Cultural Ecology of Spirituality

March 27th, 2021

“Imagination is fine, so long as we know that we are engaging in it. Problems only arise when we mistake our imagination for reality. Religions start off with imagining. For example, true believing Christians imagine that God exists, that Jesus saves, that sins can be washed away, that heaven awaits after death.  I like how Taoism ends with imagining….  imagination fills the gap between what we can comprehend and what is real”. Brian Hines

1 A New Spiritual Awakening

Fig 1 

“A godless world is as mysterious as one suffused with divinity,” 

John Gray writes. Illustration by Seb Agrest

During the modern age, reason became valued over faith, tradition, and revelation. Industrialized society replaced agricultural societies and the old ways of relating to seasons and cycles (Fig 1). Furthermore, the growing predominance of a global, mechanized worldview, a collective sense of the sacred, was severed and replaced with an insatiable drive for scientific progress and material prosperity without any sense of limits or responsibility.  As religious affiliation decreases in the West, there are accompanying declines in church membership, participation in religious activities, and a lack of sustainability in congregations.  Despite these declines, interest in, and practice of spirituality are growing across many diverse populations. Spiritual teachers abound, including both those grounded in religious traditions and those identifying as spiritually independent.  This is the response to a growing movement of people seeking spiritual deepening. According to Diana Butler Bass the trend is clear: “Traditional forms of faith are being replaced by a plethora of new spiritual, ethical, and nonreligious choices. If it is not the end of religion, it certainly seems to be the end of what was conventionally understood to be American religion.” Butler Bass has articulated the critical need for religious adaptation in today’s cultural milieu. In her 2012 book ‘Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of A New Spiritual Awakening’, Butler Bass discusses the radical shift currently underway and suggests that a changing American Christianity may be part of “forming the contours of a new kind of faith beyond conventional religious boundaries.” Butler Bass’ work also points to the ways in which religious and spiritual change is part of a larger transformation: “When a spiritual and religious upheaval and transformation twins with political and cultural upheaval, it often results in what we call periods of awakening: these times in which American history actually changes. And an awakening is not just like a revival meeting, where individuals might get changed; but instead, an awakening is a time when American society, as a whole, is transformed.”  What is clear is that this is a time when people are starting to think globally about how their spiritual lives can accommodate climate change.  

A Replacement for Religion lays out how we might absorb the best lessons of religion, update them for our times and incorporate them into our daily lives: it tries to rescue some of what remains wise and useful from religion, which for many, no longer seems quite true.

The best lesson to take from religion is that being human is to seek a higher purpose outside oneself. In particular, people need a socioecological framework for community-building to find meaning, belonging and identity,  The basic problem of human survival now is that our species feels separate from the rest of the biosphere. We think that we are superior to its other creatures, and that the earth is just an endless collection of material resources for us to exploit. This duality has become dangerous, for us as well as most other species. Can we really resolve the ecological crisis without realizing this type of duality cannot continue?  A nondual ecological culture to manage Earth’s bounty sustainably is required to address an ecological crisis.  An ecological structure is necessary within which people are able to  participate in something vast, consequential and interlocking.  In this connection, the primary aim of education at all levels should be to demonstrate how civic interactions based on trust are correlated with the neighbourly virtues of charitable giving, volunteerism and altruism. An understanding of the relationships between culture and ecology should be a mandatory outcome of education in order to make sense of life’s mysteries. 

At a personal level the search for transcendence is integral to this human experience.  Practically it means adopting a pedagogy for building social capital within individuals to render intelligible and tolerable existential facts about human life, such as suffering and death. With respect to these educational challenges, people, identifying broadly as spiritual seekers, hunger for opportunities to practice and develop their inner lives and connect with the transcendent.  This is why spiritual quests and ethical questions continue to be a vital part of human culture.  Contemporary life is calling for the next iteration of the world’s profound religious heritage, as evidenced by the decline in religious participation and the increased opportunities for spiritual seeking.  An organizational culture is an important element for this kind of communal spiritual growth. Also, a cultural organisation is required to bring communities together and provide a space, a setting and a pedagogy for individuals to serve people they otherwise would not connect with  (Fig 2).

Fig 2 A Zen/Taoist cultural organisation to replace religion.

2  Zen/Taoism as a cultural organisation

Many modern problems are one way or the other caused by too many people engaging in too many activities too quickly.  Arrogance and ego mixed with numerous incompatible activities have made global warming and climate change a global threat that is becoming unmanageable. Zen Buddhism offers a solution to advance sustainability. The Zen solution is to become more mindful and selective in daily activity. In this way, one can find more time for self-examination and reflective thought. It is a Zen Buddhist understanding that by grasping the “twist and turn” of unpredictable life, one will have the opportunity to find and apply the Buddha mind.

The Buddha mind is not a special kind of mind, but it has a special effect to make a person realize the importance of every existing thing and its mutual relationships. The Zen idea of interconnectedness helps to neutralize the feelings of hatred, prejudice, pride, disappointment, anxiety, and joy into a well balanced perspective.  This in turn enables one to perceive and to live in the complete state of harmonious existence within Earth’s ecosystem.  Zen as practice is really about re-animating our consciousness. This is how Thomas Berry evocatively describes the vlsionary outcome of Zen thinking:   

“The thousandfold voices of the natural world suddenly became inaudible  to the human. The mountains and rivers and the wind and the sea all  became mute insofar as humans were concerned. The forests were no  longer the abode of an infinite number of spirit presences but were simply  so many board feet of lumber to be “harvested” as objects to be used for 

human benefit. Animals were no longer the companions of humans in the  single community of existence”.  

Regarding Zen and scientific thinking, Rosan Yoshida Roshi promotes the role of Zen as an overarching ethical guideline for the behavior of scientists as well as the consumers of science. He argues the importance of establishing and adhering to such a guideline and states that Zen is particularly suitable to promote it. In this context, science is not value-free and bias-free.  It is a human enterprise which is extremely vulnerable to our tendency to prioritize the demands from me-ism and selfishness manifested as utilitarianism, materialism, militarism, and money-ism. Yoshida states that these tendencies are destructive and threaten the entire human ecosystem.  Zen teachings can counteract or mitigate these tendencies because it emphasizes collective wholeness as its ultimate goal and presents remedies for lessening these egocentric demands.

Tao (also pronounced Dao) is the Chinese word for “The Way”  is a philosophical practice dating back to 6th Century BCE. Tao Te Ching, supposedly authored by Laozi, is the book attributed to Taoist traditions. Taoism arose in a period of war for China, in which people began to look towards nature for peace in order to get away from the chaotic human to human violence. Taoism focuses on the Tao as the “ultimate ordering principle of nature which we should incorporate into our individual and social lives”. Taoist ethics are concerned less with doing good acts than becoming a good person who lives in harmony with all things and people.  The unmistakable teaching of the Tao Te Ching is that humans are indeed capable of intervening in life’s events, but the evidence of life, which humans constantly ignore, is that such intervention is destructive to all involved, and that we therefore have a moral duty to refrain from taking such actions.  Taoist ethics are inseparable from Taoist spirituality, both contain the same ideas.  If Taoists want to live well they should take all their decisions in the context of the Tao, trying to see what will fit best with the natural order of things.  Taoists thus always do what is required by events and their context, but they only do what is required, no more.  Lao Tsz’s Tao Te Ching says: 

“It is the way of Tao to offer where there is a great abundance and to supplement where there is deficiency. This is not so with men’s way. He takes away from those who have not enough to serve the powerful and the rich. Who could use one’s superabundance to help those in need? Only the man in possession of Tao.”

Taoism is an indigenous Chinese cultural tradition which scientists have found resonates with certain aspects of the essence of modern science and responds to modern social and environmental issues. For example, Raymond J. Barnett finds a surprising degree of similarity between Taoism and biological science in their views on death, cyclicity, the place of humans in the universe and the complementary interactions of dichotomous thinking, where everything is an either-or situation i.e. good and bad, right and wrong, but nothing in the middle. The use of the dichotomous Taoist terms yin and yang is similar to the way scientists describe the behavior of subatomic particles. Yin, associated with shade, water, west, and the tiger, and yang, associated with light, fire, east, and the dragon, are the two alternating phases of cosmic energy; their dynamic balance brings cosmic harmony.  Yin and yang are the ultimate points of reference for each other. Like the positive and negative poles of a magnet create a magnetic field and magnetic force between them, Yin and Yang form the reference points between which the movements and interactions of life occur. Our lives are a combination of the physical substances of our body that come from the earth (yin), and the energy of the light (harnessed through photosynthesis) coming from the sun (yang). Just as the interplay between positive and negative charges of subatomic particles drives chemical reactions, the interplay between yin and yang drive the happenings and animation of our lives. One can say some things about atomic particles, but only if one realizes that what is said is a statement of statistical probability and that a certain modicum of uncertainty is unavoidable. To take a physiological example, the autonomic nervous system both the sympathetic and parasympathetic subsystems, like the yin and yang, affect most organs. The state of an organ is not a function of one system being totally “off” and the other totally “on.” Rather, the health of an organ depends on the balance between the activities of both systems, with each able to change its input and alter the balance. This is a restatement of the biological principle of homeostasis which maintains an organism in equilibrium with its environment.  The pioneer researcher Joseph Needham contended that Daoist thought is basic to Chinese science and technology.

So, Zen is a practical approach to spirituality where the focus is in the moment, on the process not the outcome, quieting the mind and within that having some ‘oneness’ with the process/activity in question.  Taoism on the other hand, is a complementary philosophy, which is all about being at one with the Tao i.e. the way through nature and the universe.  It is about resisting the urge to limit or define things, but instead, accepting things as they are and moving on.  Therefore, Zen/Taoist thinking can be adopted for resacralization; to return spiritual meanings to public sectors of social life such as politics, the arts, science and the body.  It is an argument against the removal of spiritual meanings from public life.  In Zen and Taoist combined thinking, arts imagination and scientific reason merge to become a holistic aspect of the human educational  experience.  It is in this context that the arts are essential and critical  to our planetary survival.  In particular, we need to apply arts thinking to explain sustainability.   

3  Imagination in place

…once upon a time our society was rich in stories. They united us and helped us understand the world and ourselves. We called them myths. In this time of global crisis and transition – of mass migration, inequality, resource scarcity and climate change – it is only by finding new myths, those that speak to us of renewal and restoration, that we will navigate our way to a better future. It is inspiring stories, rather than facts and pie-charts, that have the power to animate us and bring us together to change the worldAlex Evans.

Imagination is the ability to think of new ideas and form images or pictures in the mind. Therefore it is the faculty that enables us to tell stories, write novels, to visualize and envisage, and also to picture the possibility that something good or bad might happen in the future. Our ability to create images not available to the sensory system, is arguably our greatest faculty for evolving human consciousness. In order to transform ourselves and our world, we need to be able to leap out of the familiar and into the unknown. The first step in doing this is to imagine a future different from the past, a self-sense different from the one we have now.  New myths about our place in Earth’s ecosystems are required. 

We are often called upon to imagine how a positive vision of the future might be realized, continually updating our guiding myths and stories about ourselves, our societies and the wider world.  Art is necessary for science to participate in creating these positive visions because creativity involves imagination, and imagination is visualization.  In this respect, the ability to visualize and imagine certain processes is important to solving scientific problems.  One such myth is ‘The Lorax’, a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss and first published in 1971.  It chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who “speaks for the trees”.  Befriending trees is nowa priority to reach the zero carbon targets of 2050.

Duality is the cause of a rigid polarization of life’s dimensions. We have distorted reality by splitting our world into opposites such as secular and sacred female and male, body and spirit, emotion and reason, and then we assign inferior or superior status to each. The artistic imagination is the way to the deepest realities because it approaches life in its wholeness. Scientific reason, on the other hand, abstracts from life in order to formulate clear and manageable concepts. Therefore imagination is not an inferior human capacity. It is the basis of creativity and therefore is a fundamental way of knowing and experiencing reality. 

Imagination is the function of the mind that we call mental activity. Fantasy and scientific conceptualization are both activities of imagining. Memory and hallucinations are also activities of imagining. In modern terms, the central nervous system’s biological activity of recognizing and identifying any aspect of our peripheral nervous system is the psychological activity of imagination. There is no “red rose” except that by our imagination we have designated “red” and “rose.” 

The central psychological activity of imagination has been one of the main features of Zen and Taoism for over two millennia and the notion of imagination has played an important role in their history.  Indigenous to China, Daoism arose as a secular school of thought around 500 B.C., during a time when fundamental spiritual ideas were emerging in both the East and the West. Two core texts form the basis of Daoism: the Laozi and the Zhuangzi, attributed to the two eponymous masters, whose historical identity, like the circumstances surrounding the compilation of their texts, remains uncertain. The Laozi, also called the Daodejing, or The Way and Its Power, has been understood as a set of instructions for virtuous rulership or for self-cultivation. It stresses the concept of nonaction or noninterference with the natural order of things. Dao, as something imaginative, ineffable, shapeless, and conceived of as an infinite void, may also be understood as the unfathomable origin of the world and as the progenitor of the dualistic forces yin and yang. 

Daoist art reflects the broad time span and the diverse regions, constituencies, and practices of its creators. The artists commissioned professionals, but also leading Daoist masters, adepts, scholar-amateurs, and even emperors working in written, painted, sewn, sculpted, or modeled media, created an astonishingly eclectic body of works ranging from sublime evocations of cosmic principles to elaborate visions of immortal realms and paradises as well as visualizations of the Daoist pantheon, medicinal charts, and ritual implements.  Zen/Taoist arts are cultural landmarks ranging  from an ornamental tree or shrub, a landscape to buildings or and objects that possess a special cultural significance for a group of people, and more often than not, for the whole of humankind as well. As a result, they have usually come to stand as an iconic representation of certain concepts, ideals, cultures, historical events, beliefs, etc., and in most cases have come to be considered a part of the common cultural heritage of humanity, standing as masterpieces of humanity’s creative genius. They teach us that it is possible to express great beauty and convey powerful messages through simplification.  Zen may not verbalize “amplification through simplification,” but you can see this idea everywhere in the Zen arts. There is a style of Japanese painting called the “one-corner” style, for example, which goes back some 800 years and is derived from the concepts of wabi and sabi. Paintings in this style are very simple and contain much empty space (Fig 3 ). You may have a painting depicting a large ocean scene and empty sky, for example. In the corner, there is a small, old fishing canoe, hardly visible. It’s the smallness and placement of the canoe that give vastness to the ocean and evoke a feeling of calm and an empathy for the aloneness the fisherman faces. Such visuals have few elements yet can be profoundly evocative.  Art is just an imitation of imitation. A painting is just an imitation of nature, which is also just an imitation of reality.   For Aristotle, all kinds of art do not aim to represent reality as it is, it endeavors to provide a version of what might be or the myriad possibilities of imagining reality.

Fig 3 A 12th-century Song Dynasty painting entitled ‘Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one’.  

This is artistic evidence of the way these three imaginative philosophies were mixed over time, and often believed to be fully compatible.

Spirituality is captured by the Australian artist J,J. Hilder without reference to an origin in Daoism (Fig  4 ). Debi Riley claims everyone can express this kind of creativity providing they have simplification in mind.

Fig 4  Dry Lagoon, J J Hilder (Australia, 1911)

Fig 5

The object of Zen rock gardens is to provide a calm and harmonious environment for contemplation (Fig 5)..  The aim is not to represent the appearance of things but their inward significance.  Just as Japanese landscape paintings often depict subjects that exist only in the imagination so, in reverse, Zen landscapes are real places only in the sense that they exist to promote the imagination.  A Zen garden, then, whatever its meaning, fulfils the three principles of Zen thought in art and architecture: ‘simplicity’, ‘suggestion’, and ‘irregularity’, and certainly achieves the desired symbolism of yugen or ‘elegant mystery.’

Fig 6)

Bonsai is the art of growing certain trees and shrubs, of many varieties, in small, shallow containers. … It is through careful and precise training and pruning, that the plant is slowly shaped and manipulated to give the appearance of an older, mature tree (Fig 6).

4 Sites of Memory (lieu de mémoire )

“A lieu de mémoire is any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community.  It may refer to any place, object or concept vested with historical significance in the popular collective memory, such as a monument, a museum, an event, a symbol like a flag or the French figure Marianne, even a colour vested with historical memory (the red flag of left politics, for instance). According to La Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs (French-Québécois Commission for Common Sites of Memory) a lieu de mémoire signifies the cultural landmarks, places, practices and expressions stemming from a shared past, whether material (monuments) or intangible (language and traditions).  The term sites of memory was outlined in a seven-volume study edited by Pierre Nora,and has been extended to many different texts, from legends to stories to concepts. 

Sites of memory are entities which groups of people engage with in public activity through which they express “a collective shared knowledge of entity’s past, on which a group’s sense of unity and individuality is based.”‘ The group engages with such entities inherits earlier meanings attached to it, as well as adding new meanings. Such activity is crucial to the presentation and preservation of commemorative entities. When such groups disperse or disappear, sites of memory lose their initial force, and may fade away entirely. 

Memory is a major theme in contemporary life, a key to personal, social and cultural identity. Scholars have studied the concept from different perspectives and within different disciplines: philosophy, sociology, anthropology, geography, architecture, urban design, and the interdisciplinary “place studies”. According to Pierre Nora, places of memory refer to entities where “memory crystallizes and secretes itself”; the places where the exhausted capital of collective memory condenses and is expressed (Fig 7). To be considered as such, these entities must be definable in the three senses of the word: material, symbolical and functional, all in different degrees but always present. What makes an entity a memory site is the interplay of memory history and imagination.

As sites of memory became better known and made official by governments, they can tend to homogenize varied local memories. In Nora’s words: “In the past, then, there was one national history and there were many particular memories. Today, there is one national memory, but its unity stems from a divided patrimonial demand that is constantly expanding and in search of coherence.” Thus sites of memory may risk becoming “invented traditions”.

The concept has been listed in Le Grand Robert de la langue française, the authoritative French dictionary, and studied by scholars and others. There are attempts made to map sites of memory globally. Quebec and France have a joint commission to identify and codify sites of memory. An International Coalition of Sites of Conscience of more than 200 museums, monuments and other institutions around the world uses the concept to group “sites, individuals, and initiatives activating the power of places of memory to engage the public in connecting past and present in order to envision and shape a more just and humane future.

Fig 7 Places as reservoirs of memory

Ecological Sites of Memory is a Rachel Carson Centre project that seeks to look into the historical memories that resonate in our environmental thinking, thus bringing environmental history into a dialogue with the burgeoning field of memory studies. Important questions are What are the key events that have influenced and defined our understanding of environmental issues? How did memories take shape, and how have they changed over time? Do memories create opportunities for environmentalism, or are they more of a hindrance in the light of today’s challenges? And how do these memories relate to historical facts?  Locating Imagination in Popular Culture offers a multi-disciplinary account of the ways in which popular culture, tourism and notions of place intertwine in an environment characterized by ongoing processes of globalization, digitization and an increasingly ubiquitous nature of multi-media.  With respect to the role of imagination in place popular culture and media are becoming increasingly important to the ways in which places and localities are imagined.  Also, how they do media use narratives to stimulate a desire to visit the actual places in which people’s favourite stories are conveyed through media to stimulate and reflect desire in tourism. 

8 Internet references

Simplify to amplify

Fetzer Report 2020

The Threshold Society

Memory  Sites

‘The Saints’: Suffolk, England

Panna Biosphere Reserve; India

Govardhan Hill; India

St Denis’ Well; Cardiff, Wales 

Borobudur: Java

Landscapes without memory

A Zen and Taoism Pedagogy

Imagination and spirituality

Wishing for Wellbeing, Old Clee, UK

Wishing for Well Being

March 25th, 2021

The ‘Wishing Stone’, Church Lane, Old Clee.


Curiosity about the world is one of the joys of childhood. Discovering everything for the first time, a child never stops asking, “Why?” Why this and not some other world? Why blue, why green, why thunder, why snow, why? If we are very fortunate, this curiosity stays with us throughout our lives. Wondering about the world and trying to understand how it works and why is one of the finest things we do as a species. Michael Frame


1 Prosperity

We can use the word ‘hope’ to talk about things that we desire for other people. In these cases, the meaning of  ‘hope’ is similar to ‘wish’. This meaning of ‘hope’ was used by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury,  speaking at the Cambridge ‘Ethics of Sustainable Prosperity for All’ conference in 2018.  He defined prosperity as ‘that which is hoped for’.  He maintained that ;

“ …morally, such prosperity should be rooted to provide for the common good for all and shared social goals.  Yet we are currently looking forward in panic in our current politics of populist protectionism which puts national security  over global wellbeing and pitches North against South, East against West and rich against poor. Our well being is interdependent and interlocking, so prosperity for the few is prosperity for none.  International crises be they environmental or social do not respect boundaries. The secure border is a toxic fiction”.

His prescription for a prosperous sustainable future is;

.”.. to build sustainable virtuous civil societies which transcend narrow factionalism and look wider and beyond national electoral politics. This also means reinforcing international organisations and finding narratives of international cooperation being empowering of our humanity rather than a loss of national freedom”.

With respect to human relations, he said;

“…we need a positive sense of justice in what is owed to all humanity, ‘adnabod’ in Welsh, which means recognise or know someone.  Our localism and universalism needs to be connected, seeing the stranger as a neighbour in a true humanism”.

 Education has a key role to play. First, students somehow encounter material and immaterial traces of the past in their daily lives or later when they are adults. They are thus participants in the continuous social process defined as eutierria: “a good and positive feeling of oneness with the earth and its life forces.”  It arises when the human-nature relationship is spontaneous and mutually enriching (symbiotic).  We are both separate and one.  Neither standpoint by itself will do to make the selection and give meaning to the past in which people in the present form their identities. Second, due to processes of mobility and migration, new artefacts and ideas come into focus. 

This is how education for sustainable development will become based on the replacement of monetary prosperity with Williams’ universal prosperity of sharing for the common good.  The common good is defined as “certain general conditions that are… equally to everyone’s advantage”. … The pay off, from sharing the common good, is prosperity, as well being, to which all members of society have access, and from whose enjoyment and increased prosperity no one can be easily excluded. Real prosperity would be using sustainable energy sources and aiming towards non-financial goals such as family life, health and community. The Buddhist definition of prosperity is based on collectivism and compassion, is a good way begin thinking about non-monetary prosperity.

2 Imagination and Bluestones

This blog is about exploring the topic of ‘making wishes’. I first encountered its practicality in 1940 as a six year old boy roaming Grimsby’s Greetham’s Fields, with a gang of older children from Cooper Rd and Ladysmith Rd at the very edge of the town’s urbanisation. The following ritual was enacted at the ‘Wishing Stone, then, as now, sited beside the back gate of what we called the Curvy Cottage on the corner of Church Lane, Old Clee.

The wish-maker first recited the following rhyme: 

To make a wish;

First spit and turn. 

Then catch a kiss.

Next, you stood on the stone, spat on it, turned around three times, spreading your saliva over the surface; girls clockwise, boys anticlockwise.  After making the wish, someone might blow you a kiss, when a couple were said to be ‘sweethearting’.  Needless to say, a common wish in the 1940s was for the war to end.

This is not to say that the wishing stone did not once play a deeper role in the social life of adults in and around the village.  The stone belongs to a group of volcanic rocks known locally as bluestones.  They are thought to have been transported to Lincolnshire by glaciers  from the Whin Sill outcrop in Northumberland.  In days before maps they were frequently used on Lincolshire’s flat featureless claylands as boundary markers. Several marker bluestones are described in Bates’ book entitled “A Gossip about old Grimsby”.  There is a bluestone at Immingham situated in the carpark of the Bluestone Inn, Bluestone Lane.  Louth has a bluestone, now at the entrance to the museum.  Others gave the name Bluestone Heath to a remote part of the Wolds, traversed by an ancient ridgeway between Candlesby and Caistor.  This widespread distribution raises questions regarding the uses of other kinds of rocks moved by glaciation and deposited as Boulder Clay, (now called Till) when the ice melted. For example, a large block of distinctive granite from the Lake District was found during the excavation of Grimsby’s docks indicating that ice from the Lake District had crossed the Pennines and merged with North British ice.  Larvikite, a rare rock type from the Oslo Fjord area of southern Norway, is frequently found in the till beneath the submerged forests on the Lincolnshire coast. Some of these stones, called erratics, may have been gathered to build Old Clee Church’s Saxon tower, which is a compendium of many kinds of rocks scraped from the bedrock over which the ice travelled. 

Because of its rarity and size Old Clee’s bluestone will always trigger a sense of wonderment.  In the pre-scientific past it would have been a mystery; a doorway for the imagination and therefore a tool for learning the symbolic rural language of mental processes deep in the mind.  These are referred to as the unconscious. The unconscious deals with feelings and is a much larger realm than most of us realize. It has a complete life of its own, an enormous field of nerve energy, which constantly streams through our imaginations as a powerful organ of communication to make sense of the environment.   It does not make anything up but gives preexisting symbols a cultural meaning. Wishes exist because they are fleeting thoughts released by some kind of symbol. They are sudden daydreams that are appealing because you think they would make your life better. You see the surface of someone else’s life, and wish you could have that too.  

Eighty years ago, in Church Lane, the knowhow for making wishes was staged in a primitive courtship ritual which was passed from child to child at the boundary of their understanding. We were children of newly urbanized grandparents living in densely packed Edwardian terraces built on Grimsby’s former pastures (Figs 1 & 2).  In this sense, Old Clee is now a small, green ritual landscape left behind after a tide of post-war urbanisation..

Fig 1 Map of Old Clee, its pasture lands and the wooded Weelsby Estate (1905-6)

Fig 2  Ladysmith Rd.; the tree-less edge of Grimsby’s Edwardian urbanisation named after a British success in the Boer War. My childhood home.

In the early 1940s children’s imaginations were occupied with the Wizard of Oz, Pinochio, Snow White and Bambi, movies that all focussed on the power of making wishes.   From this point of view, it would only take the imagination of one child to invent a wishing stone myth that would be eagerly adopted by others. In this context, I remember many of us actors in the Church Lane wishing ritual had invented imaginary companions for effective coping with the blitz on dockland but, which scattered its bombs in the surrounding fields.  These invisible friends were a positive source of entertainment, friendship, and social support when making a wish. 

3 Landmarking the past

By Identifying prosperity with oneness in nature, can we identify patterns in cultural systems that could provide a systematic model for developing cities?  That is to say, can we build cities that will always and simultaneously incorporate the essential characteristics of ecologically sustainable ruralism promoting oneness with nature?  Might this be applicable for fractal reproduction of sustainable cultures across the spectrum from eco-village to eco-metropolis?  Today we can view our reactions to volcanic bluestones and other glacial erratics as solid symbols of this spectrum of cultural ecology. We can use the passengers of glaciation to meditate on Grimsby’s efforts to be great again after decimating the North Sea fishing stocks that earned it, briefly, the title of greatest fishing port in the world, and face up to the catastrophic polar ice melt of global warming. The bluestones provide an educational window to see the town in a ruralised glacial landscape.  In fact they offer local history a cosmic timescale for people to think about the short term mindless actions of their leaders in relation to securing the future of great grandchildren yet to come.

However, for me, above and beyond all this, Old Clee’s wishing stone marks a route to articulate the common wish of humanity for a better life.  This wish for economic prosperity brought my heroic grandparents to Grimsby from harsh livelihoods as agricultural labourers in the East Anglian countryside.  It was then perceived as a Victorian boom town, which attracted hundreds of economic migrants far and wide.  They were aiming for what they imagined would be a life of monetary plenty. This vision of Grimsby is now curated as history with the objective to stimulate the unconscious as an image/memory value forming faculty. These days the past is expressed in digital landmarking, adding heritage values to objects, places and neighbourhoods.  By viewing and collecting digital landmarks we encounter material and immaterial traces of the past in our daily lives. We are thus participants in the continuous social processes of social selection which gives meaning to the past.  People in the present value where they live and identify with it through pride in place.  This process of self education is particularly important to the future of Grimsby and other post industrial communities who, like Rowen Williams, are struggling to rethink individual prosperity in a world of increasing inequalities.  Prosperity is now being seen as a non monetary lifestyle, something to be wished for among several alternatives to conventional economic prosperity. The big wish is for a fairer society that operates within Earth’s ecological limits.  

Using social media, like this Internet page for digital landmarking, is to make an open international educational resource for the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability.  Here the task of educators is to master the imaginative power of heritage and demonstrate to young people, fed up with a curriculum they see as irrelevant to their future, that history is not boring but life saving. The local library’s digital initiative clearly energises people to generate blogs, posts and pages demonstrating that heritage values represent a public interest in places, regardless of their ownership. Therefore, the use of law, public policy and public investment is justified to protect that public interest and incorporate it into plans for living sustainably.  In this context, a wish to save Grimsby’s huge, but redundant, dockside ice factory inevitably nudges us closer towards a culture of sustainability and equity.

At the start of the 2nd World War, Old Clee comprised a Saxon church, two farms, and a handful of ornamental cottages (Fig 3) built for agricultural labourers owing deference to the super–wealthy Grant Thorald family, who owned much of the parish. Little had changed since Old Clee was mapped as a cultural island at the turn of the 20th century (Fig 1) Its lord of the manor lived two miles away in his vast landscaped Weelsby Hall domain.  The fractal housing of urbanising Clee is evidenced by the identical bay windowed semi detached houses of the 1930s, lined up along Clee Crescent (Fig 4), punctuated by the singular, expensive, arts and crafts mansion. through whose railings I peered and wondered as a small child (Fig 5).  Development of what remained of its former open fields was paused until the War ended.  The fields, ditches and hedgerows awaiting development for housing were rich in biodiversity.  It was commonplace to encounter nesting birds, exotic butterflies, bats minnows and water voles.  Now the only evidence for its agricultural past and outstanding biodiversity is a few acres of wilding impoverished pasture at the end of Church Lane (Fig 6).

Fig 3. Grant Thorald’s Old Clee estate cottages in the Dutch style (1870s)

Fig 4 Clee Crescent fractile mass produced housing; pre-2nd World War

Fig 5 A unique Arts and Crafts ‘mansion’, Clee Crescent

But what if it were different, asks Paul Downton, founding convener of Urban Ecology Australia and a recognised ‘eco city pioneer’?  What if, every time we added to the urban weave we duplicated units of ruralism that not only provided good shelter for people but also increased biodiversity and enhanced the value of natural capital?  At best, sustainability and equity. are spiritual emotions denoting a profound sense of belonging with nature and refer to positive, pleasant feelings like joy, exaltation and the sublime feeling of living in nature.  These feelings may lead to a sense of inner peace that suspends the individual in a deep, inner spiritual state, which is hard to explain rationally with words and is best understood through lived experience and the application of memory and imagination.  This is where memory sites are a form of natural capital that can provide roots to bind urbanised people to place.

Fig 6  Church Lane end, Old Clee.

Memory is a major theme in contemporary life, a key to personal, social and cultural identity.  A memory site is any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time, has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of a community.  It may refer to any place, object or concept vested with historical significance in the popular collective memory, such as a monument, a museum, an event, a symbol like a flag, even a colour vested with historical memory (the red flag of left politics, for instance). What makes an entity a memory site is the interplay of memory history and imagination. 

