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Zen and the Art of Ecosystem Management

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Futures of learning

Wednesday, 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

Friday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Personalising knowledge with hyperbooks

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

“How about the American classroom? Our method of teaching hasn’t radically changed over the past century. It’s stuck, it’s dated, and it’s in need of radical transformation. While there are bright spots in the private school system, the public education system–where the vast majority of our children are being taught, guided, and motivated–is a dated, bloated, inefficient, bureaucratic dinosaur. It lost sight and understanding of its consumer a long, long time ago.”

Shawn Parr


1 Historical context

Our current education system, built on the Industrial Revolution model, focuses on IQ, in particular memorization and standardization, skills that will be easily and efficiently supplanted by artificial and augmented intelligence (AI), where IQ alone isn’t sufficient. A good blend of IQ (intelligence) + EQ (emotional intelligence) + RQ (resilience) is critical to unleashing a student’s potential.  The latter is particularly relevant to the uptake of individualised distance learning. 

In 1979 Professor Denis Bellamy, a UK advocate for educational reform, created a network of educators and organisations who were exploring new ways of handling and communicating cross-subject knowledge about the use of natural resources for human production (natural economy). This developed during the 1980s in the Natural Economy Research Unit (NERU) within the Department of Zoology of the National Museum of Wales, which was funded by the education directorate of the EU.  One of NERU’s first contracts was a consultancy to help produce a new examination syllabus about world development for the Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate.  It was promoted as the subject natural economy within the Syndicate’s International GCSE.

From 1992 NERU’s educational projects focused on new opportunities arising from the Rio Environment Summit to work with Welsh and English schools and their communities to create citizen’s environmental networks for democratic participation in local economic development. This work was centred on the use of educational IT tools to promote systems thinking about ‘sustainability’. The belief was that a new hybrid model of education would eventually emerge, for individualised collaborative learning with significant benefits to society.   

An important practical outcome was the Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN), which is now an integral part of the education/ interpretation work of the National Museum and Galleries of Wales. Current projects are concerned with packaging classroom resources, which have been produced and tested by teachers, to embed environmental education in the Local Agenda 21. SCAN makes the resources freely available on-line to help bring the study of systems for resource management off the sidelines of the National Curriculum.

The Cambridge natural economy project led to the production and testing of an self-navigating cross curricular knowledge system. This is applied as a text-based computer format for voyaging the global issues, problems and challenges of population, business, and natural resources. Formatted on Longman-Logotron’s pioneering ‘Hyperbook’ software, it was used in 1994-96 as a basis for groups of teachers, and their sixth form pupils, to begin producing educational models of the relationships of jobs to local resources. 

The hyperbook system for localised learning germinated  from a discussion between Colin Tubbs (English Nature), Denis Bellamy (National Museum of Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales), and Emma Wrigglesworth (the New Forest Committee/New Forest Museum). The idea was  to produce interactive computer resources for schools focused on the New Forest as an ecological island in an ‘urban sea’. Colin Tubbs agreed to the use of the text of his book, ‘The New Forest; An ecological history’, for this purpose. The aim was for it to be formatted by NERU as a self-indexing programme, and made freely available within the SCAN schools as a cross-curricular exemplar of environmental management. The idea was that Tubb’s text should be cross-referenced by students with hypertext to other relevant materials, particularly with regard to updating.  It became a hyperbook, which at the moment is hosted in a basic format as The New Forest Flip Book by Publitas.

2 What is a hyperbook

A hyperbook is a digital app designed to be strongly related to the book metaphor. Books are the traditional repositories of information and knowledge. People know how to read them, how to use a Table of Contents, how to use an index, etc. By maintaining the same model on screen, people’s access to electronic information can be a representation of the book itself, which can be consulted like a physical book. This approach helps to overcome some of the limitations inherent in reading through a computer screen.

