Part 1: A mindful answer to a major oversight – Nature isn’t an optional extra

I interviewed therapeutic workers recently and uncovered what I think is a serious oversight in our modern psyche. The conversations went something like this:

IMG_2271Erica to therapeutic workers (several) – “Do you incorporate nature in some way into all your clients wellbeing plans?”

Therapeutic workers to Erica – “no, individual wellbeing plans are linked to individual goals, interests and values”

Erica to therapeutic workers : “But humans actually need nature for survival and for their wellbeing, do you think this is overlooked in the context of your wellbeing plans? ”

Therapeutic workers to Erica- “yes you have a point……”

Nature isn’t an optional extra we need nature for our physical survival.

bumble bee japanFrom the trees that provide the clean fresh air we breathe, the environmental systems that create the water we drink, the bees that pollinate the flowers to provide the vegetables we eat,  the bacteria in the soil that colanise our body and stimulate healthy immune systems, the sunshine on our skin …. its simple, if the rest of nature is not well then humans can not live.  Whats more, who on this earth wants only to survive,  we all want to thrive don’t we?!  There is now mountains of objective evidence as well as what we know in our hearts from everyday experience that tells us that we are happier when we can see nature even a plant on our desk, we feel a greater sense of contribution and purpose when garden or take care of a pet, our creative imagination is sparked  when we marvel at a shooting star,  we feel refreshed when we walk out in the breeze, we feel expansive when we look out at the ocean …..the list of reasons to notice nature is endless and necessary. Why is this so? because we are part of the natural world that is why our brains, our physical body and our ‘gut feeling’ responds and reacts to our experiences with the rest of nature.

your brain on natureWe respond to nature and nature responds to us in an interconnected web of cause and effect. 

the tree of contemplative practice.Nature is not just a recreational option that we can take or leave if we feel bothered or not. We must all take responsibility and find the way that we can notice nature more and contribute to the wellbeing of the system that includes humans!

How do we notice nature and keep it in our consciousness after we go inside and shut the door ?  In the next 4 weeks I will write 4 posts with 4 solutions that are all forms of contemplative practice. The first solution, in the spirit of Mindful in May is this:

Cultivate mindful awareness in and/of nature

Mindfulness can be described in several ways, here is one definition:

mindfullness quoteThis kind of mindfulness is often cultivated through mindful meditation, a kind of mental training that gently brings back the wandering mind to the moment. A common experience of this involves closing your eyes and focusing your attention slowly to each part of your body from your toes to your head and noticing how it feels.

You can learn and experience more about that from modern mindfulness guru John Kabat -Zinn. The reported benefits are staggering:

mo photo's to be sorted 315

  • Structural changes in the brain associated with enhanced mental performance
  • Reduced stress and its negative impact on the body and mind
  • Improved physical and mental well being
  • Reduced genetic ageing through its protective impact on gene expression and degeneration
  • Increased happiness
  • Enhanced immune function

Why not do this outside and get a double dose of  wellbeing from the powerful effects of mindfulness and the powerful wellbeing effects of being in nature.

Here is a simple mindful activity to do outside:

IMG_3368For a few minutes, close your eyes or lower your eyes and for every new bird sound you hear raise one finger. Notice how your that sound makes you feel. To explore this more, draw the sounds that you hear, what shape do they have? what colour are they? or if you are feeling really brave, try and mimic the sound.

Outdoors based mindful practice does not need be restricted to passive activities. in the outdoor adventure activity world it is called ‘flow’.

For me on my mountain bike there is no IMG_3538mind in this at all it is pure fleeting ‘being’ as I become whole with the bike, whole with the contours of the earth beneath me, the very second I am aware of it is the second it ends.

Don’t be confused, the word mindfulness is not the same as awareness and a good simple description of the difference is provided by Wildmind Buddhist Centre:

mind full or mindfull“Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully”.

In saying that I have found that the IMG_2126enduring quality of mindful practice outside  is a heightened ‘mindful awareness’ of the nature that is around and this opens up the opportunity to experience awe in the every day and to cultivate empathy, connection and care for nature.



So, seize this moment: Go outside now, look up, look around, take a deep breathe and feel the air in your lungs. . That’s all it takes to start!