To be considered as a memory site an entity must be definable in three senses: material, symbolic and functional, all in different degrees but always present. Within this category of memory sites Old Clee may be categorised as a ritual landscape where memory crystallizes and secretes itself around its wishing stone. Ritual landscapes are often associated with origin myths, ancestors, homes of spiritual essences, or locales where mythical or historical events occurred.  The features of ritual landscapes embed collective memory exemplified by groups that include nations, generations, communities and the preservation of the myths, histories, and the belongings of a locale.  Aside from a place of origin and mythology, ritual landscapes were also considered places of protection and renewal. Now memory sites are in need of protection because they landmark the cultural, traditional, spiritual, and religious importance of nature to people in their day to day surroundings. 

4 Internet References

More on Clee Fields…..

Open fields in Old Clee

Neighbourhoods and urban fractals

Ancestors and place

Grimsby and Cleethorpes Place Names

Memory  Sites

Adopting Arts Thinking to Explain Sustainability

March 11th, 2021

Establishing spiritual bonds with landscapes (Fig 1)

“A Tibetan pilgrim marches into sacred valleys aware and in touch with local spirits. His journey is an ascent into a divine residence: a mountain and its roots. As a guest, the pilgrim offers gifts and proceeds with caution and awakened senses. These and other practices weave together a world of places physically present, socially powerful, and personally meaningful”.  Chris Limburg.

1 Spirituality and deep thinking

 Fig 1 Pilgrimage Mountain, Corixus, (2021)

Spirituality and religious activity have been a source of comfort and relief from stress for multitudes of people. While people use many different religions and secular paths to express their spirituality world, ​research has shown that those who use their spirituality to cope with challenges in life experience many benefits to their health and well being.

More….  

Spirituality is the broad concept of a belief in something beyond the self. It may involve religious traditions centering on the belief in a higher power, but it can also involve a holistic belief in an individual connection to others and to the world as a whole.  The transcendentalists were responsible for introducing the distinction between religion and spirituality, which is a prominent issue of life in the West today. Spirituality offers a worldview that suggests there is more to life than just what people experience on sensory, physical levels.  It suggests that there is something greater that connects all beings to each other and to the universe itself. Scientifically, this connection is centred on the biochemical unity of life on Earth and its dependence on a Big Bang cosmology that produced all the materials and energy for the evolution of life.  Spirituality strives to answer deeper questions about the meaning of this life, how people are connected to each other and truths about the universe.   and other mysteries of human existence such as consciousness, free will and God.  Other former inscrutable problems, such as the structure of the atom, the molecular basis of replication and the causes of human violence, have been explained by scientific advancements, but consciousness, free will and commitment to a supreme being seem to recede ever further away from understanding.

To think deeply means to go beyond what you think you know. It means to let go of preconceived ideas in order to discover wider truths. By cultivating the skill of deep thinking, we can gain freedom of thought. Deep ecology is an environmental philosophy which promotes the inherent worth of all living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus the restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas. Things are deemed to have instrumental value if they help one achieve a particular end; intrinsic values, by contrast, are understood to be desirable in and of themselves.  The deeper your thinking becomes, the more focused, meaningful andvauable your actions will be.

Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives on intrinsic values. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience; something that touches us all. For instance, people may describe a spiritual experience as sacred, transcendent or simply as a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness.   The notion of ‘spirituality in place’ refers to an educational framework for self education that allows people who live and walk there to find greater meaning in their surroundings.  This framework for place-based spirituality  to weave together humanity, sensuality with sustainability, illustrates Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.  Maslow originally identified these needs as ‘physiological maintenance’, ‘safety’, ‘love’, ‘esteem’, ‘self-actualization’ and ‘self-transcendence’.  When one of these hierarchical needs is “fairly well satisfied, the next need emerges, in turn to dominate the conscious life”.  The highest level is an expression of self-transcendence characteristic of individuals who have “peak experiences” that strive to further a goal beyond the self.  Self-transcendental goals may involve service to others, devotion to an ideal (e.g. truth, art) or a cause (e.g. social justice, environmentalism, the pursuit of science, a religious faith) and/or a desire to be united with what is perceived as transcendent or divine. 

2  Meditation and mindfulness

According to Maslow, “Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.”  As such it is the goal of many contemplative practices (Fig 2).

Fig 2 The variety of contemplative practices 

Because of the importance of developing self transcendence new pedagogies are needed to train our minds to dwell fully in the present moment, using contemplative practices that have no goal, no purpose other than just being ).  Eihei Dogen addressed this issue in his “Genjo koan” essay, where he says “When the self advances toward the ten thousand things, is delusion. When the ten thousand things advance to the self, that’s awakening.”  Henry Thoreau defined the methodological problem succinctly as the “difficulty in placing your head where your body is”.  Thoreau continues;

“Of course, it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither.  I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.  In my afternoon walk I would feign forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society, but it still  happens sometimes that I cannot easily shake the village.  The thought of some work will run through my head and I am not where my body is. I am out of  my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking out of the woods?”.

The difference between the two states of mind might best be appreciated by calling the first state a “nature meditation” and the second “objectless meditation”.  The latter takes the form of a classic Buddhist practice, which David Jones believes is of limited value because, “… if we are not fully engaged in our experiences at the present moment, then we’re missing stuff. And, if we’re only focused on ourselves, our feet, our muscles, our breathing, we won’t be fully present during this practice.  

Referring to meditative walks, Jones’ advice is, “Center yourself before you begin. It’s important to get your head in the right space before you start. This is where you form the “intention” of your “intentional walk.” In a way, you’re making a vow to walk as a truly awake person, aware and engaged.  Engage the world with all your available senses and attention. Everything around you is a part of you and you’re a part of it; learn to see that connection and you’ll find compassion waiting there”.

A goal of meditation, and its outcome of mindfulness, is to become aware of your thoughts in a nonjudgmental fashion.  ‘Yoga International’ claims that meditation is a practical means for calming yourself, for letting go of your biases and seeing what is, openly and clearly. It is a way of training the mind so that you are not distracted and caught up in its endless churning. Meditation teaches you to systematically explore your inner dimensions. It is a system of commitment, not commandment. You are committing to yourself, to your path, and to the goal of knowing yourself. But at the same time, learning to be calm and still should not become a ceremony or religious ritual; it is a universal requirement of the human body.  

Jeff Warren takes up the idea of meditation-as-path to explore existential questions that have to do with the nature of experience itself, with who we are at the deepest level. It is both a means and an end.  These insights can involve more dramatic transformations around our sense of self and agency and wholeness. Meditation in this sense is both a discovery and a training.  We gain experience about the nature of reality, and yet paradoxically we are sculpting our mind-bodies to receive these discoveries.

School children are experiencing the nature of reality when they complain about the vast quantities of seemingly useless information that they are forced to memorise as part of their education.  Had they been the children of Stone Age hunters, they would have learned their lessons first hand, where the practical value in everyday life would have been obvious. Prehistoric people had to become masters of observation, with an acute knowledge of every plant and animal shape, colour, pattern, movement, sound and smell in so far as knowledge of these aspects of their environment enabled them to survive in a hostile world.  This urge to find memorable pattern and harmony in the environment is called taxophilia and accompanies spirituality.  The human taxophilic imperative was so important that it evolved to become as basic and distinct as the need to feed, mate or sleep.  Originally our ancestors may have classified berries or antelopes as part of their food-finding activities.

In the abstract world of the modern classroom, botany can seem remote, geology boring, and entomology meaningless.  Yet despite these complaints, the taxophilic instinct remains as an urge to commit to memory huge assemblages of facts on topics that will hardly ever encounter a need in the future.   Information is not just simply accumulated; it is classified, particularly where there is a current social context, such as the latest football statistics, scores and titles of pop music, and the makes and dates of manufacture of motorcars.

The human brain functions as a magnificent classifying machine, and every time we walk through a landscape it is busy feeding in new experiences and comparing them with the old.  The brain classifies everything we see, and the survival value of this procedure is obvious. It is also the case with other mammals.  A monkey, for instance, has to know many different kinds of trees and bushes in its forest home, and needs to be able to tell which one has ripening fruit at any particular season, which is poisonous, and which is thorny.  If it is to survive, a monkey has to become a good botanist.  In the same way a lion has to become a first-rate zoologist, able to tell at a glance, which prey species it is, how fast it can run, and which escape pattern it is likely to use.

More….

3  Walking mindfully

In the 1950’s, French philosopher Guy Debord wrote an essay on people’s interaction with urban landscapes, and proposed the idea of psychogeography.  This focuses on discovering forgotten aspects or paths less traveled in the city and the effects that has on the individual in a receptive state.  Debord devized groups of these routes he called “dérives,” (French for “drift”) which were basically long, meandering walks around Paris. Dérives were described as “an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relations,” and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”  Debord’s practice of ‘walking drifts’ is the practical outcome of the Buddhist ‘mindful walking practice’, where the goal is to concentrate the mind on the bodily experience of putting one foot in front of the other to reach a high level of awareness defined as mindfulness.   Walking mindfully for a Buddhist is simple; walk at a very slow pace looking down at your feet as you walk. As you pick up one foot, consciously inhale. Setting your foot down, consciously exhale. Focus only on your breathing and footsteps. If thoughts start to pop up in your mind, refocus back on your breath. 

The big question about walking mindfully is how does the practice of mindfulness contribute to individual behaviour change and how does this individual change translate into societal change?

In Debord’s ‘situational practice’ the walker from the start is a spectator on the lookout for the unexpected intervention for deeper thinking.   Situationism is the theory that says changes in human behavior are factors of the situation rather than the mental traits a person possesses. Behaviour is believed to be influenced by external, situational factors rather than internal traits or motivations. However, we can never be free of educational preparedness for accepting the invisible. Indigenous African thought systems believe that the world consists of two realities: the visible and the invisible worlds. The invisible spiritual world comprises entities that are imperceptible to the naked eye but exist within the same temporal/spatial realm of visible human beings. As the visible world changes how does this affect the invisible world? 

The act of experiencing unforeseen changes within a periodic routine has been thoroughly embodied and cherished in both Buddhism and Situationism as a means to achieve moments of enlightenment. A situational walk can be categorized into two stages based on the scale of intervention into the existing urban texture. At the human scale, it can be a series of unexpected architectural insertions, which serve as an invitation for the spectators to explore their taken-for-granted city life under different, unexpected perspectives. These insertions are considered as the unplanned destinations of the walk and in a Zen framework they can serve as stimuli to record deeper thinking about them in words or pictures. At the urban scale, Dubord proposed the deliberate introduction of a number of conceptual pathways for ‘drifting’ and ‘changing course’ as a method of making connections between the human scale insertions. These urban interventions will serve their purpose as the journey, which encourages the spectators to deviate from the ordinary and emerge into the unexpected.  It’s difficult for people to accept but most of a person’s everyday life is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but by mental processes put into motion by the environment.  In other words, most of the time we are simply reacting instinctively to the world around us. The Buddhist pedestrian seeks to avoid interventions as distractors of meditation whereas the walking Situationist embraces them as starting points for meditations,

The Jesuit priest/poet and Situationist Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote the sonnet “God’s Grandeur” in 1877 to convey his reverence for the magnificence of God and nature.  The background was his despair about the way that humanity has seemed to lose sight of the close connection between God and nature during the Industrial Revolution.  The word “grandeur” means grandness or magnificence and was used by the semi-Christian Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species. For him, grandeur was the wonderful things generated by natural selection, which he described as ‘the war of nature’, that had a simple and chaotic beginning to produce endless forms and ways of life.

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

In his journals, Manley Hopkins used two terms, “inscape” and “instress” to define the visual system by which we are able to select things in our surroundings for deep thinking and pass on our feelings about them to others.   By “inscape” he means the unified complex of characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness and that differentiate it from other things, and by “instress” he means the force of being which holds the inscape together and carries it whole into the mind of the beholder, from which it reappears as a personalised poem or other art form. The system in which inscape and instress are major components of learning-by-seeing is known as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment (the inscape).  It is a route to creativity, as an integral part of the dynamic attributes of our perceptual and conceptual systems (the instress).

Hopkins says “unless you refresh the mind from time to time you cannot always remember or believe how deep the inscape in things is.”  Hence, an object’s inscape is not truly discovered until a poet, for example, combines observation with self-examination. The final step of the process is achieved by taking what has been discovered and subsequently studied to capture the object’s essence in words or pictures.  If you have a companion with you the inscape cannot be examined and reported on in this way. Nevertheless, we are surrounded by inscapes; they permeate everything that we see and do.  

There is one notable dead tree . . . the inscape markedly holding its most simple and beautiful oneness up from the ground through a graceful swerve below (I think) the spring of the branches up to the tops of the timber. I saw the inscape freshly, as if my mind were still growing, though with a companion the eye and the ear are for the most part shut and instress cannot come.” G.M.H.

The term inscape refers to the unifying designs by which the unique interior essences of a thing are expressed at its surface,. The word does not merely refer to what is particular and individual about an object, but defines an order or pattern by which these individual essences form an harmonious composition.  For example, Manley Hopkins, in his poem,  As Kingfishers Catch Fire, selected two optical images from an aquatic ecosystem, a kingfisher and a dragonfly.  He selects them because of their individual colourful inscapes. The inner tensions of textures, shapes, patterns and composition by which a reader can recapture the poet’s perception and experience he defines as their instress. Inscape and instress define the actual creative process of an author and determine how it is received into the sight, memory and imagination of a reader so they can recapture the poet’s perception and experience. 

In 1872 Hopkins discovered that Duns Scotus (1265/66–1308), who was one of the most important and influential Christian philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages, has put forward a theory of haecceitas, not unlike his own theory of inscape.  Scotus argues that every thing and every natural phenomenon contains within itself individual properties (principle of individuation) which differentiate it from every other thing. He argues that  each thing possesses intrinsic qualities which make it ‘this thing’ [=haecceitas]  rather than that thing.  It seemed to Hopkins that this endorses his own vision of the makeup of the natural world.  As a Jesuit, Hopkins realises that he is theologically entitled to his perception of the natural world in which each thing, including man, has a specific purpose that reflects its glorious Creator.  For a humanist or a Buddhist it is absolutely clear that facing grandeur expressed in places, systems or objects today there is no longer a need to underline some mythical or divine presence because grandeur is endemic in the thing itself.

Manley Hopkins developed his ideas about inscape and instress around the English verse style.  Can they be applied to the creation of other art forms ? Surely the answer is yes.  For instance, a  digital image where colour is the primary factor responsible for making it feel exciting, lively, mysterious or perhaps melancholic, defines its inscape (Fig 3).  Its instress is revealed by stripping out the colour (Fig 4).  The black and white image highlights more fundamental aspects of the picture, such as the subject, the textures, shapes, patterns, and the composition.  The images have to be viewed as pairs.

Fig 3 God’s grandeur; a ‘ Suffolk gull’ ( the inscape)

Fig 4 God’s grandeur; a ‘Suffolk gull’. (the instress)

5 Buddhist practice and Street View

Google Street View allows an individual to bond virtually with landscapes throughout the world,  It  is a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides 

interactive panoramas from positions along streets. It was launched in 2007 in several cities in the United States, and has since expanded to include cities and rural areas in other countries with the aim of documenting  everything in the world that could be seen from a moving car. Street View is a massive, undiscerning machine for image-making whose purpose is to simply capture everything.  Street View takes a continuous panoramic photograph as the camera car is driven along the public roads without apparent concern for ethics or aesthetics, from a supposedly neutral point of view.  The screen-clicking viewer follows the car route on Google Earth, to ‘walk’ mindfully, forwards, backwards or sideways, to reveal a sequence of walking pace views.  These views can be captured and their position recorded on Google Earth as a preliminary to a dialectic between a viewer and a virtual locale.

Working with Google Earth can be a virtual pilgrimage or journey to a sacred place motivated by religious devotion.  However,  the term may also be applied to a meditative search for new spiritual experiences, prolonged wanderings, or travel to a place of nostalgic meaning or absence through bereavement for an individual.  In this context, the term ‘therapeutic landscapes’ was first coined by health geographer, Wilbert Gesler, in 1992 to explore why certain environments seem to contribute to a healing sense of place. Since then, the concept and its applications have evolved and expanded as researchers have examined the dynamic material, affective and socio-cultural roots and routes to experiences of health and wellbeing in specific places and the dynamic nature of people’s therapeutic place assemblages over time.  Objectification, the process through which physical things are imbued with meaning in a specific sociocultural context, is a key concept in this understanding. Objectification is the capacity of things to carry meaning.  It therefore has the potential to assist individuals in their personal growth. Recognition of the symbolic dimension of objects through contemplation is particularly critical in enabling individuals to strive for detachment in highly materialistic societies. 

Semi abstract landscape snapshots can become things of the spirit and objects to meditate upon. The semi abstraction is applied using an algorithm that simplifies the image by desaturating the colour and maximising and unifying surface texture (Figs 5-7  ). Different moments in time and space are then  available for comparative meditation.  Photography encourages mindfulness by heightening our awareness of seeing.  Both photography and meditation require an ability to focus steadily in order to see more clearly. To see in this way involves shifting to a frame of mind in which the habitual view of a familiar and self-evident world is replaced by a keen sense of the unprecedented and unrepeatable configuration of each moment. Whether you are paying mindful attention to the breath as you sit in meditation or whether you are composing an image in a viewfinder, you find yourself hovering before a fleeting, tantalizing reality.  The following paragraph describes taking a photography as a zen routine.

Fig 5 Cultural ecology of extreme rurality; Linstead Magna, Suffolk   

Fig 6  Cultural ecology of extreme rurality; Ubbeston, Suffolk 

Fig 7 Cultural ecology of extreme rurality; Ubbeston, Suffolk

When feeling ready, focus your eyes at the centre of your picture and relaxingly keep on your deep breathing. Some feelings and thoughts will start occurring. Take a notice of them but don’t dwell in them. Observe them like they are the feelings and thoughts of somebody else. Your main interest is your breathing. When and if your eyes want to move around the image, let them do so. And then let them focus wherever in the image they want. Don’t force them to stay focused in the centre or any part of the image, and don’t impel them to change place. Just keep your head motionless, focus on your breathing and trust your eyes.

The following is an enlightening testimonial to art as a spiritual routine by Diane Walker.

“Wood warms you four ways: once when you cut it down, once when you drag it home, once when you chop it into kindling, and once when you burn it. For me, contemplative photography works the same way: you get several opportunities to be warmed by that spark of the sacred.  That divine spark expresses itself as a kind of recognition, and it happens for me at four different points in the process: when the subject calls to me; when I’m deciding how to photograph it; when I develop the resulting image, either in the darkroom or on my computer; and, finally, when I decide to engage with the image and see what it has to teach me. And in each case, the key to the process lies in paying attention: being present, being mindful, and not trying too hard to control the results”.

6  The invisible landscape

According to Ed Bastian,

“Contemplation is not an aimless meandering of thought, but a disciplined activity by which one explores and investigates an idea, an insight, a sacred persona, or a truth, in a thoroughgoing way, pursuing its consequences for all aspects of our lives.” 

How does a transcendentally desirous individual live happily and meaningfully?  Zen thinking engages place as a fundamental arena to develop self-transcendence as a central concept behind Buddhist placemaking.  The groundwork is based on geographic thought and Buddhist practices of pilgrimage, namely the cultivation of enlightenment through mindfulness that comes from meditation as a spiritual practice.  The objective is to apply mindfulness to uncover a landscape’s unseen components.  These are the subjective resources of experience, memory, and a narrative, which people familiar with the place understand to be an integral part of its geography.  Outsiders may not suspect the existence of these resources unless they see and listen carefully. This invisible landscape is made visible though stories, and these stories are the focus of the art forms of Zen.  Zen-places encourage individuals to reveal the real condition of their situation as humans in the world working towards their goal of awakening via deep thinking about what they have perceived what they value and how it is communicated

Kent C. Ryden’s ‘Mapping the Invisible Landscape’ is an examination of the concept of place in which he detects and examines a dialectic between a given locale and the representation of that locale in folklore and literature. Traveling across the invisible landscapes in which we imaginatively dwell, Ryden asks the following questions. What categories of meaning do we read into our surroundings? What forms of expression serve as the most reliable maps to understanding those meanings? Our sense of any place, he argues, consists of a deeply ingrained experiential knowledge of its physical makeup; an awareness of its communal and personal history; a sense of our identity as being inextricably bound up with its events and ways of life; and an emotional reaction, positive or negative, to its meanings and memories.  These questions were the drivers for ‘Blything and Nine Parishes’  a community project launched in Suffolk at the dawn of the Internet. A practical goal was for people to seek out things of the spirit as peak experiences that attached them to their locale using a set of Zen aesthetic values embedded in landscape and works of art, whether they be paintings, gardens, ceramics, or architecture. These are, in brief: 

  • Wabi, a nostalgic sense of shabbiness, or decay brought on by age.  “Wabi”  connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects as an expression of understated elegance. It can also be used to refer to the quirks and anomalies that arise from the process of making something, which are seen to add uniqueness and elegance to the finished object; 
  • Sabi, a bittersweet sense of sadness or forlornness.  “Sabi” refers to the beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.; 
  • Shibui, a stark sense of unadorned simplicity; “Shibui” (adjective), “shibumi” (noun), and “shibusa” (noun) are Japanese words to express an aesthetic sense of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Originating in the Muromachi period (1336–1392) as “shibushi,” the term originally referred to a sour or astringent taste, such as that of an unripe persimmon. Shibui still maintains that literal meaning, and remains the antonym of “amai,” meaning “sweet.” Like other Japanese aesthetic terms, such as “iki” and “wabi-sabi,” shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion. Shibusa objects appear to be simple overall, but include subtle details such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity.  This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object, but rather constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauties that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.
  • Yūgen is said to mean a profound, mysterious sense of the hidden or suggested beauty of the universe and the sad beauty of human suffering. 

A Zen-place will likely exhibit one or more of these values, and they are apprehended by a person in a receptive state as things of the spirit.

4 Things of the spirit

“Spiritual but not religious”, also known as “spiritual but not affiliated”, is a popular phrase used to self-identify what a person accepts as being of ultimate importance. Historically, the words religious and spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion.  However, in contemporary usage spirituality has often become associated with the interior life of the individual, placing an emphasis upon personal well being, while religion refers to organizational or communal dimensions.

An object connected with interior life  can convey the  essence of something that can not be understood necessarily by the mind, rather in the senses. All great works of art move and transport one into a state where we feel enchanted by the spirit of the painting, story, or song. We are taken over by an essence, an experience, that transforms our sense of a wider, deeper world and our place in it.  The phrase “power objects” has been used to describe transpersonal carriers, the term originating within every culture in the world.  Such objects of mediation have been called ‘artes’ and indigenous cultures especially view artes as tools, as aids to ensoulment i.e. they are used to define selfhood. Things of the spirit are thereby considered “animate” with consciousness and intelligence, a stretch of the imagination that justifies their collection as evidence of well being.  Connecting to spirits through objects is the essence of Shamanism, an ancient religious practice that involves a practitioner who is believed to interact with a spirit world through altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually to direct these spirits or spiritual energies into the physical world, for healing or another purpose. 

Intangible, non-physical concepts are difficult to grasp. They are elusive by nature because we cannot see, feel, touch or hear them.  Artes are representations of what is meaningful to us as well as links to greater unseen forces we know exist in our cosmos. We engage and commune with these objects because it gives us the physical sensation and connection our bodies crave.  A collection of artes collected together on an altar (Fig 8) helps devotees cultivate the ability to connect at a deeper, sharper, and more distinct level with the subtle realms, abstract concepts, and multiple dimensions we traverse in our daily shamanic lives.

Fig 8 A New Age, personalised shamanistic altar

Shamanism is everywhere. If we go deep in Hinduism and Buddhism, we find they have their base in shamanism, although now there is a difference between these institutionalised religions and shamanism, which was/is the original tribal earth spirituality.  It is generally agreed that shamanism originated among hunting-and-gathering cultures, and that it persisted within some herding and farming societies after the origins of agriculture. Some would say that the Hindu puja (Fig 9) evolved from the interactive shaman altar.

Fig 9 Hundu family puja

‘New Age’ is a range of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices, derived from shamanism which rapidly grew in the Western world during the 1970s.  Although analytically often considered to be religious, those involved in it typically prefer the designation of spiritual or Mind, Body, Spirit and rarely use the term New Age themselves.

http://culturalecology.info/version2/Classifyingneighbourhood.html

It was in this context that Halesworth Middle School in Suffolk  became involved in defining things of the spirit in their parish churches, particularly the villages representing settlements on the watershed of the River Blyth, which flowed through the town.  The project was taken up by the school’s poetry group, which made links with communities served by the school and its primary feeders. Pupils and their parents took pictures of objects in local churches to focus discussions about the importance of spirituality to a largely secular society.  The idea came from researching the demolition of the medieval church at Linstead Magna and the sale of Ubbeston’s church and its conversion to a private house.  There is now a biennial memorial pilgrimage to the site of Linstead’s church, which together with its churchyard, is a memorial artifact expressed by a crop mark in a huge arable field.  This has become a thin place where imagination about the past and present can run riot.  In this context, Avril Maddrell develops a thesis for the powerful absence-presence in vernacular memorial artefacts, spaces and performances at a variety of scales and locations.  She explores the ways in which the emotions, memory and materiality of absence through death/loss are expressed and negotiated in different memorial forms and landscape settings in the British Isles. She questions how living with absence as a result of bereavement or loss of an historical connection is mediated through different material forms and practices including expressions of continuing spiritual bonds with landscape.

7  A non dualistic pedagogy

Today, many people argue that scientific thinking presents a powerful challenge to religion because it offers explanations of nature, the cosmos, and human origins that require no reference to God or any other manifestation of spiritual power.  In an age dominated by economism and its supportive philosophy of instrumentalism, science thinking is taught as the essence of economism and instrumentalism. Science education is seen as an investment for future employment to support the endless growth and spread of capitalism.  For the past three centuries, education systems of the West have been based on an instrumentalist pedagogy of scientific thinking with unsustainable outcomes because the world is being used as a warehouse for our consumption and as a sink for our wastes. The concept of duality frames our world so that we split things up into separate sides.  There are many examples of dualistic thinking.  The separation of science and art in curricula is an instance of dualism with widespread repercussions in the way we treat ecological problems, which require cross subject thinking to solve them. The arts are often considered unimportant, or, at best, to have entertainment or recreation value. However, arts thinking has a wider and deeper scope centred on beauty and ethics as a system of moral principles concerned with what is good for individuals and society. In terms of effects on society, there is strong evidence that participation in the arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and/or make communities feel safer and stronger. Principles and standards of ethical behavior are as important to peace, order, and social cooperation in the world as they have ever been. Science, however, has very little to tell us about ethics. Also, persistent poverty, environmental degradation, epidemic disease, and crime have defied the best efforts of humanity’s scientific imagination. Amid the distresses and dangers of our contemporary era, people have sought not only cooperative, communal ties to one another but also moral and spiritual certainties. Spiritual quests and ethical questions continue to be a vital part of human culture. In Zen and Taoist thinking, arts and science merge to become a holistic aspect of the human educational  experience.  It is in this context that the arts are essential and critical  to our planetary survival.  In particular, we need to apply arts thinking to explain sustainability.  We live unsustainably because we see but do not look.  We go for immediate judgement and we  intellectualise objects.  A nondual prescription to live sustainably is to first put aside the desire to judge immediately; acquire the habit of just looking long and hard. Second, do not treat objects as subjects for the specialists to chew over endlessly. Third,  just be ready to receive, passively, without interposing yourself.  All Zen arts  provide ways to achieve this state of intensified consciousness.      

Zen as practice is really about re-animating our consciousness.  Zen arts are concrete, sensuous ways to  accomplish this re-animation of the self and the universe. The key to Zen arts is to repeatedly, release and arrest the hyperactive intellect by means of complete  absorption in what is perceived or experienced moment by moment. What results is intensification of  consciousness through concentrated and sustained attention.  This is how Thomas Berry evocatively describes the outcome of zen thinking: 

“The thousandfold voices of the natural world suddenly became inaudible  to the human. The mountains and rivers and the wind and the sea all  became mute insofar as humans were concerned. The forests were no  longer the abode of an infinite number of spirit presences but were simply  so many board feet of lumber to be “harvested” as objects to be used for 

human benefit. Animals were no longer the companions of humans in the  single community of existence”.  

Similarly, Soetsu Yanagi, founder of the Japanese Mingei (folk crafts) movement, gives this advice on incorporating a zen approach to  cultivate artistic perception for living sustainably:

“Such consciousness is no  longer divided into the subject and the object, the perceiver and the perceived.  The two poles of perception are integrated into a seamless unity, and as a result, a tremendous sense of vitality is released. This is how we re-animate the universe.  This is the way to heal our sense of existential alienation and numbing which  drives us more and more to such pathological behaviour as treating the world as  if it had no life of its own and existed solely for the human consumption and wastage”.

These quotations raise an important example of our collective nonduality with Earth. The basic problem now is that our species feels separate from the rest of the biosphere. We think that we are superior to its other creatures, and that the earth is just an endless collection of material resources for us to exploit. This duality has become dangerous, for us as well as most other species. Can we really resolve the ecological crisis without realizing this type of duality cannot continue?  A nondual ecological culture to manage Earth’s bounty sustaonaly is required to address an ecological crisis (Fig 10).  

Fig 10 A non dualistic pedagogy

8 Internet references

Contemplative photography

Connecting to spirits through objects

Shamanism

Things of the spirit at St Michaels

The puja

Spiritual life and moral codes

Community learning

Situationism and Buddhism

Zen with Google Street View

Towards a Buddhist place making

The real meaning of meditation

Learning from zen arts

Meditation: consider walking

Zen and the Art of Ecosystem Management

February 26th, 2021

The extinction of species, each one a pilgrim of four billion years of evolution, is an irreversible loss. The ending of the lines of so many creatures with whom we have traveled this far is an occasion of profound sorrow and grief. Death can be accepted and to some degree transformed. But the loss of lineages and all their future young is not something to accept. It must be rigorously and intelligently resisted.

Gary Snyder (1990

1 The Breath of Life

Our common desire to look to earthly things comes from thinking how they will serve us somehow, such as bring us comfort, identity, pleasure, etc.  Usually, earthly thinking has to do with material objects, like jobs, money, cars, and houses.  Spiritual thinking, on the other hand, focuses on social concerns like love, faith, beauty and origins.  In this context, many scholars have ventured general comparisons of Eastern and Western artistic creativity. One suggestion is that Oriental art depicts spirit, while Western art depicts form.  Another comparative perspective holds that the West sees and depicts nature in terms of human-made symmetries and superimposed forms.  Nature is squeezed to fit ideas of Western culture, while the East accepts an object as is, and presents it for what it is, not what the artist thinks it means. Interpretation is then firmly in the mind of the beholder.   Also, the cultural positioning of an object can make it cosmocentric, and therefore spiritual, either because it has been put in a certain place (Fig 1) or because its spiritual content has been explained in words or pictures (Fig 2). A thing of the earth thereby becomes a thing of the spirit. Oriental artists are not interested in a photographic representation of an object.  

Fig 1 Things of the spirit:  Aldeburgh Parish Church

Fig 2 ‘The father of the goddess Sita ploughs the land to find her as a baby’. The Textile Art Of Kalamkari, Ramayana detail.