In 2003 Gilles Falquet and Jean-Claude Ziswiler published a paper entitled ‘A Virtual Hyperbooks Model to Support Collaborative Learning’.  It was a report on several pedagogical projects exploring the collaborative construction of a scientific hyperbook. They established that the core of a hyperbook is an exposition of a distinct subject presented in a document format as a pdf file’  This core file is freely available and can be customised with annotations, and links made from it, to extension/updating material.  Thus, people can personalise the file without modifying its original content.  Hyperbooks, together with mind maps, wikis, blogs and personal websites comprise the infrastructure for self-learning. As such they are important resources for a humanistic education where the pedagogy is focused on facilitated learning to guide students to create their own personal body of knowledge.  A hyperbook allows each learner to build this unique understanding using hypermedia elements (texts, images, audio, video, animations) which are stored in a modularized way.

In making a linear document (article or book) a single desired reading order is predefined. Readers always know where they are. When authors are writing a book, and are adding pages, they always know what they may expect the reader to have read when that reader reaches the page being written. However, in hyper documents this assumption is no longer valid. Given a rich link structure there are so many ways to navigate through a hyperdocument that it is impossible for an author to foresee which pages a user will have read when jumping to a certain page. Hyperbooks are a prime example of a type of hyperdocument that is written in such a way that the user can jump to any page, understand the information on that page and see links to other related pages that can also be understood. Users are also compilers so building a hyperbook is a good example of what has been called ‘fingerprint self learning’. 

The teaching objectives of making a hyperbook are:

• to help the students see the relationships that exists between the different concepts presented during a course, hence the hypertextual nature of the book; 

• to give students the opportunity to participate in the collaborative writing of a large electronic document;

• to show that the same subject matter can be seen from different points of view expressed as expressions of multi author creativity;

• to provide an individual with tools to assemble a personal body of knowledge about a subject they are really interested in and communicate it online.

3 An example of how a hyperbook is made?

In 1946, a year-long project was launched by the West Wales Field Society to investigate the wildlife of the small Welsh offshore island of Skomer.  The report on the expedition was compiled by Ronald Lockley and his brother in law, John Buxton, from the field notes of academics and local naturalists who took part in the island expedition.  These notes were the basis of the book ‘Island of Skomer’ edited by Buxton and Lockley, published by Staples Press in 1950.  This book is the core of a Skomer Hyperbook and illustrates problems of assembling an electronic version of a paper book..  

Estimated costs of the island survey amounted to about £3,000, a third of which was to come from grants and the balance from members of the WWFS. There is no information about the circumstances of the publication of ‘Island of Skomer’.  The book carries a notice saying that copyright is reserved.  This is a formality indicating that the copyright holder reserves, or holds for its own use, all the rights provided by copyright law.  However, no individual or organisation has ever claimed copyright of Island of Skomer.  Considering the way in which the Skomer field survey was carried out by a large body of volunteers, in a modern context, ‘Island of Skomer’ would be an item in a commons media file repository.  It  would be available to everyone in the public domain as freely-licensed educational media content (te.g.text, images, sound and video clips).  It is in this spirit, after  extensive and fruitless searching for a copyright holder, that Denis Bellamy and Mike Alexander, a former Warden of the island, launched the Skomer Hyperbook in 2020 as a free educational online resource.

From this point, the core document of The Skomer Hyperbook is a digitised version of ‘Island of Skomer’. It provides a holistic menu and topic scaffold for individuals or groups to express their understanding of the island as a humanistic model of cultural ecology. Indeed, the Skomer Hyperbook emerged as an exposition of evolutionary humanism.  The essence of a humanistic education is to facilitate individuals to build a personal body of knowledge.   