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Witnessing the birth of a child, the most profound nature connecting experience of them all!

Last night I had the privilege of witnessing the birth of my friends baby girl. For those of you who have been there I’m sure you will agree that in terms of the most awe inspiring and humbling nature connecting experiences of them all, this has got to be it!

The raw emotion, the excruciating pain, the phenomenal power of endorphins and then…. 

peace, connection, joy, new skin touching skin and eyes meeting eyes.

The natural world is truly amazing, I am so grateful to be a part of it!

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Ephemeral nature creations as little windows into ‘self’

This gallery contains 6 photos.

On the beach last summer, one stone became two became three became 50… The next day, my brother… one stroke in the sand … ….became 2… became three…became… well, a lot And then, it was claimed by the sea! There … Continue reading

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Connecting to Nature – What does this mean and how do you do it?

This is what I think I know:

A connection to nature is a sense of joined destiny and belonging between humans and the rest of the natural world. We may exist in relationship to each other physically distant or close but a sense of connection keeps nature close to the heart, it is intimate. Like any relationship there is a range of feelings: mutual respect, understanding, love, awe, empathy, belonging, fascination, need, happiness,  joy and on the flip side may be discomfort,  pain, sadness, guilt, longing, expectation; these in balance are also the components of wellbeing.  Our sense of connection begins when we are born as part of the natural world, into the natural world. How we  sustain that relies on our ability and willingness to recognise our conjoined destiny and do what is required to keep the spark of connection in any relationship,  make an effort! Psychologist James Hillman captured this well when he said:

“…stop imagining the earth as a good mother passive, nurturing and supportive and recognize the idea of earth to be a complex phenomenon requiring efforts of thought and imagination”

What does making an effort look like?

1. Experiencing nature. You can keep a sense of connection strong by experiencing nature often, through all the senses:  going for a walk with the dog,  gardening, feeding your fish, adventuring in the bush, swimming in lakes or the ocean, beach combing, making nature themed art, smelling the rain; even in the city you can do these things. Returning to a place or experience repeatedly, builds a stronger relationship as you get to ‘know’ more about it and collect stories of experience over time.

BUT people do this every day and they still don’t necessarily feel connected so what is needed to make this meaningful?

2. Reflection and mindfulness. Mindfulness is the name given to the moments when you are focussed with your body mind and spirit in an experience. Contradictory to its name, mindfulness usually has no mind involved at all but is just about being! Reflection however is where the mind comes in and acknowledges the feelings and actions you experienced; it is part of the process of meaning making.  Reflection about experiences in nature may be simply noticing how you feel/ felt e.g:   how the warmth of the sun is making you feel sleepy and content; how you come up with creative ideas when you go for a walk in the park; how you cry when your dog is hurt; your sense of amazement at the colours of the autumn leaves; how small you feel when you look out on an expansive view or a brilliant sunset

How do you reflect? i.e how do you become aware of these feelings and actions?

Through conversation, art and music making, thought, telling stories, writing poems, keeping a journal….anything that helps ‘bring to mind’ the experience.

This reflection creates a sense of awareness of the nature that is around you and the kind of relationship you have with nature. Depending on your experience it may be a relationship of love it may be one of love – hate, perhaps of respect but hopefully what is discovered is that we do have an effect on each other, both physically and emotionally our destinies are intertwined. This is a sense of connection and this is at the heart of wellbeing!

So to strengthen your connection to nature or facilitate this for others, my advice is this:

  1. Experience nature often and provide the opportunities for others to experience the rest of the natural world too.
  2. Help the process of reflection and meaning making by talking, writing, thinking or creating about the feelings and actions involved with the experience.
  3. Do it again! Get involved in or provide activities that expand yours and others experiences.

These actions create feelings, which nurture connections to the natural world, which create values,  which lead to caring actions toward nature, which ultimately lead to harmonious co-existence, which we call sustainability!

For a more academic description of nature connection, have a read of the post: Connection to nature vs contact with nature: The wellbeing link.

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Program Journal – ‘Exploring Art Exploring Nature’ with a community mental health group

From March to May I had the pleasure of  working with an adult community mental health group; our aim to explore the natural world using creative expression.