Oriental art is cosmocentric. It sees humankind as an integral part of nature interpreting its spirits. Occidental art exalts personality, it is anthropocentric.  It is an affinity between man and nature that impressed Oriental artists rather than their contrast, as in the West. To Occidentals, the physical world is an objective reality, to be analyzed, used, mastered. To Orientals, it is a realm of beauty to be admired, but also a sphere of mystery and illusion to be pictured by poets, explained by mythmakers, and mollified by priestly incantations. This contrast between East and West had incalculable influence on their respective arts, as well as on their philosophies and religions.

The Latin spiritus means ‘breath’, which is also true for the related Latin word anima, the Greek psyche, and the Sanskrit atman. The common meaning of these key terms indicates that the original meaning of spirit in many ancient philosophical and religious traditions, in the West as well as in the East, is an awareness of the breath of life. A common practise to achieve a Zen state of mindfulness is to meditate on one’s breathing. Spirituality is usually understood as a way of being that flows from a certain profound experience of reality, which is known as a ‘mystical’, ‘religious’, or ‘spiritual’ experience.  This encounter with mystery is often accompanied by a deep sense of awe and wonder together with a feeling of great humility.  Scientists, in their systematic observations of natural phenomena, do not consider their experience of reality as ineffable. On the contrary, they attempt to express it in technical language, including mathematics, as precisely as possible. However, the fundamental interconnectedness of all phenomena is a dominant theme also in modern science, and many great scientists have expressed their sense of awe and wonder when faced with the mystery that lies beyond the limits of their theories. Albert Einstein, for one, repeatedly expressed these feelings, as in the following celebrated passage (Einstein, 1949).

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science… the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature”.

Hinduism, whose adherents make up 15 percent of the global population, is not a single religion comparable to Abrahamic faiths, with a founder and canonical text. It is rather a framework of traditions that can be understood as a network of people joined together with related beliefs and practices rather than a formal religion.  Therefore Hinduism and its offshoot Buddhism are general models for introducing spiritual thinking into Western education for conservation.  The aim is to encourage individuals to fulfill their own purpose within interconnected fields of existence, respecting all life, minimising harm to other creatures, and existing in appreciative harmony with the natural world. 

Spirituality is a perception of reality in a special state of consciousness and the characteristics of this experience is a feeling of belonging to a larger whole, connected with everything, independent of historical and cultural contexts. Also, early on in its development Hinduism recognised the need for humanity to have the opportunity to ‘hear’ the wisdom that is available in the universal field of intelligence for themselves.  This means stepping back from the noise and distraction of everyday life for a brief period and ‘tune in’ by engaging the senses and quieting the mind to ‘listen’ to things of the spirit.   

Religion is the organized attempt to understand spiritual experience, to interpret it with words and concepts, and to use this interpretation as the source of moral guidelines .  It is helpful to be able to experience Hinduism and Buddhism simply as ways of being rather than as doctrines of religious belief.  Knowing oneself to be interconnected, day by day, from atoms to galaxies is quite different to accepting anything in ‘Blind faith’.  

2 The Hindu Universe

In the Indic worldview every human being by virtue of being alive, and so having access to the world, is born into debt to family, culture and nature.  A lifetime duty to repay these debts occurs within a universe seen as an extended family of ‘Mother Earth’, where the self (Atman) exists in relation to powerful spiritual energies and is as one with them.  Hindu cosmology describes this universe and its states of matter, how it cycles within time and affects all living entities according to ancient Hindu texts.  These cultural and spiritual underpinnings of debt and the duty to repay it extend to environmental stewardship where ecosystem management can be a solid source of cultural strength as well as a benefit to society. One does not have to go too far into indic cosmology to locate such underpinnings, because India’s spiritual heritage can be used to provide new unique ways of valuing, thinking, and acting to nurture respect for nature and be prepared to avert future ecological disasters. What sets Hinduism apart is that it offers a vision of manifest existence in which, from the broadest perspective, there is no separation between the Creator and the created.  There is no essential separation between the species Homo sapiens and other species, both plant and animal  and indeed between humanity and the universe.  At the same time that the Hindu worldview recognizes this unity, it also celebrates, revels, and delights in the expressed diversity of all that we see all around us.

According to Hinduism, the purpose of life is four-fold: to achieve Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.

Dharma is a vital feature of Indian life. In Hinduism it means ‘duty’, ‘virtue’, ‘morality’, and refers to the spiritual power which upholds the universe and society.  Dharma, means to act virtuously and righteously throughout one’s life, believing that humankind is born in debt to the Gods for their blessings, debt to parents and teachers, debt to guests, debt to other human beings, and debt to all other living beings. One is obliged to Nature at large, so a person can expect to spend an entire lifetime repaying the debts. This is the essence of Dharma. 

The second meaning of life is Artha, which refers to the pursuit of wealth and prosperity. Importantly, one must not step outside moral and ethical grounds of Dharma in order to do so. 

The third purpose of life is to seek Kama.  Kama means “desire, wish, longing” in Hindu and Buddhist literature.  Broadly it refers to any desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, desire for, longing to and after, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love.

The fourth meaning of life is Moksha, defined as Enlightenment.  Hinduism assumes that most people rely on the guidance of others to make their way in life.  This is a sign of self-incurred immaturity and life’s goal is to develop one’s own understanding of the world, a process of mindful self-realisation, known as enlightenment. If done dutifully without expectations, one can liberate oneself from all debts. If dharma is done half-heartedly, or conditionally, one becomes caught in the web of Karma.  Karma is not the same as Kama.  It is a concept where beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions.  It is a system of actions and reactions throughout an individual’s reincarnated lives forming an on going cycle of rebirth. Within this cycle Moksha may take an individual just one lifetime to accomplish enlightenment, or it may take several rebirths carrying the burden of debt.  However, Moksha is considered the most important meaning of life and offers such rewards as liberation from reincarnation, or unity with the ultimate deified cosmic energy.  

In Hinduism, enlightenment is a divine, transcendent experience. Sometimes it is described as a sudden, transformative moment of awakening and other times it is seen as a more gradual process of being liberated from bondage of the mind through creating a personal body of knowledge that unifies the self and the universe.  A mind absorbed in sense objects is the cause of bondage, and a mind detached from the sense objects is a liberated selfhood. A close connection between religion, ecology and ethical values embodied in Moksha are understood as a part of one’s duty in life. 

From prehistoric times, Hindu thinkers came to believe that the forces controlling the universe emanate from four all powerful spiritual energies. Three of these forces known as the trimurti are responsible for the creation (Brahman), upkeep (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva) of the world. These three Gods in the Hindu pantheon, when considered together, as a triumvirate, cover the three aspects of the life cycles in Nature, their development, maintenance and dissolution.  For Hindus, time and space are organized and conceived of as cyclical, where one era cycles into the next. Hindu mythology defines cycles of cosmic ages from a golden age (kitri yuga) to the dark age (kali yuga). We are currently in a degenerate dark age. When it ends, after several millennia, the universe will be destroyed and Brahma will create it anew. Just as the universe and time is conceived as being cyclical so is the progress of the individual’s selfhood. For Hindus,this is Samsara and the self is bound to the samsaric wheel, which symbolises a continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Hindus believe that the self passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived.  During this process the self, as a biochemical continuum, enters into many bodies, assumes many forms and passes through many births and deaths. Selfhood can be traced by its deeds.  This concept is summarily described in the following verse of the Bhagavad gita:

Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones.

The trimurti are celebrated in meditations as the network of all seamlessly interlocking natural laws creating an order of self maintenance that controls the Universe.  A fourth force driving the Hindu universe is Shakti.  This is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother‘. On the earthly plane, Shakti most actively manifests through female embodiment and creativity/fertility, though it is also present in males in its potential, unmanifest form (Fig 3).  

Fig 3 The Hindu universe superimposed on the scientific model of the life cycle.

In 1970 Allan Sandage, a scientific cosmologist, published a paper entitled ‘Cosmology: A Search for Two Numbers’.  Until the 1990’s it was thought that those two numbers would, in fact, predict the ultimate future of our universe. Since 1998 this idea has changed. The first of the two numbers is the Hubble constant H0. It describes the expansion rate of our present universe. The second number is called the deceleration parameter q0. It describes how fast H0 changes in the future. There is now a third mysterious quantity referring to what is now called dark energy. 

The big surprise was that ordinary matter (about 4,4 ± 0,4 percent) and the still mysterious cold dark matter (23 ± 4 percent, together add up to only about a quarter of the total energy density; 73 ± 4 percent is made of what is now called dark energy. So if you imagine the universe as a cosmic cappuccino, the coffee stands for dark energy, the milk for dark matter, both of which we know almost nothing about.   Only the powdered chocolate would be what we are familiar with, namely ordinary matter made of protons, neutrons, electrons et cetera. Now we know what we don’t know, and this is more than 95 percent of what the universe is made of.  

One could say this is equivalent to the arts thinking about Hinduism which brought Shakti into the Hindo pantheon The current scientific model of the universe is structured around the concepts of dark energy and dark matter.  Together they present one of the great unsolved mysteries of scientific cosmology. Dark matter works like an attractive force; a kind of cosmic cement that holds the universe together. This is because dark matter does interact with gravity, but it doesn’t reflect, absorb, or emit light. Meanwhile, dark energy is a repulsive force; a sort of anti-gravity that drives the universe’s ever-accelerating expansion. Shakti plays a similar all pervasive role in the Hindu universe where it may be personified as the agent of change.

Shiva, the  “Destroyer”, is not an entirely negative force, but one that is expansive in its impact. In Hindu religious philosophy all things must come to a natural end so they can begin anew, and Shiva is the agent that brings about this end so that a new life cycle can begin.

This conceptualisation of Nature in Hindu philosophy and  the collective importance of the three aspects of the trimurti in creating a balance in the Universe, can influence the way we understand Nature and humankind’s place in the modern world. In this context, Vishnu preserves, protects and maintains. We could say, Vishnu makes sure the world is ‘sustainable’. Vishnu is most commonly known through the avatars, Rama and Krishna, but is also said to have taken several forms , from a fish to a boar to human forms, in order to protect Earth when it was most harassed.  In the current pursuit of the principle of sustainability, one could say that we are looking to the concept of Vishnu once again in the hope of finding a way of changing human behavior to preserve life and order on the planet.  For Hindus, Vishnu is found in every object and force in creation, and some Hindus recognize Vishnu as the divine being from which all order flows.  In this sense Vishnu can be positioned at the centre of spiritual education for sustainable development.  

So the trimurti manifests itself in many forms, human or animal, and each has its own family, giving the entire Hindu universe a network of natural laws embedded in an energy field called shakti.  Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy by which Brahman brought the universe into being and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe under the influence of the trimurti. Shakti, under the control of Brahman, is responsible for creation, as mothers are responsible for birth.  

From a religious perspective, Hindus recognise one supreme being, Brahman, who is the cause and foundation of all existence. The deities of the Hindu faith represent different expressions of Brahman which have given rise to  four principal sects: Vaishnavism, Saivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. For Vaishnavites, Vishnu is their God. For Saivites, their God is Siva. For Shaktas, the goddess Shakti is supreme. For Smartas, a sect of liberal Hindus, the choice of deity is left to the devotee. 

Each denomination has a multitude of guru lineages, religious leaders, priesthoods, sacred literature, monastic communities, schools, pilgrimage centers and tens of thousands of temples. They possess a wealth of art and architecture, philosophy and scholarship. These four sects hold such divergent beliefs that each can be regarded as a complete and independent religion, yet, they share millenia of common heritage supporting culture and belief.

Hindus often choose a single deity to worship as supreme and encompassing other divine forms. The Shaktas, for example, worship the goddess Devi who has her own shakti energy. Shakti can also be an agent of cultural change.  In this context, the Hindu tradition also considers women the vessels of shakti. This identification with shakti acknowledges women as the vessels of both creative and destructive power. Some feminists and scholars criticize this identification because they believe it has led society to label women either as saints or sinners, with little room in between. They argue that women, like benevolent goddesses, are expected to exhibit forgiveness, compassion, and tolerance of others’ transgressions. If they conform to this role, patriarchal society accepts them; if they do not, and attempt to exhibit independence and assertiveness, they are considered destructive, disrupting community and family social structures. However, others argue that the idea of shakti should be used to create education/training narratives to empower Indian women as situation leaders to resist patriarchy. 

Under the control of Visnu, shakti is often manifested to destroy demonic forces and restore balance. As a widespread vital cosmic force in its own right Shakti takes many forms and names, including ‘mother goddess’, ‘fierce warrior’, and the ‘dark goddess of destruction’. In Hinduism, every god has its own shakti, or energy force. This is one of the reasons why Shakti is worshipped by millions of people throughout India. The energy flow is personified as a goddess, commonly manifested as Lakshmi, Parvati, Sarasvati, Durga, or Kali.  

Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism are the most prevalent Hindu sects; among these, Vaishnavism is the largest. This is cultural ecology on a grand scale. It can be take an example of the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability (AARTES), and provides a divine knowledge structure within which cosmic forces operate to maintain order in the universe.  

The Shaktas are so named because shakti, is the feminine power, capacity, or energy that is behind the universe, without which the male gods would be inert (Fig 4 & 5). Shaktas are not necessarily feminists, and past rulers sought to obtain Shakti for the sake of political dominion.  Shaktas may worship shakti as a goddess in her gentle forms, such as Lakshmi, Parvati, and Sarasvati, or in her ferocious manifestations, such as Durga and Kali.   As many as ten forms of shakti are worshipped during the festival of Navratri.

There are sophisticated philosophical schools and exotic cults associated with all deities. Followers often worship their favorite in conjunction with one, two or all three of the trimurti. 

Fig 4 Representations of Durga and Shakti from circa 200 BC at excavations at Chandraketugarh.  Weapons appear like a halo behind her head.

Fig 5 The energising of the Hindu pantheon: Siddhi Lakshmi; Nepal; dated by inscription 1796; pigments on cloth; Rubin Museum of Art.

As a tiny feature of a vast cosmic ecology humankind is not only subject to Shakti, we are part of it. Indeed religion and science come together in time because dark energy which comprises most of the scientific cosmologist’s universe is currently unknowable.  In particular, it is what forms the very basis of our body-mind system enabling us to mount a spiritual response to meditate on our surroundings. The spiritual response can be theistic or non-theistic. That is to say one may choose a known deity to meditate on (Shiva, Jesus, Buddha, etc.), or simply focus on the idea of the higher Self. The Higher Self is also known as the Transcendental Self, regarded by some as part of a person’s non-theistic cosmic consciousness, celebrating the network of social laws which turned nature into culture.  The Lower Self is the animal-like creature which is deeply rooted in our primate biology. Its main goal is to survive and feel good. The Higher Self is the evolved creature we call ‘sapiens’. It strives for progress and world peace. This is the order that has brought humankind into being.

This order is defined in the Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts of religious teaching and ideas still revered in Hindu philosophical thought.  Their central theme is the relationship between humankind and the gods particularly between Brahman and Atman.  Atman is the  inner human self, that is to say the emotional and spiritual parts of someone.   The texts present a vision of an interconnected universe with a single, unifying principle behind the apparent diversity in the cosmos, any articulation of which is called Brahman. Within this context, the Upanishads teach that Brahman resides in the Atman and is firmly at the core of the human individual.

3 The  Buddhist Universe

Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements.  Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. Non-theism covers a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence of espoused belief in a God or gods. It is also considered a secular philosophy and a moral educational discipline.  Originating  in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Buddhism was founded by the sage Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha).    Zen Buddhism is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. It began in China, spread to Korea and Japan, and became very popular in the West from the mid 20th century. The essence of Zen is a route to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought or mystical language.

According to Zen, the attempted control of nature by humankind is at once absurd and useless. The history of Western society and its technology has been the story of humanity’s long struggle to control nature. The Zen master merely says: act and don’t worry about it; what you do may be right or wrong, neither is bad. That is to say, from the universal point of view there is no right and wrong: these are values superimposed by society.  The universe makes no distinctions or categories. This raises the delicate question of moral responsibility, but it should be noted that the Zen adept strives to fulfill the “Four Great Vows” in which it is stated: “I vow to save all sentient beings.” Therefore, compassionate conservation management is also part of Zen. 

Spiritual experiences through Zen are non-ordinary events at moments when we feel intensely alive. The aliveness felt during such a ‘peak experience’, involves both body and mind. Buddhists refer to this heightened mental alertness as ‘mindfulness’.   The central awareness in these spiritual moments is said to be a profound sense of oneness with all, a sense of belonging to the universe as a whole.  With respect to science they seem to be ‘eureka moments’.

Indian religions often see space and time as cyclical, such that world-systems come into being, survive for a time, are destroyed and then are remade. In Buddhism this happens naturally without the intervention of gods.  Buddhism has no creator god to explain the origin of the universe. Instead, it teaches that everything depends on everything else: present events are caused by past events and become the cause of future events.  The physical world as we know it, with all its imperfections and suffering, is the product of what the Buddha, a real person, called dependent origination.  The Buddha taught that this was a 12-stage process, a circular chain, not a straight path. Each stage gives rise to the one directly after it.  

The Buddhist wheel of life symbolises the endless cycle of human existence and suffering.  In the middle of the Wheel are the Three Fires of greed, ignorance and hatred, represented by a rooster, a pig and a snake. These are the cause of all human suffering and are shown linked together, biting each other’s tails, reinforcing each other (Fig 6).

Fig 6  The Buddhist wheel of life

In his book ‘The Universe in a Single Atom’, the Dalai Lama presents Buddhism as an empirical tradition, akin to science.  He says “My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science, so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by critical investigation: if scientific analysis were to conclusively demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the claims of science and abandon those claims.”  

Buddhists say that well being and happiness come when we realise that our noblest nature as an individual being is interconnectedness.  At any one time we can declare that we are humankind existing as the outcome of the flows of materials and energy through a global ecosystem.  We are a temporary biochemical microcosm composed of ancestral  elements drawn from an environmental macrocosm, swirling through the universe (Fig 7).  

Fig 7 A Buddhist autopoietic system of oneness

These elements defined as ‘we’ and ‘non-we’, support a flow of molecules and energy to produce the elemental components of oneness, which in turn, continue to maintain the organized bounded structure that gives rise to these elements.  It is not difficult to see how Buddhism is entangled in biological evolution and has become the faith system that is close to scientific thinking about the evolution of life. In the long run the biochemical elements of energy and materials circulate through the human ecosystem as non-we components in other microcosms, such as trees.

According to the World Buddhist University, Buddhism is about how to be at home in the universe structured as a cosmic ecosystem. The original meaning of ecology goes back to the Greeks who saw Earth and the gods and spirits who inhabited it, as the home of humankind. Thus we have Home Economics and Economics referring to activities and transactions in home and governance. Being at home for a Buddhist suggests a requirement for teachings about how our mental conditioning and the delusions of our impermanent self can be let go of, so we can be one, or at home, with the universe. The teachings also portray a total inter-connection with everything.  This state of oneness is called Nirvana or Enlightenment. 

4 The cosmic ecosystem

Without the workings of some kind of cosmic order, we would neither be nor would anything else in the Universe.  Science tells us that the chemical elements of the Universe are all around and within us.  They are the basic building materials of our physical selves. The composition of Earth, and the chemistry that governs the Earth and its biology are rooted in these chemical elements, which appeared as the first atoms after the Big Bang (Fig 8). 

Fig 8 Origin of the universe according to the ‘Big Bang’ theory

Further, different elements come from a variety of different events. So the elements that make up life itself reflect a variety of chemical events that took place in the universe. For example, the hydrogen found in water and in hydrocarbons was formed in the moments after the Big Bang. Carbon, the basis for all terrestrial life, was formed in small stars. Chemical elements of lower abundance in living organisms but essential to our biology, such as calcium and iron, were formed in large stars. Heavier elements important to our environment, such as gold, were formed in the explosive power of supernovae. The light elements used in our technology were formed via cosmic rays. The solar nebula, from which our solar system was formed, was seeded with these elements, and they were present at Earth’s formation. The existence of all life forms on Earth is connected to these elements, and to their cosmic origin. 

Prokaryotes are organisms made up of cells that lack a cell nucleus or any membrane encased organelles. Eukaryotes are organisms made up of cells that possess a membrane-bound nucleus that holds genetic material as well as membrane-bound organelles. Prokaryotic cells are the most primitive cells. They do not have a definite nucleus which includes bacteria and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Their DNA is scattered inside the cytoplasm.

Earth is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old.  The earliest evidence for life on Earth comes from fossilized mats of cyanobacteria, called stromatolites, in Greenland.  They are about 3.7 billion years old. Ancient as their origins are, these bacteria (which are still alive today) are already biologically complex.  They have cell walls protecting their protein-producing DNA, so scientists think life must have begun much earlier. In fact, there are hints of life in even more primeval rocks: 4.1-billion-year-old zircons from Western Australia contain high amounts of a form of carbon typically used in biochemical processes.  

From the outset, all cells are potassium-based and the cytoplasm of archaea, bacteria, and eukaryotes contains substantially more potassium than sodium, and potassium cations are specifically required for many key cellular processes, including protein synthesis. This distinct ionic composition and requirements have been attributed to the emergence of the first cells in potassium-rich habitats. Different, albeit complementary, scenarios have been proposed for the primordial potassium-rich environments based on experimental data and theoretical considerations. Specifically, building on the observation that potassium prevails over sodium in the vapor of inland geothermal systems, it is argued that the first cells could emerge in the pools and puddles at the periphery of primordial oxygen-free geothermal fields, where the elementary composition of the condensed vapour would resemble the internal milieu of modern cells. 

Marine and freshwater environments generally contain more sodium than potassium. Therefore, to invade such environments, while maintaining excess of potassium over sodium in the cytoplasm, primordial cells needed means to extrude sodium ions. The foray into new, sodium-rich habitats was the likely driving force behind the evolution of sodium export pumps (Fig 9) and the increase of membrane tightness. Here we have a scenario that details how the interplay between several, initially independent sodium pumps might have triggered the evolution of sodium-dependent membrane bioenergetics, followed by the separate emergence of the proton-dependent bioenergetics in archaea and bacteria. Biochemical systems have evolved that utilize the sodium/potassium gradient across the cell membranes.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1134%2FS0006297915050016

Fig 9 Cell membrane ion pumps

When trying to reconstruct the evolutionary trajectories during early eukaryogenesis, one is struck by clear differences in the developments of two organelles, the mitochondrion and the chloroplast. These are thought to have likely evolved from engulfed prokaryotes that once lived as independent organisms. At some point, a eukaryotic cell engulfed an aerobic prokaryote, which then formed an endosymbiotic relationship with the host eukaryote, gradually developing into a mitochondrion. Eukaryotic cells containing mitochondria then engulfed photosynthetic prokaryotes, which evolved to become specialized chloroplast organelles Fig 10.

Fig 10  evolution of eukaryotes

Oxygen is the third-most abundant element in the universe, forged in the superhot, superdense core of stars. That’s because oxygen can form compounds with nearly every other element on the periodic table. So how did Earth end up with an atmosphere made up of roughly 21 percent oxygen?  The answer is tiny organisms known as cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. These microbes conduct photosynthesis: using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates and oxygen. In fact, all the plants on Earth incorporate symbiotic cyanobacteria (known as chloroplasts) to do their photosynthesis for them down to this day.

For some untold eons prior to the evolution of these cyanobacteria, during the Archean eon, more primitive microbes lived on Earth without oxygen i.e. anaerobically. These ancient organisms—and their “extremophile” descendants today—thrived in the absence of oxygen, relying on sulfate for their energy needs.  But roughly 2.45 billion years ago, the isotopic ratio of sulfur transformed, indicating that for the first time oxygen was becoming a significant component of Earth’s atmosphere. At roughly the same time (and for eons thereafter), oxidized iron began to appear in ancient soils and bands of iron were deposited on the seafloor, a product of reactions with oxygen in the seawater.  

5  Life is like a candle flame

A special aspect of the chemical oneness of life is that all living things are in a biochemical steady state.  A burning candle is a chemical steady state (Fig 11).  Wax is drawn up into the flame, to match the wax combining with oxygen in the flame. The shape of the flame is maintained.  The formation of substances keeps pace with their destruction so that all volumes, concentrations, pressures, and flows remain constant.  In biochemistry, a steady state is the maintenance of constant internal concentrations of molecules and ions in the cells and organs of living systems.  A continuous flux of mass and energy results in the constant synthesis and breakdown of molecules via chemical reactions of biochemical pathways.  Cellular structures are being dismantled every minute and immediately replaced.

Fig 11  A candle flame as a chemical steady state.

The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, asks the question. Where Does a Flame Come From? 

“I can say to the flame, “Dear flame, please manifest yourself.” As I strike the match, the flame complies. But I would also like to ask her, “Where have you come from?” The flame would say this: “Dear Thay, I come from nowhere and I go nowhere. When conditions are sufficient, I manifest.” That is the truth of the nature of no coming, no going. Let us practice looking deeply into the nature of the flame of a candle. Is it the same flame as the flame of the match that lit it? Or is it a different flame? If we maintain this flame for one hour, the flame will burn lower on the candle. It may appear to be the same flame, but that is only our perception. In fact there are multitudes of flames suc-ceeding one another in every instant. They give the impres-sion that it is always the same flame, but it is not. The fuel is different, the oxygen is different. The room has changed, and so the conditions are different. Therefore the flame is not exactly the same. It does not take much time for the flame to change because in one second the flame is nourished by the wax and oxygen in the first part of the candle. The next moment, the oxygen and the wax are being burned away and new fuel, new wax and oxygen, are now burning. It is not the same fuel, so it is not the same flame. When the candle becomes shorter, you see that it has consumed this much wax and that much oxygen, so you know that the flame is changing all the time. Just like us, the flame does not remain the same in two con-secutive moments. Looking at just one flame you see already the nature of being neither the same nor different. Underneath our impres-sion of being the same, there is the nature of impermanence. Nothing can remain the same in two consecutive moments. This applies to a human being, a cloud, to everything. If you say that the flame burning on the candle ten minutes ago is the same as the flame you see now, this is not correct. If you say there are one thousand different flames succeeding each other, this is not correct either. The true nature of the flame is the nature of neither the same not different.  If we can move through the illusion of same and different, we can change a lot of suffering into joy”.

Thich Nhat Hanh goes further.  As you light the match with a Buddhist perspective, we can become aware that the flame does not need to be born. With the right conditions, it only has to manifest for us to see it. When we burn a sheet of paper, it is no longer in the form of paper. If we follow it with mindfulness, the sheet of paper continues in other forms. One of its forms will be smoke. 

The smoke from the piece of paper rises and will join one or two of the clouds already existing in the sky. It is now participating in a cloud.  Tomorrow, next month, there will be rain and a drop of water can fall on your forehead. That drop of water is your sheet of paper. Another form the paper takes on is ash. You can give the ash back to the soil. When it is returned to the soil, the earth becomes a continuation of the sheet of paper. Maybe next year you will see the continuation of the paper in a tiny flower or a blade of grass. That is the afterlife of a sheet of paper. During the process of being burned, the piece of paper also became heat. That heat penetrates into our bodies, even if you are not very close to the flame. Now you carry the sheet of paper in you. The heat penetrates deeply into the cosmos. You can measure the effects of that heat even in distant planets and stars. They then become a manifestation, a continuation of the little sheet of paper. We cannot know how far the sheet of paper will go. Scientists say that if you clap your hands it may have an impact on a distant star. What is happening with us can affect a galaxy far away. And the galaxy far away can affect us. Everything is under the influence of everything else. Nothing is lost from the universe. 

Arti Worship is one of the main Hindu flame-centred ceremonies. During worship, celebrants cup their hands over the flame and then over their heads and the head of companions.. Breathing in, and sharing the fundamental energies of the universe affirms humankind’s oneness with each other and with Nature.

6 Adaptive Buddhism 

One day, after growing up, marrying and having a child, The Buddha, alias Prince Siddhartha Gautama, went outside the royal enclosure where he lived for the first time.  There he saw old man, a sick man, a corpse and a wandering holy man. These encounters are called the ‘Four Sights of Buddhism’, and Siddhartha came to understand that sickness, age, and death were the inevitable fate of human beings; seemingly a fate no-one could avoid .   The holy man appeared happy in the midst of the suffering where he was looking to discover the truth about human existence.  It is this fourth Sight which awakens Prince Gautama to possibilities for humanity to escape suffering.   From that point, in human history Siddhartha knew that his own life path would be to seek the truth about why humankind faces poverty, old age, disease and death and what can be done to end suffering.  The Four Noble Truths comprise the prescription of Buddha’s teachings, though they leave much left unexplained. They are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. 

The Fourth Noble truth charts the method for attaining the end of suffering, which is accepted by Buddhists as the Noble Eightfold Path.  In Buddhism, the path is meant as a guideline, to be considered, to be contemplated, and to be taken on when, and only when, each step is fully accepted as part of the life you seek. Buddhism never asks for blind faith, it seeks to promote learning as a process of self-discovery.  The eightfold path, although referred to as steps on a path, is not meant as a sequential learning process, but as eight aspects of life, all of which are to be integrated in everyday life. The eightfold path is Right Understanding, Right Intent, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Thus a lifestyle can be created to move closer to the Buddhist targets of self education. The eightfold path is at the heart of the middle way, which turns from extremes, and encourages us to seek the simple approach.

So,  the teachings of the man Siddhartha Gautama are aimed solely at liberating sentient beings from suffering.  This project is now the fundamental goal of what is called the ‘international community’ for everyone to live sustainably. The global perspective of human suffering in the 21st century views humankind as inhabiting two environments. One is Earth’s Sun-driven ecosystem, of microbes, plants and animals, of soils, atmosphere and waters, which preceded human evolution by billions of years and of which humans are now an integral and dominant part. The other environment is the culture-driven planetary ecosystem, which comprises the social institutions, artifacts and myths that humankind builds for itself, using tools, machines and mythological thinking. 

Thus, science and dreams fashion an environment obedient to human purpose and direction. This sentiment begins the 1972 report entitled ‘Only One Earth’, produced by an international collaboration of scientific and intellectual leaders from fifty-eight countries.  It’s standpoint is that we are simply one kind of being amongst many other life forms participating in a greater community of life and sharing a benign environment. Yet, humanity has created for itself, through labour and ingenuity, another more alien environment, namely an exploitative cultural ecology that is becoming more and more toxic to planet Earth adding to human suffering through injustice, poverty and ill health ( Fig 12).

Despite the increasing technology and knowledge at our command, we are more susceptible to depression, and other conflicts of mind inflicted on us by societal, personal and economic problems of our own creation. The negativity surrounding us gives way to numerous psychological problems. Peace of mind is essential for human beings to realise the importance of life and let go of the negativity that overshadows our thoughts and deprives us of the happiness that we are capable of.   

Fig 12 The ills of Mother Nature

Humanity now requires 1,5 Earths to satisfy its wants.  This gives rise to a paradoxical conception of Homo sapiens who, on the one hand, together with the rest of creation, is part of nature, completely subject to its ecological laws.  On the other hand, in his social capacity as knower and actor, humankind is composed of rational beings that transcend nature in the sense and are actually the authors of the cultural laws that are applied to Earth’s ecosystems to control their needs and wants.  But the social processes and institutions that currently promote and create the cultural ecosystem are at odds with the biophysical processes that sustain the wider community of life.   