3 Evolutionary humanism

There is no doubt that the pioneer conservationist and President of the WWFS, Julian Huxley, was the driving force behind the 1946 Skomer field survey and its publication.  His vision for the island was an educational resource for the promotion of ‘evolutionary humanism’ by personalising kowledge about the connections between culture and ecology.  He defined this concept in his introduction to the 1961 anthology ‘The Humanist Frame’, as:

“…  a new idea-system, whose birth we of the mid-twentieth century are witnessing, I shall simply call Humanism, because it can only be based on our understanding of man and his relations with the rest of his environment. It must be focused on man as an organism, though one with unique properties. It must be organized round the facts and ideas of evolution, taking account of the discovery that man is part of a comprehensive evolutionary process, and cannot avoid playing a decisive role in it”.

In other words, if you are a Humanist, then accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution as the font of humanity comes with the territory.  Science, not religion, affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces with no supernatural input into its workings or ethics.  It was with this in mind that Huxley promoted the use of Skomer island for outdoor learning adventures into evolutionary humanism. The current quest is to resolve how the evolution of ethics comes to be at the heart of humanity’s response to global warming.  Hypermedia resources, such as a hyperbook, provide the necessary tools to span these two topics that are central to the future of humanity on Earth. 

Unfortunately, Huxley’s vision of Skomer as a cross curricular study centre to promote evolutionary humanism was not realised. He moved on into the international conservation arena as a founder of UNESCO.  Skomer was eventually declared a national nature reserve in 1959, largely because of its crucial position in the survival of the vast numbers of seabirds that nest there.  Now, Skomer is a first class illustration of the current trend of conservationism, where the aim is  to protect the environment for future generations using scientific data backed up with legislation.  Its wider and deeper potential as a holistic focus for educational reform, linking culture with ecology, was largely forgotten until Huxley’s vision for Skomer was revisited by Denis Bellamy and his students who began using the island for place-based learning through adventure in the early 1970s.

It is significant that the first page of ‘Island of Skomer’ is given over to a drawing of the Skomer Vole by the Welsh wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe.  This animal is a distinct subspecies of the mainland vole, which evolved on the island, probably after being introduced by the first human settlers.  In this context, the Skomer Vole can be said to stand as an icon, or emblem, of evolutionary humanism and wildlife protection.  

4 Reverence for life

In Huxley’s mind, the core of evolutionary humanism is that religion is a tool invented to enforce a system of ethics that was already established.  He argued that the direction of moral progress was toward greater human fulfillment and the realization of values that had “intrinsic worth” i.e. the value that something has “in itself,” or “for its own sake”. Only a society that respected individual rights, stressed education, encouraged responsibility, and promoted the arts, could realize those values. In this respect, we have barely scratched the surface to understand how notions of intrinsic value should affect public attitudes toward conservation.  Rather than being a “flimsy notion” that distracts from the development of sound conservation measures, Huxley took the view that the intrinsic value of nature provides a robust and necessary basis for developing a conservation-based relationship with nature.  This expression of reverence for life in all its diversity had emerged in the interwar period.  For example, writing in 1924, Albert Schweitzer summarised the ethics of wildlife conservation as follows; 

“Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.… The time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life”.

Therefore, one of the key papers to be attached to the Skomer Hyperbook was a biography of Schweitzer feely available in the World Heritage Encyclopedia.

Schweitzer’s theme of ‘reverence for life’ was picked up by Rachel Carson in 1962.  She was the ecologist and science writer who campaigned in America against the flagrant use of chemical pesticides. She prefaced her book, ‘Silent Spring’ with a quotation from a letter Schweitzer had written to a beekeeper whose bees had been destroyed by pesticides: 

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth”.  

Through Carson, and others following her path, Schweitzer’s most positive legacy infiltrated the Western ecological movement from the 1960s.  Indeed, Skomer played a role in tracing fatal pesticide residues into food chains.

Julian Huxley’s internationalist and conservation interests led him to choose humanism as being more directed to supplying a basis for the ethics of wildlife conservation.  He traced his decision to embrace humanism to the evolutionary underpinnings of the early primates, who developed ideas about what was good and bad as it pertained to their flourishing as a species. Morality was birthed in humans from these biological intuitions, and as populations increased, they could no longer depend on smaller communities to govern moral standards. Religion solved this problem, proving to be a successful tool in policing large groups on what was moral and immoral. This goes to show that morality transcends religion as its point of origin. 