A bit of context

IMG_3055Once a week for 6 weeks we gathered together for a day of  mindful, creative engagement with nature in a social group.  My hope was to enable participants to increase their conscious awareness of the nature that might be around them where they live and to discover the joy that little bits of nature can offer. I was also keen to offer locations that people could confidently get to in their own time beyond the program.    As a practitioner I identify with the broad field of Bush and Adventure Therapy (as it is known in Australia – see ). This program was not strictly ‘bush’ in that we worked in urban parks and gardens and some bush areas; it is not considered adventure by many people’s definition but for people with a mental illness an adventure may be just leaving home for the day. The program was therapeutic in its broadest possible definition and that is with the inference of creating wellbeing;  in this case that was achieved through participants:

being in nature; being in a social environment; engaging in creative expression

It was not designed to work through participant’s ‘stuff’ but rather the activities were sequenced around three themes that I have developed and use in most of my programs.

To ‘see nature’; to ‘see self in nature’ and To ‘see nature in wellbeing’

Each week different activities were introduced to address the themes. So here’s how it went.

Week 1

IMG_2918“Texture through a window

There’s more to nature than anyone can know

Where the train was we were there

Edwarde’s Park with the weather fair”

(A participant’s reflection -verse 1)

We were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day at Edwardes Park Lake and we met each other for the first time. The theme for the day was ‘seeing nature’ and to do this we were focusing on the activity of ‘seeing’ through touching. After a few ‘get to know you games’, a cup of tea and a  chat we set off on a short mindful walk with a purpose…to feel everything and anything (within reason), finding as many different textures as possible including spiders webs, stones, bark, flowers, feathers…. we collected some of these things for later. Part way round the walk I handed out some frames made of paper with a square cut out the middle for participants to place over the top of different natural surfaces and to observe them inside the frame. This is very effective in seeing textures  that you would otherwise not notice. We then created ‘pictures’ inside the frames with natural found objects using the natural surfaces as the canvas. This could have gone on for the rest of the day, there was alot of enthusiastic creating but finally we left our ephemeral creations to blend back into the surrounds. Sadly I forgot to get photos of this activity which on reflection turned out to be a favourite of the group.

When we got back 2 hours of intensive art making IMG_3004began using paints, modelling paste, texture mediums and our found objects to experiment with and create a collage or painting that was inspired by the textures they had found.  One participant churned out picture after picture: big paper, small paper, black paper; paint, glue, painted blue tac; natural objects bottle tops, bread ties…you name it. another participant was very considered in her approach wanting to recreate and/or integrate a piece of soft beautiful paper bark that she was particularly enamored with.

After lunch we began what was to become a weekly ritual and the key component of experiential learning and that is to reflect upon our day through a chat as a group. This could include sharing insight about the art making if participants wished. All but one was very enthusiastic about sharing, his comfort level to do this was not reached until week 5; but for those that did as they spoke I wrote down a few key words that they said an invited them to name their work using (or inspired by) the key words that were written.

Day 2

Hana's printing day 2“The sun is glistening in the air

A BBQ at Bundoora without a care

Oriental cliffs that week

Which evolved from a rubbing technique”

(A participant’s reflection -verse 2)

We welcomed 2 more participants to the group and spent our day at Bundoora Park. Again  the weather was beautiful making it very conducive to more fossicking but this time for patterns and shapes in nature. We set off with magnifying glasses and pastels to make rubs. Funnily enough our walks often didn’t get very far; once we tuned into the details in nature, there was soooo much to see. That day as an act of sharing and gratitude and as a way to build connections within the group, we randomly swapped a piece of art work.