Spiritual values are thought to be behind our feelings of planetary connectedness which drive nature conservation to care for and protect wildlife so that it can persist with future generations. Humanity now depends upon cultural rules to integrate with the greater community of life for ecological survival, applying cultural rules to relieve this planetary suffering through openness and kindness.  The objective is to work towards protecting others from mental and physical pain whilst bringing humanity’s demands on Earth within the planet’s capacity for regeneration.   

Much of our life is dictated by our needs and wants.  Buddha’s message has always been that it is time to take a step back and realize that excessive consumption is not delivering on its promise to provide happiness and fulfillment. Consumption is necessary, but excessive consumption is not, and life can be better lived by intentionally rejecting it. We must never believe that we have learned enough to live a good life. Learning is a lifelong goal.  To adapt these basic teachings of Siddhartha Gautama to the present we need look no further than the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals.  These goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for humankind. They address the global challenges faced by secular Buddhism, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.  

Stephen Batchelor, a former Buddhist monk, describes himself as an itinerant preacher of secular Buddhism.  He believes we have to release Siddhartha Gautama, from the elaborate theological and institutional structures built upon his teachings by generations of fallible monastic memories built up by his followers in Tibet, Korea and South-east Asia. Each of those inward looking agrarian cultures adapted the Buddha’s teaching to fit their own times and circumstances.  In our modern world we need an  imaginative adaptation of Buddhism that offers a philosophy, ethic, psychology and way of life that embraces all aspects of the current planetary crisis without the need to appeal to any supernatural order of being.   Batchelor sees the aim of Buddhist practice to be the moment-to-moment flourishing of human life within the ethical framework of the eightfold path of Buddhism here on Earth. Addressing this modern synthesis the Dalai Lama has said “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.”   Thus, Siddhartha Gautama, becomes a figurehead of education for conservation representing the whole of humankind.

Regarding individualism, you can think about yourself as a unique person (i.e. be self conscious).  You also know you can be aware to think clearly and objectively about yourself in a wider scheme of things through reflection on your surroundings (i.e. be self-aware).  Self-awareness becomes self-reliance when you recognize from social feedback the things you are not good at, and that you have the confidence to empower others to do these things.  Thereby you become so exceptionally adept at the basics of what you are good at that this skill becomes your power base. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.  One of the most significant influences on Emerson’s transcendental ideals was Buddhism. Although there is evidence of Emerson studying Indian Buddhism, many of his philosophies seem to parallel with the school of Zen Buddhism.  In his essay, “Self Reliance,” Emerson defined the ‘sole purpose of being’ as the want for people to avoid conformity. Emerson believed that in order for you to truly be yourself, you have to follow your own conscience and concentrate on doing what you are good at.  Essentially, his message is do what you believe is right instead of blindly following society’s norm.  In “Self-Reliance” Emerson defines this individualism as a profound and unshakeable trust in one’s own intuitions. Embracing this view of individualism, he asserts, can revolutionize society, not through a sweeping mass movement, but through the educational transformation of one life at a time and through the creation of leaders capable of greatness.  Self-reliant leadership is synonymous with knowing which questions to ask yourself and having the courage to answer them and act. Situational leadership (Fig 13) is the practical outcome of self-reliant leadership.  It is based on the premise that there is no best style of leadership, and it all depends on the situation. What is now called situational leadership represents adaptive Buddhism in action.

Fig 13 Situational leadership

The situational leader evaluates their team or organization by simply asking about the current situation of the organization.  Leaders understand their strengths and short-comings and how those traits affect their ability to create willing followers.  They need to have a steadfast passion for serving others, and that requires putting others first and they need to be out front trailblazers who believe in leading by example to develop followers who have initiative, persistence and determination

7  Discovering by looking

Conservation seeks the sustainable use of Earth by humankind for activities such as urbanisation, hunting, logging, and mining, while protecting nature from human exploitation.  How do we create a common educational ground that promotes the sharing of resources equitably, between people and nature?  The educational problem is that we don’t see the world “as is,” but only as our minds organize it for us. In this connection, humanism has emerged as a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives and the planetary ecosystem. In humanism, democracy and ethics stand for the building of a more humane society based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. In this respect we need look no further than Buddhism to provide a moral spiritual compass and enrich a humanist pedagogy.  It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.   So the two ‘isms’, humanism and classical Buddhism, occupy common ground. Buddhism is different from other faith traditions in that it is not centered on the relationship between humans and a personal creator God. It has a strong educational tradition with a secular pedagogy that focuses on personal spiritual development. To many, humanistic Buddhism is a way of life summed up as adopting moral leadership; being aware of one’s thoughts and actions; and developing wisdom, compassion and understanding in one’s dealings with other people and other life forms.   

The three general truths of Buddhism that are applicable to managing a sustainable culture within the global ecosystem by situational leadership are are;

Actions have consequences. 

The consequences will affect the doer of the action at some future time.

Impermanence permeates all aspects of life. 

An understanding of impermanence motivates Buddhists to improve their quality of life to achieve enlightenment.

Everything that seems to be outside you is actually part of you. 

This is the principle of oneness through cosmic interconnectedness and ecological, interdependence on one to another;

Cultural ecology is the ideational link between the Sun-driven and culture-driven worlds and provides the educational framework of spiritual values and arts thinking to underpin the creative ecological management of planet Earth.

From a Buddhist perspective creativity can be enhanced by the development of an open non-discriminatory mode of awareness (mindfulness) and a disinterested attention to most of what arises in the meditating mind (a non-centred awareness). In this way, the creative stream of human awareness can flow unimpeded until it stops before a burst of interested attention.  An important feature of mindfulness is ‘discovering by looking’.  This occurs when humans draw attention to certain visual information for more scrupulous analysis but discard other visual information.  Understanding what we have seen and selected comes from our imagination which sparks new ideas and helps us visualize ourselves achieving that next goal. We depend on the interaction between seeing and imagining every day (Fig 14). 

Fig 14  Discovering by looking

Buddhists say that well being and happiness come when we realise that our noblest nature as an individual being is grounded in cosmic interconnectedness and interdependence.  At any one time we can declare that we are humankind existing as the outcome of the flows of materials and energy through a cosmic ecosystem.  Indeed, Buddhism situates humankind in a dynamic biochemical equilibrium with all other kinds of life which are microcosms composed of ancestral  elements drawn from a common environmental macrocosm. 

Everything in existence has certain qualities that are uniquely its own, and can be described as its “oneness.” Oneness arises from the common building blocks of all life, at all levels of chemistry, cell biology and physiology (Fig 15).

Fig 15 Oneness as a combination of inscapes and instress (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

8 Outsidedness Inside

Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India. It is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds. This makes Vedanta a ubiquitous platform for thinking about how to live in harmony with Nature.

In 2012, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, called for a debate between scientists, philosophers and theologians to find common ground between science and religion over how the universe began.  Explanations found in the texts of the world’s spiritual traditions are admittedly not exhaustive in the details referring to the origin of the universe.  But they do outline key concepts which are important to  the philosophy for spiritual development that they present.  The Vedic cosmology of ancient India is incredibly rich and has many points of tangency with modern cosmology, which may help in the construction of that common ground between science and religion that CERN is seeking.

Anthropologists tell us that in virtually all traditional cultures, a cosmology is what gives its members their fundamental sense of where they come from, who they are, and what their personal role in life’s larger picture might be. Cosmology is whatever picture of the universe a culture agrees on.  Scientific cosmology is the study of the universe through astronomy and physics. However, cosmology also has a significant cultural impact. People construct anthropological cosmologies i.e. notions about the way the world works, drawing in scientific theories in order to construct models for activities in disciplines, such as politics and psychology. In addition, the arts (literature, film and painting, for example) comment on cosmological ideas and use them to develop plot lines and content.  Buddhism is a cultural cosmology which has its modern expression in the writings of the Buddhist monk, Zen Master and global spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh.   His cosmology comes close to making a seamless connection between scientific and cultural ideas about the cosmos.  

Life within the cosmos depends on two processes: the passage of an encoded molecule from parents to offspring to explain heritable characteristics, and the spontaneous emergence of self-organized order. Emergence refers to the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.  If you were some hypothetical observer who met only one human, you would never infer the global economy from that meeting. However, put enough people together, and these systems start to form, as economies, religions, states, nations, etc.  The complex emerges from the simple. 

The Hindu cosmology is the oldest description of the universe and its states of matter and effects on living entities according to Hindu spiritual textsThe Vedas are a collection of these sacred texts gathered in four fundamental collections (Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva- Veda).  These preserve the millenary religious wisdom of the Aryans, a population settled in north-western India around the 20th century BC. The oldest part, the Rigveda Samhita, dates back to an age between 1500 and 1200 BC. These are hymns, poems, mantras, and mythological tales written in Vedic Sanskrit. Despite being counted among the oldest texts of mankind, these present extremely interesting concepts for physicists and mathematicians. 

The Upanishads are late Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious teachings and ideas still revered in Hinduism.  The Upanishads provide a conception of reality and a universe based on observation and reasoning to elucidate its natural laws.  According to the Advaita Vedanta God is the totality of all natural laws and the perfect interplay inherent in them. In this context  The Indian Advaita Vedanta calls this natural order Ishvara and for a person of faith or no faith, Ishvara is God.  

To meditate means to be invited on a journey of looking deeply in order to touch our true nature and to recognize that nothing is lost. Because of this we can overcome fear. Non-fear is the greatest gift of meditation. With it we can overcome grief and our sorrow. Only nothing can come from nothing. Something cannot come from nothing and nothing cannot come from some-thing. If something is already there, it does not need to be born. The moment of birth is only a moment of continuation. You can be perceived as a baby the day of your so-called birth and everyone thinks of you as now existing. But you already existed before that day. To die in our notion of death means that from some-thing you suddenly become nothing. From someone.

9 Routines

The Dalai Lama was once asked, ‘If you had only one word to describe the secret of happiness, and of living a fulfilling life, what would that word be?’ Without hesitating the Dalai Lama replied, “Routines.”  A routine is something that we do regularly, without questioning. Once established, routines require little effort, tracking, or decision making.  By definition they become a consistent part of our lives.   Viewed this way, routines reduce stress and help our lives move more smoothly.  

There’s a motto in the Japanese tea ceremony: Ichigo ichie, which means “one time, one encounter.”  The ceremony began as a Zen Buddhist routine practice that came to Japan from China.  Though all the intricate movements of the tea ceremony are prescribed by tradition, they are never quite the same. For the Japanese, each moment is unrepeatable and special in its own right.  Each moment in the ever-repeated pattern is, by virtue of the repetition, always new; whatever comes around again in the great cycle of things is always fresh. It is important therefore to explore the spiritual value of repetition and routine in one’s domestic and professional lives.  

Zen is about managing an everyday routine working steadily to a planned schedule to achieve a definite outcome.  Adopt the Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Single-task, don’t multitask. Focus solely on that one thing you are doing and do it slowly and deliberately. Take time, move slowly and focus on the task completely. Stay with this task until it is completed, before moving on to the next thing. Make sure you don’t have an endless task list each day, have goals you can complete that day and complete them fully with care. Leave space between tasks in case one takes longer than expected.  Manage your schedule so that you can achieve this.  For example, the Buddhist monk  Thích Nhất Hạnh, says, “If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” 

“What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”  As an old Asian proverb goes, “The careful foot can tread anywhere.

The Zen of ecological management is sticking to a  routine logic of looking and acting (Fig 16).  First decide on the feature to be managed, then define its condition by measuring one of its attributes and decide whether the condition is favourable i.e. it falls within the limits set by the management plan.  If the condition is unfavourable i.e. its condition falls outside the set limits, select a factor that can be manipulated to bring it into a favourable condition.  This Zen routine involves a sequence of the following three steps of mindfulness

1 Choose a feature of the ecosystem that is to be conserved (e.g. a plant or animal) and a factor in the environment that affects it (e.g. a predator).  Manipulate the factor and measure an attribute of the feature ( a performance indicator) to see what effect your manipulation of the factor has produced. 

2  If the feature is not in a favourable condition continue to manipulate the factor until the condition of the feature  becomes favourable. 

3 Then, keep the condition of the feature under surveillance, manipulating the factor, or a new factor, if the feature becomes unfavourable. 

This is the routine of a management cycle.  The routine is the same whether the feature is in a national nature reserve, a domestic garden or a plant pot. The logic is also the basis of any kind of management system at the operational level.

www.culturalecology.info/

Fig 16  A Zen routine for conservation management

Each moment of daily life is an opportunity to capture the present moment. Gathas are short Zen verses that we can recite during daily activities to help us grasp the present moment in mindfulness.  The following is a gatha for maintaining an ecosystem.

I know that I do not have 

A separate self.

By maintaining this ecological feature 

In a favourable state

So my being is also maintained 

In a more favourable condition.

10 Internet References

Teaching Hinduism

Deep Engagement With Place

Caring For The World In Communities

Applying Arts Reasoning to Explain Sustainability

February 10th, 2021

“The chaos of the contemporary world makes it extremely difficult for people to survive and live in peace. We all need an escape from the prevailing violence and the pain in the world. To solve the purpose, many people are ascribing to spirituality for one reason or the other. Divine enlightenment runs deep into our conscience and goes beyond our mind and ego to help attain some peace. A spiritual mind experiences bliss amid the darkness”. (Pramila Srivastava)

Spirituality …is the essential potentiality for addressing the ultimate questions that are intrinsic to the experience of being human. (Roehlkepartain et al., 2006) 

1 Transcendentalism

In the late 1820s, a philosophical movement emerged in the United States that was rooted in the recently flourishing European movements of Romanticism and Skepticism, and joined by the emerging Christian Unitarian movement, Transcendentalism appeared, carrying with it new perspectives on justice, spirituality, and the environment. Transcendentalism focused on defining individualism within a deeper understanding of the universe (Fig 1).  This had profound social, political, and economic impacts; eventually developing into the civil rights movement and modern environmentalism. The founding fathers of this environmental transcendental philosophy, among whom are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, had a great impact on others including the life and work of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Fig 1 Main ideas of environmental transcendentalism

.Because he possessed these leadership qualities, Emerson became known as the central figure of a literary and philosophical group, now known as the American Transcendentalists. These writers shared a key belief that each individual could transcend, or move beyond, the physical world of the senses into deeper spiritual experience through free will and intuition. In this New England school of Christian unitarian thought, God was not remote and unknowable; believers came to understand God and themselves by looking into their own selfhood and by feeling their own connection to nature.  The Transcendentalists believed that we can understand truth through intuition. That is, we don’t only arrive at truth by conducting a scientific experiment. They believed that there’s a whole realm of experience that is beyond logical or rational deduction.  We may not have any proof that God exists, for example, but we may feel that He, or She, or They, or We, does (/do). Today’s  secular transcendentalists see the only way to access that realm of experience and knowledge is to trust in our intuition; our inner voice; our gut feeling.  

Transcendental and transcend come from the Latin word transcendere, to climb over or go beyond. Transcendental describes anything that has to do with the spiritual, non-physical world. You could describe the time spent walking through a woodland as both a physical and a transcendental experience.  However, when something is transcendental, it’s beyond ordinary, everyday experience. It might be religious, spiritual in a secular sense, or otherworldly, but if it’s transcendental, it transcends or goes beyond the regular physical realm. The adjective transcendental is used to describe a particular kind of meditation, a specific school of philosophy, and even a type of number in mathematics.  Compared with Emerson’s original group, transcendentalism now leads people to adopt a oneness in Nature without the mediation of a deity. 

The first transcendentalists assumed a universe divided into two essential parts, the soul (the individual) and nature (Earth’s ecosystems).  Henry Thoreau defined nature as: “all that is separate from us, all which Philosophy distinguishes as the NOT ME, that is, both nature and art, all other men and my own body.”  Soul, in religion and philosophy, is the immaterial aspect or essence of a human being, which confers individuality and humanity.  It is often considered to be synonymous with the mind or the self.  Seeking practical experience, Thoreau used nature as a tool for learning, making wilderness his role model and reference point.  His essay entitled ‘Walden’ promotes a philosophy of simplicity, derived from Emerson’s philosophy of “self-reliance”, that could inspire people to live in better connection with nature.  If followed today it could help to save our planetary ecosystem. It is imperative for people to form an individual bond with nature in order to have respect and love for their environment. Many feel we must put Thoreau’s ideals into action in order to understand his message better.  His experience at Walden Pond fostered his love for nature and reaffirmed the importance of preserving the wilderness to live in harmony with nature. His later essays reiterate and reinforce Walden, drawing inspiration from experiencing the simple life himself.

The universe itself and everything it is, from the smallest grain of sand to the wide expanse of space and each and every human in between, can be considered nature. As humans, we tend to separate nature in our minds, creating some distinction between the outside world and our inner worlds. Human nature has always been inherently disconnected with nature in this sense: we form communities for protection, shelter from the elements, and to share our emotions and experiences. There is a fear embedded deep into the human consciousness; a fear of nature and an inherent need to establish a boundary between the self and nature. Thoreau, inspired by Emerson, attemped to deconstruct this stigma in an effort to influence people to be “self-reliant,” to embrace their connection to nature, and to create harmony between the outside and inner worlds. Throughout the collected essays in Walden, Thoreau invites us to transcend into a unity with nature and find a sense of meaning, direction and purpose in life through immediate contact with the ecosystem of which we are a seamless part by embracing cultural ecology as the main thread of selfhood. 

We experience transcendentalism today in many ways and could benefit as a society by collectively learning more about it and practicing it’s ideas.  We should spend more time in nature espoused by Thoreau and Emerson, in ‘Nature’ and ‘Walden Pond’, improving the structure of the education system as presented by Emerson in the ‘American Scholar’, and implementing some of Thoreau’s views from ‘Civil Disobedience’ and ‘Self Reliance’.

2 Artistic processing of transcendence

In his 1841 essay ‘Thoughts on Art’ Emerson struck a great chord with the Hudson River painters who were influenced by ideas about the divine essence of nature and its expression in the vast sweeping American landscape.  The Hudson River painters strongly believed that art was an agent of moral and spiritual transformation and agreed that painting should become a vehicle through which the mind could extend its understanding of the Universe by applying arts reasoning to explain sustainability (ARRTES).   Paintings of the Hudson River School reflect three dominant themes of cultural ecology in America in the 19th century: ‘discovery’, ‘exploration’, and ‘settlement’.  They also depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully on a small ecological scale. Hudson River landscape paintings are characterized by their realistic, detailed, and sometimes idealized portrayal of nature.  They often juxtaposed peaceful agriculture and the remaining wilderness which was fast disappearing from the Hudson Valley just as it was coming to be appreciated for its qualities of ruggedness and sublimity.   In general, Hudson River artists believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was a reflection of God, though they varied in the depth of their religious conviction. Technically they were inspired by European masters of landscape painting such as Claude Lorrain, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner.

The various forms of theosophical speculation that have emerged from the New England transcendentalists have certain common characteristics. The first is an emphasis on mystical experience expressed in theosophy. Theosophical writers hold that there is a deeper spiritual reality and that direct contact with that hidden reality can be established through intuition, meditation, revelation, or some other state transcending normal human consciousness. In art theosophy was a stimulus for pure abstraction. Indeed,  abstract art was underwritten by an occult spiritualist movement actually called ‘Theosophy’. Many early European abstractionists, including Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kasimir Malevich, and František Kupka, cited Theosophy as a direct source for their ideas and works.  Mondrian was a member of the Dutch Theosophical Society and lived briefly in the quarters of the French Theosophical Society in Paris. He said he ‘‘got everything from the Secret Doctrine’‘ of Theosophy, which was an attempt by its founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to do nothing less than read, digest and synthesize all religions. Much of Mondrian’s symbolism, including the ubiquitous vertical and horizontal lines and much of his utopianism was shaped by Theosophical doctrine. In his 1910-11 painting ”Evolution,” (Fig 2).  The The painting represents three fundamental stages in the spiritual evolution of a human being.  The figure seems to be a woman but is in actual fact devoid of any female characteristics and should more probably be seen as a symbol of the human being, i.e. both male and female. he defines the ascending stages in a Theosophical journey through which he later hoped to guide the public in his abstract art.

Fig 2 Ascending stages in theosophy

All art is an abstraction from reality. The difference between art movements is simply how much abstraction is taking place.  The Mexican painter. Diego Rivera, said in 1931, on the occasion of an exhibition of Kandinsky’s abstract work in San Francisco (Fig 3): 

Fig 3 ‘Standing’, Kandinsky, 1939

“I know of nothing more real than the painting of Kandinsky – nor anything more true and nothing more beautiful. A painting by Kandinsky gives no image of earthly life – it is life itself. If one painter deserves the name ‘creator’, it is he. He organises matter as matter was organised, otherwise the Universe would not exist. He opened a window to look inside the All. Someday, Kandinsky will be the best known and best loved of men.” 

To become one with nature, the British painter Graham Sutherland urges us to be aware of the details of our surroundings.  He described this as developing our ‘outsidedness’.  Artists have the mindset to bring the outside into their mind’s consciousness, where it is processed  to make an image that transcends the original landscape element that first captured their attention. Sutherland’s poetic vis­ion has been likened to that of the 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (Fig 4).

Fig 4 Transcendentalism: in words

For Sutherland this creativity was the outcome of his childhood experiences in the countryside, where he cultivated the habit of looking at things very closely. In this respect his visual response to nature went way beyond the superficial and penetrated deeply into a fertile, prepared imagination.  He described this inside reaction as a poetic response; an ecstatic experience; the sudden hair-tingling recognition of an unadulterated truth pre-existing within a landscape element, which no other person had ‘seen’ before.  For example, a narrow lane leading down to the beach, with overarching wind-pruned vegetation was an invitation for him to tunnel into a transcendental, botanical microcosm (Figs 5-9).  However, it is not necessary for the viewer to know Sutherand’s starting point because the work is simply a personnel offering to mull over a non- representational or object-free composition. To know its origins is a distraction and restricts the viewer’s mental options. In this context, Vered Aviv claims that abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling it to activate its inner states, create new emotional and cognitive associations, and open up brain-states that are otherwise harder to access.  

Abstract art is a very recent invention of the human brain. Its success in attracting the brains of so many of us suggests that it has an important cognitive/emotional role. Supported by recent experimental studies, Avid suggests that abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality.  This process is apparently rewarding as it enables the exploration of yet undiscovered inner territories of the viewer’s brain.   Abstract art may therefore encourage our brain to respond in a less restrictive and stereotypical manner, exploring new associations, activating alternative paths for emotions, and forming new possibly creative, mental links. It also enables viewers to access early visual processes (dealing with simple features like dots, lines and simple objects) that are otherwise harder to access when a whole “gestalt” image is analyzed, as is the case with representational art.

Fig 5 Photograph of a Pembrokeshire lane to the seashore

Fig 6 ‘Study of landscape’: Graham Sutherland (1940)

In research on human relationships to the natural world, spirituality is key to understanding people’s emotions and the meaning of nature to them. It is maintained that spiritual thinking is a central element of environmental experience. Spirituality can be defined as “an individual’s inner experience and/or belief system that gives meaning to existence, and subsequently allows one to transcend beyond the present context,  In recent years, spirituality research has peaked in association with research on transcendent experiences in relation to wellbeing, health, and other aspects. It has, further, opened up a specific line of research on feelings of awe, which researchers have undertaken experimentally as well as phenomenologically

Recent interest in transcendent emotions has built on important historical contributions from psychological science. Spiritual identity is a sense of oneness with all things, and connects it to a mystical experience.  A mystical experience is a sort of spiritual, religious experience that is typically ineffable, true, transitory, passive, and brought about by a perceived higher power. Nature evokes these feelings because it seems to have a peculiar power of awakening such mystical moods. Mystical experiences provoked by nature are cited in works of art, including and especially Walt Whitman’s poetry, which conveys a sense of interconnectedness and oneness between the entire universe and the personal, private sphere.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00509/full

Fig 7 Transcendental processing of what you see to what you imagine

Sutherland carried this transcendental manipulation of nature forms to Coventry Cathedral, where elements of Pembrokeshire’s ecological microcosms were incorporated into his design for the Great Altar Tapestry depicting Christ in Majesty.   Sutherland says of his portrayal of Christ: “I wanted the figure to be real, yet not real. I wanted it to be something slightly ambiguous: a human form, but with overtones of a nature form”  In Pembrokeshire it could be said that Sutherland wanted his landscapes to be very ambiguous: a nature form, but with overtones of a human form.  People entering a Sutherland mental landscape move into a unique notional space. Once inside, our every thought is initiated and reflected from surfaces and objects created from spiritual ideas turned into transcendental blueprints for craft and art. What makes such spaces sacred and ageless is that the material structures have been designed to help us make sense of questions about being human which still haunt people today. Walls and woodlands become a kind of ‘elemental ‘tape’ for us to replay answers from the past to questions such as:-

What is life all about?

What are we here for?

Where is it all leading?

What happens after death?

Fig 8 ‘Untitled’; Graham Sutherland, lithograph (1979).

When we think about these questions in church, temple mosque, art gallery, woodland or observe a stone in a stoneless landscape,  we are meditating. The outcome may simply be to reinforce answers we have already discovered. But sometimes ideas seem to bubble up from nowhere. These inner voices are the language of meditation. They are the mental processes of spiritual revelation. As far as we know, these are also the same mental processes, which, when focused on practical problems, power both artistic creativity and scientific invention. Religiosity and secular spiritualism come together before Graham Sutherland’s Great Coventry Tapestry

Fig 9  ‘Christ in Majesty’: Graham Sutherland, Coventry Cathedral

Poetry is based on the power of imagery and language. Poetry is suggestive, and it allowed transcendentalist writers to suggest the nature of the “truths” and insights that they tried to explicate in their essays, but which went beyond the rational mind.  In this connection, writing poetry is akin to the process of spiritual appraisal  we call meditation.  They both take a world view that is rooted in the imagination and passes beyond the limits of ordinary life. Meditations start from the postulate that the material cosmos in some way manifests a deeper spiritual reality, expressed through human self awareness. We can actually meditate anywhere that offers space for thinking off the mainstream of everyday life. Some people in busy offices are finding that ‘spiritual websites’ give them space for contemplation. It is not necessary to have physical prompts. 

Prayer is an activity where words can clear a mental space, no matter where we are. A physical space provided in a purpose-built sacred building is often more effective because it contains objects which have been specially designed, not only to focus the questions, but provide encoded messages which may give convincing answers.  Because most people today are ignorant of the biblical codes at the core of religious stories and objects of Christianity, it cannot be expected that very much will sink in without providing some kind of interpretation to get them started. In this sense an educator has to start from where people are. They are perhaps seeing an object for the first time, and not as part of the complex doctrine of which it may form only a tiny part. The part then becomes a point of reference from which more signposts may lead to an appreciation of the greater whole.

3  The abstract desert transcendentalists

In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky asserts that pure abstraction obtains sublime transcendence. Spirituality in the twentyfirst century art tends to attach itself to the modern artist’s aspiration to achieve transcendent expression through the act of creation. 

The artist Agnes Pelton (1881–1961) was a visionary symbolist who depicted the spiritual she experienced in moments of meditative stillness. Art for her was a discipline through which she gave form to her vision of a higher consciousness within the universe. Using an abstract vocabulary of curvilinear, biomorphic forms and delicate, shimmering veils of light, she portrayed her awareness of a mental world that lay behind physical appearances—a world of benevolent, disembodied energies animating and protecting life.  For most of her career, Pelton chose to live away from the distractions of a major art center, first in Water Mill, Long Island, from 1921 to 1932, and subsequently in Cathedral City, a small community near Palm Springs, California.  She painted conventional desert landscapes to make a living, but it was her abstract studies of earth and light, biomorphic compositions of delicate veils, shimmering stars, and atmospheric horizon lines, that distinguished her work (Fig 10).  A believer in numerology, astrology, and faith healing, Pelton’s abstract compositions propelled her into an esoteric world epitomized by the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a short-lived group that promoted abstract, non-objective art.  Agnes Pelton strove to portray a spiritual realm beyond material appearances. Her artistic breakthrough came in the mid-1920s in a series of abstract paintings depicting incorporeal subject matter such as air, light, water, and sound. In the decades that followed, as she began to immerse herself in the study of esoteric and occult philosophies, her imagery evolved. She paired the emotive power of ethereal abstract forms with delicate, shimmering veils of color and mystical symbols such as stars, mountains, and fire to represent the union with “Divine Reality” that she experienced in dreams and meditation. She once described her process of meticulously applying thin layers of pigment to create subtle, luminous hues as “painting with a moth’s wing and with music instead of paint.

Fig 10. Sea Change: Agnes Pelton, 1931

Georgia O’Keefe is also classed as a desert transcendentalist.  In 1929, seeking solitude and an escape from urbanisation she traveled to New Mexico and began an inspirational love affair with the visual scenery of the state. For 20 years she spent part of every year working in New Mexico, becoming increasingly interested in the forms of animal skulls and the southwest landscapes.

There, O’Keeffe found new subjects to paint in the sun-bleached animal bones and the rugged mountains that dominate the terrain. Two of her earliest and most celebrated Southwestern paintings—Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue (52.203) and Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses (Art Institute of Chicago) from 1931—exquisitely reproduce a skull’s weathered surfaces, jagged edges, and irregular openings. Rather than signifying death, O’Keeffe said that the bones symbolized the eternal beauty of the desert. Later, she painted fanciful canvases that combined skeletal objects and landscape imagery in the same composition (59.204.2). The results were provocative and unsettling, and the odd juxtapositions and discrepancies in size and scale led some to call these works surreal. Between 1943 and 1945, she also explored another variation on the bone theme in her large series of Pelvis pictures, which focused on the contrasts between convex and concave surfaces, and solid and open spaces (61.565.36).

Although the desert bones of New Mexico had initially sparked O’Keeffe’s imagination, it was painted the rocks, cliffs, and mountains in dramatic close-up, just as she had done with her flower subjects. One of her favorite settings was a site she nicknamed the “Black Place” the region’s majestic landscape, with its unusual geological formations, vivid colors, clarity of light, and exotic vegetation, that held her attention for more than four decades. Often she (59.204.1), which she interpreted both panoramically and in tight views emphasizing the ragged juncture of two hills.

O’Keeffe explained her idea behind Blue and Green Music (Fig 11) that “music could be translated into something for the eye.” Many painters have been attracted to the idea of ‘painting music’.  The critic Walter Pater wrote in 1877: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.”  One interpretation of Pater’s observation is that music is the only art whose form and content are  the same. This makes music fundamentally different from traditional Western painting, in which the same content can take hundreds of forms. The reason painting and music differ, Pater went on to argue, is that painting is mimetic (i.e., it tries to approximate the appearance of the physical world), and music is not.  O’Keefe and Pelton were strongly influenced by the Symbolist creed which proclaimed that art should be atmospheric not realistic, symbolic rather than literal in meaning. This takes their presentations into the realm of theosophy

Fig 11. Blue and Green Music: Georgia O’Keefe, 1921

People often misunderstand abstract art because they are looking for something real and concrete with which they can identify. It is natural to try to name and make sense of what we experience and perceive in the world, so pure abstract art, with its unrecognizable subject matter and unpredictable shapes, colorurs, and lines can prove challenging.  The arts in traditional cultures transmit the central beliefs and values of those cultures, and those beliefs and values have a strong religious or spiritual dimension.  Abstract images, such as a works of art, are a powerful means of eliciting individualized emotional reactions and general impressions in the observer. In this respect, abstract art is an ideal vehicle for communicating spiritual realities for several reasons. It removes viewers from the world they think they know and allows them to focus their contemplation on symbols, the experience of a work, or its meditative character. Polly Castor saya of her abstract works, “ My ultimate motive is to aid the viewer into deeper contemplation and understanding of the subject depicted. I want to be clear that I am making a visual statement of a more metaphysical idea or concept, and not just noodling around in a pleasing way”.  A title guides the viewer along this pathway.(Fig 12)

Fig 12 Buddha Tree: Corixus, 2020

We experience transcendentalism today in many ways and could benefit as a society by collectively learning more about it and practicing it’s ideas such as spending more time in nature espoused by Thoreau and Emerson, in ‘Nature’ and ‘Walden Pond’, improving the structure of the education system as presented by Emerson in the ‘American Scholar’, and implementing some of Thoreau’s views from ‘Civil Disobedience and Self Reliance’.

