Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter's Gifts of Earth

I live in the northern hemisphere. For us, the winter comes now. What does the winter mean? I am from peoples who knew seasons, there are other peoples who live closer to where the earth doesn't seem to tilt so much. But here, where a seasonal cycle's circle becomes an undulation of infinity over the arc of larger orbits, winter is a significant teacher.

What are winters gifts? Winter is the time of earth, when all other growth is spared and  color is pared down to rock and branch. Brown and black and grey proliferate into a thousand chromal subtleties. Space opens between things, some things sag and some things tighten. The action is all invisible, with roots as superhighways for the churnbuckets of earth. Worms create new life in this womb of the year. Our futures gestate in the fallows of earth and brain.  

We lean into the cold, which reminds us about breathing, re-members in us by cold sensory illumination the constant lung root networks whereby air travels to every cell in the earth of our bodies. Winter turtles us under the carapace of cloud, every sky movement an opportunity for nature divination.

This is a time when silence and subtlety remind us to listen closely, to stay quiet so as not to miss the ten thousand voices of crunch, chirrup, breath. The hands of leaves press onto earth's skin and dissolve into her, leaving traceries of the skeletal structures of love in tannins and resolve. We nourish and tend.

We are not estivators, we upright furless monkeys. We rest deeply, but we stay awake. Earth remembers in us in winter how things are made, the starting point before the forms of birth quicken and expand. We live in the seed and kernel time, taking the dense savings and codes of future growth into our own bodies to replicate possibility.

Winter sheds and leans us, a kind of sensory celebration of the subtle form. We make our own seeds from the orbits of the preceding year's growth and decorate. Is this year more hull or pit, more sunflower or nectarine? Has this been a year to grow exoskeletal protection or a time to strengthen at our core? By following the grooves and patterns of what has passed, in winter we hone and harvest. We design and structure. We incubate and portend.

Still now, listen deep. More rock and gesture of leafless branch. More grinning worm shitting earth. More cold air and spacious. Spare and nurturing. Condensing and revealed. Dissolving and forming. These are winter's gifts of earth.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Ken Robinson, in his February 2006 TED Talk (available here), challenges us to redesign education to nurture and support creativity. Here's some snapshots of his great talk. "Does School Kill Creativity?"

Children - Capacity for Innovation

"All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly."
"My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status."

Creativity Requires the Space to Make Mistakes

“Kids will take a chance. If kids don't know, they will take a go, they aren't afraid of being wrong.”
"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original."

In our culture now, adults stigmatize mistakes. "We are educating people out of their creative capacities."

"We don't grow into creativity, we get educated out of it."

Imagine Shakespeare as a Child
We don't think of Shakespeare being a child. Ken lived near where Shakespeare's father lived.
“Shakespeare was in someone's English class. Imagine Shakespeare as a child. 'Go to bed now. Put the pencil down and stop speaking like that.'”

Against the Arts at the Bottom of the Hierarchy of Subjects, Critique of Industrial Education as Reproducing Lopsided and Disembodied Head-Focused Experience

Robinson argues against the current hierarchy of subjects. Reading Math, then Humanities, then the Arts. Within the arts, there's a hierarchy. art and music higher status drama, dance

"There's no school system that teaches dance everyday. We all have bodies, did I miss a meeting. As children grow up, we educate them progressively from the waist up, and then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side. If we were to visit education as an alien and ask what is it for, you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors, they're the people who come out on the top. We should not hold them up as the high water mark of all human achievement, they are just another form of life. They live in their heads, up there and slightly to one side. They are disembodied. They look at their body as a form of transport for their heads. It's a way of getting their head to meetings."

"Our education system was ... to meet the needs of industrialism. Most useful subjects are at the top. Don't do music, you won't be a musician. Now profoundly mistaken. Second is, academic ability. academic intelligence. The whole system is a protracted entrance exam to university."

“In the next 30 years, more people will be graduating from education than any time in history. Suddenly, degrees aren't worth anything….Before, if you had a degree and if you didn't have a job, it's because you didn't want one.” Now you need a higher and higher one- whole structure changing.

Intelligence is Diverse, Dynamic, and Distinct
"We need to radically rethink our understanding of intelligence. .... It's diverse. Secondly, it's dynamic. Intelligence is wonderfully interactive. Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value." It comes because of going across disciplines (13:50). "The third thing about intelligence is that it's distinct."

