is not barren. I often feel that the rate of personal success and growth depends on clarifying our goals and the habits that support us. Nothing is lost and everything can be re-purposed. 

Two years ago, I have written about health and how peace starts on our plate.

photo source @seanafnan

5 Ways Nature Can Heal You

Have you ever felt that everything is out of order and you need some time off? Time off from work, studies, family, just some time to be on your own and enjoy. This is the moment when it’s good to spend some time in natural environment and get back to the same rhythm with the vibes of our planet.

I have spent the last two weeks in the village in the middle of nowhere in Ukraine, no toilet or bathroom indoors, simple hut and hammocks, using a sleeping bag to keep myself warm at night. During this time I realised several things:

1. Cold is rejuvenating

I met a lady who does projects to promote winter swimming, and she inspired me to start dipping into the cold waters of the Zbruch river. The secret is – when you are going into the water, you need to slowly exhale. At 8 degrees Celcius outside, I am not sure how cold was the water, but it almost burnt my skin, and made the blood circulate fast trying to warm me up. And there I stand, naked in the cold, feeling more alive than ever before.

2. Yellow is soothing

photo by Andrii Lytvynenko

Ever since I read in Hatha Yoga Pradipika that one should practice yoga inside the house, I have been trying to follow this rule, but when you are out in the fields, and the magical mist is all over the place, it feels like magic to practice yoga outside. Autumn is the most magical season for me, it’s like mother Earth playing around with watercolours and decorating my world, just to prepare for a temporary death. Enjoying autumn and enjoying yellow and red leaves is the responsibility of everyone who loves themselves. Go enjoy some autumn if it’s still around!

3. Fresh air is great for slimming

I did not follow any special diet, in fact I ate all kinds of food that I normally consider not so healthy – noodles, pig fat, fried pancakes, sandwiches. When you breath fresh air all day long, it makes you want to move and it burns your calories even when you lay in a hammock. I started moving more – morning jogging and climbing around in the cave, and I started eating more but, but still losing weight. Nature puts you in a shape automatically.

4. Earth is healing

Being close to the earth makes a human healthier and more grounded. I remember myself in an apartment on the fifth floor, lost about what I should do and sad about the end of summer. When I am disconnected from earth, I start eating a lot of sugar as if trying to fill in the emptiness. When in the countryside, one can simply play with cats all day long, plant strawberries, run by the river, hang in a hammock or walk barefeet – and no matter what you do, it will heal your body and your soul.

5. Nature puts you in touch with yourself

Everything in nature is harmony. When one is surrounded by so much harmony outside, a desire appears to create harmony inside. Mindfulness and awareness is indeed a lot of work, and it is not always easy to be honest with yourself, but creating clarity is one of the most rewarding occupations in life.

What are you waiting for? While the autumn is still gold, make yourself a cup of tea and go out into the forest, sit around, pick mushrooms, meditate, and contemplate. Let us know how it feels.

 

 

When The “Self” Bloomed Within The Silence

It took me two months of reflecting, deep thinking, waves of depression, diving into the unknown, meditating, re-reading my journal, dying & re-birthing in order to arrive to the decision of transferring to you my journey to self- realization which is a process of life, light and bliss. I will start with one critical stop: Global Peace on the Move 20, Meditation Retreat: June 2017.

The 14 days at the meditation retreat have been a real roller-coaster ride of internal lively experiences.

Paradox of Feelings

It has been saddening yet joyful, deathly yet re-birthing; it transferred me from the highest mountain to the lowest valley of internal tornado storms. This combination of everything happened while in total body stillness. So what is that paradox? That a body very still could create an internal explosion of all states of being happening within that total motionlessness of the body which led to the fact that my pen never stopped writing, as the flow of insights streamed through me every second, of every minute, of every hour, I was writing non-stop throughout the whole day a combination of insights, observations and inspirations.