4  Internet References

Wonderful things

Notions About Nature

January 27th, 2021

Buddhism: An Educational Model In Cultural Ecology

Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge. It seeks to answer the questions “What is knowledge?”, “How is knowledge acquired?”, What kind of knowledge is there?, and How do people come to know things?

1  Place-based mindfulness

“Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered or scientifically detected or counted. It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they leave in ours. Memory. The census doesn’t count it. Nothing counts without it.” Robert Fulghum


In 2015 two papers were published in the Journal of Buddhist Studies on the cultural ecology of Buddhism.  One dealt with cultural ecology on a cosmic scale as reflected in the classical stone carvings of the Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Central Java.  The other was a case study of adaptations of the Jade Buddhist temple in Shanghai to socialist society, delivering local community services and promoting care for planet Earth. Both papers were manifestations of the extremes of Buddhist teachings regarding the place of humanity in the universe and community.   

In Buddhism, right mindfulness controls your mental state so you see things clearly.  Right concentration removes barriers to understanding how you can affect the world around you. Right concentration also frees you from the delusion of being a separate self by substituting the experience of Oneness.  When we experience Oneness, we feel a connection with everything in existence on every level. In other words, we feel ‘at one’ with all things, living and nonliving..  In Buddhism oneness is a cultural synthesis of ecology with humankind extrapolated on a cosmic scale.  Meditation is seen as an adaptation of self education to feel ‘at one’ to improve the experience of living a happy life based on the three precepts of Buddhist education; cease to do harm, do only good, do good for others. 

Oneness is an experience that transcends the mind.  Other names for Oneness include Non-Dual Awareness, Unity, Buddha-Nature, and Enlightenment.  It is the central takeaway of Buddhist education because to understand it requires the learner to adopt right mindedness and right concentration as educational outcomes of Buddhism’s eight-fold path to avoid dissatisfaction with life. 

In education generally, mind mapping provides a meditative framework to achieve right mindedness and right thinking within place-based education. Therefore, how do we speak of place? Are lineage and place geographical, cultural, emotional, and spiritual?  Adopting Oneness brings recognition of the intrinsic value of all life forms, while also promoting self-realization through the self-discovery of interconnectedness with a larger whole.  Importantly, oneness supports a belief in biocentric equality, a concept giving all forms of life intrinsic value and equal importance in the fullness of time. Therefore, a learner, when faced with a state of emotional vulnerability and total receptiveness, is taught how to enter into a deep, meditative, mindful, relationship with the universe.  This relationship can be visualized as a mind map to reframe reality more accurately rather than allowing anxieties to spiral out of control. In this context, producing a mind map is really a process of enlightenment whereby the mapper gains wisdom by becoming educated about a particular body of knowledge driven by personal need and reason.

The idea of Buddhist place-based education may be fairly new, but the philosophical underpinnings of place-based education are not, they come from thinkers like John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and many other curricular innovators.  For example, John Dewey advocated for many of the same educational philosophies that are the foundation of meditative place-based education.  Dewey believed that education and the experience of living were not separate, “…education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living”. Dewey’s idea that education is necessarily integrated with the experience of daily living is a foundational element of place-based education everywhere and was discussed at length in Dewey’s book Experience and Education in 1938.  In practical terms mind mapping generates mindfulness and attention to detail and helps make connections between ideas.  In a learning environment this will reveal connections between existing knowledge and new knowledge. Also, mind mapping breaks complex ideas down into smaller points of view, making things easier to understand. 

In his web page entitled ‘A Practice of 61-Points to Sharpen Concentration’ Michael Grady says: 

We are trained from birth to attend almost exclusively to the external world. Steeped in the concept of linear time and the law of cause and effect, we develop the habit of turning our minds outward and allowing our attention to be directed by our senses. So it is only natural that when we sit for meditation, our minds wander, drawn away by sense stimuli or by memories of past sensory experiences”  

This spontaneous process of disorderly mindfulness is the launchpad for place-based meditation.  The aim is to turn our thoughts inwards to connect with the bigger scheme of things that surrounds us.  Described as ‘Point to Point Place-Based Mindfulness’ the mind mapping process offers enough “movement” to capture the attention of a roving mind and guide it to become inward and orderly so following the map.  The objective is to produce a wholesome state of Buddhist interconnectedness in space-time.  To achieve the objective it is necessary to narrow down the inner mental panorama.  This is done by including only the points of intensified concentration required to raise the mind to a higher, more purified level of awareness of the past in the meditator’s present.  Because meditation is the process of maintaining an unwavering, inward focus on one point of view at a time, preparing for meditation entails perfecting our ability to concentrate. If the mind can be made one-pointed, it may later be directed effectively to connect with other points of view.   ‘Point to Point Space-Time Mindfulness’ invites you to step from the present moment, unplug from your everyday concerns, and focus deeply on the map before you, whilst following a meditative route towards a manageable wholesome state of mind. This is the aim of mind mapping, which may be regarded as a practical outcome of Buddist thoughts about how to achieve enlightenment as an educational goal (Figs 1 and 2).

Fig 1  Five point mind map for guiding point to point place-based mindfulness on thinking like a Buddhist

https://www.goconqr.com/mindmap/28173314/think-like-a-buddhist

Buddha articulated his first mind map in a deer park at Sarnath, now on the outskirts of Varanesi, to his five companions, with whom he had practiced austere asceticism before his enlightenment at Bodh Gaya.  Iconographically, this event is often depicted as two deer, one on either side of a wheel. The wheel represents Buddist teachings (dharma), its pedagogy, and the cosmos, its universal dimension. The deer park symbolises the time and place when the historical Buddha delivered his First Sermon, which set in motion the Wheel of the Law’. This is one of the Eight Great Events of the Buddha’s life. Its exposition of the “Middle Way”, ”The Four Noble Truths” and the “Noble Eightfold Path” contains the fundamental educational principles of Buddhism.  They are encapsulated in the cultural ecology of ‘the deer park’

Fig 2 Multipoint mind map for guiding point to point place-based mindfulness on thinking about impermanence in the cultural ecology of three communities.   

https://www.goconqr.com/mindmap/28246700/zen-meditations-on-impermanence

2  Oneness as a system of thought

 Anatta is a central doctrine of Buddhism.  According to anatta, at the core of all beings there is no eternal, essential and absolute something called a self.   Buddhism, from its earliest days, has denied the existence of the “self” in its main texts, which define nirvana as that blissful state when a person realizes that he or she has “no self and is as one with all elements of the Universe.  What we call “me,” or “myself,”  is likened to a ‘flower’ in the cosmic garden and each ‘flower’ is beautiful. But we have to look into ourselves and recognize the fact that we are made only of non-we elements drawn from a common pool and shared with others. If we remove all these non-we elements, we cannot continue because there is no ‘we’ left.  Buddha, as a concept, is made of non-Buddha elements. Nothing can exist by itself alone. On a spiritual plane, everything has to ‘inter-be’ with everything else in the cosmos, and in particular humankind is subordinate to other beings. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, describes this non-me oneness as follows: 

We humans think we are smart, but an orchid, for example, knows how to produce noble, symmetrical flowers, and a snail knows how to make a beautiful, well-proportioned shell. Compared with their knowledge, ours is not worth much at all. We should bow deeply before the orchid and the snail and join our palms reverently before the monarch butterfly and the magnolia tree. The feeling of respect for all species will help us recognize the noblest nature in ourselves is the pool of biochemical resources that we share” with other beings: men, women, children, old people, animals of every species, trees, plants, and food minerals”. 

Buddhists say that well being and happiness come when we realise that our noblest nature as an individual being is interconnectedness.  At any one time we can declare that we are humankind existing as the outcome of the flows of materials and energy through a global ecosystem.  We are a temporary biochemical microcosm composed of ancestral  elements drawn from an environmental macrocosm (Fig 3).  

Fig 3 A Buddhist autopoietic system of oneness

These elements defined as ‘we’ and ‘non-we’, support a flow of molecules and energy to produce the elements of oneness (components), which in turn, continue to maintain the organized bounded structure that gives rise to these elements.  It is not difficult to see how Buddhism is entangled in biological evolution and has become the faith system that is close to scientific thinking about the evolution of life. In the long run the biochemical elements of energy and materials circulate through the human ecosystem as non-we components in other microcosms, such as trees.

Our structural unity with plants and animals is evident at the cellular level.  No matter what the life form, we have a fundamental unity with respect to possessing  biochemical components such as nucleic acids and proteins, organized into bounded structures such as the cell nucleus, various intracellular organelles, a cell membrane and cytoskeleton.Our biochemical unity with other life forms, including plants, is also evident at the chemical level where energy is released from food in the citric acid cycle (Fig 4).  

Fig 4 The citric acid cycle

Food enters the cycle having been processed to acetyl-CoA ( a one carbon compound) by combining with oxaloacetic acid (a 2-carbon compound) to make citric acid (a 3-carbon compound). Citric acid is then converted in 3 steps to succinyl-CoA (a 2-carbon compound) releasing carbon dioxide (C02).  Succinyl-CoA is next converted to oxaloacetic acid in 4 steps, which is then available to run the cycle again.  For every turn of the cycle acetyl-CoA is converted to CO2 and the energy that held the atoms of succinylCoA together is made available to support the body’s cellular structure and power its growth and movement.

This dynamic, all embracing oneness system, prompts the Jataka Tales, which are stories about the lives the Buddha lived before he became enlightened. In those stories we hear how the Buddha was a tree, a bird, a tortoise, a rock, a cloud before he was a human. We too, before our chemical components manifested in human form, were part of these same elements flowing through  trees, one-celled animals, large predators, clouds, forests rocks and galaxies.  In this respect, a Buddhism oneness can be expressed dynamically in the cellular structure of our bodies.  Standing alongside a tree, or walking through a forest, we are biochemically as one with treekind.  

Regarding sharing common pool resources a symbiotic relationship exists between trees and humans.  Humankind breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide, while treekind breathes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen.  When we stand before a tree this exchange reinforces the dynamic biochemical interaction when it is remembered that every six days, due to the phenomena of steady state biochemistry, up to 6% of the carbon in our body will be replaced without any net loss or gain in biomass.  The principle of the steady state is illustrated in the science of a candle flame (Fig 5).  As the candle burns, its flame maintains a constant size and shape.  Solid wax becomes liquid and then evaporates to become a gas. The gaseous wax combines with oxygen to produce water, carbon dioxide, heat and light.  The burning candle also produces carbon, in the form of soot.  It is glowing soot that causes the candle to give out light. 

Fig 5 Science of candle flame

What of the self? The Buddha taught that there is no soul or self, and he used the metaphor of the cart. If you take away the wheels and axles, the floorboards and sides, the shafts, and all the other parts of the cart, what remains? Nothing but the conception of a cart, which will be the same when a new cart is built. So the uninterrupted process of psychophysical phenomena moves from life to life. The chemistry of each life is available instantaneously in death to a new life, and the new life is the effect of the causes in the old life. A candle flame at this instant is different from the flame that burned an instant ago, yet the flame is continuous.  The maintenance of the cellular structure of our bodies and a candle flame are examples of autopoietic systems.

An autopoietic system may be contrasted with an allopoietic system, such as a car factory, which uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) which is something other than itself (the factory). However, if the system is extended from the factory to include components in the factory’s “environment”, such as supply chains, plant / equipment, workers, dealerships, customers, contracts, competitors, cars, spare parts, and so on, then as a total viable system it could be considered to be autopoietic.  

3 Zen mindscapes

Buddhism operates in three reality modes: physical reality, social reality and inner reality. The wider and deeper inner macrocosm of humankind is a mindscape encompassing the range of a person’s thoughts and imagination.  A mindscape is a system of essentially individual values, judgements, feelings and meanings that are related to the environment. Mindscapes are assembled from non-we elements.  Each element differs from others according to its environment and its ancestry.  So, a mindscape is a panorama capable of being compiled and contemplated by another person as a mental landscape or inner Zen vision.  Zen is a school of  Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, and later developed into various schools. It is not a philosophy or a religion. In its essence Zen is the art of seeing into the organisation of one’s own being. Zen is meditation, past to present, and Zen practice is to realise that thoughts are a natural faculty of mind and should not be stopped, ignored, or rejected.  The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive feature. In our western relationship with time we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it and then project our findings into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied.  Zen compresses the present moment to a tiny sliver on the cosmic clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment when we are doing something practical or contemplating an object such as a tree or a picture. In this connection, a study published in the journal Mindfulness suggests that washing dishes can be a form of meditation, promoting a positive state of attention on the emotions and thoughts in the present moment. “Mindful dishwashers” experienced benefits over a control group, reporting a decrease in nervousness of 27 percent, and a boost in mental inspiration of 25 percent.

Therefore, Zen has much to offer practically regarding interconnectedness. Furthermore, it teaches that not only can we address the well-being of people and nature in tandem, but that we must, for they are inextricably linked.  The term zen is shortened from mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the state of “no-mindness”. That is, zen is a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything. It is translated by D.T. Suzuki as “being free from mind-attachment”, which is achieved by letting go because the world is in a state of impermanence and things change  (Fig 6). The Dalai Lama summarises the need for Zen, saying, “Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.

Fig 6 Letting go because things change

There are plenty of examples of spirituality where people experience and express their spirituality for different reasons and in different ways.  Meditation is the practice of taking a moment to withhold judgement, explore the curiosities of your own mind with a loving, gentle approach.  Mindfulness refers to ‘being present’ and bringing things to mind.  This is the opposite of absent-mindedness. It can be thought of as having a ‘presence of mind’. This supports its function of recollection, such as recalling a teaching or remembering what one is supposed to be doing. In Buddhist practice this could mean remembering that one is trying to focus on the breath, doing which helps one remember that one is meditating, which helps one to remember that one is a Buddhist practitioner, which in turn helps one to recall that one is trying to overcome greed, hatred and spiritual ignorance in order to gain enlightenment. 

To summarise, spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. It has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose and feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves. It typically involves a search for meaning in life by meditation.  At its most simple, meditation augments our awareness of now.  The next moment will be different because we do not know what is coming round the next corner.  

Making a connection between our response to impressionist paintings, says  Sarah Rudell Beach, illustrates how a seemingly permanent and stable object appears completely different, depending on the lighting, atmospheric conditions, and time of day.

“The Impressionists used small strokes of unmixed paint to create vibrant colors and a sense of movement in their works. From far away, a Monet landscape looks like what we might see in reality — shimmering leaves, blurred outlines of shadows or clouds — but when we get close it indeed looks like “a big old messThe Buddha taught much the same thing about the self. From far away, before we’ve examined it, it looks like a coherent, solid, permanent entity. But once we look carefully, we see that the being we take to be “self” is simply a collection of elements — body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness (knowing). All of which are, of course, constantly changing and shifting”.

This collection of environmental elements is the background against which Buddhism is working but also augments the self into a wider world of places and people.  And the Buddha, with his several excursions into the heart of human experience, basically came to the conclusion that selfhood is an entirely imagined concept.  Taking Rudell Beach’s analogy of self as an impressionist painting, trees and people are the brush strokes and their interactions through time comprise the big picture. The claim of stability articulated in these traditions is really just an idea that we project onto our world; it is not to be found in actual experience. So one of the principal insights of the whole Buddhist tradition is that the entire world of our experience, whether the macrocosmic material world (e.g.treekind) or the microcosmic world of our personal, inner experience (e.g.humankind) is fundamentally not per­manent, not unchanging. Everything is in flux. As an example, landscaped parkland can be a meditative resource to transform how we view ourselves and our world by incorporating ourselves into it through meditation on the people who made, managed and depicted it in words and pictures and thereby we can all have ownership of it. In other words, seeing the parkland in the Lincolnshire village of Grainsby, and the ruined mansion of the Suffolk village of Flixton can provoke life-long meditations on impermanence (Fig 2).

4  Happiness in parkland

Deva is the Buddhist and Hindu term for deity; however, devata is a smaller, more focused deva associated with landscape features such as, river crossings, caves, mountains, and so on.  Buddha was born in the 6th century B.C., or possibly as early as 624 B.C and in his time trees were already being venerated as devata and cutting trees was prohibited. Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist texts define Buddist country as being centred on urban Madhyadeśa.  Also known as The Middle Country it is part of the Ganges river basin with towns and cities, parks and gardens, lakes and rivers that have been mentioned time and again. It seems, therefore, that the Middle Country was exclusively the world in which the early Buddhists confined themselves. It was in an eastern district of the Madhyadeśa that the Gotama prince became the Buddha, and the drama of his whole life was staged on the plains of the Middle Country. He travelled independently, or with his disciples, from city to city, and village to village, moving as it were within a circumscribed area. The demand for his teachings near home was so great and insistent that he had no occasion during his lifetime to stir outside the limits of the Middle Country. On a modern map Middle Country is situated east of the AH1 Grand Trunk  Road (Fig 7).  In Buddha’s time the countryside theeabouts is described as being park-like; a rolling open grassland, scattered with shrubs and isolated trees, grazed by cattle and deer. Meetings held outdoors under trees were commonplace in towns and villages.  

Fig 7 Buddist Middle Country

In Buddhism, trees have long been recognized as exceptional living things worthy of recognition and protection. The terms ‘savannha parkland’ and ‘park savannah’ or ‘parklike savanna’ are sometimes used by biogeographers to describe the biome which can be found between tropical rainforest and desert in Africa and India. Not enough rain falls on a savanna to support forests. Savannas are also known as tropical grasslands. In the dry season only an average of about 4 inches of rain falls. Specifically, Monica M. Cole, in a savanna classification first proposed in 1963, defined savanna parklands as tall grassland (grasses 40–80 cm high) with scattered deciduous trees (less than 8 m high)”.  Human settlement in grassland brought farmed herbivores. 

 Some ecologists see savannahs as open grasslands, while others see a mosaic of environments from woodlands to grasslands.  The savannah hypothesis states that human bipedalism evolved as a direct result of human ancestors transitioning from a closed arboreal lifestyle to one on the open savannas. As humans increasingly dominate the Earth system, four anthropogenic drivers caused rapid vegetation change across savannas, threatening biodiversity and ecosystem services. These are: change and transformation of land cover, human-induced changes to fire, browsing and grazing regimes, climate change and now rising atmospheric carbon dioxide.  

A grove is a small group of trees with little or no undergrowth beneath the canopies.  The grove is therefore accessible to people. When managed through grazing beneath the trees with sheep, deer or cattle, groves blend into wood pasture and rural parkland. In India, some large groves started as medieval hunting forests or wooded community commons, and others are part of landscapes designed to beautify large estates (Fig 8).

Fig 8  Cultural ecology of parkland

A sacred grove is any small group of trees that is of special religious importance to a particular community or culture.  There are Buddhist grove-monks who have a long association with, and dependence upon, the extended community. While the laity provide the material support for their renunciant life, such as almsfood and cloth for robes, the monastic community serves as a resource for spiritual inspiration and guidance. The conduct of grove or forest monks is governed by over 200 protocols, which include total celibacy, eating only between dawn and noon and abstaining from handling money.  They also commonly engage in a practice known as ‘tudong’ in which they wander on foot through the countryside either on pilgrimage or in search of groves for solitary retreat amongst trees. During such wanderings, monks sleep wherever is available and eat only what is offered by laypeople along the way.  This community dimension of Buddhism is strikingly illustrated by Thai Buddhist monks who wrap orange clerical robes around trees to protect forests. “Ordaining” a tree in this way is a provocative ritual that has become the symbol of a small but influential monastic movement aimed at reversing environmental degradation and the unsustainable economic development and consumerism that fuel it.  

Groves appear in all aspects of Buddhist art, including scenes of the Buddhist paradises in which they are depicted laden with jewels, representing the spiritual wealth of those progressing towards enlightenment. There is also a tree, the Rose-Apple Tree, on the summit of Mount Meru at the very center of the Buddhist cosmos. This symbolic tree serves as a cosmic pillar connecting Heaven and Earth. Considering the central role of trees in the Buddhist cosmos, it is not surprising that treekind is central in the life and legends of the Buddha and his enlightenment and that they connect his material existence to his spiritual one. Buddhist mythology says that when the Buddha was born, he assumed his human, material form; when he attained enlightenment, he achieved a higher spiritual level; when he died, he shed his physical form and fully entered the spiritual realm. A tree was present at each of these moments, serving as an arboreal bridge to enlightenment and mindful living.  

So, grazed parklands and their arboreal bridges are therefore key concepts in Buddhism. Buddha gave his first sermon on the outskirts of the city of Varanasi at a deer park called Sarnath.  Commemorating this event a doe and buck flanking a wheel is the universal symbol of Buddhism.  The wheel symbolizes the Buddha’s most essential teachings, known as the Dharma.  The parkland tradition was continued to this day when The Deer Park Monastery was established by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to share the practice of mindful living.  This 400-acre sanctuary is situated in the Chaparral Mountains of southern California, within a grove of oak trees in a natural landscape (Fig 9).

Fig 9 Parkland of the ‘Deer Park Monastery’.

5 Aligning treekind with humankind

Dead people belong to the live people who claim them most obsessively.

—JAMES ELLROY

The truth which the Buddhists see when they look at the world that surrounds themvis the truth of cause and effect. Every action, no matter how insignificant, produces an effect; every effect in its turn becomes a cause and produces still further effects. It is meaningless to inquire for a First Cause. A First Cause is inconceivable; rather, cause and effect are cyclical, and this universe when it dies and falls apart will give rise to another universe, just as this one was formed from the dispersed matter of a previous universe. The origin of the universe, like that of every individual person or thing in it, is dependent on the chain of previous causes, which goes on and on in an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This is the Buddhist principle of dependent origination. The dynamic oneness with trees spanning human generations is also expressed mentally.  For example, Forestry England has strong scientific evidence that visiting a woodland can improve mood and attention span, and even enhance psychological stress recovery.   The European body, Forest Europe, agrees there is evidence that forests boost mental health wellbeing.  But the evidence on the effect of forests on psychological health is not yet good enough to say when, where, and for whom given effects will occur or how long they will last. Positive effects may not be experienced equally by different groups of people and not all types and sizes of forests might be equally effective.”   

Lauren Krauze tells of her meditation teacher who once advised her to look to the example trees set as steady, observant beings. “They are excellent meditators. They sit in one spot for decades, watching all that goes by.” In his book The Island Within, anthropologist Richard Nelson described trees in a similar manner. “The dark boughs reach out above me and encircle me like arms. I feel the assurance of being recognized, as if something powerful and protective is aware of my presence . . .  I am never alone in this forest of elders, this forest of eyes.

Bowing to a tree in Buddhism is to acknowledge its presence in the mind by pledging allegiance to it, especially in a reverential manner. 

The extreme diversity of response is represented by the television presenter of countryside  affairs Kate Humble, who has described how she often finds comfort in sylvan settings.  

She said: “We all have moments of anxiety or stress or confusion or sadness. Sometimes it can be really hard to articulate that to another person. You can talk to a tree: they feel old and wise and at times you need an old and wise thing that isn’t going to judge you.

Humble said she had a particular 600-year-old tree she turned to, named Old Man Oak. “He is so stately. There have been many occasions when I have gone and sought the solace of Old Man Oak. We live this very ephemeral life. There is something about the solidity of a tree that can give you a sense of security.” Humble also said she thought it was fine to sometimes feel a little nervous in woodland. “It’s a lovely feeling to almost be lost, but not quite, and to feel you are being led down mysterious paths.

Regarding a mass cultural response to life with trees, the spring leaf burst and flower bloom represent a celebration of life, without ignoring its complexities. It brings the losses and gains of an individual’s life to a focus. In Japan, the spring celebration of the flowering of cherry blossom has been passed across generations as a symbol of something deeper than a biological clock, that not only celebrates and unites people to each other, but also reminds them of their transience. These days of environmental crises calls out our selfish affluence and challenges us to reflect on our destruction of the environmental services that sustain us.   At the same time, nature’s calendar is a reminder of all the things lost as a result of our selfish gains. Trees challenge us to see our prosperity and its inherent disproportion across the globe.

The awakening of trees from their winter dormancy restarts their energy metabolism, which during a tree’s lifespan has been absorbing carbon diligently.  When it passes its peak and declines in health it begins to leach its stored carbon back into the atmosphere.  While it seems counterintuitive, proper modern sustainable management of the forest begins with the felling of the trees closest to their peak life, when they have basically stored all of the carbon they will store in their lifetime.  Sunlight gets to the forest floor, thereby encouraging fresh growth.  Tree carbon is transformed into various wood products and the only way the stored carbon in hardwood products will ever be released is through fire.

6 Spiritual and sacred

Frese and Gray summarise the importance of treekind to humankind when they write: 

“Trees are a form of nature that represent life and the sacred continuity of the spiritual, cosmic, and physical worlds. A tree is often used to symbolize a deity or other sacred beings, or it may stand for what is sacred in general… Trees represent certain deities or ancestors, serve as mediators or as a link to the religious realm, and are associated with cultural beliefs in heaven or the afterlife”.

Spirituality is clearly not always religious in any formal sense; spirituality has been sought and experienced in a number of non- and a-religious contexts such as nature, and meditation on the inner self.  In particular, there is a rising popularity of the “spiritual but not religious” category of experiencing the environment, Those who call themselves ‘spiritual and not religious’ like to assert the difference because spirituality is all-encompassing and neutral, whereas organised religion is associated with a set of beliefs that are interpreted as being exclusive to a certain category of people who are seen as a community of believers.  Afterall, over time, in the name of religion, bloody wars have been fought, lives have been lost and misunderstanding has been perpetrated. On the other hand, spirituality with no religion is free of these belligerent actions, only seeking love and transcendence, forging what gives and nurtures life across the board, focusing on the individual’s spiritual journey rather than on the compliance of a community with the laws of a religious order or sect.

Regarding the category of ‘spiritual but not religious, Maria Popova takes the view that since the dawn of time, trees,  the oldest living things in our world, have been our silent companions.  We have transmuted them into the myths and metaphors through which we make sense of the world, from their deity-like role in ancient Indian legends to their long history as the perfect visual metaphor for visualizing human knowledge, to their symbolic representation of the cycle of life. Perhaps because they are so strong and so silent, bearing steadfast witness to our earthly lives and while reaching up toward the heavens, we’ve long projected our spiritual longings onto trees and turned to them to open our minds for answers to our existential questions. In this context, the idea of spiritual landscapes provides a worthwhile avenue towards new understandings of how faith and belief can open up a way of thinking about ourselves as individuals. Instead of asking about what we really are, the idea of sacred landscapes focuses on phenomena. These are experiences that we get from the senses, what we see, taste, smell, touch, hear, and feel, which can illuminate the notion of being at one with the world. Spiritual landscapes are not just about religion, but open out spaces that can be inhabited, or dwelt, in different spiritual registers. 

By ‘landscapes’ we refer to embodied practices of being in the world, including ways of seeing but extending beyond sight to both a sense of being that includes all senses and an openness to being affected. By ‘spiritual’, we refer to that part of the virtual in which faith forms a significant part of the move beyond rationality and of the possibility of other-worldly dispositions. Even for the most sceptical, the spiritual can suggest a performative presencing of some sense of spirit.  Through association with particular historical events, an individual tree or species of tree acquires the symbolic significance of the events as part of its meaning. 

A society’s spiritual beliefs about the kinds of trees that generate a sense of spirit generally depend on the nature and density of trees. If trees are plentiful, the forest as a whole will also be an important part of a community’s spiritual beliefs and ritual. Trees and landscapes thereby become sacred, where sacred describes something that is considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspires awe or reverence among believers. The property is often ascribed to objects,  A “sacred artifact” is venerated and blessed, so a place may be described as “a sacred landscape”.

Many ancient cults focus on individual sites, deities or cult places. Why did people choose a particular geographical location? What makes a geographical feature ‘sacred’ and how was this sacred space demarcated from the profane? The sacred landscape is not simply what we see, but a way of registering what we see with our eyes but interpreting what we see  with our mind. Landscape is therefore a cultural construct which gives meaning to places and reflects human memory that carries the meaning from generation to generation. Religious signs, rituals, etiological myths, theonyms and epithets, as well as human physical constructions together create a web of ciphers and symbols that define a sacred landscape to make a text or narrative of a place invested with cultural meaning.  Sacred groves are parts of the forest that are left untouched by locals and even given complete protection by them. In many cultures, large areas of forest were set aside as a spiritual resource.  Forceful examples of sacred groves in India are the Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya and the Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan.  All these are now under threat from mining and loss of the spiritual connection.

In his compilation of essays ‘Landscape and Power’, W.J.T. Mitchell argues that landscape representation has always been “an instrument of cultural power.”  He identifies various historical approaches, such as Dutch landscape painting, English landscape drawing, architecture, and nineteenth-century American photography of the West. He highlights these as ideological instruments based on a complex network of cultural, political, economic, and class codes.  The depiction of trees plays an important role in drawing meditators before a landscape painting.

Regarding tree-ed landscapes, few designers have left behind a body of work as monumental or as enduring as that of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–83). Under his direction, hundreds of square miles of countryside across England and Wales were transformed to conform to a naturalistic aesthetic that still shapes the way the British evaluate landscape design today. Out went the formal, well-ordered gardens that had gone before. Hills were raised, valleys drugs, rivers channelled, woods planted, and, in some cases, entire communities displaced. But for all this effort, the desired result was to create parkland that looked as artless as nature itself, as though it had always been there. This quickly became the dominant style for large country estates in England and abroad. The writer and connoisseur Horace Walpole wrote, ‘We have given the true model of gardening to the world: let other countries mimic or corrupt our taste, but let it reign here on its verdant throne.’  

Brown’s agrarian model was the cultured landscape of pastoralism and the economic services derived from it (Fig 10), in which animals grazed bushes and lower limbs of trees and cropped the grass.  This economic system of livestock production created open areas of standing trees and grass, the progenitors of parks. The cultural ecology of the deer park was expressed in the pastoral ideal of a Golden Age of youth and of antique man. It formed the basis of dramas of Arcadia, and generations of poets and writers referred to the pastoral landscape in philosophy, theology and allegory. It was a place in which to discuss, to think spiritually, to make music, to dance and to make love. These are the activities that come to mind when contemplating a rural parkland. Cultural ecosystem services are commonly defined as the ‘nonmaterial benefits that people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, and cognitive understanding.  In particular, landscape painting was animated to provide trees for contemplation (Fig 11).

Fig 10 Cultural ecology of the deer park

.