Dancer, not Deficient
Story about Dancer [now captured in his book, The Element (2009)], GIllian Lynne was sent to a specialist because the school suspected a learning disorder, when the doctor figured out, she was a dancer. "'Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick, she's a dancer.'" Gillian was able to attend dance school and eventually choreographed Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

A New Human Ecology Based on Building Human Capacity
"Al Gore spoke the other night about ecology and the revolution that was triggered by Rachel Carson. I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our understanding of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the same way we've strip mined the Earth, for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children."

Need to Re-aim Education at Creativity to Change Human Planetary Presence for Healing/Generative Purposes
 "Jonas Salk...said, 'if all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years, all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, all forms of life on earth would flourish.' And he's right."

Celebrating the Human Imagination
"What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios we've heard about. The only way we'll do it is to see our creative capacities for the richness that they are and understand seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being so that they can face this future. By the way, we might not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ecological Creativity and Poetic Perception - Part 1

From Rankin, 2013, Eyescapes
Here's an excerpt from Laura Sewall, an ecopsychologist and graduated from Brown studying visual psychology and neuroscience. This is from an essay called "The Skill of Ecological Perception," published in 1995 in Ecopsychology - Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, Edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner.  

 "Skillful perception is a devotional practice....In relation to developing an ecological consciousness, skillful perception necessarily includes emphasizing perceptual practices that help us to extend our narrow experience of self and to experience sensuality, intimacy, and identification with the external world. Skillful perception is the practice of intentionally sensing with our eyes, pores, and hearts wide open. It requires receptivity and the participation of our whole selves, despite the potential pain. It means fully witnessing both the magnificence and destruction of our Earth. It is allowing one's identity and boundaries to be permeable and flexible. I refer to this way of perceiving as ecological perception. Mindfulness and practice brought to the entirety of our sensory experience clearly serve to alter consciousness and behavior. Ecological perception is most essentially the perception of dynamic relationships.... There are five perceptual practices... (1) learning to attend, or to be mindful, within the visual domain; (2) learning to perceive relationships, context, and interfaces; (3) developing perceptual flexibility across spatial and temporal scales; (4) learning to reperceive depth; and (5) the intentional use of the imagination." 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Becoming Water Birds: In the Kayak in Granite Dells

Early this summer I had three opportunities to encounter the Granite Dells in the highlands of Arizona. I had visited several times before, and in the space of the week, enjoyed rock lounging with colleagues, rock tromping down to the water with a different group of friends, and finally kayaking within the water with friends near and far. Walking down in and then kayaking radically changed my perspective, placing me at waterline, from within the Dells, instead of on top of or beside them. In this way, I came to know the Dells entirely newly, from within it rather than from the edge of it or on top of it. "Embed and embody" is one of the four characteristics of Gaian Methods, which provide models for research based on the living system(s) of the Earth (deChambeau et al, 2010). Experiencing relationship with the Dells from within the Dells demonstrated that regenerative creativity is a Gaian method of research.

This important change in perspective relates to designing for regenerative creativity. To design from within, rather than with a deracinating sense of distance from, changes me from raptor to water bird, bringing me within the design as an active and activating catalytic presence, blessed by the movements of the work and blessing through my being and interacting presence. The rampant threats of the consequences of scientific innovation separated from the living processes of the planet can be countered through regenerative creativity, which invites symbiotic, ecological, and bodily connectedness. Complex and regenerative creativity requires ecologies of connection and engagement to be saved from the dangers of Cartesian deracination. We become part of the design. Regenerative creativity stirs us into deep, meaningful, and fruitful Earth collaboration, revivifying our creative intelligence, while protecting us from planetary harm.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Edition of the Journal for Sustainability Education - And an Article on Earth Regeneration

The 2011 edition of the Journal of Sustainability Education came out this week. It features many interesting case studies, interviews, and peer-reviewed journal articles, including:
  • An academic article about Pedalogy and Pedagogy - Living Soil and Sustainability Education: "We introduce an ecologically grounded metaphoric language rooted in living soil as an alternative regenerative framework for linking sustainability pedagogy with pedology (the study of soil). Five principles that guide this relationship are presented: valuing biocultural diversity, sensitizing our senses, recognizing place, cultivating interconnection, and embracing practical experience. Nurtured within an environment of curiosity, wonder, and questioning, and set to the rhythm and scale of localized ecologies, soil serves as an embodiment of life right beneath our feet rather than the reach of distant stars. In learning gardens, living soil and pedagogy surface in dynamic ways to create an ecological landscape of sustainability education." (by Professors Dilafruz Williams and Jonathan Brown, Portland State)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gregory Cajete's Book Native Science - Natural Laws of Interdependence

I am inspired to share some quotes from Gregory Cajete's book Native Science - Natural Laws of Interdependence. Cajete, a brilliant professor and Tewa Indian from Santa Clara Pueblo, articulates the Indigenous ways of knowing underlying Native science traditions in this book. I have been studying the roots of terrapsychology, which offers methods for accessing place as a feeling and expressing being, and the many meanings of earth/Earth/dirt/Gaia, as well as developing a theory of ecological creativity. Cajete's work touches on all these topics. Here are a few gems, I will continue to share more in the coming time!

