Saturday, June 23, 2007

One Song at a Time

This post is inspired by the song
'Better People'
by Australian performer Xavier Rudd whose lyrics raise the vital issues of ecological and social care. Rudd calls his latest CD, White Moth, 'my proudest work' and the video and lyrics reflect his ethic to change the world. The video clip starts with images of the murderous whale hunt by the Japanese, depicts giant trees in threatened wild forests, and explores global suffering from all sorts of angles. In an era of suffering of both humanity and planet, voices like Xavier Rudd's and that of John Butler raise our collective consciousness and hopefully make this place a better world.

It rained last night. All night. The river valley was grey in the drizzle but the undergrowth was alive with the darting and chirping of tiny birds as they chased each other through the scrub, relishing in play and one of the few times this year it has rained. It was as if the place was becoming slowly alive in the dampness. The birds knew it.

People, when they meet each other, now comment on the coming of rain as something special, unusual, whereas rain in Brisbane is normally a frequent event. But not this year.

On the way home I met the priest at the local Anglican church near the river. She told me about how they are becoming more aware of ecological concerns and are trying to become more environmentally-friendly. The parish is installing water tanks and wants dual flush toilets. It has taken mainstream religions in Australia some time to join these ecological changes but the urgency of the water crisis has galvanised action. The Uniting and Catholic Churches are carrying out environmental audits, and a few years ago, the Catholic Church initiated Catholic Earthcare Australia, (2002) with the intention 'to mobilize its congregation - representing one-quarter of the Australian population - on environmental issues'.

Caring for creation is definitely on the agenda of the Australian National Counci of Churches, which through its 'Decade to Overcome Violence' is raising concerns about ecological violence alongside demands for peace and justice.

In the US, things have moved faster. But, at least initially, the relationship between mainstream religion and ecology seemed to be an individual rather than an institutional affair as people like Thomas Berry, Paul Santmire, Matthew Fox, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sallie Mcfague, Mary Tucker and other luninaries laid the groundwork for changing community attitudes.

Then the institutions got involved - and some campaigns have been both innovative and successful. In 2002-2003, the Evangelical Environment Network (EEN) flushed some American TV stations with ads asking: 'What car would Jesus drive?'. Hopefully he might walk or ride a bike, but practically, a small environmentally-sensitive vehicle. EEN believes that environmental problems are moral and spiritual problems, and making a decision about which car to drive is essentially a moral decision.

Living as if the earth matters. This vital ethical approach has been a feature of ecophilosophies and ecospiritualities such as Paganism, Druidry and Goddess worship through sacred nature religion practice, as well as deep ecology and spiritual-ecofemininsm. Bron Taylor found a 'dark green religion' amongst forest activists and other nature carers and more recently has discussed aquatic nature religion, while my recent work has focused on ecological-spiritual relationships among marine activists that I frame as a 'deep blue religion'. In the end, it is about a profound reverence for the earth's dynamic and life-providing ecosystems.

These themes are immersed in the moving words of Xavier Rudd's 'Better People' who lyrically gives 'respect to the ones making changes'.

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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.

If you would like to make a comment, click on 'Comments' below.

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.

Winter Solstice

A cold breeze flies up the river valley. But this is Brisbane where the chill factor is relative. It's not really cold. But it is windy. For most of the time since I have been here the wind has been almost absent. A ruffle here, a flash there but the wind has not whipped up waves on the river, not until now and then perhaps they are only in my imagination, or in the wash of a passing boat. A couple of south-west windy days has knocked down trees, blown leaves off trees, and given the impression that this is winter. A rainless winter.

Last night on the radio I heard a discussion about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, that is suffered by people in dark long winters. It causes them depression and a feeling reminiscent of the sense of dark. That's why in England for instance the coming of the sun is worshipped. At Stonehenge 20,000 people brought in the dawn with ritual and revelling. The long darks nights will make way for the summer, growth and harvest.

Ecopsychologist Susan Brelin-Becchio uses the framework of the ever-revolving changing seasons as a metaphor and lesson for life. Through her seasonal-psychological-ecological process, she shows how the earth and its life-giving/death-bringing processes deliver a pattern for personal enrichment which is bound in the soil, in the movement of the tides and breath of the wind. She calls her practice Deep Elemental Ecology and states that: 'All the Seasons are reflective of our own inner world.' (2003).

In terms of the solstice for the southern hemisphere, Brelin-Becchio continues: 'Winter is the time to reflect more deeply on these inner roots, taking a moment to consider where the instability lies, and how to strengthen and balance these foundational patterns in order for them to be able to support an outward movement and vision come Spring and Summer. Time perhaps to re-educate old, long-held belief patterns and to prepare to embrace the newness of Spring with buoyancy, enthusiasm, and innocence.'

