On a Saturday in September, just as the leaves begin to turn, a few of us gather to keep alive the flow of energy generated at this summer’s ‘Edge Of the Wild’ ecopsychology gathering. The Edge of the Wild is itself part of the wider currents that are surging beneath the surface of metalled roads, cultivated lawns and human dysfunction.
Present at our meeting are Beetroot, Birch, Buzzard, Chestnut, Fallen beech leaf, Grass, Feather, a Neighbouring horse, Slug, Moth, Stick, Wind and Sun, to mention but a few. The multifaceted nature of ecopsychology is represented in some small way by the diversity of this immediate group. The rest of the world glances our way, as it continues with business as usual.
All good meetings seem to commence with a cup of tea; strong, weak, with and without milk (soya, perhaps?) and sugar. Builders or herbal? Or perhaps just hot water. The September sun calls us into the garden to settle by the magnolia tree. A buzzard skims the roof-tops, before ascending silently into the sky. Silence seems a good way to begin, enabling us to become more knowing of what is here.
In welcoming and sharing our expectations, I find myself pondering the theme of inclusion: ‘who is eligible to belong?’ . Ecopsychology brings to light climate chaos as the most pressing issue of our time, bringing sharply into focus the reality of our inter-dependence and the complexity of inclusion. A leaf drops from the beech tree, swaying to and fro, before settling on the grass. A horse neighs. A chain-saw roars in the distance. Another tree falls and the call of the buzzard echoes from above. My attention disperses into the plurality of the languages around us. A white cloud shifts a little, momentarily allowing the sun to stream into our midst.
The wind changes, blowing in memories of a time when clusters of folk began to meet to share their concern for the relationship between 'ecos' and ‘psyche', birthing the ecopsychology movement in the UK. Some of those folk who are key to that history are here in our midst. In her book ‘Hope in the Dark’ Rebecca Solnit likens history to ‘...a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away a stone, a earthquake breaking centuries of tension…..’ (Solnit 2004: p.4) and she reminds us how it only takes a few passionate people to send powerful ripples of change out into the world. History, it seems, has found eco-psychology scuttling in many directions, gathering momentum, as a live, dynamic experience, addressing the inter-dependent nature of human existence. It manifests in many forms including therapy, wilderness work, permaculture, vision quests, shamanic healing, activism and more. As those pioneers met in the early days, so this meeting has bubbled up, like a small spring bursting from the earth, arising from the deeper waters of concern for the catastrophe of climate chaos that has been creeping across the earth. Meanwhile, the dominant narratives march on, turning their heads as they sense something afoot.
As we exchange ideas, an arm reaches down to stroke the grass with the back of the hand. Moving away from the quest for definitions and answers, there is a joining of hands and joining of feet in the circle. We bring in the heart. Leaves sprout from our ears and noses. The the soft wind brushes our skin.
Thoughts of ecopsychology as a movement inspire an embodied response. Some rise to their feet, some sink to the ground. Swaying and stretching, an arm circles to the ground and then upwards to the sky. Bare feet meet with the grass, shifting from left to right in a rhythmic lilt.
A figure stands still against the hedge, feet apart, arms outstretched to either side. Another wanders cautiously, before returning to the circle of chairs by the magnolia. An embodied gesture scoops water from winter’s dormant earth, bringing it to a central place before releasing it high above our heads with up-stretched arms, to represent the green shoots of spring that burst forth into the world. Then we open out wide into the blossoming glory of summer, before our palms make their way inwards, closing together in prayer, before pushing forwards into autumn’s slow decline. Such embodied rituals bring us closer to the cycles of the earth. Spontaneity takes us springing up from the earth. Stillness takes us to a place of reflection. Time for more tea. A chocolate beetroot cake appears from the kitchen.
We have now arrived, it seems, with joy, with fear, with enthusiasm and with resistance. Vulnerability and discomfort find a voice and both are welcomed into the circle. Something becomes more real as a range of feelings creep cautiously from their shells. It's time for lunch and we give thanks before breaking the bread and sharing the food.
After lunch, a walk seems in order and clusters of twos and threes deepen their connections, as we follow the undulating contours of Devon's hills.
On retuning to the garden, we take a final sharing. A stray and weary tennis ball is placed in the centre of the circle. A small moth sits next to it and the moth is gently lifted on the back of a hand to be helped on its way into the afternoon air. Concluding thoughts are aired and passed with the ball from one to another. To meet with open hearts and joy, it seems, has been a good way to begin. Our next meeting would fall on the festival of Samhain.
The buzzard has now gone. The wind brushes against the leaves as they begin their autumn turning.
Cantering horses pound the earth with their hooves as a small brow slug makes its way along the grass towards the greenhouse. The sun begins its descent, throwing long shadows across the grass. I look up to where the swallows had perched, chattering through the summer months; now no longer there. Perhaps they've already started their journey south. The church bell rings the hour. I shiver and make my way indoors.
Solnit, R. (2004) ‘Hope in the Dark’ Nation Books, USA