Benefits of nature to well-being are known throughout time by people ranging from layman to prophets to politicians and more recently scientists. So much so that it is rather arbitrary to speak of people and nature as somewhat separate, as what are we if not nature made up of same particles, same stuff and completely relying on things around us for our survival.. In any case, lately there is much talk about disconnectedness; the idea that humans often don’t deeply feel, experience and express the interconnectedness between all living and non-living things. This then can be related to conservation problems as well as many social issues on a small scale or across the globe.. See for example the book called Children & Nature by Kahn & Kellert (2002), research about nature’s benefits to Xhosa people of South Africa by Cocks et al. (2012), or article about children’s use of and play in nature by Alexander et al. (2015). Many of the problems as we may see it facing the world today are thus rather linked to human psyche.. Shall we say, problems and solutions? For both of these always are there. Read more about the links between social and ecological, conservation and psychology, and interconnectedness in for example Folke et al. (2011), Zylstra et al. (2014) and Price & Lotz-Sisitka (2016).
Exploration of these matters led me personally over the past few years to consider more and learn about topics and practices related to eco-psychology, nature and compassion, and transformative learning. Eventually over the past year or so it has emerged in material reality as activities related to nature and compassion. I worked with Lunchbox Theatre who educate about environmental and social issues through live theatre.. I’ve been making music with the intention of providing something beautiful to ourselves and to the listener.. and I became more recently involved with Sunshine Sanctuary and MOYA Animal Outreach who work with holistic animal welfare in the Crags. As an ideal, the work includes working with the families in the local Kurland village to enable them to better care for their animal companions.. which also incorporates the aspect of being able to better care for themselves. On a practical level, the work often means rescuing animals from dire conditions and nurturing them back to decent health, after which new homes are found for them.. it also means organizing events for awareness raising, learning, sterilizations and other animal welfare matters, as well as a lot of fundraising and outreach. Some of the most profound moments during this work are when someone’s perception of or way of being with their animal changes, perhaps for the more compassionate.. And, when you see how simple acts of unconditional love may change the whole being of an animal that has gone through some hardship. Touching moments.. and the work has a physical, direct effect in Kurland village, where dog and cat populations still soar rather uncontrolled.
The explorations of human-nature interconnectedness also led to initiation of forest school activities. This we’ve been doing together with a Waldorf teacher and what pleasurable activity this has turned into. Children join from various schools, and we’ve thus far organized the activity as morning time forest school.. adventuring in the forest of Kurland hotel grounds, exploring what comes our way and loosely facilitating activities. The name of forest school is a little misleading for it has very little to do with traditional schooling.. rather, the idea is to lead children to outdoor activity that enables them to explore, reflect, and learn skills such as bushcraft, tracking and identifying nature’s things; but also to enable an environment where free exploration, risk-taking, taking responsibility and developing compassion and self-confidence may take place. It is something of a normal way of being for many children around the world, yet at the same time something that many children in today’s societies do lack these days, for reasons such as habits at home, safety concerns, and the possibilities of engaging with the digital world.. The engagement in activities such as forest school, then, has indeed to an extent been linked to greater care and compassion for other beings, ecologically beneficial behaviours later in life, and emotional well-being (See for example O’Brien 2009; Louv 2008; or Zylstra et al. 2014).
I also started facilitating Nature Network sessions, with some children in Kurland village, to engage with them in outdoor activities that go along these lines as well. We explore the local environment, engaging with it through games, use of all senses and free exploration.. and we’ve been playing music which the children absolutely love.
At the core of these activities lies the desire for, if at all possible, enabling environments, encounters and moments where love, compassion and care may arise.. and perhaps through time and through regular experience and practice, these may be sustained and their effect felt in the circle that surrounds each individual.. Though this is not in a person’s hands in any way; all one can do, really, is to give of what one can, in as an honest way as possible, and if this is inspirational to another being then so be it..