Day 3

IMG_3092Autumn and we’re in a room

The weather bodes impending doom

But we slowly paint and nest

And no one seems to be distressed

(A participant’s reflection -verse 3)

IMG_3048  Today saw us head to the Plenty Valley Gorge area only this time the cool Autumn weather had caught up on us. In anticipation of this wet day we were lucky enough to be rescued by the Plenty Valley Arts Group who occupy Le Page homestead. They graciously allowed us to use their beautiful premises. We had planned to ‘see nature’ through sound today but two things nestchanged our mind. We were awe struck by the amazingly beautiful Autumn leaves all around the homestead grounds; this in combination with the weather inspired us to change our creative lens. We focussed on ‘seeing self in nature’ we discussed the way animals and plants change their behaviour in Autumn and reflected on how we change our behaviours ourselves when the cold weather sets in. To reflect on this further,  half the group built Autumn nests representing their homely retreat in cold times. One group member wrote about his journey with mindfulness. IMG_3080

The Autumn colours really inspired the work this week as did a massive tree with the most amazing bark. When the rain stopped we managed to make it outside for  a walk and some fun incorporating a couple of games to help us focus in nature more closely. Some participants also chose to complete their nests by hanging them in trees in the garden outside.

Day 4 

IMG_3062“Snapshot game we start to play

Which warms our minds up for the day

The human camera is an amazing thing

Enough to make the senses ring”

(A participant’s reflection -verse 4)

Back at Le Page – more rainy weather! Only we did get some breaks this week which allowed us to start with some sound mapping outside. We then took the outdoors in with some sounds scape and considered what we valued about the natural world in a discussion about sustainability – ‘Seeing self in nature’ and ‘seeing nature in wellbeing’. It was really heartening to hear one participant in particular telling the group how she had been doing art work at home using the techniques she had learnt. She also said she was going out side more for walks and really noticing textures, sites and smells more than she had before. Another participant really tuned into the mindful aspect of this program; this was something he was practicing and he realised that engaging with nature was another way to calm his mind.

Day 5

IMG_3102Cicada guts are flying around

And towards Emily they are bound

It’s a beautiful day under the tree

Enough to inspire poetry

(A participant’s reflection -verse 5)

Having now decided that they were enjoying the program so much we decided to add on an extra day. Given the lovely hospitality of the Plenty  Valley Arts Centre at Le Page we decided to finish our last two days there. This week however, we had some nice weather back and so we went up above the Homestead to the Red gum Picnic area with sweeping views and fields of Kangaroos. This was the perfect day to GO BIG. Starting with a short walk, we found a rock each to sit and be inspired by a story about Jackson Pollock. We quietly admired the view up and out and then found ourselves a table and some ground space to break out the BIG PAPER. IMG_3099The task today was to paint or draw BIG; a chance to let loose with abandon and without care for what it looked like. . because then were going to cut it up and stick pieces back together in a new creation! This was a very fun day, lots of laughs, lots of paint, lots of paint flicking, cutting creating. This was challenging for one participant in particular who was a perfectionist and very considered in the way she approached her creating. Once she had the flick technique right however, she was loving it! Once cut up the reconstructing allowed her to work in the way that she is familiar with and with so many pieces to play with, she took this home to reconstruct;  and boy did she reconstruct….14 new pieces!!

Day 6

The final day comes and we’re having soup again

IMG_3185Which seems so fitting in the rain

But then the sun comes and all is fine

I hope you like this poem of mine.

(A participant’s reflection -verse 6)

IMG_3186The final day was a day to look back on everything we had done; the feeling, listening, seeing, thinking, touching, walking, painting, rubbing, stamping, constructing, cutting, relaxing, eating and smiling. The group unanimously agreed that 4 more weeks would be enough, 6 wasn’t quite! All loved being out in nature in particular and the enjoyed the way the  program focused their attention in a mindful way on the beauty and detail in nature. One participant really found his stride for his writing today; IMG_3187we sat together as companions, he described more about mindfulness to me and I wrote down the key words he said and gave them back. He then put the words together in a multi-verse poem. We did the same for the program reflection.  After chatting about our 6 weeks together, he constructed verses out of the words that were said. This was such a fitting way to sum it all up and capture the time that we had spent exploring nature through creativity expression.

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Exploring Connections to Nature through Aboriginal Art – a book review


 “An opening twelve love stories about art.”

Authored by Stephanie Radok 2012; Published by Wakefield Press 2012 Kent Town, South Australia. ISBN 978 1 74305 041 5 (pbk.)