My state of being transferred each day from one state to another, at the beginning it was a feeling of: excitement, lightness, enjoyment, then transferred to feelings of sadness, loss, fear, insecurity, imprisonment, conflict, distraction, confusion until gradually on the 7th day, I was arriving somewhere more of a stable state: calmness, silence, tranquility, serenity, stillness, blissfulness, emotionlessness, neutrality, contentment and insight.  My journey was a journey of  the self, cutting its way through the distortions of my mind, and reaching to rest peacefully within its true nature.

Morning Awakening

There is a thin line between the past and the future, which is the present moment. At Dhammakaya Sanctuary, I was living in that moment called “the present”, where everything was expressing itself into a form of life, where it’s the only time possible to notice what’s happening in its precise details using all the 5 senses, and being in the moment of now allowed me the chance to witness a miracle called: LIFE. As I was pulled into it when every morning we woke up at 5 AM  just at the awakening moment of the forest itself, the moment when the forest came to life.

As I walked barefoot to the meditation room, I could feel the connection between me and the mother earth, as every part of the forest gently caressed every part of my existence leaving me in a state of calm vividness.  I could feel the swift breeze waving its “good morning” at my eyes, and I could inhale the freshening of the leaves through my nose, and lungs, and my whole body as it smelled all the scents of the forest coming together into one specific smell, greenness.

Reaching the view up the mountain next to the meditation room as the sun comes up every day rising like a true queen, I felt the spirit of the whole universe shining up in front of my bare eyes, where I was the only person watching this miraculous moment, it’s the moment my heart was fulfilled with total bliss, as I greeted this place with my “sun salutation” sequence, and spiritually connected with everything that was alive there. All this magical combination of the nature brought me up to life every day of my GPM 20.

Blossoming Bliss

On the 8th of June (6th day of the retreat), Teaching Monk Luang Phi Pasura guided the session, which started as any other meditation sessions, however what blossomed out of it was: EXTRAORDINARY.

One second made all the difference, as I was no longer hearing the monk’s voice guiding the meditation session, my breathing came to a point where it was very slow & very still, like I was barely breathing, and there was no sensation of my physical body. My mind was clear and empty, no thoughts were regenerating. My whole existence disconnected from the present moment, I was not here but nowhere else… I was within my being.

Total silence expanded deeply within my whole existence, layers of peace spread within my center and a pure light shining beyond those layers of peace, an explosion of total bliss blossomed within me, as I came to meet my true self. It was beyond joy, beyond happy, beyond any earthly description. That connection of love within, left me in a state of total completeness, total contentment of being my own self which lies there, endlessly beautifully and blissfully, within the layers of silence something was happening, changing, it was the “self” revealing itself in its’ truest nature.

 

How Changing Meditation Place Can Affect Your Experience?

Every day I wake up in the morning, I realise how blessed I am to be alive and healthy. After I have sent my prayer, the second thing that I look forward to is meditation. It highly helps me get through the day without over-reacting to any situation that can tamper me in any way.

I normally practice meditation twice a day for 1 hour: 30 mins in the morning and 30 mins in the evening before I sleep.

I have always been practising meditation in my room, and it is a place where I feel more relaxed and comfortable, but I soon realised that sometimes I get distractions during meditation as I’ve always been doing it at the same place.

After I attended Peace Revolution Amandla Eastern & Southern Africa Fellowship in Nairobi this early August,  I experienced something quite new which was to meditate in different places. Especially when we meditated outside the room, we got close to the nature itself.

When meditating in the nature, I felt from my experience that it was very easy to connect to the centre and channel my thoughts to focus on meditation. When my mind started to wander, I immediately returned it to the centre.

It was an amazing feeling meditating close to the nature with fresh air and sunlight touching my skin. I realised that changing meditation place can also help improve meditation experience, and hence one can easily connect to the centre and avoid distractions if any arise.

Why don’t you try out the new experience today? Try meditation in a new place once in a while to enjoy that good, pleasant feeling.