Journal of Organic Psychology and Natural Attraction Ecology (OP/NAE)

Project NatureConnect  Akamai University Institute of Applied Ecopsychology
VOLUME 1,  NUMBER 2011-2012                                                      Dr.  Michael J. Cohen, Editor

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The Sensory World of Deafness, Who are You?

- Journaled Course Evaluation by Anonymous Participant  
Applied Ecopsychology education, counseling and healing article. 

I had a strong attraction to the word/concept "Deaf" and pursued my Master's Degree in "Deaf Cultural Studies" because I wanted to explore the Deafness community to its depth. Coming from a childhood where I was the only hearing impaired child in my family, in my school, etc. I never felt like I belonged because of my hearing impairment difference. This is actually a "label/story" way of thinking and perceiving oneself, not sensory based knowing. It's not physical pain, but the mental constraints of having a one-dimensional identity.

Just recently I've started to look at the words "Deaf" and "Hearing Loss" as a multi-dimensional concept. It's not just an identity, a label, nor the thing that created a linguistic/cultural community- it's a way of seeing the world, or not, with or without ASL.

I read a memoir of a oral deaf Zen Buddhist who searched for a place "past Deafness"- a place where Deafness or hard of hearing did not make a difference. He introduced me to the sensory way of looking at the word "Deaf"- that there is not ONE way to be Deaf, and Hearing Impaired is just a social construction. Now I'm hoping that this journey with this school study group in Nature- reading about Sensory experiences and doing activities that analyze my Sensory "ways of being" with Nature will help me deepen my perspective of the heavy loaded word/label "hearing loss" and "hard of hearing" story way that we communicate.

For my online nature school activity, I was taking a walk to the neighborhood park where I usually walk my dog. This time, I went alone and took the unbeaten path and walked into a ditch surrounded by tall grass and trees. Cars passed by me and I find myself wondering what passerby s would think of an average looking white woman making her way across a ditch. Maybe those nature disconnected thinkers were thinking that it would be typical for homeless, or rebellious neighborhood teenagers, and maybe occasional "hippies" to go that route, but not this lady in jogging clothes. I smiled at the thought while I laid my body on a cement block, watching the leaves sway in the breeze. I noticed couple of birds fly overhead and heard various buzzing noises and cawing through my cochlear implant, an electronic hearing device that transmits sounds to the brain through a processor to correct hearing impairment.

During that very moment while absorbing the visual swaying of the leaves, my mind became distracted at that noise, whatever it was- an electronic cawing, or traffic- so I decided to press the OFF button on my hearing aid. This sense disappeared into silence. While my brain adjusted, the intricate details on those swaying leaves, every vein and photosynthetic cell beamed vividly in the sunlight. Birds flew in rhythmic glides like paintbrushes on the blue canvas of the sky, the heat coming from the sun-kissed cement I was lying on warmed up my skin, and I realized how nature is much "closer" when you shut down a sense.

Like my instructor mentioned on my previous post, "I've experienced that there is an amazing "awareness" and organization among the deaf community...and (at least to me) it seems that other senses are heightened."

My senses were indeed heightened. This morning, a Deaf friend texted me after her meditation retreat experience „Wow, 4 senses seem so much more manageable than 5. While this is still nature-disconnected statement, she made a sensory revelation. Which makes me analyze the sense further, trying to apply whole mind thinking--- was my shut-down of technology or artificial sense in a natural environment a way to reconnect? Or did my body become relaxed once I "unplugged" the story-only way of hearing? Or can I still listen to the sounds of nature in a different way?

I realize that, being a hearing person, sounds and seems natural to people, but that is only because they can hear. I am learning to feel that I am natural without sound. What a lovely thing this is for me, that one is normal when having or not having his/her hearing. An organism/person is always normal and therefore always belongs. There are a lot of organisms on the planet that don't have hearing or ASL, and they seem to manage just as fine. They belong. So, to think that someone is handicapped because he/she can't hear, is just not true. Handicapped is the misconstrued word here.

One thing that's different/separates from "hearing" nature and "listening" to nature is the fact that I utilize a cochlear implant for the purpose of hearing sounds (and because our industrial world put high value on the sense of hearing and speech). This device was invented by industry to help one reconnect to the world of sound (or grasp the concept of sound if one was born without the ability to hear sounds). While many may think of it as a great innovation, it does separate man from nature because we do not accept or adapt to Nature's work. I believe that my becoming deaf at age three (or gaining Deafness, a sensory way of looking at it instead of the story of "Losing Hearing") has been a force of nature- all human bodies go through diseases, meningitis, etc. However. when we recover and whatever scars us, we learn to embrace it and embody the senses that have been heightened.

So.. my point in all this and how it relates to "Effects of Repetition" is that for quite some time an inner voice has been repeating the word "Deaf" and this led me to believe that I must find meaning behind it. What makes this journey tiresome and difficult is that there are controversies on what it means to be Deaf. When I'm teaching ASL or Deaf/hard of hearing high school students to think outside the box of what "Deaf" means, the result doesn't give an pleasant answer. At the beginning of the school year for two consecutive years, I've asked my students to illustrate without using English definitions what the word "Deaf" meant. They all illustrated "Can't hear", drawing of ear with red cross over it, there was even an drawing of ear with a nail through it and blood drops. Sadly, I asked my hearing impaired students at the end of the year, to illustrate what "Deaf Gain" meant and what were the benefits of being Deaf.  They struggled to come up with positive images of themselves.

"Do we learn to know and relate to nature from our direct sensory experiences with it or from our culture‚s nature conquering stories, labels and rewards about it?" 

- Michael J. Cohen, Web of Life Imperative.

The "box" the students were stuck in was the "label" that Cohen mentioned. It happened to me, and it is happening to my students. My goal is to help transform that story-only way of thinking into a sensory-story balanced way by searching for answers in Nature. I'm excited about this revelation and am already planning to do this activity this weekend with two young children and one recent high school graduate.


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