Cajete, G. (2000). Native Science - Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light.

From the chapter, "Telling a Special Story"
  • "Native science continually relates to and speaks of the world as full of active entities with which people engage. To our sensing bodies, all things are active. Therefore, Native languages are verb based, and the words that describe the world emerge directly from actively perceived experience. In a sense, language 'choreographs' and/or facilitates the continual orientation of Native thought and perception toward active participation, active imagination, and active engagement with all that makes up natural reality....If, as Merleau-Ponty contends, perception at its most elemental expression in the human body is based on participation with our surroundings, then it can be said that 'animism' is a basic human trait common to both Indigenous and modern sensibilities. Indeed, all humans are animists." (p. 27)
  • "We all use the metaphoric mind to describe, imagine, and create from the animate world with which we constantly participate. Just as the focus on participation in Native science brings forth creative communion with the world through our senses, so too does the application of the metaphoric mind bring forth the description and creative 'storying' of the world by humans. Science in every form, then, is a story of the world." (p. 27)
  • "Because its processes are tied to creativity, perception, image, physical senses, and intuition, the metaphoric mind reveals itself through abstract symbols, visual/spatial reasoning, sound, kinesthetic expression, and various forms of ecological and integrative thinking. These metaphoric modes of expression are also the foundations for various components of Native science, as well as art, music, and dance. The metaphoric mind underpins the numerous ecological foundations of Native knowledge and has been specifically applied in creating the stories that form the foundation of the complex and elaborate forms of Native oral traditions. Realizing that the greatest source of metaphor comes from nature, these stories are filled with analogies, characters, representations drawn from nature, metaphors that more often than not refer back to the processes of nature from which they are drawn, or to human nature, which they attempt to reflect. Because Native science is thoroughly wrapped in a blanket of metaphor, expressed in story, art, community, dance, song, ritual, music, astronomical knowledge, and technologies such as hunting, fishing, farming, or healing, rationalistic scientists, its 'younger brothers,' have difficulty understanding its essence of creative participation with nature." (pp. 30-31)

From the chapter, "Sense of Place":
  • "Native people expressed a relationship to the natural world that could only be described as 'ensoulment.' The ensoulment of nature is one of the most ancient foundations of human psychology. This projection of the human sense of the soul with its archetypes has been called the 'participation mystique,' which for Native people represented the deepest level of psychological involvement with their land and which provided a kind of map of the soul. The psychology and spiritual qualities of Indigenous people's behavior reflected in symbolism were thoroughly 'in-formed' by the depth and power of their participation mystique with the Earth as a living soul. It was from this orientation that Indian people developed 'responsibilities' to the land and all living things, similar to those that they had to each other. In the Native mind, spirit and matter were not separate; they were one and the same." (p. 186)
  • "All human development is predicated on our interaction with the soil, the air, the climate, the plants, and the animals of the places in which we live. The inner archetypes in a place formed the spiritually based ecological mind-set required to establish and maintain a correct and sustainable relationship with place. This orientation, was, in turn, reinforced by a kind of physical 'mimicry,' a 'geopsyche,' or that interaction between inner and outer realities that often takes place when a group of people live in a particular place for a long period of time." (p. 187)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pedagogy of Place and Poetry in Nature Rewilding Learners

Reflection – Marna Hauk - Sense of Wonder and Earth in Mind – Pedagogy of Place

"To see what is here, right in front of us: nothing would seem easier or more obvious, yet few things are more difficult. There are unmistakable signs that something may be dying among us: that capacity to see the world, to recognize the 'other' and admit it into our lives. Invisible walls shut us out, or shut us in, and we make them stronger and thicker by the day."

- John Haines, Living off the Country, p. 17

In Living off the Country, John Haines describes a possibly dying capacity amongst humans to experience the world deeply and connect. Haines focuses on the role of the poet to resuscitate a capacity of seeing and a culture of connection. In as much as educators are like poets, he is also describing a revitalizing pedagogy of place. Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, E. O. Wilson, and David Orr all confirm the essential elements of this sensory opening and connection with place.

