Friday, June 22, 2007


The river has a subtle way of moving into the heart. I miss it if I can't riverwalk. It is a place for reflection and quiet contemplation about the world. But in focusing this blog around the river I wonder if it is possible to shift more into the global political, social and spiritual arena as the media is filled with the suffering and pain of people and land in pockets actoss the globe. Palestine. Sudan. Iraq. There is a human and an ecological toll.

For example, during the week (June 16) the Secretary-General of the U.N. Ban Ki-moon said that in part, global warming has aggravated the conflict in Dafur, Sudan. He points to the severe drought that has plagued the region and suggests that water shortage have provoked the fighting. 'Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand — an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers...Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic.'

Contemplating these big issues as well as possible solutions seem daunting, fraught, and yet, brave peacemakers are continually working to heal and encourage peace. On a recent visit to Brisbane the inspirational peacebuilder Satish Kumar asked what would happen if, instead of a Department of Defence and the Armed Forces, there was a Department or Ministry of Peace.

These thoughts travel with me as I muse along the river.

The rivertrail is a good place for reflection - to take time to merge with the ebb and flow of this tidal river, to watch the mangrove roots rise through the mud, to listen to the tiny olive SilverEyes chirp through the upper eucalypt branches, to breathe the musty-dusty earth and to find an internal placidity among these elements. Being connected to the river, as the light drizzle barely wets the ground, affects the physical (exercise), emotional (sense of wellbeing), and spiritual (heart) and shows me there is a correlation between being part of the river system, connecting with the watery ecology, and the way I feel.

This interconnectivity between human and ecosytem is the core of the field of ecopsychology. Ecopsychology promotes an intimate and dynamic connection between healing the mind and healing and protecting the earth.

Ecopsychology combines psychology and ecology and advances that there is an interconnection between personal crisis, societal crisis and the planetary crisis. As separate discourses, psychology focuses on suffering as an individual problem while ecopsychology sees it as a collective problem as well. The challenge, hopes clinical psychologist Sarah Conn (1995:171), is to find ways to deal with the personal issues so they are no longer seen as individual problems but ‘as microcosms of the larger whole, of what is happening in the world’. As the person works to heal themselves and rediscover joy in the world, they are also learning to contribute to the healing of the earth.

Peter Cock (1996) terms this process of encountering nature and aspects of our own natures as ‘being and becoming in nature’. ‘Being through nature’ can come about by sitting quietly in the outdoors and just ‘be-ing’. These quiet reflective moments open up a path of communication to the wider world where people can get in touch with their inner nature, through a process of becoming responsive to elements in the natural world, and being responsible for caring for self and others (human and other-than-human)

‘Becoming through nature’ assumes that the earth has something to teach us about ourselves and our relationship with it. Cock (1996:3) describes the process as one of observing and taking note of how we feel in nature, seeing ‘attributes of ourselves highlighted in the characteristics of plants, animals and elements, such as the hardness of rocks, the slipperiness of fish, the piercing eye of an eagle, the persistence of a wombat’. These metaphors then become messages for personal reflection and self-transformation.

However, there is no guarantee that this self-transformative process will lead directly or indirectly to environmental action, although the person may gain a deeper awareness about themselves and a deeper understanding of the connection that binds them to the natural world. John Davis (1998:95) maintains that either outcome is relevant as the experience itself, if practised ‘regularly over a long period of time is a potent spiritual practice’. For Davis, the process of ‘being and becoming in nature’ takes on the mantle of ritual.

Riverwalking is a ritual. Today I meet a Black Faced Cuckoo Shrike, a family of unknown largish birds I can't identify even from the bird book (they could be curlews). Later I spy a tree filled with more than a dozen resting Ibis. They look like giant white fruit and this charming sight nourishes my spirit.

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Cock PH, 1996, 'Ecological Practice for Nature Carers: Work in Progress', Paper presented to the Social Ecology Colloquium: Sense of Place: Depth Perspectives on Australian Landscapes and Environmental Values, University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury, Dec. 1996.
Conn SA, 1995, 'When the Earth Hurts, Who Responds?' in T Roszak, ME Gomes & AD Kanner, Eds, Ecopsychology. Restoring the Earth. Healing the Mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club.
Davis J, 1998, 'The Transpersonal Dimensions of Ecopsychology: Nature, Nonduality, and Spiritual Practice',The Humanist Psychologist, 26, 1-3, 69-100.