Huxley believed that our faculties are capable of deciphering good from evil  but our relationship with religion is such that we misattribute our moral foundations to the divine.  Religions make claims about how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong.  These normative statements and behavioral norms, as well as their meanings, would have been an integral part of social life as experienced by Skomer’s prehistoric farmers.  The norms are an adaptation that evolved in connection with social coordination, cooperation and stability. This capacity involves being in the state of accepting a norm, which we should thus expect to be a standard part of human moral behaviour.

It is relatively easy to see how evolutionary humanism gave meaning to Huxley’s life.  It helped him to engage with the self-questioning, common to all humanity seeking connections between culture and ecology: Who am I? What is my purpose?  What is our place in existence?”

“[Evolutionary humanism] has enabled me to see this strange universe into which we are born as a proper object both of awe and wondering love and of intellectual curiosity. More, it has made me realize that both my wonder and curiosity can be of significance and value in that universe. It has enabled me to relate my experiences of the world’s delights and satisfactions, and those of its horrors and its miseries to the idea of fulfillment, positive or negative. In the concept of increased realization of possibilities, it provides a common measuring rod for all kinds of directional processes, from the development of personal ethics to large-scale evolution, and gives solid ground for maintaining an affirmative attitude and faith, as against that insidious enemy … the spirit of negation and despair. It affirms the positive significance of effort and creative activity and enjoyment. In some ways most important of all, it has brought back intellectual speculation and spiritual aspiration out of the abstract and isolated spheres they once seemed to me to inhabit, to a meaningful place in concrete reality; and so has restored my sense of unity with nature”

There are many institutes devoted to the study of ethics and studies of current ethical issues that range from labour-management relations to human trafficking. We need the arena of cultural ecology to explore ethical issues that may arise in the future at the interface between people and Nature, which are not well understood today. These issues have to be resolved to fully assess and address the 2050 plans for human survival. Hyperbooks are tools for learners to take early steps in that process.

Appendix.  Five simple steps to make a hyperbook

1 Each page of a paper book is scanned to produce a collection of jpeg files, one file per page.  

2 Each jpeg picture file is inserted, in sequence, into the pages of a word processor document using an app such as Word or Google Docs.

3 The document is saved as a pdf file that can be opened in a pdf viewer, such as Adobe Acrobat, and navigated by scrolling the pages up and down. 

4 The pdf file is opened in a pdf editor, such as Pdf Elements, where text, pictures and hotspot links can be added to customise it.

5 Finally, the modified pdf file may be converted to a flip book, using an app such as FlipPDF, which can be navigated by turning pages horizontally left to right and right to left.

Place-based adventure classrooms

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

“We’ve all experienced the power of place: those moments when we’re immersed deeply in experiencing the world around us and what’s happening there is real and meaningful. Learning in these moments is organic and visceral. There’s much to learn from the places we inhabit — from traveling across the globe to getting out into our own communities. Yet, formal learning experiences, that leverage the power of place, remain the exception and not the rule.”  https://www.gettingsmart.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/What-is-Place-Based-Education-and-Why-Does-it-Matter-3.pdf

1 Adventure-education

Adventure is typically defined as an event involving risk, challenge, and excitement as an out-of-the-ordinary experience.  

Education is a group process of imparting knowledge, values, skills and attitudes to a group, which can be beneficial to an individual.  

Learning is a personal process of self discovery adopting systems, values and  skills to assemble a personal body of knowledge. 

In summary, education is knowledge imparted to a group by a teacher, whereas learning is personal knowledge gained through experience aided by a facilitator.