Fig 11   Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia (1682), Claude Lorrain, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The following description of our oneness with trees is taken from the writings if Tich Nhat Hanh’, Buddhist monk, activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, in which he describes the ideas behind the meditation known as ‘touching the Earth’.

“When we look at a tree we may think that the tree is outside of us. But if we look more deeply we shall see that the tree is also within us. The trees are your lungs because without the trees you could not breathe. The trees create the oxygen, which is now part of my body, and I create the carbon dioxide, which is now part of the tree. We have lungs in our body, but the trees breathe for us too and can also be called our lungs. Our own lungs are working with the trees to help us breathe.change into energy, and energy can change back into matter, but it won’t be destroyed. We have always been a part of everything else, and every-thing else has always been a part of us. We have all been trees, roses and animals. We still are trees at this moment. Look deeply at yourself and you see the tree, the cloud, the rose and the squirrel in you. You cannot take them out of yourself. You cannot take the cloud out of you because you are made of seventy percent water. The continuation of the cloud is rain. The continuation of rain is the river. The continuation of the river is the water you drink in order to survive. If you take the continuation of the cloud out of you, you cannot continue” (Fig 12)

Fig 12 Cultural ecology of the Sacred Grove

https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2019/may/07/saving-our-countrys-sacred-groves-1973641.html

Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism and while Hinduism adopted the Buddha in its mythology, Buddhism adopted the Hindu god Krishna in its own mythology. The story of Krishna occurs in the Jataka tales in Buddhism, for example.  Buddhism also adopted the parkland landscapes of Hindu culture, to enact the life of the Buddha; landscapes which were the outcome of India’s prehistoric pastoral cultural ecology. 

“Krishna brought forward the cows and played on His flute through the forest of Vrindavan, which was full of flowers, vegetables and pasturing grass. The Vrindavan forest was as sanctified as the clear mind of a devotee and was full of bees, flowers and fruits. There were chirping birds and clear water lakes with waters that could relieve one of all fatigues. Sweet flavoured breezes blew always, refreshing the mind and body.”  Srimad Bhagavatam.

Vrindavan lies at the focus of Vraj, the region where Lord Krishna lived. The whole region has been sacred to its inhabitants for thousands of years. It falls just inside the ‘golden triangle’, stretching from Delhi south to Agra and west to Jaipur in Rajasthan, and was the setting for many of the events recorded in the Mahabharata, the epic history of ancient India. Mathura, Krishna’s birthplace seven miles south-west of Vrindavan, is one of India’s oldest cities.  About 20,000 people live in Vrindavan, but two million pilgrims visit each year. They want to see His river, the Yamuna, and bathe in her; they want to see his hill, Govardhana Hill which he lifted as a child, and walk round it in prayer; they want to see the place where he danced through the night with the gopis, the cowherd girls of Vrindavan, in the forest groves amongst the blossoming Kadamba trees (Fig 13).

Fig 13 Lord Krishna and the cowgirl Radha meet each other secretly on Govardhan Hill

7 Internet References

Treekind

CPR Education Centre

The fig ecosystem

Buddhist Gardens

Forest and trees associated with Lord Buddha.

Cardiff Parks

Urban Green Spaces

Pilgrim in the Deer Park

Sarnath Deer Park

Live Like A Buddhist

Sacred groves of Meghalaya

Sacred groves of Rajasthan

Digital landmarking of cultural vitality

August 18th, 2020

“That museum exhibit stimulated my imagination. It broadened my world from my everyday life in a small town and encouraged me to think about how people lived in other places, not only in the past but also in the present. I realize now that what I was doing in that museum was the spiritual practice of imagination”. Mary Ann Brussat


1 Culture 21

Culture 21, also known as ‘The Agenda 21 For Culture’, was approved in May 2004 by cities and local governments of the world. Signatories are committed to promoting and maintaining cultural vitality expressed in human rights, cultural diversity, sustainability, participatory democracy and the creation of the conditions for peace. Cultural vitality is the evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting the integration of arts and culture.  It is then seen as a valued dimension of everyday life in communities. As a strategy, Culture 21 in an overcrowded world is not an option but an imperative to guide human survival.  

UNESCO takes the view that culture is transmitted between generations encoded as heritage and so culture humanises the past to be a platform for creating a future culture of sustainability. Heritage encompasses a broad and overarching term: “it” is something that someone or a collective considers to be worthy of being valued, preserved, catalogued, exhibited, restored, admired and passed on to future generations  Heritage is everywhere, and an understanding of our past is increasingly critical to the understanding of our contemporary cultural context and place in global society.  From this perspective cultural heritage is a powerful catalyst for the future.  It also offers solutions to the challenges the world faces in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic.  In times of health emergencies, cultural heritage plays, and will continue to play, an essential role for the physical and mental wellbeing of every individual and of our societies as a whole. As evidenced by a rich body of literature and increasingly recognised in public decision-making, wellbeing is a holistic concept.  It encompasses emotional, social, cultural, spiritual and economic needs, which allow individuals to realise their full potential and engage in society to their fullest capacity. Therefore, investing in cultural heritage means investing in public health, wellbeing, and improving the quality of people’s lives. The rest of this section is an adaptation of the 2020 Europe Day Manifesto for communities, which presents cultural heritage as a powerful resource for their future development.

Sharing heritage. At a time when the whole world is facing a profound socio economic transformation, a community’s shared cultural heritage and values constitute a much-needed anchor and compass. They can indeed provide a sense of direction and inspiration to make the right choices ahead of us. Cultural heritage ensures the link between our roots, identities, and traditions and the wider global picture. 

Access to heritage.  The COVID-19 outbreak has underlined the critical importance of digital access to cultural heritage. Now communities must work together to accelerate and further improve access. At the same time, we must narrow the divide between institutions that are digitally equipped, and those that are not. We need to democratise access to our heritage to support diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and critical engagement in education and knowledge sharing. We need to promote collaborations and experimentations that strengthen our capacity for innovation. And we need to promote the use of digital technology and expertise, to strengthen the role of cultural institutions.  The raw data for digital landmarking, comprises a picture, a comment with a reference URL.  These can be gathered together to build a personal body of knowledge.

Heritage in Green Deals.  Countries around the world are working on Green Deals for creating a sustainable future.   We must ensure that the cultural dimension of the greening of our society and economy is fully taken on board. Our cultural heritage, including cultural landscapes, is severely threatened by climate change. But the cultural world, with its wealth of traditional knowledge and skills, can also be used to further expand on mitigation and adaptation practices, which can help achieve the 2030 UN objectives. This calls for communities to build back better after the pandemic and be convinced of the immense potential of cultural heritage to help achieve it.

Heritage-led regeneration.  The landmark study Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe provides robust evidence of the clear benefits of heritage investment for the regeneration of cities and regions, both on individual and community levels. Given the prospect of dramatic job losses, community leaders should invest in heritage-led regeneration of urban and rural areas, enabling and amplifying social and economic recovery. This will not only preserve many existing jobs and related skills but also create new rewarding jobs, ranging from specialised crafts to the sophisticated use of digital and other new technologies. Such a “New Deal for Cultural Heritage” will in turn drive social and economic innovation, and contribute to a major improvement of our living environment. The huge potential of heritage-led regeneration in historic cities, villages and the countryside can indeed become a real ‘game-changer’ towards a greener and more sustainable future.

Tourism rescue.  Faced with the catastrophic impact of the Covid19 pandemic on the tourism industry due to travel and mobility limitations, which puts millions of jobs at risk, communities should fully support the appeal for a major “tourism rescue plan”. This plan should include special measures for the revival of cultural tourism, one of the largest and fastest growing tourism segments worldwide.  Tourism needs cultural heritage and cultural heritage needs tourism. But we recover from this crisis by using it as an opportunity to promote more innovative and sustainable forms of tourism, including virtual tourism. In doing so, we will deliver lasting benefits for public and private owners of heritage sites and the communities that surround them, generating higher quality experiences and greater enjoyment for visitors.

Cultural citizenship.  Finally, as the current crisis has shown, the clear interconnection and fragility of humanity provides us with a unique opportunity to enhance its positive and constructive role in the world. Culture and cultural heritage are key drivers for enhancing respect, understanding, and trust as the prerequisites for global solidarity and cooperation. To summarize, we need to urgently and collectively mobilise the transformational power of culture and cultural heritage to provide meaning and inspiration for a global green and inclusive recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.  This is the UNESCO prescription set out in ‘Thematic Indicators for Culture in the 2030 Agenda.  Its purpose is to measure and monitor the progress of culture’s enabling contribution to the national and local implementation of the ‘Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.  The latter is a framework to help people build a local process for taking up cultural citizenship set out in the following sections.

2  Cyberspace as a Global Commons

Culture develops within public spaces as packages of collective goods belonging to all citizens. No individual or group can be deprived of free use of them, providing they respect the rules adopted by each community, which broadly are: 

  • to promote the existence of the public spaces and foster their use as cultural places for interaction and coexistence.;
  • to foster concern for the aesthetics of public spaces and collective amenities; 
  • to protect, valorize and popularize the local documentary heritage generated in the public local/regional sphere, providing incentives for the creation of municipal and regional systems for that purpose;
  • to encourage the free exploration of cultural heritage by all citizens in all parts of the world; 
  • to promote the UNESCO Thematic Indicators for Culture in the 2030 Agenda (Culture|2030 Indicators, Fig 9) to measure and monitor the progress of culture’s enabling contribution to the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Tourism;
  • to promote real and virtual tourism that respects the cultures and customs of the localities and territories visited.
  • to use art reasoning rather than scientific reasoning to explain sustainability.

The term ‘Global Commons’ refers to resource domains or areas that lie outside the political reach of any one nation State. The Global commons have been traditionally defined as those parts of the planet that fall outside national jurisdictions and to which all nations have access. International law identifies four global commons, namely the High Seas, the Atmosphere, Antarctica and Outer Space. From this point of view, a Global Commons contains an infinite potential with regard to the understanding and advancement of all life, e.g. forests, oceans, land mass and cultural identity, and hence requires absolute protection.  

Cyberspace is now regarded as a global commons.  It consists of computer networks, computer resources, and all the fixed and mobile devices connected to the global internet. A nation’s cyberspace is part of the global cyberspace; it cannot be isolated to define its boundaries.  Cyberspace is borderless, unlike the physical world-land, sea, river waters, and air that is limited by geographical boundaries.  In operational terms, cyberspace refers to the virtual computer world, and more specifically, to an electronic medium used to form a global computer network for facilitating online communication. It is a vast gathering of computers made up of many worldwide networks that employ TCP/IP protocol to aid in communication and data exchange activities.  Cyberspace’s core feature is an interactive virtual environment for a broad range of participants.  Therefore It has a powerful influence on the establishment and spread of a global culture.   It is the sharing of knowledge that gives cultural purpose to the use of cyberspace as a common good upon which to base cultural citizenship as a way of life.   This envisions a political-economic structure involving participatory governance within an economic system that guarantees equal shares of Earth’s natural resources and wealth for all of humankind.  It is a vision of egalitarian communalism driven by cultural citizenship (Table 1).

Table 1 Cultural citizenship

Cultural citizenship is a way of life:

The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the language you speak in and the God you worship all are aspects of culture. In very simple terms, we can say that culture is the embodiment of the way in which we think and do things. It is also the things that we have inherited as members of society. All the achievements of human beings as members of social groups can be called culture. Art, music, literature, architecture, sculpture, philosophy, religion and science can be seen as aspects of culture. However, culture also includes the customs, traditions, festivals, ways of living and one’s outlook on various issues of life.

Cultural citizenship is learned and acquired: 

Culture is acquired in the sense that there are certain behaviours which are acquired through heredity. Individuals inherit certain qualities from their parents but socio-cultural patterns are not inherited. These are learnt from family members, from the group and the society in which they live. It is thus apparent that the culture of human beings is influenced by the physical and social environment through which they operate as cultural citizens.  There is an awareness of what they have inherited from the past that can be a foundation for the future. Therefore cultural citizenship is shared by a group of people.  A thought or action may be called culture if it is shared and believed or practiced by the group. 

Cultural citizenship is cumulative: 

Different knowledge embodied in culture can be passed from one generation to another. More and more knowledge is added in a particular culture as time passes by. Each may work out solutions to problems in life that pass from one generation to another. This cycle remains as the particular culture moves through time and space. 

Cultural citizenship changes: 

There is knowledge, thoughts or traditions that are lost as new cultural traits are added. There are possibilities of cultural changes within a particular culture as time passes. 

Cultural citizenship provides a range of permissible behaviour patterns: 

It specifies how an activity should be conducted, and how an individual should act appropriately. 

Cultural citizenship is diverse: 

It is a system that has several mutually interdependent parts. Although these parts are separate, they are interdependent with one another forming culture as whole. 

Cultural citizenship is ideational: 

Often it lays down an ideal pattern of behaviour that is expected to be followed by individuals so as to gain social acceptance from the people with the same culture.

Culture 21 aims at fostering cultural development by promoting cultural citizenship.  The aim of this blog is to explore some examples of the intersections between notions of ‘cultural citizenship’ and the evolving role of the Internet as a site of cultural agency. In basic terms, debates around ‘cultural citizenship’ focus attention on issues of social membership across national and local boundaries.  Belonging and its cultural expressions shape, and are shaped, by the opportunities citizens enjoy to partake of cyberspace and to participate in society at various levels (local, national and global).  Participation and inclusivity usefully distinguish the concerns of cultural citizenship (‘the right to know and speak’) from those of political citizenship (‘the right to reside and vote’) and economic citizenship (‘the right to work and prosper’).  It is a formulation that accords ‘culture’ and its evolution a distinctive dimension in cyberspace.  Importantly, anyone who communicates about a place actually owns it because it becomes a property of the imagination of the presenter and the audience.  

Cultural citizenship is now synonymous with digital citizenship.  People become digital citizens by the process of digital landmarking (Fig 1 ).  This means individuals encode local heritage in a database of words and pictures, and/or using data to produce a body of knowledge which expresses their feelings about a place.  This is expressed by Theresa Hubel as staking their claim to ownership of it  ”.. by the very act of writing about it”.   In the context of open commons the authors of data and knowledge are using social media to exercise their right to know and speak about past, present and future cultures.

Fig 1 The process of digital landmarking  

3 Digital citizenship in action: Grimsby

On 7 May 2019 a group of four youths were caught on a surveillance camera throwing stones at the Grimsby Heritage Centre.  This was but one incident in a town where endemic vandalism has arisen with social exclusion.  Out on a patrol, a police officer is quoted as saying: “We are working with Young People’s Support Services in relation to anti-social behaviour within the area of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. It is a question of engaging with the kids and seeing what they are doing and what they are up to and reduce the calls to anti-social behaviour in the area”’  Is there a planned and funded prescription for inclusivity?

Many european cities and towns are exhibiting rising levels of social exclusion and the concept of ‘social innovation’ in urban development, focuses on the processes aimed at countering it.  The term ‘social innovation’ has three core dimensions: the satisfaction of human needs (content dimension); changes in social relations, especially with regard to governance (process dimension); and an increase in the socio-political capability and access to resources (empowerment dimension).   At a grassroots level, cyberspace allows social innovation as an interactive form of communication, where any digital citizen can use social media to communicate with the world in realtime and can actually receive a response, can have a dialogue and have a chat room as a public space to organise a response.  Ironically, the young people who attacked the Heritage Centre gathered there because a nearby McDonalds offers free WiFi!  This points to a potential route for young people to assemble their own knowledge base from which to become digital literate.  Digital literacy in education encompasses specific skills when reading online text that may contain embedded resources such as hyperlinks, audio clips, graphs, or charts.  The aim is to engage young people on line in social innovation  that requires them to make choices to communicate their knowledge about what is good and bad about where they live.  It is important that they present their plans for improving the bad things.  This blog provides an educational framework of cultural and social heritage for them to do this.

Grimsby is a large coastal English seaport and administrative centre in the North East corner of Lincolnshire, on the South Bank of the Humber Estuary, close to where it reaches the North Sea. The town has had several cultural makeovers as it has developed from a small isolated community of self contained fisherfolk.  Over about three generations it became the greatest global example of industrial marine fishing.  Now, facing ‘life without fish’ it designates itself as the Food Capital of Europe.  These cultural changes have been unsympathetic to its built heritage. 

By the mid-20th century Grimsby was the home port for the largest fishing fleet in the world.  Fishing declined dramatically after the Cod Wars of the 1970s had denied the United Kingdom access to Iceland’s prolific fishing grounds.  Also, in line with its Common Fisheries Policy, the European Union parcelled out fishing quotas in waters within a 200-nautical-mile limit of the UK coast to other European countries,. Since then Grimsby has suffered post-industrial decline, although expansion of the food business has been encouraged since the 1990s.  For about a century the community was an example of an ecumene, a collection of families dependent on the North Sea’s fish stocks for its livelihood.  Its economy, from the fishing fleet to the home braiding of fishing nets, was built around an industry that does not exist any more. The social deficit was depicted in a 2018 article in the Guardian newspaper as skills shortages, long-term jobless families, deprivation, drugs, homelessness, empty homes, fly-tipping, and children in care. The government’s indices of deprivation in 2015 ranked the town’s East Marsh Ward as the fourth worst place in the UK for employment, the second for crime and the worst for education, skills and training.  Grimsby is therefore a prime case history of post industrial cultural change.  Local efforts to develop and deploy effective solutions to challenge systemic social and environmental issues of belonging, place and change are expressed in the town’s visual culture. Visual culture refers to aspects of culture that are expressed in visual images of public spaces. Art and visual culture are intertwined and for most people they come into view together in public spaces. 

This blog is a development of one published in 2017 entitled Networking in Common.  That blog was introduced with the following quote from Culture 21.

“Public space is a place of social interaction as well as key for the identity and landscape of the city. As a common good, it belongs to all inhabitants and it has a systemic relation with other common goods such as culture or education”.

Thus, art and visual culture are bound up with everything that one sees in day-to-day life, i.e. advertising, landscape, buildings, photographs, movies, and paintings.  In fact, visual culture is expressed in anything in public space that captures a person’s attention and begins a process of communication from past to present through visual means.  Visual culture is studied using art history, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, When analysing visual expressions of culture, one must focus on production, reception, and intention, as well as economical, social, and ideological aspects in order to produce a digital landmark.

A good example of digital landmarking is a local history forum about Grimsby and its surroundings of North Lincolnshire.  It was established by a private individual, Rod Collins, born and bred in Grimsby, who described himself and his site thus:

“Photography is something of a passion although I wish I spent as much time creatively photographing people as I do angling !  Also, art and all things artistic is a great draw and I derive a great deal of pleasure visiting as many galleries and exhibitions in Lincolnshire as possible.  Used to work in engineering after serving an apprenticeship.  Then became a full-time book dealer selling rare & collectable books.  Got involved in building websites, affiliate search engine marketing and contextual ads.  Called it a day and went all but retired at the age of 39.  Which sees me where I am today – living life simply and only for my own pleasure really.  

This means I shouldn’t complain – but frequently do on this site.

The site mixes, hopefully, both humour and, dare I say it, some depth.  Historical based stuff is clearly more serious though not too ‘dry’ I hope.  Other articles are done somewhat tongue in cheek, there’s a lot of irony, some obvious, some more subtle – generally it’s self-deprecating, the joke’s on me even if sometimes, superficially, it may not appear so.  The site has grown and grown over the years and last year it averaged 1.8 million hits a month!  At our height we were experiencing 3 million hits a month but it was unsustainable so I deleted a lot of ’stuff’ and steered the site in another direction.  It takes quite a bit of managing at times.

If you see me out-and-about or at an event then please do say hello.  It’s always a pleasure to meet anybody who visits the site.  Do leave a comment and take part, it’s a friendly place and you don’t need to be an expert . . .Which is just as well because I’m not!”

Unfortunately the Rod Collins’ site is no longer available, which highlights the fragility of such ‘man-in-the street’ enterprises in digital citizenship.

Nevertheless, social media is now the logical place for the meeting of genealogy and cultural history.  This gives public libraries and heritage centres an important long term role in promoting and servicing digital landmarking to support a local visual culture.  In this respect, Grimsby Public Library has a sustainable platform for engaging citizens in its FaceBook page entitled Streets and Their Stories.

Grimsby’s Wellow Abbey is an illustration of one of Collins’ digital landmarks; a cultural  Internet placement, which between 2010-15 elicited 129 comments and serves as a case history of how digital citizens, mobilising their own resources, can assemble a dedicated cultural dimension of a virtual place within cyberspace.

Wellow Abbey probably had an important role in the economy and cultural ecology of medieval Grimsby.  But, there is very little archival material available about its local impact, which no doubt adds to the allure of the topic to amateur historians.  Although the geographical site of the abbey, close to the town centre  is well known, it is now occupied by a small housing estate, known as the Abbot’s Way Development, built over it in the late 1960s. One of these houses (Fig 2) is on the edge of a tiny hill, probably a small glacial moraine, which attracted the monks of Wellow to set their abbey outside the town, above the surrounding poorly drained fens, riddled with natural artesian wells, called blow wells.   Indeed, this particular house may mark the site of the abbey church.  With an OS bench mark of about 20 ft above sea level it is one of the highest spots in Grimsby!  Remnants of carved stones have been found in the garden.

Fig 2  Abbot’s Way (circa 1990) 

The Abbot’s Way Development is the latest landmark charting the cultural developments associated with the port of Grimsby expanding rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century.  This began with the development of an entrepreneurial culture of family businesses thriving on the economics of industrial scale fishing in the North Sea.  Coincidentally it triggered the mass import of Baltic timber and the export of Midland’s coal. Alongside this there was a change from a dominant local aristocratic landowning culture (e.g. the Pelham earls of Yarborough and the Heneage barons of Riby) engaged with local government, to the emergence of the middle classes in a rapidly expanding urban context.  In her book, ‘Grimsby Streets’, Emma Lingard points out that the streets created around the site of the abbey in the second half of the 19th century, namely Abbey Road, Abbey Park Road, Abbey Drive East/West, and Abbey Walk, more or less define the home domain of the abbey. This small network of new roads, only a mile from the town centre, indicate the urban spread of upper middle class families into the marshes and pastures of the surrounding countryside (Figs 3 & 4).

Fig 3 Beginning of development of the abbey estate (1856)

Fig 4 Street Map of modern Wellow community (2020)

The Abbey Road ‘entrepreneurial culture’ is exemplified by Ernest and Millie Bellamy.  They moved from King Edward St. in the densely packed terraces of Grimsby’s dockland as second generation urbanites to set up a fashion business, named ‘Madam Bellamy’, in Abbey Road. This was in response to a growing local demand for middle class haute couture (Fig 5).  

Fig 5  A digital landmark of a home-based entrepreneurial culture: Madam Bellamy’s workshop, 51 Abbey Rd. Grimsby, (2020).  Number 51 is the third house with the large south-facing upstairs window, which was enlarged so that Millie’s team of seamstress could work in daylight

Ernest was a second generation of Bellamys, descended from a farm labourer, Fred Bellamy, an economic migrant  from the fenlands on the Lincolnshire Cambridgeshire border.  He began his family in the tightly packed terraces built to house newly recruited dock workers in the West Marsh.  These terraces are today exemplified by their current remains in Armstrong St. (Fig 6).   This brings to the fore the fact that Grimsby was built on the backs of migrants and most migrants made good within the economic limits of the fishing ecumene!

Fig 6 A digital landmark: the remains of Armstrong St. ‘Over the Marsh’, (2020).

Ernest Bellamy was born in 1888 within a new housing development for dock workers in the West Marsh (Ravenspurn St).  From here the growing family moved across the Alexandra Dock to King Edward St, a similar development commemorating Edward VII who was crowned 22 Jan 1901.  Most of Armstrong Street and the whole of King Edward St were demolished, after being classified as slums in the 1960s, to create industrial estates (Fig 7).

Fig 7 136 King Edward St (2020).  Site of Ernest Bellamy’s second family home.

At that time Grimsby was a world leader in science applied to create the UK fishing industry.  Armstrong St celebrates the engineering innovations of William George Armstrong.  It was his idea to build Grimsby’s iconic Dock Tower to provide water pressure to power the dock machinery. The tower was built to carry a tank 200ft above the ground with a direct feed into the machinery. Small pumps topped up the tank as the hydraulic machinery drew off water. The tower system was brought into use in 1852 working the machinery of the lock gates, dry-docks and fifteen quayside cranes, and also to supply fresh water to ships and the dwelling houses on the dock premises.

4  Digital culture: a resource for development

Through people accessing a local digital commons, Grimsby’s Wellow Abbey and its monks live on in a virtual place visualised in the minds of the online visitors who added their comments to Rod Collins’ forum.  New imaginings have been set in motion giving the web participants and readers a sense of place without depending on ancient documents and a pictorial archive.  There is nothing to see on the ground.  Nevertheless, the digital arena of the abbey was expanded by some contributors to the forum to include personal reminiscences of their real life experiences that were associated with the abbey.   So it is that digital memories of place become embedded with imagination in virtual reality.  Now, Grimsby, like so many post industrial towns suffering repeated bouts of regeneration, is topographically placeless.  For its inhabitants any sense of place comes from within their consciousness.  Perhaps we should call this kind of mental visualisation a spirit of place because it is the combination of characteristics that gives some locations a special ‘feel’ or personality.  There is a spirit of mystery in a name like Wellow Abbey emanating from a locus in the overbuilt environment.  In this situation, the environment is not external and the feeling is internal.  How is this virtual culture handled as an educational experience?

‘Culture’ has been defined in many ways.  The 2005 Convention refers to culture in two distinct but related senses which draw inspiration from the 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: 

First, its functional meaning is an organized sector of activity dealing with the diverse manifestations – past and present – of human intellectual and artistic creativity.  Culture comprises individuals, organizations and institutions responsible for their transmission and renewal. The arts and cultural expressions, together with these individuals and institutions constitute what is commonly regarded as the “cultural sector”, a demarcated policy domain, concerned mainly with heritage and creativity. Culture as a sector of activity includes, but not exclusively, cultural workers, artists and other creative professionals; commercial (for-profit) businesses; not-for-profit firms in the arts and culture; public cultural institutions, such as museums and galleries, heritage sites, libraries etc.; education and training institutions in the arts; government agencies and ministries responsible for arts and cultural affairs; NGOs and civil society involved in cultural activity. 

A functional digital citizen is a person using information technology (IT) in order to engage in society, politics, and government. Digital citizens are “those who use the internet regularly and effectively.” They also have a comprehensive understanding of digital citizenship, which is the appropriate and responsible behavior when using technology. Since digital citizenship evaluates the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a digital community, it often requires the participation of all community members, both visible and those who are less visible.  A large part in being a responsible digital citizen encompasses digital literacy, etiquette, online safety, and an acknowledgement of private versus public information.

People characterizing themselves as digital citizens often use IT extensively, creating blogs, using social networks, and participating in online journalism.  Digital citizenship begins when any child, teen, and/or adult signs up for an email address, posts pictures online, uses e-commerce to buy merchandise online, and/or participates in any electronic function.  But the process of becoming a digital citizen goes beyond simple internet activity. According to Thomas Humphrey Marshall, a British sociologist known for his work on social citizenship, a primary framework of citizenship comprises three different traditions: liberalism, republicanism, and ascriptive hierarchy. Within this framework, the digital citizen needs to exist in order to promote equal economic opportunities and increase political participation.  In this way, digital technology helps to lower the barriers to entry for participation as a citizen within a society.

Holistically, digital citizenship covers both a social and political point of view, utilized at a local level in school and other educational systems while also being debated upon on a national level. There are many means of participating as a digital citizen to advocate for causes or specific issues that are controversial, and being a digital citizen encompasses a level of responsibility that includes universal goals that should be followed.  These goals emphasize equality and equal treatment across gender, religion, economic status, and political beliefs. The focus is on income inequality and distribution, which are ideas that influenced the development of various economic and political systems.  This defines egalitarianism as a philosophical perspective that promotes participatory citizenship in governance of an economic system for inclusivity.

Second, culture in its anthropological sense, refers to the people’s way of life – the different values, norms, knowledge, skills, individual and collective beliefs – that guide individual and collective action. In this sense of values and norms, culture is understood as a stock of intangible renewable resources upon which people draw inspiration and through which they express the meaning they give to their existence and its development.

The 2005 Convention contains two distinct approaches to bridge culture and sustainable development.  The first approach is reflected in Article 13 and refers to culture integrated in sustainable development, while the second approach is reflected in Article 14 and refers to culture as an instrument or a means to development. They say that parties shall endeavour to integrate culture in their development policies at all levels.  This is to create conditions conducive to sustainable development and, within this framework, foster aspects relating to the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. (Article 13 of the Convention; Fig 8) 

Fig 8 Indicators for checking progress in seven dimensions of ‘culture for development’

Shared link to interactive map

Three distinct, but not mutually exclusive notions of development, are present in documents that frame the link between culture and development at the international level.  These are included in the 2005 Convention: development as economic growth in line with neo-classical economics; development as human capacity expansion, in line with the human development approach; and development in relation to present and future generations, in line with notions of sustainable development.  It is crucial to understand these differences, because the Convention uses them interchangeably, and they can be contradictory.

Development continues globally through increased urbanisation as ever more people from the countryside move to live in towns and cities.  It is a process associated with a decrease in the proportion of people living in rural areas, and the ways in which societies adapt to this change. Above all, as towns and cities become larger more people adopt different patterns of behaviour that define informal social relations.  These adaptations underpin everyday life for various social groups and the processes of social organisation and disorganisation which they promote are typical of modern urban cultures. 

The urbanisation of Grimsby resulted from the discovery of untapped fish stocks of the North Sea’s Dogger Bank and the invention of mass-catching trawlers to exploit them.  Expansion of the small town was paid for by scouring these fishing grounds creating a fishing culture with a narrow set of understandings or meanings shared by a group of people that are largely understood among members.  These understandings and meanings are clearly relevant and distinctive to survival of particular groups and are passed on to new members.  French geographers describe such a community bound to a local ecosystem for its survival as an ecumene (Fig 9).  When the ecosystem is no longer sustainable the idea of progress implies that changes in culture lie ahead.  Since the 1960s, Grimsby’s citizens have been asking themselves how they might bring forth knowledge from their past mindfully into the present.  Past cultures are relevant to envision the future when we recognize that every past thought-form, emotion and action taken by every single human being who has ever lived has shaped our present reality.  In other words, the question for educators who wish to import values of heritage into a future culture of sustainability is how do we understand the power and responsibility we have inherited?  This question is also relevant to the future of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, two fishing ecumenes based on the North Sea fishing grounds, who are also trying to adapt to life after fish with one foot in the past.

