Sensing the land. The textures. The colours. The patterns in the mud. The mist rising from the water. The crunch of dry leaves under foot. The haunting sound of the raven. Finding meaning in the symbolic terrain. Nature connecting teaches us to be sensitive to the landscape and responsive to it. To develop a relational way of seeing and being. To remember that the oxygen we breathe in has been breathed out by the trees, and our breaths flow together. We are tied to the natural world.
Over the years I've talked to a number of people about their intimate relationship with nature. I am interested in the links between their nature experiences and their desire to protect the planet. I remember once talking to a science teacher and biologist, Jane, then in her early 30s, recalled the time when she suddenly realised the direct and simultaneous ‘breathing relationship' with a grove of trees, her life changed irrevocably.
Jane admitted that although she ‘had known about this connection for years and had even taught it in school’, she had never fully realised its deeper significance. It was an empowering experience not only spiritually but in terms of her environmental activism. She says that not long after ‘being breathed by the huge trees in the Melbourne's Exhibition Gardens', Jane travelled to Northern Territory and became heavily involved in the anti-uranium blockade. She says she loved to observe the way the protesters from the cities down south would fall slowly into the rhythms of the land and be captivated and taken over by them.
Jane’s sudden recognition of herself as interconnected with all lifeforms is an example of what ecopsychologist Sarah Conn (1990:164) refers to as the ‘self-world connection’. Conn contends that responsibility to help the world begins with such an experience of awareness. She argues there is a relationship between feeling responsive in nature and being responsible for it; it begins with practice.
'Practice in directly sensing the world - hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting as well as seeing - enhances the human-Earth connection, thereby increasing the likelihood of involvement in social and environmental issues. Tapping into the emotional connection with the world, feelings of love and joy in its beauty on the one hand and feelings of concern about what's happening in and to it - despair, anger, fear - on the other, can provide an important source of energy as well as motivation for involvement' (Conn, 1990:164).
According to Conn, feelings of love and beauty, coupled by feelings of fear, anger, trauma, lay the groundwork for involvement in environmental care. Likewise, Kirk Brown (1997:59) recommends that ‘bringing people into natural beauty’ is essential for encouraging activism. He quotes the psychologist James Hillman (1993) as saying that ‘if we are cut off from the ability to respond to beauty in a vigorous way, we have little desire to fight for its preservation’.
Nature connecting is love in action. Sensuous love. Active love. Love grown out of intimate knowledge – getting your hands dirty, gutting a fish, planting the river, going on pilgrimage, walking the dog, praying for earth healing, crying your heart out, loving the place where you live. Earth carers act out of desire - their heart's desire.
Brown K, 1997, 'From the Inside Out: Building a Sustainable Environmental
Movement,' The Trumpeter, 14, 2, Spring, 57-60.
Conn SA, 1990, 'The Relationship between Global Responsibility and PersonalEmpowerment,' New England Journal of Public Policy, 6, 1, 163-177.
Hillman J 1993, 'The Practice of Beauty,' Resurgence, 157, 34-37.