Therefore there are two kinds of adventure classrooms.  The first kind has a framework to educate by helping people to learn how to do things.  The second kind of adventure classroom supports people to think about what they need to learn as individuals to find their identity in a bigger scheme of things.

2 Education through adventure (ETA)

ETA has taken the form of team/trust building, cooperative games, physical education, and outdoor risk challenges (e.g., high ropes courses, nature and wilderness team activities, expeditionary pursuits). Education through adventure typically occurs within small-group settings, with the learning and experience limited to the small group. While ETA is not restricted to outdoor pursuits, it is often associated with the outdoors and environmental and sustainability education, and is typically employed in formal or informal settings.

In ETA programs, participants are physically or psychologically challenged, with a focus on risk-taking, group problem solving, and individual psychological growth and development . Six specific outcome areas for adventure education are: 

  • leadership, 
  • self awareness, 
  •  interpersonal skills, 
  • and adventuresomeness. 

Formal processing or reflection activities are incorporated into some, but not all, adventure education programs.

3 Learning through adventure (LTA)

LTA  provides a framework for the design of learning experiences that allow individual learners to explore real-world issues through authentic, field-based narratives. Nowadays this takes place within an interactive personalised online learning environment. LTA blends experiential, inquiry-based, and authentic learning, and synchronizes an online learning environment with teacher-led schooling activities.

It is grounded in eight core principles: 

  • a defined issue in a geographical place; 
  • an authentic narrative; 
  • a sound curriculum grounded in inquiry;
  • collaboration and interaction opportunities between learners, experts, teachers, and content; 
  • synchronized learning opportunities that tie together what is learned with a wider curriculum; 
  • an online venue to deliver content; 
  • multiple media that enhance the curriculum; 
  • scaffolding for the facilitators as well as the explorers.

Within an LTA program, a team engages in an exploration centered on a specific location and a menu of social or environmental issues. Individuals choose which issue they would like to research. The team travels out into the field, actually or virtually, to capture authentic data and narratives.  These narratives may be synchronised with a predesigned inquiry-based curriculum tied to that expedition, issue, and location. The field experiences, data, media assets, and observations of individuals are shared online. It is an environment in which learners are able to actively participate and collaborate with the explorers, their peers around the world, their facilitator(s), and a variety of field experts. These online collaboration and interaction opportunities allow learners to form connections between what is happening in the real world and their studies. Learners complete activities related to the real-world events, engage in online and face-to-face discussions encomposing them, and present potential solutions to issues that are raised.

 Fig 1 Learning through adventure as a project-based process

Learning through adventure is a process (Fig 1).  It involves:

  • A facilitator and and a small group of explorers
  • An adventure learning classroom, indoor, outdoor or virtual
  • A menu of issues from which individuals can make a free choice
  • A database
  • An individual’s research plan
  • An online office toolkit
  • A personal website for reporting content and learning outcomes.

4 Examples of place-based adventure learning classrooms

4.1 Place based learning: Skomer Island

Skomer, a small offshore island in South West Wales, played a significant historical role in the development of LTA because it was a focus of Julian Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism in the 1930s.  Huxley moved on to become a founder member of UNESCO.  His idea was applied by Denis Bellamy to establish a succession of field courses on Skomer and the adjacent  island of Skokholm, organised on humanistic principles, in the 1970s with university staff facilitators and small groups of students. 

The small group tutorial is one of the cornerstones of adventure learning. By implication then, the role of the tutor/facilitator is of pivotal importance.  This is because student learning depends on the facilitator’s understanding and appreciation of his/her responsibilities to bring out individual needs and leanings for each student.  Student explorers are then left to make a plan for their investigation.  Progress is shared with the group.   Just as the finer details of the implementation of any LTA programme are unique to each institution, so will be the precise expectations of the facilitator. It is therefore necessary to make the expectations of facilitators explicit to staff and students from the outset.

