As our experience with the nature-based strand of our work deepens, we’re keen to emphasise how this kind of engagement with the natural world, coupled with communities of inquiry can nourish a sense of interconnectedness that has the potential to galvanise and sustain ongoing, active participation in change making within our social spheres. Kara Moses, an experienced nature connection facilitator and team member on our Roots of Resilience training talks about the importance of this work and how our reconnection to nature can be, in itself, a political act.
I’ll never forget the sight of that bird struggling against the wind that dark Winter evening. The Canada goose, small eyes squinting and long neck strained forwards, was trying for all its might to move along the water against the wind and driving rain. I could almost see its feet pedalling furiously under the filthy water of the canal. But it was going nowhere. I’ve never felt so much empathy and solidarity with a creature.
It embodied exactly how I was feeling at that time: it was taking all of my efforts just to keep afloat. No matter how hard I tried, the wind was against me, forever driving me back. The work needing to be done felt endless, the enormity of the problems overwhelming, and activism a thankless task in a world that had decided not to care.
When I got home that night, I crashed big time. I lay in bed for a week, curtains closed, unable to face the world. I fell into a hole so dark I couldn’t remember what light was. After a few weeks of recovery in the countryside, I gained enough clarity to see what I had to do. I overhauled my life to live more closely to nature, quitting my desk-bound city life and moving to rural Wales. I retrained in outdoor education, field ecology and woodland management.
The rugged Welsh landscape held me as I continued to recover. My new home was embraced by hills on all sides, giving a sense of security and safety. Whenever I felt like my emotions were too big for me to hold, I could just walk outside and the landscape held them for me. It became less clear where I ended and the land began.
This process of regeneration through connecting with nature has brought me back to life numerous times. Now it is my main source of sustenance, energy and inspiration to continue engaging with the world – and I haven’t crashed in a long time.
I see it working for others too. In the nature connection courses I run, I see time and time again how connecting deeply with the natural world lights people up – it’s like watching them come alive. Witnessing the process of transformation from the people I meet at the beginning of a course – tense, guarded, hard, perhaps a little sceptical – and those that head off at the end – open, playful, expressive, energetic and tuned in to the magic of the natural world around them – is quite remarkable. Having had many of these transformative experiences myself – many at Ecodharma – I have become convinced of the power of this work.
What excites me most about it though, is the harnessing of this power to bring about social change.
Post-modern Western society has become deeply disconnected from the natural world. Most people live highly alienated lifestyles. Our whole socio-economic system is designed from a worldview of ecological disconnection, affecting all areas of our lives – our lifestyles, resource use, buildings and urban design, transport, economic, education and health systems. Research shows that disconnection from nature is linked to mental and physical problems in individuals, and increased conflict, violence and crime in communities. On a societal level, an alienated, exploitative relationship with nature fuels the ongoing destruction of the ecosystems upon which we depend for life. And, research shows, it is a major barrier to social change towards a more sustainable and just society.
Just like the foundations of Western society, our separation from nature is closely tied to colonialism, built on foundations of violence and slavery. As lands were invaded and colonised, indigenous land-based cultures were forcibly taken away – making people more easily exploited as a workforce.
Our disconnection from nature is political.
Our relationships with nature, ourselves and each other all inescapably influence each other. As long as white people oppress people of colour, men oppress women, the heteronormative oppress the queer and humans oppress nature, oppression will poison all of our relationships. Liberation can only take place if it takes place on all levels.
Equally, our reconnection with nature is political. It is part of the essential decolonisation process.
Ultimately non-productive, time spent simply connecting with nature is a subversion of post-modern productivist culture; an inherently rebellious act. And as a powerful way to sustain and resource social action – to take a twist on Audrey Lorde’s famous quote – it can even be seen as an act of political warfare.
However, on its own it is not enough. Connection that does not result in meaningful acts of solidarity remains in the realms of alienation, and therefore cannot be true connection. When we really connect, we see through the false construct of the self, to our true identity as a part of nature defending itself. Within this expanded sense of self lies an abundance of energy, strength and resilience. Action that comes from this place of connection can be sustained, can be regenerative – it loops back into the cycle of things.
The more connected we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the more powerful we become. When directed towards the collective good, this power can be a truly liberating force.
This is at the heart of the ‘Roots of Resilience’ – an exploration that uniquely brings nature connection and resilience into an explicitly socio-political context: to sustain and galvanise resistance to oppressive and destructive structures and forces; to inspire regenerative action that creates conditions for the flourishing of human society and the ecosystems within which we are embedded; that recognises that the social and ecological are not – and can never be – separate.
As Edward Abbey reminds us: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. And I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies… You will outlive the bastards.”
Kara Moses is a facilitator of social and ecological regeneration, offering courses in rewilding land and people, and training in skills for social change. She facilitates and lectures at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), Schumacher College, Ecodharma and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace, where she is also an Associate Fellow. She is an activist, writer, woodland manager and Vice Chair of the Wales Wild Land Foundation in West Wales, where she is based. See www.RewildEverything.org for more information about her work.
Roots of Resilience runs from 21st to 29th Sept 2019.