So how do we harness that? That’s the question.
Community seems to play a very important part.
Yes, that’s terribly important. We cannot do this as isolated individuals, we have to do it together. Transition Towns is another movement that’s been tremendously successful, and that’s all about community. It’s amazing how it has developed from Totnes, a small alternative town in Devon, where you can now go and pick your own vegetables in the community garden at the station when you get off the train. Even London, which I see as a collection of villages, is beginning to take on the Transition Town thing now, and you can go to cob house workshops and similar things in North London’s Crouch End for instance. In fact, London has recently been named a national park. I think it’s incredible to think about cities as national parks, to think about green spaces in cities, and how they can all be connected. There are so many ways in which attitudes and practices are changing.
So things are pretty polarised really aren’t they? On the one hand you’ve got the move back to nature, and on the other hand, vast movements away from nature, and towards the intensification of climate change.
Yes, it’s all about these two movements. One is all about fighting nature and trying to defend ourselves against nature, and the other is about realising that we need to work with nature, and that we are nature, of course. You can see those two movements going on everywhere. Hospitals install windows that don’t open, and frantically banish germs, but on the other hand, they’re realising that patients are much more likely to get better if they have a green view. And that’s all it takes, just a green view.
I think one of the most inspiring projects within ecopsychology came out of the work that I did with Dave Key. We ran a few ecotherapy courses in Scotland, and one of the people that wanted to do the wilderness course in Knoydart was a woman who worked for the World Wildlife Foundation. She had a very bad back, so we decided that we would slow the group down to make it possible for her to join us. So she came and did her solo, but she couldn’t go very far because of her condition.
Towards the end of the day, this woman happened to turn around where she was, and right behind her, lying on the ground, was the complete spine of a sheep. In that moment, she really got it, and she was completely mind blown. She went back to WWF and decided to see if they would run a similar course for community leaders in the field, to see what a difference it might make. Sadly I couldn’t be involved because it was based in Scotland, so another psychotherapist, Margaret Kerr, stepped in, and together with Dave, designed a six month course which was funded by WWF. They hand-picked community leaders, such as the head of the Christian Youth Movement, and lots of others who had little or no experience of getting out into nature. One person who went on the course said the only experience she’d had of nature was traversing the gap between the taxi and the doorway of London department store Harvey Nichols! There were 15-20 people in the group, and they all had lots of experiential engagement, including solos in the city, and did lots of thinking around their work within their respective organisations. But it was the personal, transformative experience that meant it really worked.
In all, it was fantastically successful, and all of those leaders went back into their organisations and initiated all kinds of changes. The head of WWF in Scotland said it was one of their most successful projects ever, in terms of change of consciousness. So they ran it for several years, and then the funding got cut internally. This happened during a time of economic austerity when lots of cuts were happening across the UK, but I think it’s very interesting that WWF was a very traditional NGO, so it was surprising when they took this project under their wing in the first place, and I have wondered about the more conservative factions within that organisation, and how they dealt with this rather touchy feely course, because you have to be very careful with anything even vaguely hippy.
That makes me think of the dangers involved in veering down the ethno-romantic path of things like shamanic workshops and vision quests because it can lead you into some very delicate political waters. Among other issues, I always wonder about the apparent lack of reciprocity and support for the traditional cultures where these types of practices exist.
Yes, and that’s why Dave and I have always been very strict about not using terms like “vision quest.”