In an ideal situation, where classes are small, the facilitator’s primary role is to ensure there is student learning and interaction during small group sessions. Prior to embracing facilitation, facilitators need to understand and accept the philosophy that underpins project-based learning. Each educator must therefore believe in the benefits of individualised, active, constructive learning and be able to relinquish teaching control. Historically, for the good teacher, this meant explaining such that all students took away the same body of fixed, examinable knowledge, that was really the property of the teacher. So, for many academics, project based learning, as an educational philosophy, questions many of the epistemologies underlying their previous activities in a traditional didactic curriculum.  Therefore, LTA may be met with some resistance. The transition from teacher to facilitator requires faculty to develop staff skills through workshops and perhaps staff incentives.

There are five basic principles of humanistic education which make it particularly suitable for online classrooms and lifelong, place-based learning:

  • Students should be able to choose what they want to learn. Humanistic teachers are facilitators, not disseminators of knowledge. They believe that students will be motivated to learn a subject if it’s something they need and want to know.
  • The goal of education should be to foster students’ desire to learn and teach them how to learn. Students should be self-motivated in their studies with a desire to build a personal body of knowledge on their own and communicate it to their peers.
  • Humanistic educators believe that grades are irrelevant and that only self-evaluation is meaningful because grading encourages students to work for a grade and not for personal satisfaction. In addition, humanistic educators are opposed to objective tests because they test a student’s ability to memorize and do not provide sufficient tutorial feedback to the teacher and student as a learning unit.
  • Humanistic educators believe that both feelings and knowledge are important to the learning process. Unlike traditional educators, humanistic facilitators do not separate the cognitive (knowledge) and affective (attitudes) domains.
  • Humanistic educators insist that classrooms need to provide students with non threatening environments so that they will feel secure to learn. Once students feel secure, learning becomes easier and more meaningful. 

The five basic principles of humanistic education can be summarized as:

1) Students’ learning should be self-directed.

2) Classrooms should produce students who want and know how to learn.

3) The only form of meaningful evaluation is self-evaluation.

4) Feelings, as well as knowledge, are important in the learning process.

5) Students learn best in a non threatening environment.

IT practical work in the context of a humanistic education involves each learner assembling a personal body of knowledge about a particular feature of the local environment backed up with a digital library.  The outcome of the investigation is then presented online as a mindmap delineating connections with, and dependencies on, other features and a wider curriculum. These individual digital presentations thereby become information packages for others to build upon.  An example is the educational framework proposed by Julian Huxley for Skomer. The features contributing to a holistic view of the island are listed in the contents of the book ‘Island of Skomer’ (Table 1), published in 1950 as the report on the first field survey of the island in 1946.

Table 1 Features of Skomer Island suitable for humanistic education projects

History

The Flora

Spring Migration

Land-birds

The Petrels

The Auks

Gulls and Cormorants

Small Mammals

The Atlantic Seal

Marine Biology

Autumn Migration

The Rock Types 

This list can be regarded as the holistic catalogue of a Skomer digital library from which a student can select a feature of its social history, biodiversity, geology or archaeology to assemble a personal body of knowledge that can be displayed on line (Fig 2; Table 2).

Fig 2 A humanistic mind map for navigating from a personal body of knowledge about Skomer’s  Puffins to enter the wider context of a syllabus about global warming

Table 2  Four examples of websites created collaboratively by Skomer explorers. 

Skomer: a Mind Map

Skomer: a Knowledge Island

Rescue Mission Planet Wales

Global Warming

International Classrooms Online

The nearest that current formal education comes to Julian Huxley’s ecological humanism is the Engaged Ecology MA at Schumacher College.  This is a radical experiment in embodied learning. The programme invests learning with a deeply immersive connection to place, to give students the tools they need to take meaningful action in the world. By taking first-hand authentic experience as the very foundation for learning, and enriching it with more traditional academic reflection, engaged ecology encourages students to develop solutions-based practices to discover for themselves how best to approach the world’s seemingly intractable ecological and social challenges.  Engaged ecology asks three fundamental questions to be answered by all place based learning activities : What is place? Who are we? And, what, then, can we do?

