This year theme for the 2016 'Edge of the Wild' ecopsychology gathering will be ‘Heartlands’ through which we will aim to explore our relationships with the land and each other in the context of the environment.
In this case, our environment will be Green & Away, an outdoor conference venue on a farm in rural Worcestershire. It’s an inspirational and environmentally sustainable tented village erected each summer and located in beautiful countryside with a river running along side the site and a reservoir a short walk away. There will be wild swimming, wildlife, singing and stories around the fire.
Through ‘Heartlands’ we’d like to people to grasp the extent to which their psychological identity and internal landscapes are shaped by the environment. In this, we hope we’ll be able to move beyond egoic and abstract claims to knowledge and get a visceral sense of the vulnerable ecological context in which we are gathered. We hope ‘Heartland’ speaks to the sensuous environment: my nature, my soulscape, my body the earth.
Many people cherish embodied stories of the land and find their identity in a profound sense of place. I spent 17 years in Aotearoa/New Zealand where the protocol for formally introducing yourself is to name your genealogy or ‘whakapapa’; a custom that includes naming your mountain, your river and your sea. “Since all living things including rocks and mountains are believed to possess whakapapa, it is further defined as ‘a basis for the organisation of knowledge in the respect of the creation and development of all things’” (Barlow, 1994, p. 173). Hence, whakapapa also implies a deep connection to land and the roots of one’s ancestry. Such a worldview increasingly permeates the cultural fabric of country.
The Maori hold the notion of Turangawaewae - a place to stand - which literally refers to a patch of earth in front of the meeting house. Maori gain the right to stand upon their marae (village) and proclaim their views about the world and life. Turangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home. I am told there are African and native American cultures that hold comparable concepts.
I must admit that indignous is a term that I feel nervous using. It is also a word that is often applied to conquered and colonialised native peoples. In this sense the term denotes a profoundly abusive relationship and is therefore frequently a point of shame, both for those who identify culturally with the colonisers as well as the colonised. Yet the earth continues to be colonised according to a capitalist and consumerist hegemony by which many of its peoples continue to suffer. How do we acknowledge our differences when many of us benefit so much from this exploitation, without succumbing to alienation and the illusion of separateness?
As such, indigeneity can fall into an idealised ‘otherness’ - something both exotic and desired. Indigenous traditions speak of an intimate relationship between humankind and the earth. Feeling displaced, many of us in the West covert these relationships and are willing to fly around the world to discover indigenous Mysteries. Yet where do questions of indigeneity leave us in discovering our relationship with our own places, our bodies and our belonging? Where do we come home to?
“Many today see Nature as a stock of resources to be converted to human purpose. Many Native Americans see Nature as a living god, to be loved, worshipped, and lived with. These views are incompatible, but perhaps another viewpoint could incorporate them both, along with others." - Donella Meadows
This brings me to another thread of the gathering: a concurrent conversation where some have come to question the basis of our gathering at all. Some view ecopsychology has elitist - white middle-class, middle-aged, privileged and predominantly patriarchal. While there is some truth in this, many of us still feel ecopsychology has something important to offer.
Similar remarks have been made about the organising group. We carry the responsibility for creating a product that the gathering’s delegates ultimately consume. It is not a reciprocal relationship and so we recognize this is not an ecological way of organising. Hence there is also need for a conversation to address how the gathering can become more reconnected to the earth and to the interrelationships that sustain it. We plan to hold a constellation workshop in the middle of the gathering to explore this.
So this is to be the context of this gathering. It will be a joyful event where people reconnect with friends old and new… And it will be a soulful occasion where we will hopefully face our disconnection with heart.
Barlow, C. (1994). Tikanga whakaaro: key concepts in Mäori culture. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.