Fig 9 The marine fishing ecumene

Shareable link to interactive map

5 The spiritual practice of imagination

Some would say that peoples’ vision of the future of humankind is becoming more subjective and increasingly bound up with the transition from religion to a godless culture of spirituality.  Drawing on this visionary framework, spirituality is identified as bound up with the subjective life of intellectual freedom, while religion is seen as subordinating subjective life to an external authority of transcendent meaning, goodness, and truth. It is the subjective shift of modern culture that directs people away from religion and toward spirituality. In this respect, the idea that the essence of reality is a non-material spiritual quality is one of the most-common cross-cultural concepts in the history of the world.  Almost every indigenous group in the world has a term that describes a spiritual force or power of imagination that pervades all things, and constitutes the essence of all things.  For Frederic and Mary Ann Bussat living a spiritual life, imagination has two meanings. First, it is a human faculty.  It is the part of us that traffics in images, symbols, myths, and stories. It is the capacity we all have for innovative thinking and creative expression. Second, the imagination is an inner reality, a boundless realm not defined by our senses or reason.  We know from our dreams and an inner reality can enter via certain activities while awake. The practice of imagination encourages us to use this faculty and enables us to explore the world. To heighten the imagination you have to learn the language of imagination. Contemplate art and see yourself as part of the picture. Read myths and tell stories. Apply arts reasoning, known as abductive reasoning to explain sustainability (#aartes). Abductive reasoning starts with an observation or set of observations and then seeks to find the simplest and most likely conclusion from the observations. This process yields a plausible conclusion but does not positively verify it. Abductive conclusions are thus qualified as having a remnant of uncertainty or doubt, which is expressed in retreat terms such as “best available” or “most likely”.

Such ideas brought about a photographic exhibition in Milan (2016) entitled “Cathedrals of Energy’.  It contained over a hundred images by photographer Francesco Radino spanning architecture, industry and landscape. Together, they illustrated the iconic buildings of the Italian power utility, Azienda Energetica Municipale, all dedicated to the production of energy in Italy from north to south, with power plants and ancillary machinery ranging from the early twentieth century to today.  The exhibition tells about a visual culture of energy production and describes the buildings, places and architectures of AEM.  The images are all structures very different in appearance that combine the useful with the aesthetic and present new balances with the surrounding natural environment. Consequently, the four elements, earth, air, water and fire, become of essential importance, because they are not only linked to the processes of mass energy production, but also illustrate the union across several different professional domains of history, art, environment, mechanical engineering, architecture and the economics of an age of plenty. 

A similar cross curricular exhibition of cultural icons can be assembled for the shifting cultural ecology of Grimsby as a ruined temple of plenty (Appendix).  Appropriate spiritual icons for the historical journey would be its long-gone Corn Exchange, a cultural icon of life before fish; the great dock’s ice-making machine, ensuring that fresh fish could be marketed long after it was caught, now lying redundant in dockland.  Then there are the remains of the dockside fish market that secured Grimsby’s weekly wages and Armstrong’s masterpiece of hydraulic engineering, focused on the Dock Tower, which energised the whole cultural enterprise of deep sea fishing.  In the context of digital landmarking a culture we need to remember that through the ages spiritual pilgrims have found that, faced with a suitable icon, it is possible to step with ease into the inner realm of imagination.  Therefore, it is important to begin training young people to become digital citizens by pointing this out.  For example, downloaded census forms from the past become spiritual resources, using the spiritual practice of imagination to define families  immersed in a culture of srvival at the deepest level of the heart. (Fig 10).

Fig 10 Idea for a multiagency education project in Grimsby, with possible funders, for training digital citizens to value cultural heritage in relation to planning for a sustainable future

6 Appendix: icons of visual culture

Gasometro “Cutler” dell’Officina del gas alla Bovisa, Milano.

https://www.bmiaa.com/the-cathedrals-of-energy-architecture-industry-and-landscape-in-italy-by-francesco-radino/

The Grimsby Ice Factory

Dock Tower

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimsby_Dock_Tower

7 Internet References

East Marsh: a liberal’s view

Growing up in East Marsh

Lincs Inspire

Make Grimsby Great Again

Heneage 

Heneage 2

Old Grimsby

Egalitarianism

UNESCO: culture and development

UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators

Walk

Photo Gallery

Culture Magic

Theresa Hubel, Whose India?

Cultural vitality

Street view

Grimsby Local History Library

One foot in the Past 

Grimsby’s heritage assets

North Sea: overfishing

Impoverishment of the sea

History of corn exchanges

Futures of learning

July 29th, 2020

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi


Although an increasing share of the world’s population believes, as 97 percent of scientists do, in anthropogenic climate change and the need for shifts in human behaviors to ensure a sustainable future, there remains a sizeable gap between people’s beliefs and their behavior. Why are people sometimes unwilling to engage in sustainable behaviors? Are there differences between those who are willing to behave sustainably and those who are not? What are some barriers to behaving sustainably that policy makers can address? 

Erin Hamilton, Neil Lewis, Jr., co-Editors-in-Chief, Michigan Journal of Sustainability, (2017)


1  Learning for intercultural understanding and solidarity

As an international learning project, ‘Learning to Become’’ is developing around two main concepts, environmentalism and ecology, to produce a behavioural change across generations to live sustainably.  Environmentalism gives real urgency to the agenda of our relationship to nature, putting forward the idea that marginalized topics, such as climate change, species extinction, pollution, renewable energy, and overpopulation, should be central to creating alternative patterns of lifelong education, consumption, production, and leisure. This also means considering nature in an expanded field, interlinking with biological, technological, social and political knowledge systems. The second concept, ecology, is understood as environmentalism-in-action, an insuppressible dynamic process, where nature, human and other-than-human, co-perform.  Indeed the world is viewed both as a performed ecology, directed by human environmental management, and as an ecology performing itself, fuelled by climate. This allows us to think of nature in embodied, active, distinctly relational terms, whereby production of new knowledge across science, arts and sociology is possible within the transcendent , as well as within the everyday knowledge of nature.  What is missing is a universal behavioural narrative linking culture and ecology. In this context, we should be incorporating myths into future education that explain the world and human experience. Myths are as relevant to us today as they were to the ancients because they answer timeless questions and serve as a behavioural compass to each generation. Nowadays we need to incorporate myths into our curricula that are instructive and act as guides to social norms for living in harmony with nature. They also support the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability.  Science alone is not sufficient (#aartes).

Intercultural understanding is an essential part of learning to adapt to climate change and its socioeconomic consequences so that we may live inclusively and securely with others in the rapidly changing  world of the twenty-first century. In particular, educational pedagogies and curricula should assist young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world.

What is required to achieve this is a root and branch change in curriculum and pedagogy.  The aim is to free students to develop a personal intercultural understanding as they learn to to build their own body of knowledge for valuing their own cultures, languages and beliefs, and those of others. Personal, group and national identities now have to be shaped within the variable and changing dynamics of cultural ecology. Motivation to learn to live sustainably and inclusively across national borders must come through invitational learning, where curriculum and syllabus are negotiated to motivate individuals to become cultural explorers. Intercultural understanding involves students learning about and engaging with the human ecosystem in all its varieties. The aim is to recognise commonalities and differences and create connections with others so as to cultivate mutual respect for Earth’s biodiversity of which we are now the dominant part.  

Intercultural understanding is a major, missing theme in Western education that:-:

  •  combines personal, interpersonal and social knowledge and skills;
  • involves students learning to value and view critically their own cultural perspectives and practices and those of others.  This takes place through their cross curricula interactions with people and texts;
  • encourages students to make connections between their own worlds and the worlds of others, to build on shared interests and commonalities and negotiate or mediate differences; 
  • develops students’ abilities to communicate and empathise with others and to analyse intercultural experiences critically; 
  • offers opportunities for them to consider their own beliefs and attitudes in a new light, and so gain insight into themselves and others;
  • stimulates students’ interest in the lives of others;
  • cultivates values and dispositions such as curiosity, care, empathy, reciprocity, respect and responsibility, open-mindedness and critical awareness;
  • and supports new and positive intercultural behaviours. 

Although all these thematic elements are significant in learning to live together, three humanitarian dispositions regarding human suffering are important: to express empathy, to demonstrate respect and take responsibility.  In particular, human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, which requires an educational grounding in humanitarianism. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for all humanity.  Humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.  Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions.  Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

Humanitarianism enables individuals to interpret situations from a humanitarian perspective and empowers them to address challenges and take action in the spirit of the fundamental principles and humanitarian values of, for example, the Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations. Reasoning is a central and important thinking skill: thinkers need to be able to support conclusions with structured reasons and evidence, make informed, reasoned decisions and make valid inferences. The aim here is to evaluate science through the lens of art and reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity in tune with the planet.  Arts reasoning is applied to explain sustainability (#aartes).  

2 Learning about Agenda 2030

The 2030 Agenda was hammered out over two weeks in Paris during the United Nations 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) and adopted on December 12, 2015.  It marked a historic turning point for global climate action. World leaders representing 195 nations reached a consensus on an accord that has commitments from all countries aimed at combating climate change and adapting to its impacts.  The Paris Agreement could not take effect until at least 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of global carbon emissions had formally joined. This happened on October 5, 2016, and the agreement went into force 30 days later. 

Fig 1 2030 Agenda pledges to be totally inclusive 

Agenda 2030 also aims to strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change and support them in their efforts. Like the UN Agenda 21 published in 1992 it is broad and holistic in nature, covering systemic issues such as hunger, poverty, and inequality, as well as the broader governance issues of accountability, financing, and corruption. There are seventeen sustainable development goals (‘SDGs’) which every state signatory has committed to achieving by 2030.  It is the first-ever universal, legally binding, global climate change agreement.   The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says urgent and unprecedented changes are needed now so we do not exceed the warming target, which they say are affordable and feasible.  However, 1.5C lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge.  However, the world’s leading climate scientists have warned that time is very short to put in place mechanisms that will hold global warming at the Agenda’s agreed maximum of 1.5C.  Beyond this even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.  

Humanity’s grand ambition by adopting the Paris Agenda is surely to aim at an inclusive world development outcome within a stable and resilient Earth ecosystem. The dual adoption of the UN’s SDGs) together with the Paris Climate Agreement represents a global turning point in human social evolution. This human quest is to attain as many of the SDGs as possible by 2030 and then continue following a sustainable global trajectory well beyond 2030.  We have never before had such a universal development plan for people and the planet. For the first time in human history the world has agreed on a democratically adopted roadmap for humanity’s future, which aims at attaining socially inclusive and highly aspirational socio-economic development goals, within globally defined environmental targets.  Yet, despite this the global response to the 2030 Agenda has not been ambitious enough.  Now, five years after its approval, most people think about sustainability as only related to concerns about the environment and often neglect addressing the role of students in educational discourses of sustainability.  Whether or not the SDGs are achieved by 2030, young people growing up now and beyond 2030 will be living in the shadow of the Agreement’s possible political failure.  In this respect, educators are failing to grasp the importance of rethinking school curricula in light of a transformational, humanistic and holistic vision of education for living sustainably.  The 2030 Agenda is available to be adapted as a worldwide powerful education policy tool.  It  leads the way to effective, relevant learning opportunities, processes and outcomes to change the behaviours that have led us to the current potentially fatale impasse.  Curricula promoting Agenda 2030 at all levels, are expected to have a positive effect as levers for the sustainable, inclusive, fair and cohesive development to achieve the SDGs and bring about human equity within a safe biosphere.  From this point of view, the SDGs represent a knowledge framework to reflect and help people to construct the type of society envisioned in the Paris Agreement.

In order to strengthen the positioning of curricula toward an inclusive and equitable quality education the following questions have to be addressed:

  • How can a world development curriculum be conceived?; 
  • What role would it play in the reforms aimed at improving equity and quality of the learning processes?; 
  • What are the main regional challenges in relation to curriculum development?; 
  • How could countries align their curricula with their development needs? 

Transformative change in these directions is possible through five strategies that are powerful routes to reach most SDGs. The five practical measures are:

  • accelerated renewable energy growth sufficient to halve carbon emissions every decade;
  • accelerated productivity in sustainable food chains;
  • new development models to enrich the poor countries;
  • unprecedented inequality reduction;
  • investment in education for all with regards gender equality, health and family planning. 

These measures represent five “leverage points” to intervene in Earth’s globally interconnected geo-bio-socio-economic system. Together, they are capable of shifting our industrial cultural ecology onto a new steady state path in the decades ahead.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides many of the necessary signposts and guidelines to attain the vision. 

Report to the club of rome

The International Commission on the Futures of Education, established by UNESCO in 2019, presented nine ideas for concrete actions today that will advance education in the post COVID-19 world.  They encompass the UN 2030 Agenda for sustainability, particularly Goal 4, which deals with education.  We cannot return to the world as it was before.  

In summary, Agenda 2030:-

  1. Commits to strengthen education as a common good.

Education is a bulwark against inequalities. In education as in health, we are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes. 

  1. Expands the definition of the right to education 

This is necessary so that Agenda 2030 addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information.  It calls for a global public discussion, that includes, among others, learners of all ages, about ways in which the right to education needs to be expanded.

  1. Values the teaching profession and teacher collaboration.

There has been remarkable innovation in the responses of educators to the COVID-19 crisis, with those systems most engaged with families and communities showing the most resilience.  We must encourage conditions that give frontline educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively and move from teaching fixed bodies to facilitating students to assemble personal bodies of knowledge for living in an uncertain world.

  1. Points to education in a post-COVID global society.

With teachers as facilitators promoting student, youth and children’s participation and rights. This is a position where intergenerational justice and democratic principles should compel us to prioritize the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.

  1. Protects  the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education.  

Traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’, but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning, must be preserved.

  1. Makes free and open source technologies available to teachers and students.

Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education cannot thrive with ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students.  Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.

  1. Ensures scientific literacy within the curriculum.

This is the right time for deep reflection on curriculum, particularly as we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge and actively fight misinformation about climate change and how to respond to it.

  1. Protects domestic and international financing of public education.

The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances.  National governments, international organizations, and all education and development partners must recognize the need to strengthen public health and social services but simultaneously mobilize around the protection of public education and its financing.

  1. Advances global solidarity to end current levels of inequality. 

COVID-19 has shown us the extent to which our societies exploit power imbalances and our global system exploits inequalities.  Agenda 2030 calls for renewed commitments to international cooperation and multilateralism, together with a revitalized global solidarity that has empathy and an appreciation of our common humanity at its core. COVID-19 presents us with a real challenge and a real responsibility. These ideas invite debate, engagement and action by governments, international organizations, civil society, educational professionals, as well as learners and stakeholders at all levels.

3  Learning to become

Learning to become is a UNESCO global initiative to reimagine how learning to become a global citizen can shape the future of humanity.  The vision is that knowledge and learning are humanity’s greatest renewable resources for responding to challenges and inventing alternatives.  Yet, education does more than respond to a changing world. Education transforms the world.  With accelerated climate change the fragility of Earth is getting more and more apparent. Persistent inequalities, social fragmentation, and political extremism are bringing many societies to a point of crisis. Advances in digital communication, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology have great potential to boost well being.  But they also raise serious ethical and governance concerns, especially as promises of innovation and technological change have an uneven record of contributing to human flourishing. 

The historical background to Learning to Become is the UNESCO 1972 Report; Learning to Be: the World of  Education Today and Tomorrow.  Forty decades later, this report, known as the Faure Report, named after former Prime Minister and  Minister of  Education of France, Edgar Faure, continues to influence education policy across the world. The Faure Report proposed lifelong education as the master concept for educational policies in the years to  come for both developed and developing countries.  It sets out a humanist vision of education and learning as a continuously renewed and evolving  process throughout life.  The world has changed greatly since 1972.  Globalization has accelerated. There has been tremendous economic growth, but also deepening inequalities. New technologies are revolutionising the way we communicate and share  information, as well as how we teach and learn.  The world population is getting younger every day, and the expectations of young people are rising for quality lifelong education and sustainable  jobs.  Swept along with these changes, education faces new challenges of equity, quality and relevance.  The world is changing; education must also change.  Societies everywhere are undergoing deep transformation.  New forms of education are required to foster competencies in cultural ecology for greater justice, social equity and global solidarity.   In other words, the educational framework of ecosacy has to be added to reading, writing and arithmetic as a fourth guiding principle and practice for students to achieve environmental understanding. Ecosacy is about learning to live on a planet under pressure on the basis of respect and equal dignity, helping to weave together the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

This is a humanist vision of education as an essential common good.  This vision renews with the inspiration of the UNESCO Constitution, agreed 70 years ago, while also reflecting new times and demands.  Today, education is key to the global integrated framework of sustainable development goals.  Education is at the heart of our efforts both to adapt to change and to transform the world within which we live. A quality basic education is the necessary foundation for learning throughout life in a complex and rapidly changing global environment. The world must abandon the 19th century curriculum that was designed for building empires and promoting white supremacy.

A report on financing third world development (the Addis Ababa Action Agenda July 2015) revealed that many countries, particularly developing countries, still faced considerable challenges to adopting the SDGs, and some had fallen further behind. Also, inequalities within many countries had recently increased dramatically. Women, representing half of the world’s population, as well as indigenous peoples and the vulnerable, continue to be excluded from participating fully in the economy.  Against this background, achieving the 2030 SDGs seems to some ‘like a sleepless dream’.  However, we should be taking the 2030 Agenda, and its precursor, Agenda 21, as a whole, not just the chapter on 2030 SDGs. If the SDGs point to the pathway for achieving the 2030 Agenda, the means of implementation are the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and, where relevant, the Paris Agreement).  These have provided the knowledge framework for curriculum development and measuring progress. 

Many believe that too much emphasis has been placed on developing a green economy when we know that a sustainable lifestyle has also to be based on social inclusion. This means improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society, so augmenting the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity.  The elements of social improvement are included in Agenda 2030 where they are integral to the creation of a knowledge framework for learning to live sustainably.

The environmental vision is an Earth free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive without fear and violence; a world with universal literacy; a world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels; a world committed to free health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured. This future world reaffirms national commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, where there is improved hygiene and where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious. This is a world where human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy; a world in which every country enjoys a sustainable economy and decent work for all; a world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources, from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas, are sustainable; a world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature, under good governance.

The human rights vision is a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity. This is a world which invests in its children, where every child grows up free from violence and exploitation; a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed.  It is also a world where the knowledge framework is just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive, where the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

A knowledge framework is a device for exploring and linking distinct areas of knowledge. It identifies the key characteristics of each area by depicting it as a complex system of interacting components, which together, answer the following questions.

  • What is the area of knowledge about?
  • What practical problems can be solved through applying this knowledge?
  • What makes this area of knowledge important?
  • What are the current open questions in this area—important questions that are currently unanswered?
  • Are there ethical considerations that limit the scope of inquiry? If so, what are they?

‘Leaving no one behind’ lies at the operational heart of the 2030 Agenda. This principle is mentioned at least seven times in the Agenda itself, and has been a recurrent theme in documents, pledges, call to actions, interventions and statements delivered since by Member States, the UN and civil society. A clear commitment to inclusiveness is made in the text of the Agenda when Member States “pledge that no one will be left behind” while at the same time recognizing that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, and by pledging that all goals and targets be met for all nations, peoples and societies, committing to also reach those furthest behind . However, in spite of the frequent use and reference to this principle, focused efforts to leave no one behind remain insufficient, in terms of policy design, implementation and review. But only 14% of survey respondents regarded the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups as being included in national reviews. Empowering people to ensure inclusiveness and equality is an ongoing and difficult task, but it is also an opportunity to take concrete, collective and focused actions to ensure that the pledge of leaving no one behind indeed includes every person everywhere as well as to review progress and challenges in realizing it is a core principle. 

Inclusiveness, equality and equity are not just issues for developing countries. Though marginalization and vulnerability take different forms in different countries, and different groups are left behind in different contexts, the presence of these groups and individuals is universal and constant. Reducing these local disparities must be elevated as a priority. Furthermore, inclusiveness and equality are global, not only national matters. The significant gaps between developed and developing countries persist and even widen. We should not forget that whole countries can be ‘left behind’. 

Ensuring inclusiveness, equality and equity means approaching the SDGs in an integrated manner. The realization of one of the goals will not be possible if progress across the other SDGs is not also ensured. Inclusiveness, equality or empowerment will never be possible unless its the root causes are addressed. These lie beneath exclusion and poverty, guaranteeing food and nutrition security, ensuring access to quality and equitable education and lifelong learning, universal health coverage, as well as fighting climate change by protecting the environment, its goods, services and resources. We need to ensure that empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality also promotes development and protects the environment.   

‘Learning to Become’ has been adopted as a mindmap by International Classrooms On Line.  The map (Fig 2) is being developed as a knowledge framework for a four-stranded curriculum at all levels to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet. The future of Learning to Become is to help change human behaviour to live equitably in a sufficient economy, not consuming Earth’s natural resources faster than they can be regenerated. The objective of this ‘action-curriculum’ is to guide people to behave sustainably through becoming more inclusive, more global, more green, more adversarial and more political.   Of overwhelming importance will be the management and direction taken by a new economics for the post Corvid-19 era in the context of Agenda 2030.

Fig 2  A themed curriculum for belonging: place and change.

https://mm.tt/1568562629?t=S8kyP6pkXe

Behavioral change is focused on five topics that together define inclusivity as a body of knowledge. namely world views, societal views, interpersonal views and individual views, which are defined as follows; 

It is important to regard all SDGs as global public goods for which costs as well as figures on interlinkages should be published. OECD countries and donors should move away from the practice of setting unilateral agendas or commitments focused only on a few SDGs. 

The outcomes of Learning to Become are: 

-for people:- The end of poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

-for planet:- to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

-for prosperity:- to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

-for peace:- to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies, which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

-for partnership:- to mobilize the means required to implement Agenda 2030 through a revitalised global partnership for sustainable development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

To confront the crises and challenges of learning to behave sustainably, their root causes must be addressed by promoting and defending a shared spirit of human solidarity that takes many forms, the simplest of which is friendship.

5  Learning for Intercultural understanding

Crossing cultural boundaries can reveal other ways of seeing what is worth knowing and teaching, but can also reveal how pedagogy and, indeed, a whole world curriculum, should be understood and adopted.  Comparative education is needed today where we find ourselves poised between the educational legacy of capitalist modernity and a radically new steady state global order.  Social, economic, political and technological changes are combining to produce new educational challenges and opportunities. Such challenges and opportunities for comparative education, as a field of study, call for learning to be liberated from the constraints  of formal educational institutions. It can be argued that schools have evolved to a point in their pedagogies where they curb both young people’s innate love of learning and their capacity to manage and direct their own educational experiences effectively in the light of their developing individual needs and interests. An oft cited example is the Barbiana School in Italy, in which the conventional curriculum was abandoned and teachers no longer taught formal lessons, yet pupils learned with a depth and commitment hitherto unparalleled in this rural village. 

The major international educational boundary is between East and West, exemplified by India, where it can be argued that the long development of Indian culture has rooted education in the East’s Dharmic thought-banks (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Gandhian,

etc.) where the world is governed by primordial consciousness.  Consciousness refers to an individual’s awareness of their unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environments. Essentially, consciousness is awareness of self and the world around yourself. This awareness is subjective and unique to you. If you can describe something you are experiencing in words, then it is part of your consciousness.  The crisis humanity is facing is, in essence, a crisis of consciousness; a crisis of perception and values. It is becoming increasingly clear that the dominating materialist values of efficiency and economy need to be balanced by the equally important values of care, compassion and respect. 

In Hindu culture the quest for primordial consciousness is represented by the Gita, which appears as a central chapter in the Mahabharata, the mythical history of greater India. It is the essence of Vedic knowledge and one of the most important books of Vedic literature. Bhagavad-Gita is a conversation between Arjuna, a supernaturally gifted warrior about to go into battle, and Krishna, his charioteer. In the course of giving Arjuna all manner of spiritual and material advice, Krishna explains how our environment affects our consciousness, and how to attain the perfection of life.  In this connection, the Gita  talks at length about the “three modes of material nature.” These are subtle social forces that influence our behavior as well as every aspect of our physical, mental, and emotional world. The Sanskrit term for this collection of forces is guna, meaning “rope,” and the Gita explains how they pull us to act in various ways, even against our better judgment.

The behavioural effects of Sattva-guna, the mode of goodness, are seen when an atmosphere of peace, serenity, and harmony prevails in our environment and ourselves. Rajo-guna, the mode of passion, is felt as an insatiable desire for temporary things, striving for more and more of them, and perpetual dissatisfaction. Tamo-guna, is the mode of ignorance. The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita contains elaborate descriptions of these modes of material nature, their characteristics, how they affect us, and ultimately how to become free from their influence through the practice of bhakti-yoga, or, in a modern context, by creating an inclusive curriculum for achieving Krishna consciousness.  In comparative education the significance of the gunas is that they provide Eastern students with a learning pathway embedded in Hinduism for a progressive behavioural change from Tamo-guna to Rajo-guna on to Sattva-guna.  This can be the backdrop to progress reinforcing a personal goal of Agenda 2030.  That is to say, we have to move from ignorance of who we are via consumerism to a steady state economy. Krishna missionaries say that without Krishna consciousness, “we try to enjoy life through the body and mind, with hit-or-miss results.  And we fear death since we don’t know what happens afterwards”.

In her paper, ‘Religiously motivated conservation as a response to pilgrimage pressures in

Vrindavan’, Tamara Luthy examines Govardhan, a sacred hill in Uttar Pradesh. It is close to the urban centre of Vrindavan.  According to local lore and religious texts it is the location of numerous sacred groves.  It is one of many such areas that are circumambulated by pilgrims every year.  Small signs designating each sacred grove on the route provide a sense of connecting with the sacred geography described in the scriptures. Some of these groves are groves in name only; others still show lush vegetation. Some bear little resemblance to their scriptural namesakes. Yet, just as in the scriptures, cowherds still continue to tend to their animals grazing in the fields between groves.

Fig 3 Lord Krishna and the cowgirl Radha meet each other secretly on Govardhan Hill

Places of pilgrimage in India often experience environmental degradation as a result of pilgrimage pressures. They are not examples of ‘traditional land management systems’ that are struggling to adapt to the ‘new’ phenomena of pilgrimage. Instead, they represent contemporary management systems targeting the elements of sacred geography, which are being compromised by the pilgrims’ needs to ‘see for themselves’. This kind of conservation management system is an expression of a growing eco-conscious movement which was first articulated in the 1970s.  Eco-conscience is a broad term that means “marked by or showing concern for the environment.” There are many different ways people can make changes to conserve their environment, and the term ‘environmentally conscious’ now defines a fundamental belief system.  In the context of Vrindavan, sacred groves link a mythologized sacred geography (Fig3) to modern-day issues of desertification and environmental degradation, which are facing this religious tourism site in a way that has become a political issue. Luthy suggests that activists and devotees alike are beginning to rally around an image of ‘Krishna as an Environmental Deity’ in a move to create new conservation management regimes.These discourses involve negotiations of new understandings of place and usage, which are endeavoring to attract the attention of extra-local agencies and engage them in new alliances to save the sacred landscape. Friends of Vrindavan are dedicated to bringing about a renaissance of nature and culture in and around Vrindavan. 

6 Learning by invitation

Few students are drawn to lists of facts. Not many find computations, theorems, and proofs inherently interesting. Worksheets evoke little satisfaction in the young.  The impetus to learn generally does not come first from content itself, but rather because a teacher has learned to make the content inviting.

What invites students to learn? Because students vary, what is inviting will vary as well. In general, however, students have at least five needs that teachers can address to make learning irresistible: affirmation, contribution, purpose, power, and challenge. Sometimes, teachers find that the learning environment is key to meeting student needs. Sometimes the mode of instruction is key. Generally, environment and instruction work in tandem to invite, inspire, and sustain student learning.  Approaching acting to live sustainably through spiritual consciousness of environment and instruction make the content practically important.

For those who are educated to be aware of current environmental issues, self-efficacy is an important barrier to action, where individuals often feel powerless in achieving large goals such as mitigating global climate change. Moreover, lack of motivation to change one’s behaviour is correlated with the belief that individuals are incapable of performing effective large scale pro-environmental actions.

Martin Haigh believes that it is important to design effective learning invitations, which encourage a learner to engage and overcome inhibitions that may hold them back from assembling and applying environmental knowledge.  To this end he introduces five styles of learning invitation based on an individual’s classroom mindset and explores how they may be employed to lever positive educational outcomes.  The mindset to learn is established by questioning the learning environment.  These questions may be used to evaluate a classroom and act as performance indicators of an individual’s progress as a learner.

1 Affirmation

Many young people seek first an affirmation that they are significant in the classroom. Perhaps more and more young people are uncertain of their significance in the world at large, or perhaps the young have always been on a quest for significance. Whatever the reason, students in school need to have affirmative answers to the following questions:

  • Am I accepted and acceptable here just as I am?
  • Am I safe here; physically, emotionally, and intellectually?
  • Do people here care about me?
  • Do people here listen to me?
  • Do people know how I’m doing, and does it matter to them that I do well?
  • Do people acknowledge my interests and perspectives and act upon them?

2 Contribution

To make a difference in any sort of community, one must contribute. Many students come to school looking for a way to contribute to their world. They need to to know:

  • They can make a difference in the classroom?
  • They can bring unique and valuable perspectives and abilities to the classroom?
  • They can help other students and the entire class to succeed?
  • They can connect to others through mutual work on common goals?

3 Purpose

Students come to school in search of collective purposes. They need answers to the following questions:

Do I understand what we do here?

  • Do I see significance in what we do?
  • Does what we do reflect me and my world?
  • Does the work we do make a difference in the world?
  • Will the work absorb me as an individual?

4 Power

From infancy, the young seek increasing dominion over their world. Turning over in the crib, learning to open the refrigerator door, crossing the street, deciding what to wear to school, and spending the night at a friend’s house are important milestones, in part because they signal growing independence and power. Teachers who purposefully assist young learners to develop a sense of power invite their students to learn. To feel powerful in the classroom, students need affirmative answers to the following questions:

  • Will what I learn here be useful to me now?
  • Will I be able to make choices that contribute to my success?
  • Do I know what quality looks like and how I will be able to create quality work here?
  • Does dependable support for my journey exist in this classroom?

5 Challenge

Something deep inside humans seeks challenge despite fears. Students feel they will be challenged in the classroom when they have positive answers to the following questions:

  • Will the work here complement my ability?
  • Will the work stretch me?
  • Will I be able to work hard in this classroom?
  • If I work hard will I generally succeed?
  • Will I be able to be accountable for my own growth, and contribute to the growth of others.?
  • Will I be able to accomplish things here that I didn’t believe were possible?

Levers of learning engage the three modes of nature (the guṇas) as evoked by Satish Kumar’s “Spiritual Compass.” The leverage aims to raise learners away from the mode of inertia and darkness (tamas), toward compassion, peace, and clear-sightedness (sattva),

typically, via the fire of action (rajas). The value of the tamas mode is as a motivation and

fulcrum for change and the problems that develop when rajas (i.e., action) becomes

both the way and the goal. So are the limitations of sattva, goodness, which while it may be holistic, reflective and serene, needs help (the rajas) to convert its dreaming into reality.  Haigh says, using the approach would help internationalise educational curricula and shift education’s current focus from “Doing” (rajas) to “Being” (sattva).

Vrindavan is not just another town on the map. It is Krishna’s abode and a powerful centre of spiritual consciousness. If here, at such a sacred place, the balance of nature is under threat, what does this signify for the well-being of the rest of the planet? On the other hand, if Vrindavan’s woodlands and wildlife flourish once again, then a message of hope will be sent to all of India and to the world that it is possible to bring human demands on the environment in line with Earth’s limited productivity.  Preserving a pastoral landscape of the mind is a good example of the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability.

7  Internet references

Three modes of nature

Govardhan Hill

Design and management proposals for Govardhan Hill

What Is Invitational Learning?