4.2 Place based learning: extreme rurality

At the turn of the present century, Mark K Smith,writing for the website INFED explored the significance of ‘association’.  He defined association as joining together in companionship to undertake some task using the educative power of volunteering to play one’s part in a group or association. He drew upon the work of Konrad Elsdon and his colleagues, who in the early 1990s, undertook a large scale survey of British local voluntary organizations. They highlighted the sheer scale of commitment. Around 12 million women and men were involved in running 1.3 million bodies.  These were what we might describe as, ‘small democracies’ with tremendous educational potential.

There was a “… great range of learning, change and satisfaction over and above those which are deliberate, inherent in the organization’s objectives, and expected by their members. The one which was given priority almost universally, and reported as being of greater importance than the content objective of the organization, is quite simply growth in confidence, and its ramifications and secondary effects of self-discovery, freedom in forging relationships and undertaking tasks, belief in oneself and in one’s potential as a human being and an agent, and ability to learn and change both in the context of the organization’s objectives and in others.”

On the other hand R. D. Putnam, in his 1990’s book , ‘Bowling Alone’, marshalls groundbreaking evidence to argue there has been a decline in ‘social capital’ in the USA.  He charts a drop in associational activity and a growing distance from neighbours, friends and family. Crucially he explores some of the possibilities that exist for rebuilding social capital to develop a sense of identity and  belonging. This need is particularly acute in rural communities, exhibiting extreme rurality. It relates primarily to areas that have a very low population density, where monoculture agriculture and related activities usually dominate the landscape and economy, and places where transport and communications need to cover very large distances making travel and service provision relatively difficult and costly.  Low associational activity fuels outward migration.

The rebuilding of rural social capital was the goal of an EC funded project of the 1980s called BIOPLEX.  This was based in the small Suffolk village of Chediston, which in those days, despite its extreme rurality, was a significant centre for local agricultural innovations to increase farm efficiency and minimise pollution. The project was mostly concerned with the economics of farm anaerobic digesters and the final report is now regarded as a classic milestone in this research area. However, a particular section of the EC’s protocol was to make a preliminary assessment of the future role of PC technology in the home-to-home networking of innovation within and between village communities. But before that could happen there had to be a process of place-shaping in order for people to become as one with their environment. Although the project was managed from the University of Wales, a local genealogist, living in Chediston volunteered to spread the word and organise digital resources and PC training to order.  Otherwise, the villagers were left to their own devices to produce local stories in the context of agreeing some common threads of social history that unified the villages. 

The first work produced was ‘Blything.  Blything is an ancient division of the county of Suffolk called a hundred. Some historians believe that Blything denotes ‘the people of the Blyth’, a tribal grouping of the Iceni, one of the first gatherings of pre-Roman families that colonised the valleys of the River Blyth.   The aim was to assemble a living history of the people of the Blyth in terms of past and present land management, the patterns of work and settlement and their hopes for the future.  Later, nine villages in the adjacent hundred of Wangford joined the project, now known as Blything and Nine Parishes (BANP). Above all, BANP was a bottom-up general model for people everywhere to attain a sense of place. The outcome is a collection of web sites which have long been available online as an international education resource in cultural ecology, receiving thousands of unique visitors a year. 

Smith’s INFED essay highlighted the factors limiting the take up of self education which were certainly revealed in the BANP project.  BANP was set in the informal learning of everyday life in contrast to the specified curriculum objectives of the life of a school or college. This distinction between ‘natural societal setting’ and ‘formal instructional setting’ is expressed as the everyday world of individual experience  in the family, at work, at play.  Formal education an ‘educational agent’ takes on responsibility for planning and managing instruction so that the learner achieves some previously specified objective. Smith feels that we have to be careful with the idea of ‘educational agents’. On a narrow definition they could be considered to be people only in the employ or under the jurisdiction of recognized educational institutions, who have as their prime task enabling people to assimilate an imposed body of knowledge. This would seem to be an unnecessarily restrictive definition given the sort of situations where people do much of their BANP type learning. We know for example that this leads to failure when local authority planners drive community development from the top down.  