“Maybe some of us are made quite simply from the earth of one place, we taste strongly of one thing and belong to it. But most of us are made from many substances……. “ (Stephanie Radok pg ix)

This is a book that would appear on face value to be a book about art, however, it doesn’t take you many pages to discover that it is far more than that and that Stephanie Radok is surely  “made of many substances” ! These layers are revealed as she leads us on a journey through the seasons in the suburbs of Adelaide with herself and her dog. She thoughtfully and poetically shares her reflections on what it means to ‘belong’, what it means to be part of the natural world and what role art has to play in this relationship.  “… Art that draws our attention to the earth underlines the importance of the relationship between humans and nature. ….The correspondences between leaves and hands, trees and lungs, flowers and sex organs, affirm connection…..” (pg. 29)

As an art critic of Aboriginal Art for over 20 years Stephanie humbly speaks about emotions, experiences,  life and connections as these are what the art work has taught her about being human. She says: “What may be usefully learned .. may not be intricate facts or …indeed inferiority complex  of being less spiritual or less connected  but rather … general principles and approaches to living.”  (pg4). She describes the way in which learning through art can be a participatory and experiential process as opposed to simply a passive, aesthetic interpretation: “ it is possible to respond to them (Aboriginal art) on an experiential level, joining your own experience of the earth , your knowledge about weather, land forms, plants , animals and life, to your experience of art, your acquaintance with and response to paint and patterns, texture, colour , drawing and surfaces. …the works also ask viewers to draw on what they already know about the world. “ (pg 96). This book itself does just that, I felt it drawing me in and asking me to reflect on what it means to be connected to the natural world.  It also had me thinking and searching my own experiences to find answers to her questions about being in wide open spaces  in the outback: “….liberation of the spirit, splendid forms – how are these things connected to wide open spaces? If the space is not thought of as empty, does that make it more or less spiritual..? Is such a space one in which you expand both metaphorically and actually as you feel your equivalence or kinship with cloud, rock and tree?” (pg 39)

This book is not written for just artists or even arty types, it is a book for those who ponder deep questions about life and belonging and nature.  It is a useful companion to practitioners and facilitators who provide the opportunity for people  to re-discover their place in the natural world and “to know which bit of the earth they come from” (pg 28).

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Connecting to land through collaborative ephemeral art, story and song

I had the pleasure today of attending a workshop hosted by Victorian Child and Nature Connection at the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) in Melbourne with the likes of three inspirational Aboriginal artists: William Barton, one of Australia’s leading didgeridoo players, Delmae Barton, Dreamtime opera singer, and Glenn Romanis, sculptor and visual artist. The reason for gathering – to explore the processes of connection, creation and collaboration to share the bond we feel to country.

IMG_2920Beginning with a smoking ceremony involving the burning of  leaves from the Wattle, Cherry Ballart and River Red Gum we were welcomed to the gardens, a traditional meeting place for the people of the Kulin Nation. The beat of our clapsticks and stamping of our feet developed a collective energy and feeling of group belonging that grew stronger as our morning of experiential activities unfolded.

The group divided and those of us who stayed on the oak lawns were mesmerised by the incredibly intricate sounds of Will’s Didgeridoo that captured the antics of a cheeky young kangaroo chasing its Will and Delmaemother through the bush. This morphed into a kind of rap beat with the equally cheeky humour of Will’s commentary mixed in between. The groups humble and somewhat embarrassing attempts at mimicking the sounds that this man could produce Didgeridoo or no Didgeridoo, only highlighted the immense connection he has to music and nature.

Next up was Will’s mother Delmae, a physically tiny woman with a soft voice that was hard to hear over that of the noisy crows, parrots and the wind in the trees. She stood up, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and delivered a strong and masterfully improvised operatic composition. Her son Will accompanied her with the Didgeridoo and when I closed my eyes I was swept on their journey through creeks up mountains and across the land.

IMG_2922After a short break we were in the hands of artist Glenn Romanis, a very humble and genuine person. This man has produced some beautiful sculptures that if you live in Melbourne you may well have seen, there are near 100 of them that he has made. He explained how his work interprets people’s stories about a place or their experiences; some are installed permanently and some are ephemeral. I was particularly struck by the use of petrified wood inlaid  into stone (link) he told me that if he doesn’t know how to do something he just ‘works it out’.