Green lifestyle

Steady state socialism

Participatory socialism

Mind Maps

Education 2030

Making mind map

2019 Not enough progress

Syllabus & curriculum

Krishna conciousness

India; the arts in conversationary

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14

Faith and environment matters

Living sustainably

Ethics of sustainability

Moral Compass; Satish Kumar

What is a myth?

Learning to be Inclusive

July 10th, 2020

1  Cultural ecology

Cultural ecology is simply the study of how humans adapt to social and environmental factors in order to belong, survive and prosper.  Basically, belonging is the creation of societal structures to acquire food, make a home, bring up a family and thereby generate a sense of well being.  This is the fundamental dynamic of cultural ecology, which is defined by tracing an individual’s relationships with family, neighbours and political governance of spaces and places. Through these interactions we are part of nature in everything we do.  No one would deny that culture and its related activities is an ecology, having many links with local development of place.  Vibrant, cultural activities give meaning to a place where a community mobilises resources and generates its own socio ecological dynamics. This process can release the creativity of those who live there and make the territory more attractive to residents, visitors or innovators.  On the other hand, there are places with low socio ecological flows, because they lack local amenities, such as shops, pubs, cafes, transport links, green spaces and playgrounds.  These places have greater inequalities between poor and affluent households. Amongst residents there is widespread grief, concern and despair because the government does not seem to have a plan of action that is dignified and comprehensive and seeks to address the core concerns. These concerns are aggravated in an increasingly complex era of climate crisis, environmental degradation and rising social inequity.  Here, new challenges are appearing for building a just and inclusive global society to accommodate the most marginalised and vulnerable. Many of the latter are the historic victims of white supremacy. These so-called developing populations are often the least responsible for ecological risks and threats, but are the most affected by their emergence. In this context, initiatives like the Black Lives Matter movement can be a cry for restorative justice.  The question is how can we achieve a just and inclusive global society that contributes to restoring sustainable relationships between culture and ecology, where the ecosystems range from the Brazilian rainforest to the ‘urban jungles’ of Europe and the USA? 

2 Guiding principles of inclusivity

People are educated to create “in-groups” and “out-groups,” based on similarities and differences. The more people are taught to perceive someone to be different, the less likely they are to feel comfortable with, or trust, that person.  They position the person in their out-group. This kind of categorization of exclusion, while usually unconscious, but reinforced by cultural norms, can do significant social damage.  However, there is deep uncertainty about how to create inclusive environments within schools and about how to teach inclusively. Inclusive education was initially focused on providing for students with disabilities in mainstream schools.  It now encompasses a much broader definition that refers to all those, black or white, who may have been historically marginalized from meaningful education, who come from poor, varied multicultural and multi-diverse backgrounds, or who are at risk of not achieving their potential as self-regarding individuals.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful, non-violent peace movement that systematically examines injustices that exist at the intersections of race, class, and gender; including mass incarceration, poverty, non-affordable housing, income disparity, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, gender inequality, and poor access to healthcare. 

The movement began in 2013 with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. The movement became nationally recognized for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown, resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, a city near St. Louis, and Eric Garner in New York City.  Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions and/or while in police custody. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter activists became involved in the 2016 United States presidential election.  The originators of the hashtag and call to action, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, expanded their project into a national network of over 30 local chapters between 2014 and 2016.  

Black Lives Matter is a decentralized network and has no formal hierarchy.  The movement returned with global headlines and gained further international attention, promoting restorative justice, during the universal George Floyd protests in 2020, following his killing by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Restorative justice is more a philosophy than a specific method.  It offers a non-adversarial, problem-solving process that involves people who have been harmed (victims) with the harmers/offenders and members of the community.  The aim is to find solutions through connection, not exclusion. It is understood that the growth and learning that occurs often transforms people, relationships and communities.  Contemporary protest movements, like  Black Lives Matter are distinguished from historic movements by relying on decentralized leadership.  They utilize social media and technology and have a central role in addressing social justice issues.  In this context,  principles of humanism guide our endeavors to be more civil, fair, and charitable with one another.  We are all in this together, regardless of colour, sex, political affiliation, level of wealth, creed, age, or sexual orientation. Coexistence is marked by equitable rapport and reciprocity.  Therefore, those who consider themselves humanists, who promote unfettered, egalitarian human welfare; those who desire a humane society and seek to humanize all individuals, need restorative justice as a the only rational educational philosophy

Thirteen Principles for learning to be inclusive emerged in the School Week of Action, mounted by Black Lives Matter, February 3-7, 2020.  It was part of the educational  theme of Teaching for Change and  involved Washington D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice in partnership with educators, and community members. It was built on the momentum of past local weeks of action within the School Week of Action campaign, then taking place in cities across the U.S.  The objective was to promote a set of national demands for education based on the Thirteen Black Lives Matter guiding principles that focus on improving the school experience for students of colour..  

3  A curriculum for change

Enshrined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is the principle that every person should be included in reaping the benefits of prosperity and enjoy minimum standards of well-being. This is captured in the Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  The goals are aimed at freeing all nations and peoples and all segments of society from poverty and hunger to ensure healthy lives and access to education, green energy and information about how to live sustainably. It is recognized that these goals are difficult to achieve without making institutions work for those who are deepest in poverty and most vulnerable to discrimination.  Therefore, the Agenda embraces broad targets aimed at promoting the just rule of law, ensuring equal access to justice and broadly fostering inclusive and participatory decision-making. These goals and targets, when effectively translated through education into action and properly benchmarked, represent essential elements of social inclusion learning processes. Therefore, learning to be inclusive in a global context is vital to target and attain sustainable development goals for people of all ages and ethnicity.

So that humanity can reach the 2030 targets there is no better place to start unlearning white supremacy, and begin the social reconstruction of whiteness, than the 13 principles of inclusivity set out by ‘Black Lives Matter’. They were designed for a syllabus in restorative justice encompassing the whole of humanity.  The understanding was that the privileges conferred on white people by a racist system are ill-begotten, and that benefiting from others’ oppression is neither a morally acceptable nor a spiritually healthy way to live.

Restorative Justice is the most important of the 13 principles of inclusivity, with universal applicability, into which all others flow. It  brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm, into a coalition enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. This is part of a wider field of action called restorative practice.  Planning for 2030 sustainability and developing restorative practice go hand in hand.

Restorative justice is different from criminal justice, which focuses on retribution, deterrence and incapacitation. The focus of restorative justice is on reparation to the victim, on reintegration of the victim and offender, and on the victim as the person who was most directly harmed by the offence. We know that if you hurt somebody, you have to help them feel better; you can’t just say, ‘Sorry; and walk away. We also know that it’s important for people to be able to make a better choice another time, and it is everyone’s job to help them make better choices and to give them chances to do that. 

Restorative practice can be used anywhere to prevent conflict, build relationships and repair harm by enabling people to communicate effectively and positively. Restorative practice is increasingly being used in schools, children’s services, workplaces, hospitals, communities and the criminal justice system.  In this new Black Lives Matter environment, with heightened racial sensitivities and cries for restorative justice, whites and black people may approach each other with some hesitancy and anxiety about not knowing exactly what to say.  In this connection, they may want to speak boldly but feel constrained, muzzled or just completely exhausted and therefore choose to instead simply fume on the inside. A shared commitment to restorative justice is the much needed common ground and this is why restorative justice should be the central pillar of school curricula aimed at behaviour change.

Exclusive behaviors are any behaviors that make an individual feel like they are not a part of the group in which they find themselves.  The reaction is either to leave the group and become more exclusive or to remain and change behaviour to become more inclusive.

The three big ideas in restorative justice are: 

  • repair: crime causes harm and justice requires repairing that harm; 
  • encounter: the best way to determine how to do that is to have the parties come together to decide together; 
  • and transformation through learning to be inclusive to facilitate fundamental changes in people, relationships and communities.

Education for social justice has implications for what we teach (curriculum) and how we teach (pedagogy). 

4  Mapping knowledge domains

During the last two decades there has been an explosion in the amount of information available to education and the accessibility of that information due to a vast increase in electronic storage. New techniques of analysis, retrieval, and visualization have been made possible by great increases in processing speed and power of search engines operating on the World Wide Web.  In the light of this, the term “mapping knowledge domains” was chosen by Richard M. Shiffrin and Katy Börner to describe a newly evolving interdisciplinary area of science aimed at the process of charting, mining, analyzing and sorting, which enables the navigation and display of knowledge (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Mapping the process of turning data into knowledge

Data, information, concept and knowledge are often used interchangeably, but they are really four different things.

i Data is just facts, which may or may not be useful.

ii Information is a selection of data collected for some meaning or purpose.  Within this category, a topic is a unit of information with a title and content, short enough to be specific to a single subject or answer a single question, but long enough to make sense on its own and be authored as a unit.

iii  A concept is a cognitive grouping of topics that defines a main idea or a theme.

An example of concept is a book that is focused on satirical poetry..

iv Domain knowledge is a set of concepts defining a specific, specialized discipline or field. People who have domain knowledge, are often considered specialists or experts. A body of knowledge is the complete set of concepts that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association.

v General knowledge is a collection of concepts from everyday life, not all of it has practical use. 

The curriculum for learning to be socially inclusive is built around the 13 guiding principles of ‘Black Lives Matter’  The key messages are: 

  • social exclusion is a multidimensional phenomenon not limited to material deprivation; poverty is an important dimension of exclusion, albeit only one dimension. Accordingly, social inclusion processes involve more than improving access to economic resources. 
  • social inclusion is defined as the process of improving the terms of participation in society, particularly for people who are disadvantaged, through enhancing opportunities, access to resources, freedom of voice and respect for rights. 
  • measuring social exclusion is challenging due to its multidimensional nature and the lack of standard data sources across countries and for all social groups at highest risk of being left behind. 

While social inclusion is a core aspiration of the 2030 Agenda, conceptual and analytical work on what constitutes inclusion, as well as efforts to improve data availability, are needed. 

The goals for learning to be inclusive are to establish a pedagogy and curriculum for changing the mindset of individuals or groups regarding their worldviews, collective views, interpersonal views and their individual views about being someone other.  A political model to establish this is ‘steady state socialism’ in a cosmopolitan society, where human needs sit in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them 

‘Learning to be Inclusive’ is an experimental multiethnic online pedagogy to support people who wish to become more inclusive in their attitudes to others.   It explores ideas of educational blogging being evaluated by ‘International Classrooms On Line.  The methodology is to use Google Blogger as an interactive tool for assembling a personal body of knowledge on the theme of restorative justice.

Bloggers trawl the Internet for information and present it as pages and posts using the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter as conceptual place holders. within a knowledge framework comprising five knowledge domains, to display their findings. Their learning objective is to use blogging to explore and develop their own inclusive mindset for avoiding exclusive behaviour (Table 1).

The educational domain to be explored is ‘Belonging Place and Change’ and at the moment there are three themes (three separate blogs).

i ‘The theme of Belonging Place and Change’,  

ii ‘Evolution Islands’;

iii ‘Learning to be Inclusive’.  

The way it works is that the basic piece of information for a post or page is a website.  A piece of text from the site is posted to a particular blog with a picture and the URL, tagged with a title that connects it to one of the topics that is being developed in that blog (Table 1). By this means the blogg becomes a personal body of knowledge. 

Table 1 A themed curriculum for place and change.

(Based on a ‘Kid friendly’ version of the 13 guiding principles by Lalena Garcia)

Change is focused on five topics that together define inclusivity as a body of knowledge. namely world views, societal views, interpersonal views and individual views, which are defined as follows; 

Topic 1 ‘Worldviews’.

Globalism

Globalism means that we are thinking about all the different people all over the world, and thinking about the ways to keep things fair everywhere.

.Diversity

Different people do different things and have different feelings. It is important that we have lots of different kinds of people in our community and that everyone feels safe. 

Topic 2 ‘Societal views’.

Families

There are lots of different kinds of families; what makes a family is people who take care of each other. It’s important to make sure that all families feel welcome. 

Villages and Neighbourhoods 

There are many different kinds of families; what makes a family is people who take care of each other; those people might be related, or maybe they choose to be family together and to take care of each other. Sometimes, when it is lots of families together, it can be called a village. Neighbourhood is generally defined spatially as a specific geographic area and functionally as a set of social networks.  It is a spatial unit in which face-to-face social interactions occur; these are the personal settings and situations where residents seek to realise common values, socialise youth, and maintain effective social control.

Collective value

Everybody is important, and has the right to be safe and happy

Topic 3 ‘Interpersonal views’.

Empathy

It is important to think about how other people feel, because different people have different feelings. Sometimes it helps to think about how you would feel if the same thing that happened to your friend happened to you.

Loving engagement

It is important to make sure that we are always trying to be fair and peaceful, and to engage with other people (treat other people) with love. We have to keep practicing this so that we can get better and better at it

Intergenerational inclusivity

It is important that we have spaces where people of different ages can come together and learn from each other. Another way to say that is intergenerational.

Thinking genealogically about place 

Genealogy, in short, is first and foremost a way of thinking, and thinking genealogically is one of the distinctive characteristics of human cognition. Because they are the very objects of our genealogical imagination, ancestors and relatives deserve a prominent place among the foundational pillars of being.

Topic 4 ‘Individual views’.

Gender

There are some people who think that women are less Important than men. We know that all people are important and have the right to be safe and talk about their feelings

Transgender

Everybody has the right to choose their own gender by listening to their own heart and mind. Everyone gets to choose if they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else, and no one else gets to choose for them. 

Being queer

Everybody has the right to choose who they love and the kind of family they want by listening to their own heart and mind. 

Being unapologetically yourself

There are lots of different kinds of people that vary in the colour of their skin,  But all share a common biochemical heritage with other living beings.  So It’s important to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and that’s why people all over the world, white as well black, are part of the Black Lives Matter movement.’ 

5 Concepts for learning to be inclusive

1795 

Humankind classified according to ethnicity

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

The idea that there are independent human ethnic groups can be traced to the late 1700s, when German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach attempted to classify humans, largely by how they looked and where they called home.

His final classification of 1795 divided all humans into five groups, defined both by geography and appearance: the Caucasian variety, for the light-skinned people of Europe and adjacent parts of Asia and Africa; the Mongolian variety, for most other inhabitants of Asia, including China and Japan; the Ethiopian variety, for the dark-skinned people of Africa; the American variety, for most native populations of the New World; and the Malay variety, for the Polynesians and Melanesians of the Pacific and for the aborigines of Australia.

He not only used geography and skin colour but, notably, the size and shape of skulls to explore what he called the “varieties of mankind.” but held that all races and peoples were equal and stated that the “many varieties of humankind as are at present known to be one and the same species.  Later, unscientific thinking by Europeans, that one race is superior to another, has led, historically, to some of the worst of human behavior; colonization, slavery, apartheid and genocide.

1945-50 

Unesco and the (One) World of Julian Huxley.

As a discipline, biology had been at the heart of modern cultural and political debates about the nature of human diversity and its significance since the mid-nineteenth century. By the 1930s, as fascist European political parties brutally claimed scientific legitimacy for their regimes, biologists such as Julian Huxley emphasized the diversity of humanity was a minor outcome  of evolution. 

The social unity of humankind expressed in cosmopolitanism and internationalism, were crucial ideological contexts for the creation of Unesco, and the shape that Julian Huxley, Unesco’s first Director-General, gave to that organization. In the history of Unesco’s early years, Huxley is often depicted as its hero, charting ‘the broad course to which the organization became committed’, and granted the natural sciences, and scientists, a central place in the shaping of Unesco’s internationally-targeted cultural and educational programs. 

1963

A Talk To Teachers

James Baldwin

Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change

1996  

Color Conscious

Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann:

In America today, the problem of achieving racial justice-whether through “color-blind” policies or through affirmative action provokes more noisy name-calling than fruitful deliberation. In Color Conscious, K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, two eminent moral and political philosophers, seek to clear the ground for a discussion of the inclusion of race in politics and in our moral lives.  Appiah begins by establishing the problematic nature of the idea of race. He draws on the scholarly consensus that “race” has no legitimate biological basis, exploring the history of its invention as a social category and showing how the concept has been used to explain differences among groups of people by mistakenly attributing various “essences” to them. 

Appiah, a British Ghanaian philosopher, argues that, while people of colour may still need to gather together, in the face of racism, under the banner of race, they need also to balance carefully the calls of race against the many other dimensions of individual identity; and he suggests, finally, what this might mean for our political life. 

His focus is on the long-term political and economic development of nations according to the Western capitalist/ democratic model, an approach that relies on continued growth in the “marketplace” that is the capital-driven modern world.

When capitalism is introduced and it does not “take off” as in the Western world, the livelihood of the peoples involved is at stake. Thus, the ethical questions involved are certainly complex. He says it is not up to “us” to save the poor and starving, but up to their own governments. Nation-states must assume responsibility for their citizens, and a cosmopolitan’s role is to appeal to “our own” government to ensure that these nation-states respect, provide for, and protect their citizens.

If they will not, “we” are obliged to change their minds; if they cannot, “we” are obliged to provide assistance, but only our “fair share,” that is, not at the expense of our own comfort, or the comfort of those “nearest and dearest” to us.  From this position he views organisations such as UNICEF and Oxfam in two lights: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organisations provide while on the other he points out their long-term futility. 

Gutmann examines alternative political responses to racial injustice. She argues that American politics cannot be fair to all citizens by being colour blind because American society is not color blind. Fairness, not color blindness, is a fundamental principle of justice.

2000

The revolution that wasn’t 

Sally McBrearty and Alison S. Brooks

Proponents of the model known as the ‘‘human revolution’’ claim that modern human behaviors arise suddenly, and nearly simultaneously, throughout the Old World ca. 40–50 ka. This fundamental behavioral shift is purported to signal a cognitive advance, a possible reorganization of the brain, and the origin of language. Because the earliest modern human fossils, Homo sapiens sensu stricto, are found in Africa and the adjacent region of the Levant at >100 ka, the ‘‘human revolution’’ model creates a time lag between the appearance of anatomical modernity and perceived behavioral modernity, and creates the impression that the earliest modern Africans were behaviorally primitive. This view of events stems from a profound Eurocentric bias and a failure to appreciate the depth and breadth of the African archaeological record. 

2002

Slavery and the Roots of Racism

Lance Selfa

Because racism is woven right into the fabric of capitalism, new forms of racism arose with changes in capitalism. As the U.S. economy expanded and underpinned U.S. imperial expansion, imperialist racism developed, which asserted that the U.S. had a right to dominate other peoples, such as Mexicans and Filipinos. As the U.S. economy grew and sucked in millions of immigrant laborers, anti-immigrant racism developed. But these are both different forms of the same ideology, of white supremacy and division of the world into “superior” and “inferior” races that had their origins in slavery. What does this discussion mean for us today? First, racism is not part of some unchanging human nature. It was literally invented. And so it can be torn down. Second, despite the overwhelming ideological hold of white supremacy, people always resisted it, from the slaves themselves to white anti-racists. Understanding racism in this way informs the strategy that we use to combat racism. 

Antiracist education is essential, but it is not enough. Because it treats racism only as a question of “bad ideas” it does not address the underlying material conditions that give rise to the acceptance of racism among large sections of whites.  To thoroughly undermine the hold of racism on large sections of white people requires three conditions: 

  • first, a broader class fightback that unites workers across racial lines; 
  • second, attacking the conditions (bad jobs, housing, education, etc.) that give rise to the appeal of racism among large sections of workers; 
  • and third, the conscious intervention of antiracists to oppose racism in all its manifestations and to win support for interracial class solidarity. 

Racism and capitalism have been intertwined since the beginning of capitalism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. Therefore, the final triumph over racism will only come when we abolish the source of racism, capitalism, and build a new socialist society. The hold of racism at the base of capitalism breaks down when the class struggle against the bosses forces workers to seek solidarity across racial lines. Socialists believe that such class unity is possible because white workers have an objective interest in fighting racism. The Influence of racism on white workers is a question of their consciousness, not a question of some material bribe from the system they receive. Struggle creates conditions by which racism can be challenged and defeated. 

2020:

 Black Lives Matter guiding principles that focus on improving the school experience for students of colour.  

The Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful, non-violent peace movement that systematically examines injustices that exist at the intersections of race, class, and gender; including mass incarceration, poverty, non-affordable housing, income disparity, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, gender inequality, and poor access to healthcare.

The goal of the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action was to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversations in school communities for people of all ages and ethnicities to engage with critical issues of social justice. It is the duty of educators and community members to civically engage students and build their empathy, collaboration, and agency so they are able to thrive. Students must learn to examine, address, and grapple with issues of racism and discrimination that persist in their lives and communities.

2020

Place and Change

‘Place & Change’ is a project on the theme of humanistic geography, promoted by International Classrooms Online. Its aim is to evaluate the use of Google Blogger to create pages and posts on themes of place and change.  One such theme is ‘Learning to be Inclusive’.

Learning to be Inclusive

This is a theme within the concept of ‘Place and Change’. Learning to be inclusive is a lesson for everyone.

‘Place & Change’: something to blog about

June 16th, 2020

“It’s almost 11 years since I first began blogging! Who would have thought that simple decision to begin a blog would have led to so many fantastic outcomes for me, for my students, and for my community?  This post unpacks 18 benefits of blogging for teachers and students. But first, let’s explore why blogging has lasted while other tools have come and gone.  The simple reason is, a blog is more than a tool. It’s anything you want it to be. A blog is a blank canvas and a virtual home for you to set up however you like.”

Kathleen Morris (2019), Primary School Teacher.

1 Evolution is progress?

After the First World War, the British Zoologist, Julian Huxley, was occupied with the long term questions raised for the future of humanity by Darwin’s theory of evolution. The central problem in determining whether evolution manifests progress concerns the identification and justification of a standard according to which improvement can be measured. As might be expected, much of the debate over evolutionary progress has focused on this problem.  In fact, Darwin’s first reflections on impediments to human progress were prompted by his experiences of savage qualities in the slave-owning colony of Brazil, and by his encounters with the Yahgan peoples of Tierra del Fuego.  There he saw first hand that harsh conditions, privation, poor climate, bondage and servitude, are impediments to human progress.

Eight decades later, after the First World War, Huxley wrote,

 “Is it possible to speak of progress when at this present moment there are vast poverty-stricken and slum populations with all the great nations, and when these same great nations have just been engaged in the most appalling war in history?”.  

Huxley had argued, even then, that progress, defined as an improvement in the well-being of human beings through social evolution, was indeed possible. After another world war had produced not only greater carnage but also the means of humanity’s own self-destruction, Huxley still hung on to his belief in evolutionary progress.  Indeed, in 1945 he was briefly associated with plans to use Skomer, a small offshore island in South West Wales, as an educational field station for students to set up their own projects to highlight progressive evolution. By “progress,” he meant the tendency of all life forms to grow better equipped over evolutionary time to carry on the business of existence and survival. 

“Biology,” he wrote, “presents us with the spectacle of an evolution in which the main direction is the raising of the maximum level of certain qualities of living beings, such as efficiency of organs, size, accuracy and range of senses coordinating a capacity for knowledge, memory, educability and acting with emotional intensity”.  

“These are all qualities which in one way or another lead to a more efficient control by living things over the external world, leading to their greater independence of environment.  Huxley’s summary of this argument was, “Animal types have limited possibilities, and sooner or later exhaust them: humanity has an unlimited field of possibilities, and can never realize all of them”.  

In this connection no doubt Huxley was reflecting on the powers of social evolution to benefit human well being.

2 One-World: a political conservation target

At the end of World War II Julian Huxley was firmly associated with the concept of  the social evolution of cosmopolitanism connected with internationalism and the origins of UNESCO. In the first few years of UNESCO’s operation, delegates and functionaries portrayed “world citizenship” as the path to permanent world peace and self well being.  It is a necessary social target arising from the evolution of diversity in human society, from tribes to nations, from national consciousness to “one world” living.  Huxley, as UNESCO’s first director-general, was a key figure in that history. His conception of cosmopolitan internationalism provides an important link between the history of postwar international organizations and a long nineteenth-century vision of historical and political progress leading to the abolition of imperial policies and practices, notably the end of slavery.

In this history Huxley found profound, long range consequences. Human beings, diverse in their capacities and self-awareness, were not compelled to pursue solely their individual self -interest. They could also cooperate to achieve the common needs of society. More importantly, human self consciousness made possible “not only innumerable single changes, but a change in the very method of change itself”.  The change was a transition from evolution by blind processes operating on the opportunities, provided by blind chance, to humankind’s deliberate choices for living peaceably in the long term.   

Nature conservation was one of these choices which Huxley, with his UK contemporaries Max Nicholson and Peter Scott, promoted on an international scale.  He conceded that we had so far not used our capacities very wisely to shape the world; and he allowed that savage qualities were still to be found in a deplorably large number of human beings. “Our feet still drag in the biological mud,” he wrote, “even when we lift our heads into the conscious air.” Still, he found a certain comfort in the belief that evolution had continually raised the upper levels of biological organisms; and further comfort in the recognition that humankind, so far existing for only a moment in evolutionary time, still had future generations to work out its problems and realize its possibilities. 

Julian Huxley used the genetics of heredity to argue against any biological foundations for antidemocratic ideologies, be it Nazism, Stalinism, or the British laissez-faire and class system. He presented genetics itself as inherently democratic. Arguing from genetics, he developed an understanding of diversity that cuts across divisions of race, class, or gender. Human diversity rightly understood was advantageous for societal progress and in recognising this he pressed for the concept of ethnicity to replace that of race in discussions of human diversity.  Huxley argued for democratic reforms and increased planning geared toward greater social equality. He took issue with the notion that evolutionary history does not carry any moral lessons for human societies. Rather than being its antithesis, evolution is the basis of human sociality. In fact, the entire future progress of individuals and communities toward a democratic world was founded on the principles of social evolution at a parochial level.

Huxley summarily declared, 

“In the light of evolutionary biology man can now see himself as the sole agent of further evolutionary advance on this planet, and one of the few possible instruments of progress in the universe at large. He finds himself in the unexpected position of business manager for the cosmic process of evolution”.

At our present point in time we need to revisit Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism, which he defined as the scientific management of the great challenges facing the progress of future generations.  Today, this challenge is to curb global warming and distribute Earth’s limited resources equitably whilst celebrating human equality in diversity. For Huxley, humanism was about establishing a cognitive pedagogy to develop a learner’s unique individuality, understanding who we are and what we stand for. No one person is the same. Evolutionary  humanism encourages young people to explore their own selfhood and well-being, while also gaining a better understanding and greater respect for the identities of others, all through self learning (Fig 1). 

Fig1 Conditions for progressing individual wellbeing through evolutionary humanism.

Before Huxley disengaged from the Pembrokeshire islands he selected the Skomer Vole, an isolated subspecies of the mainland vole, as the icon for his idea of evolutionary humanism.

3 Practical, humanistic geography

The new National Curriculum for Wales has just been launched and one of its six pillars of learning and experience is the Humanities Area.  The humanities can play a number of roles in a person’s life, including providing greater insight into the world, helping to better understand both the past and the future and fostering a wide sense of empathy. One of the most important outcomes of the Humanities Area in the Welsh syllabus is preparing students to fulfill their civic and cultural responsibilities.  The aim is for them to become informed, conscientious, engaged, critical citizens fostering social justice and equality.  In Wales the Area encompasses the classical subjects of geography; history; religion; values and ethics, enhanced with the contemporary subjects of business studies and social studies. These disciplines share many common themes, concepts and transferable skills, while each having its own discrete body of knowledge and skills.  Regarding geography, people may think that it is about capitals, land forms, and other material features. But it is also about projecting emotional tone and social meaning.  The latter defines humanistic geography, which emphasises people’s perceptions, creativity, personal beliefs and sharing ideas and achievements with other cultures. 

Humanistic geographers study topics such as the cultural construction of place and landscape. These topics determine the cartography of everyday life, using the power of language and meaning to create and transform environments, place and identity for the better.  They are concerned with religious symbolism and geographical myths and narratives. Common to all of these expressions of cultural ecology is a concern with understanding meaningful, humanly constructed worlds.  Students who are beginning to study these as isolated topics may wonder why they have not been taught about the unifying power of humanistic geography. How could a geographical orientation that has been associated with so many cross subject themes of current interest be largely ignored.  This relative neglect is difficult to understand when the cartography of everyday life can be easily charted in the humanistic geography of gardens, roadside verges and cracks in the pavement; all features that bind people imaginatory to place from an early age.  In this context, the real practical task in developing a humanistic pedagogy centred on place and change is to harness love of place for individuals to present their own body of knowledge and share it, for feedback from others.  Sense of place is increasingly recognized as key to human wellbeing in social- ecological systems. Yet there is a limited understanding about how to define and evaluate it for conservation.

This is where curricular blogging comes in (Fig 2). 

4 Blogging for self learners

Fig 2 A circular cosmopolitan network of educational bloggers

Place & Change’ is a project in humanistic geography, promoted by ICOL (International Classrooms Online), to evaluate the use of Google Blogger for motivating students  to create personal pages and posts presenting their understanding of the topic of ‘place and change’. 

From a practical point of view, by blogging students are exploring the blending of ancient and modern ways of presenting knowledge i.e. using deep text with pictures (the blogged pages), and using pictures with shallow text, but linked to deeper levels of information (the blogged posts).  The task of a blogger in a syllabus of humanistic geography is to integrate pages and posts to unify a personal body of knowledge about a feature in a particular locality they feel passionately about, making their blog a contribution to cultural wellbeing.

Therefore, ‘Place & Change’ is a focus for place-based, cross curricular, environmental education using outdoor classrooms to integrate the science of sustainability with the conceptual ideational framework of cultural ecology.  Place can be an actual island surrounded by water, or any space, isolated by natural or artificial means, where a distinctive element exists amidst a larger differing ‘social sea’.  For example, a knowledge island can be a potted plant, a grassy patch or a local mainland nature reserve.  As a spatial arrangement each space can be described as a cosm, from Greek, where it has the meaning “world, universe; order, arrangement.” This meaning is found in such words as: cosmic, cosmopolitan, cosmos,and microcosm.

Thus the world is viewed as a vast, diverse mosaic of cosms large and small.  Each offers the inquiring mind a menu for self-learning; a knowledge structure for individuals to come to their own understanding of the world around them.   Their personal body of knowledge, encapsulated in a blog, is passed on to others for feedback in a creative, global learning community.  This is the essence of humanistic education where students have a unique opportunity to develop self understandings to position themselves as caring citizens in Earth’s future diverse social order.  In this process teachers are facilitators to draw out human wellbeing in every student.  

For most people nature reserves, as cosms of diversity, are more than a calculation of economic advantage. Only by spending time in places because they deliver biodiversity as a public good do we have a sense of how rich in birds, flowers and insects our surroundings could be.  Without such benchmarks, we lose all sense of what we should expect, and what we can cherish. We lose all sense of the wild, and our evolutionary connection to it. 

Some who regard nature reserves as a parochial irrelevance, when the stressed Earth is facing a perfect storm of climate change, overconsumption and rising population, should travel to the Welsh national nature reserve of Skomer Island and breathe in a world where colour comes from a different palette.  Or they could read Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet. 

All great civilisations are based on parochialism.  To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.

These are the cosmopolitan truths to blog about (Fig 3), not what the blogger had for breakfast this morning!

Fig 3 A post from the demonstration educational blog: ‘Islands and Evolution’.

5  Internet references

Pages and posts in a ‘Place & Change’’ blog

Notions about natureMicrocosms and macrocosms in art

Minimum age for blogging

Using blogs in the classroom