As I write, the bracken goldens while honey bees alight and glance on heather; hedgehogs, hen harriers and the rowanberry filled housemartins hustle as daylight drains from the year.
Work as Worship
With more than an echo of the hard won realisation of Sir Mortlock,the British don of outdoor education; our mission statement at Camas reads:
‘Together we seek to enable respect, awareness & love for Self, Others, God & the Environment’
In his recent book, Alasdair McIntosh defined activism as: “An active meditation, a form of spiritual practice.”1 Well, practice we have, and, after twenty-eight consecutive weeks of hosting a group at Camas Tuath; our season has closed. From dawn to dusk, our team has used its creativity in service to hospitality, deep nature connection and experiential learning.
When we understand the true nature of Creativity, Jon Young tells us:
“ We understand the true nature of Vision. Vision is a force that can bring us a better future. It’s the force that can help us rise above what’s currently challenging us.”2
Leafing through the Big Book
Everyday, from the many sights, sounds and symbols, we have generated a normative practice of verbalising gratitude. I thought then, that i might begin by giving thanks for some of the many reasons ‘why’ the regenerative pattern at Camas continues to work.
More recently, I discovered the formative work that Mike Mineter played in advocating the crucial idea of:
‘a values based approach rooted in personal experience and paying attention to the meaning the participants found within the experiences, rather than understanding it as a vehicle for the imparting of a packet of received wisdom.’3
Here, in Kathy & Mike’s affirmations of culture at Camas; I found room to breathe easy into the landscape, far flung from the Platonistic view espoused by the desert fathers I was taught about at Sunday School. Do we, as Gaul & Gael alike, value and cherish this firmament of forest, hill & sea? How do we create conditions a culture that loves instead of fears? That cherishes instead of controls or kills? What is the pattern language that will allow our precious wild life to emerge?
As part of some research undertaken shortly after the turn of the Millennium, it was noted of Camas that:
“…as well as being understood as numinous in nature, is also understood as a cultural and inhabited landscape… a space in which young people can perceive their culture as mutable rather than fixed. Likewise, the members can perceive themselves as agents within and not determined by the culture.”4
A Pattern Language….
Living with the Iona communities tenet to protect the ‘Integrity of Creation’ is an excellent integrating idea, but is no easy task in today’s climate, in a time where the ‘shifting biotic baseline’ of biodiversity shrinks every generation and trophic levels cascade toward collapse. What natural mystery was hiding under a rock or nestled in a tree just beyond the realms of perception in our grandmothers day; may not be there for today’s curious seeker; or is it?
As I write, ‘Dragon Class’ megatankers of fracked ethylene gas arrive from the USA to be refined in Grangemouth. Indigenous groupings from all across North America gather to protect clean water over the proposed Dakota oil pipeline; but why is it that our own nations don’t gather en masse to protect our own streams, rivers & seas?
I am one with the idea that it is because of ancestral trauma that there is no awareness, respect or love for the environment; & because of this there is no visceral connection to it. This cycle of disconnection is reinforcing, for three generations now, our youth have been denied a basis tenet of human health, denied the basis of creativity; access to free play in Nature.
In his book entitled ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv notes:
“Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organisations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of our many communities. Our institutions, urban/surburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom- while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude”5
What we know is what we owe…
Atrophy of environment then, is as much a cultural catastrophe as it is an ecological one. If we are to survive as a culture, then we have to cultivate an attitude of co-creation rather than a degenerative one. Research is telling us that time in nature is not leisure; it is an essential component for human growth.
After a nine year study of wilderness programs, James Kaplan conceived his idea of the ‘restorative environment’; he outlines that in unstructured, spontaneous experience in the outdoors lies the optimal way to train coordination and concentration. He went on to prove that:
“Directed attention fatigue,” (is) marked by impulsive behavior, agitation, irritation, and inability to concentrate… If you can find an environment where attention is automatic, you allow directed attention to rest. And that means an environment that’s strong on fascination”.6
In his summary of Kaplans research, Richard Louv goes as far as to say that:
“the fascination factor is restorative, and it helps relieve people from direction-attention fatigue. “7
Are you paying attention?
Strings become Ropes.
Jon Young writes:
‘Creativity is a form of organic, shade grown, free-range, fair trade intent from the force that makes the Universe. It flows through you constantly’8
This has held true for my experience at Camas. The best ideas, have been sourced from the resultant ‘quiet mind’ found in unstructured time outside, against the impossible odds and hours; through non directed attention; practicing the core routines of nature connection. These ideas have directly informed my practice, and our volunteers have consistently heard the call:
‘Support curiosity over and over and you will find passion in that individual. If you find passion in that individual and support that passion over and over you will get vision.’ 9
A visceral interaction with one species becomes a tangible string to that aspect of Creation IF the experience is reflected upon with mentors or peers that posses good questions and a listening ear. As neuroscience tells us: “As we fire we wire” i.e. If a young person develops a relationship with that same species or place over time, strings become strong ropes of connection. We tend to care for things that we have strong relationships with. This is why we emphasise reviewing direct experiences during our daily reflections at Camas.
8 chapters of the Book of Nature.
I wish to offer then, these ‘8 chapters of the Book of Nature’ as a multi-sensorial relationship of meaning and memory to a culture that has forgotten how to play. It is an integrated coding of a central idea, ‘Honour the Integrity of Creation’. It’s author, Jon Young, in his conception of the 8 chapters, plotted them ‘sun-wise’ on a wheel; starting in the east. One imagines it is not unlike the regenerative wheeled cross that our Celtic ancestors would serve.
Young advises full immersion into all the chapters: ‘balancing knowledge and experience of all aspects of nature by cycling through these eight chapters, seizing opportunities as they arise in the moment’.
1. Hazards: A call to be Alert and to use Common Sense.
2. Motivating Species: Things to Catch, Eat and Climb, and Tend.
3. Mammals: And other Hard to See, yet totally Track-able Critters.
4. Plants: Nature’s Grocery Store and Medicine Cabinet.
5. Ecological Indicator Species: How it all works Together.
6. Heritage Species: Wisdom of the Ancestors.
7. Trees: Tools of Human Survival.
8. Birds: The Messengers of the Wilderness.10
‘This flexible and open eyed approach not only honors (sic) nature’s way of organic unfolding, but also honors the varying interests of your participants and co-mentors’.11
It is this emergent curriculum that arises out of direct experience, in a spirited, cooperative inquiry with participants and volunteers; that gives rise to collective and individual meaning. These relationships are so real, they cannot be taken, or explained away from an individual. When awe and reverence arise, unfettered and unblinkered from any pedagogy, out of direct relationship with Nature; spirituality is revealed in it’s naked form.
[NOTE: This article is for print in the periodical for the Iona Community ‘Coracle’, edited and published by Wild Goose Publications.]
1 McIntosh, A Spiritual Activism.
2 Young, J North East Attribute
3Chris Lloyns An ethnographic study of the Stoneleigh Group
4 P39 para 1 LLoynes Many Ways of Knowing’ The Stoneleigh Group Pilot Programme 2002 – 2003
5 Louv, R Last Child in the woods.
6 Louv, R Last Child in the Woods.
7 Louv, R Last child in the woods
8 Y9ung, J Village Builders programme, 8 Shields Institute.
9 Young, J Village builders programme, 8 Shields Institute.
10 Coyotes Guidde to Connecting with Na ture
11 Coyotes guide with connecting with neture
12 Mortlock, C The Adventure Alternative Cicerone Press