In the past times (a year; two; ten or a hundred..?) it seems that there’s lots of corrupt politicians in power. Especially in the recent times, all over the world, the right-wing parties are gaining in power.. there are a few politicians having money and power in their hands and influencing a little too much the lives of many others.. All kinds of problematic things. These thoughts are possibly fueled now by the current cries in South Africa to change the leadership of the country.. The above kinds of occurrences easily cause division, intolerance, and quarrel. Yet the world is in an ecological crisis and this is thus a social crisis too.. This is seen on small or bigger scales. So where are our priorities and what are we focused on..? Of course, there are then things counterbalancing these; there arise the movements of tolerance, peace, compassion and love. Always love.. And these start with each individual. Even when we talk of large scale changes and events, they are made of many individuals’ world views, perceptions, identities, values and behaviours.. Each of us make choices.
Love and compassion seem to have been things that many have pointed towards as pretty good ways to go, throughout the histories, for the human being to get along with him or herself and other beings and things around in an at least reasonably sustainable and sensible way.. When there’s greed, jealousy, fear and anger, things get messy. Yet humans are always in this battle sort of, with themselves and with each other. We sometimes forget that loving is often a bit easier to do.. loving and letting go, takes so little effort after all, whereas quarrelling and acting angry and inquiring lots of possessions for oneself only take a lot of energy.
Loving actually is giving too. These days, as probably always has been and will be, it is so important to give and share of what one has. Just that, and that is love. When we enthusiastically work with something we believe in and it sustains us, we are living our calling, so to say.. and perhaps giving something good off, somehow. If we honestly, fully, totally are happy with what we’re up to and can be honest about with everything and everyone else around as well. And to be fully happy and honest and fulfilled we need certain things that come from the environment around us; thus it would make sense (so easy to say these things) that when we live full and honest and happy, we are living in fully realized and enacted interconnectedness.. considering with all our actions also the other than ourselves.
Just personally, these things have become my quest, guideline, mission and source of much fun and interest.. as one is ever changing and learning. And thus, these activities, forest school and Nature Network and the animal work also are aimed at encouraging connectedness, honest encounters, making links and having choices… also at having fun, and freedom to explore, reflect, and choose. Ideally so.
The idea is that when one is exposed to several things, many ways of being perhaps, or at least given the honest answers, honest reasons, then one has more of a capacity to make choices, and take responsibility. Even later in life, one then has more of a choice, more easily.
Then I often wonder, did the corrupt politicians have choices? Or those who want to wage war on other nations…
Then again, how is it we judge so easily anyway. We wage war in our own homes with each other, so better sort that out first before talking of anyone else. 🙂 Give love to just oneself and one’s closest, isn’t even that hard sometimes. We are all different; different habits, desires, thoughts.. yet we’re all somewhat the same as well, we can see ourselves in each other if we wish.. We can just keep offering choices, to ourselves and each other. We can live as an inspiration if we so wish.
All is in its place, somehow… Yet I could recommend a good few huge dosages of nature exposure to Jacob Zuma, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and all the rest of those folks..
And to you too who’s reading this, for sure! Go out, go out, feel free, wonder and explore..
Alexander, J., Cocks, M. L., Shakleton, C. 2015: The landscape of Childhood: Play and Place as Tools to Understanding Children’s Environmental Use and Perceptions. Hum.Ecol.
Cocks, M.L., Dols, T., Vetter, S. 2012. “God is my forest” – Xhosa cultural values provide untapped opportunities for conservation. S Afr J Sci. 2012; 108(5/6), Art. #880, 8 pages.
Folke et al. 2011. Reconnecting to the Biosphere. AMBIO 40:719-738.
Kahn, P.H.Jr & Kellert, S.R. Children and Nature. Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2002.
Louv, Richard, 2008. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. In: And the Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Algonquin Books.
O’Brien, Liz, 2009. Learning Outdoors: The Forest School Approach. Education 3-13, v37 nl p45-60.
Price, L. & Lotz-Sisitka, H. Critical realism, environmental learning, and social-ecological change. London; New York; Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.
Zylstra et al. 2014. Connectedness as a core conservation concern: An interdisciplinary review of theory and a call for practice. Springer Science Reviews 2: 119-143.