The capacity to wonder sparked by intimate experiences with place sources both poet and scientist. E. O. Wilson argues in "The Poetic Species" (Biophilia, 1984) that poets, like scientists, are engaged in enterprises of discovery bound by our relationship to other organisms (p. 63), founded in love and childhood fascination, providing a lodestar and sanctuary (p. 65). In other words, love and connection are the bases of poetry and science. And education that awakens this love and connection revitalizes our humanness.

The capacity is within us, it is in-built, this sense of wonder, this capacity to deeply notice. E. O. Wilson and Carson agree about the central role of a sense of discovery. For Carson, informal and direct primary experience and discovery nourish the sense of wonder. Carson (1998) confirms that a sense of meeting the unknown with primary senses, and having someone to share the experience with, are the critical process. "The sharing includes nature in storm as well as calm, by night as well as day, and is based on having fun together rather than on teaching" (p. 17). Shared informal and primary sensory experience and discovery can be exhilarating: "just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of excited discovery" (p. 23)

Educators, like poets, break down the walls that have been built up against primary perception and discovering a sense of wonder. Orr affirms that biophilia and a sense of mystery are connected (2004, p. 138). Haines articulates how by becoming connected with place, places can speak through us—by becoming authentic and connected, the voice of the place can enter our work:

"What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic. I think that there is a spirit of place, a presence asking to be expressed; and sometimes when we are lucky as writers, and quiet in a way few of us want to be anymore, a voice enters our own…I have come to feel that there is here in North America a hidden place obscured by what we have built upon it, and that whenever we penetrate the surface of the life around us that place and its spirit can be found." (Haines)

How can we design, provoke, and/or encourage learning experiences that allow "the hidden place" below the surface to emerge in us, in writing and in life? Berry suggests that Haines points us towards a focus on authenticity and connection: "Once a place and its spirit have become not just subjects but standards of the writer's work, then the connections between art and community, art and tradition, art and thought become necessary and clear" (2010, pp. 52-53). Berry argues that cultivating this sense of connectedness also saves us from "the shrinkage of the world to the limits of the isolated, displaced, desiring, and despairing self" (p. 53), bringing us to realize Orr's values, consciousness, questions, and conscience (2004, p. 8). Andrea Olsen in Body and Earth encourages a process of direct engagement and what she calls inclusive attention before writing and reflection, "valuing experience as well as the language used to describe it" (2002, p. 5). Carson describes this as "expressing pleasure in what we see, calling his attention to this or that but only as I would have shared discoveries with an older person" (p. 23) As Orr expresses, "True intelligence is long range and aims towards wholeness" (Orr, p. 11).

These scholar-practitioners provide insights into how to reconnect and increase what I term Earth empathy (see, the capacity for humans to connect with the larger presence of the life of the planet in a deeply meaningful way. Fostering and encouraging earth empathy is a critically important fruit of emplaced learning. Complexity science, with its understanding of emergent properties arising greater than the sum of parts helps us understand how fostering a Gaian connectedness, an Earth empathy, can help connect humans with the larger living presences of which we are a part – place and planet.

One way to apply these insights regarding a sense of wonder and education that keeps Earth in mind takes inspiration from the field of poetry therapy and poetic medicine. By creating collegial experiences of direct sensory experience and discovery as well as writerly reflection, I have witnessed awakenings with groups across ages. Whether with kindergarteners in a school courtyard opening up to the happenings of a blossoming jacaranda, with middle-schoolers getting their feet muddy at a cob building site and habitat restoration, or with adults in deep forest, direct experience with spacious nature opens and connects. Poetic processes and writing integrated with these experiences help learners track the path of their own discoveries, offers a wider language for their expanded perceptions, and allows them to become metacognitively capable of continuing connection. We become, at least for a time, re-wilded.


Berry, W. (2010). Imagination in place: Essays. Berkeley: Counterpoint.

Carson, R. L., & Kelsh, N. (1998). The sense of wonder. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Haines, J. (1981). Living off the country: Essays on poetry and place. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press.

Kellert, S. R. & Wilson, E. O. (Eds.). (1993). The biophilia hypothesis. Washington D.C.: Island Press.

Olsen, A. (2002). Body and Earth: An experiential guide. Lebanon, NH: U Press of New England.

Orr, D. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, the environment, and the human prospect. Washington DC: Island Press.

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Earth Empathy Resources

Recently developed this website on Earth Empathy. Each of four aspects of cultivating earth empathy:
focus on providing inspiring quotes, links, podcasts, video clips, and experiential learning exercises.

This Earth Empathy website also offers core resources by topic and includes a space to add resources and connect and collaborate.

Check out