Glenn brought us to a space beneath a huge River Red Gum of some 400 years of age and ephemeral artinvited us as a group to tell a story with found natural objects inspired by that tree and the place. We were the second group to take on this task for the morning, so the first decision to be made was whether we added to the sculpture that the other group had made before us or started our own piece from scratch. The decision was to build on what lay in front of us which to me looked like leaves, to others a canoe and to some a woman’s platypuswomb. We agreed that our story would involve the 5 different Wurrundjeri clans coming together by boat on the old path of the Yarra River and our scene would include those animals that inhabited the area. The result was platypus, turtles, eel, fish and Bunjil the eagle Bunjilwhich I was involved in creating with 4 or 5 others. We came back together as one group and shared our different aspects of the story and what it represented.   There was some spontaneous ‘performance art’ – the dance of the swans, inspired by the entrance of two of the curious birds .

interpretive danceThe final closure of the day came in the form of a song that was composed in Will’s native language. He had the whole group find the right key on his didgeridoo, settled us into an accompanying tone and then with Delmae sang a hauntingly beautiful song over laid on top of our collective voices. With eyes closed you could feel the vibration of voice and at times didgeridoo resonating and connecting us together and with the land about which the song was written.

This was an inspiring morning; the coming together of people, land and story with an overlying hope of more people both children and adults experiencing connection to nature  and place like we felt today.

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2012 -2013: Roots take hold, the first blooms appear and a sense of anticipation preceeds the first crop of fruit!

In 2009 a seed of an idea planted in my mind and sprouted a few roots. In 2012, the conditions changed, the environment was right and these roots finally took hold. The first bold, brave shoot went up,  the first buds appeared and so began my professional life as HumaNature Connect!  I would like to indulge if I may in a bit of reflection on the last 3 months that have been and the new year that is to come before I sign off for a well earned Christmas break, if I do say so myself.

The first flowers bloom

On September 10th 2012 – HumaNature Connect became a DSCF3546reality and kicked off with a workshop collaboratively facilitated for the Australian Association for Bush Adventure Therapy – Victoria group.  I guess they  found it  beneficial  and engaging as we were invited to present a longer and more comprehensive workshop at their annual National Forum in 2013: Widening the Lens

IMG_2165October 2nd: Conference presentations seemed to be the theme with another  very successful workshop  presented for approximately 40 people at the Australian Association of Environmental Education Conference – Creating Our Next Courageous steps (click for accompanying paper: Exploring Connections to Nature through a process of Experiential and Arts Based Inquiry ).

Preparing personal stories by The Nest representing  Bunjil's eggOctober 21st saw  the inaugural Creatively Connecting to Nature Network event at Darebin Parklands. A very passionate group of educators from primary and Secondary Schools as well as CERES and the Port Phillip Eco Centre gathered to share stories about how and why we have come to be passionate about connecting to nature and creatively facilitating this for others. This hands on experience involved a walk around the park that followed the Aboriginal Spiritual Trail with creative reflection taking place at each stop. We finally ended up with small presentations Reflecting on personal journeys of our journeys  in the form of song/movement, found objects, sketches, feel and spoken story. This took place by The Nest, an awesome new sculpture that represents Bunjil the creator’s egg. The metaphor was a fitting place to discuss the vision and passion that will bring the Network alive starting  again early in 2013.

The first crop of fruit begins to ripen:

November and December: Phew…. what a few months this has been, I have some exciting programs on the drawing board for 2013, combining canoeing and creative expression, and a retreat as well as series of professional development workshops.

mountain biking I am now heading for some restorative time in nature at Aldinga Beach in Adelaide and riding my mountain bike in Victoria’s High Country yeehaa!

I want to thank everyone for their inspiration and support and  I wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year.

See you in 2013!

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What do you think; Is connecting to nature important or just hippy talk ?

We are familiar with the idea that people are spending less and less time in nature but more alarmingly to me is  the lack of conscious awareness about the link between spending time in nature and sustainability.

In Australia, there is a lot of talk about sustainability and the new National Curriculum for schools includes sustainability as a cross cutting theme. The curriculum framework has three components:

• Sustainability action process
• Knowledge of ecological and human systems
• Repertoires of practice.