This is the reflection for the turning seasons, the ebb and flow of shade and light, a reconsideration and reframing of the long held beliefs, in this society at least, that we are distant from nature. And yet the day-night nuances of the winter solstice, and the suffering, especially of those in the northern hemisphere who endure the wintery wonderland, show that our bodies respond to the seasons, both as metaphors and literally when they are affected by the well-named seasonal affective disorder or 'sad'. The Solstices are celebrated through the body as if the body wakes up with the light, stretches into spring, delights in the turning wheel of birth, growth, mid-life, death and rebirth, and all the while dancing with joyful thanks.

The river today shone with winter glory. The sky was radiant. SAD was a long way away. And the river is waiting for rain.

If you would like to make a comment, click on 'Comments' below.

Brelin-Becchio S, 2003, Deep Elemental Ecology, Gatherings, 8, August,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Animism - The Grace of Wild Things

Terry Tempest Williams says in her delicious book Red, 'to protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause beteen out own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wild mercy is in our hands' (2001:215).

Today I watched the bulldozer at work and wondered if the driver was aware of why his machine is called a 'bull' dozer. I wondered it has something to do with the imagined temperament of the bull as determined and consequential, or the cultural origins of the bull fight in Spain where the savage dance between bull and human ends with the bull's death. Or perhaps it dates back earlier to the Minotaur, the fearsome half-bull/half-man of Ancient Greece who was outwitted by the hero Theseus using the canny trick of Adriadne's thread to find his way out of the Minotaur's terrible labyrinth. Or perhaps it dates back to the smothering of Pagan beliefs from pre-Christian days, when Bulls were honoured.

In the famous cave of Lascaux in France, the Bull is stands out as a reverential creature whose painted body is considered 'unique because still today the brushstrokes make it appear to be rich, velvelty, and soft' (Grand 1967 in K. C. & M. S., 1998). The Bull was hunted and in paleolithic times, hunting Bulls was a dangerous undertaking. I can well imagine the rituals that may have accompanied the hunt, as hunters called on the spirits of place and their ancestors to ensure a successful hunt and for protection. The interaction between hunter and animal was respectful.

But the way the term bull is used in this culture is often derogatory. And yet, as Graham Harvey (2006:99) notes in his marvellous book Animism: Respecting the Living World, 'animals are people too'. An animistic worldview shifts the treatment and recognises 'that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others (Harvey, 2006:xi). Harvey makes the point that the perception of humans as animals is problematic. There is a presumption in this (western) culture at least that animals are not like 'us', are not 'us', and thus they can be depicted as 'other' and treated as such - just as humans can also be 'treated like animals' (113).

Harvey proposes that animism be regarded in the same vein as ecological philosophies and activitism. In the process he suggests a change from the expression 'environmentalism' towards 'ecological ethics'. An ethical stance towards the living earth and the other-than-human is interwoven with what he maintains are 'celebratory, respectful interactions with places and communities' (185). I keep this notion of respectful celebration in mind as I travel in riverspace and seek the interaction with local persons, 'only some of whom are human'.

Today as I walked the rivertrail I wondered if there was a better term for the 'bull' dozer - an earth destroyer, an animal killer - but these terms suggest that it is the machine alone which has agency, which decides on what fate to deliver. Rather than directing animosity at the operator, it is the system which is the real driver and its economic imperative. The outcome is the same.

Ecological sustainable development (ESD) has three components that interact - economic, environmental and social. But within this sustainability framework the spiritual and the sacred are missing. Sustainability is about sustaining the economy while at the same time, sustaining the wellbeing of society, and the viability and vitality of ecosystem processes. Governments worldwide have adopted ESD principles and frameworks. But alongside ESD must be the precautionary principle.

The Science and Environmental Health Network's website (2007) explains the object of taking precaution, and making care:
'When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action' (Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998).

There is an acknowledged connection between the health and sustainability of the environment and an individual's or a community's overall health and wellbeing. The river sustains us aesthetically and in terms of health and wellbeing. People walk their dogs, admire the view, run along the trail, and enjoy the waterscape. But can we sustain the river?

Harvey G, 2006, Animism: Respecting the Living World, New York, Columbia University Press.
K. C. & M. S. 1998, Cave of Lascaux, Webpage prepared for History & Thought of Western Man, Rich East High School, http://
Williams TT, 2001, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, New York, Pantheon Books.