What about the stuff that comes before these things?! Before the action and before knowledge, before innovation i.e. the experience of nature, noticing the small things and valuing the connection.  How can we imagine sustainability and how to approach it when we aren’t even sure about the thing that we are trying to sustain?

We know that emotional connections with nature increase actions that are pro sustainability. Emotional connections come through direct experience. It stands to reason then that we should be placing equal value into spending regular and quality time interacting with the natural world and talking about its value in conversation with each other and to our kids as we do to topics such as saving water, recycling plastics..

What do you think? Is this important?

To answer this question, lets imagine some scenarios that might happen if we stop teaching and demonstrating to each other including our kids the value of being in nature……

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Human – nature interfaces; a learning journey

This blog post is a rewrite of an older post from late last year, why? because I realised that the ideas within in it have grown and grown in my mind ever since.  It is also an illustration of how meaning making occurs over time, it is experiential learning in action. So hear goes…..

Have you ever had that experience of bumping into somebody repeatedly to the point where you think… ” I’m supposed to know this person!? Or have you ever had that similar experience where someone tells you something and you think…” I know absolutely nothing about that but why does it keep coming up?” Then a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks., years go by and it comes up again and again…….Well, this is a story of that experience.

My insect ‘resting place’ created out of clay

‘Pam’, mentioned some time ago, maybe a year, maybe more that she was interested in the interface at which gardens meet the native vegetation or bush areas. What happens in that space? how do they meet?  how are they managed?  I had never thought about it but it was an intriguing question.

Some time later I was at a clay workshop and the facilitator spoke about her ‘totem poles’ as being resting places for small insects in the garden, a place that is an interface between nature and humans. A small light flickered…interface..hmm… there is that word again.

Since then the idea of the human and nature interface keeps coming up.  Whether by accident or subconscious design it is appearing in my photographs, clay and art.

What I choose to see is the way that the ‘man made’ component is serving the natural object by highlighting its beauty and revealing it as the special thing it is. If only this was the case in every human-nature interaction!

It is this thought that has taken on a new depth for me in the last years. Why do human beings treat nature with contempt? Why is their a void of empathy at the interface between humans and nature ? Why is there an interface at all, aren’t we part of the natural world? These are the sorts of questions that Ecopsychology seeks to answer but I discovered more recently that there are other lenses through which to explore this human- nature interface.

Recently I presented at the Australian Bush Adventure Therapy Conference, I listened to a key note by Dr Stuart Hill, a Social Ecologist. This man has a fascinating background; he was an ecologist in the first instance, who studied “bat shit” and its whole associated ecology in a cave in some far flung country. He then recognised that human social systems function in similar ways to ecological systems and thus to solve complex problems in our personal lives and in our broader society we can look to ecological systems for answers. He describes this with the analogy of soil, hidden under the surface of gardens and roads…

“Too often it is ‘the bits that we don’t see’, and are unaware of, that enable most systems to function.  Yet society tends to focus just on the most attractive visible bits, neglects the rest, and is frequently surprised by the increasingly common expressions of system breakdown.  This may be recognized at every level, from the individual to the biosphere, and from the local to the global.  Examples of soil within terrestrial ecosystems and the subconscious within the human mind, and the complex interrelationships between them, are used here to illustrate this.” (Stuart Hill – Underground Ecosystems and the Subconscious: Their Neglect and Potential to Save Us)

Stuart Hill is not the first person to look at personal and social transformation through this lens. There are many practitioners and researchers under the name of  Social Ecology, Human Ecology, Ecopsychology, Systems Theorists and others; all who are looking at the  dynamics that occur in the interface  between society, environment and culture as a means to find ways to reach sustainability.

So, there it is again – interface – Do ideas find us or do we find them ? Perhaps this is a discussion for another day, in the mean time  here is an activity for further thought: make some paper frames of different sizes by  taking several pieces of paper and cut out a square of a different sizes in each piece. Then  go outside and place them over the points at which the man made world and natural world meet (like in my art work picture above). Look into the squares what do you see in these interfaces? how is it structured? how are things positioned ? are all human – nature interfaces the same? which ones are representative of your values? which ones are representative of society as a whole? how could they be more desirable? how does this change happen?

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