Smith thinks it is probably more productive to take ‘educational agents’ to be anyone who consciously helps another person to learn – whether that help is given directly or takes the form of creating an appropriate environment to facilitate personal learning.

The Parham Millennium Parish SCAN is an example of how small rural communities can be left alone to develop an idea bottom up, which puts their village on the map. It was an ‘overspill’ from BANP. Parham village is only a few miles from Chediston.

This is how the project was seen by Parham’s villagers.

“… the Parish Council invited Professor Denis Bellamy, Ruth Downing (Prof. Bellamy’s Local Assistant) and Trevor Gibson (Suffolk Coastal District Council’s representative) to an open meeting held on 3rd February 1998 to explain the principles of producing a Parish Scan. We hoped that as many people as possible in the village would be able to contribute information for the project. A specially formed ‘Millennium Committee’ would be responsible for the organising, formatting and publication of material. It was to be a pioneering exercise as we were the first village nationally to undertake such a project.” 

BANP had shown that there must be strong local leadership and a widespread feeling feeling that the goal is worth attaining.  For Parham, leadership came from the Parish Clerk and the generally accepted goal was to produce a book as a celebration of the Millennium.  The book positioned the village as it was in the year 2000 in relation to its long, exceptionally rich, historical heritage and its hopes for the future.  Parham’s success came because the village was the agency that selected the project and fuelled it to completion.

Here then are two place-based adventure classrooms for others to develop:

Go to:- Community learning

Go to:- Ecological learning

5 Internet references

Place based learning

Djscovery

Francis Bacon

Probono economics

Adventure learning 1

Experiential learning

Adventure learning 2

Rural resilience

Du Fu: a poet of place

Curiator

Community learning

Community and culture

Scenic amenity value

Life satisfaction

Amenity migration

Science of scenery

Ancestry in perspective

INFED 1

INFED 2

Skomer an island for playful learning

Mapping identity and a sense of belonging

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Whoever defines India, whoever speaks to and for its people and whoever imagines its destiny with the hope of determining its future…can stake their claim to ownership of India by the very act of writing about it.  Teresa Hubel: Whose India? (1996).

1 Space, place and identity

In humanistic geography, space and place are important concepts. Space is something abstract, without any substantial meaning.  It is a location which has no social connections for a human being. It has observable boundaries but no meaning has been ascribed to it.  Space constitutes a simple geographic reference point. It is by having cultural significance that space becomes place; a human resource on its own.  It becomes valued visually in memory and is thereby protected as landscapes. (Figs 1, 2 & 3)

Place refers to how people are attracted to a certain space and endow it with a sense of belonging rather than merely passing through. In this connection, a place can be seen as space that has been given a cultural meaning. In other words, ‘Place’ is a location created by human experiences. It  exists as space that is filled with meanings that come from what people appreciate and value about it. Their ‘place’ is personal and multi-dimensional. It is temporal as well as spatial, because it thickens with the addition of physical elements, personal memories, local stories, history and archaeology. It is not just a question of how things look, but of how things feel to those who know a place well.  

Spaces are turned into places through human settlement. Place becomes central to the settlers identity.  In this context, identity is an even bigger issue than race, filling our imagination and requiring careful attention. Indeed, identity is a major preoccupation of our times.  Many people are on a quest to determine who they are, how they belong and where they fit in. Refugees are searching for roots in distant and foreign lands. Indeed, within the great scheme of things humanity has always been on the move, fitting in where it can find a more lasting identity, something above and beyond the mere physical and material to give meaning to their lives. People begin this search from being somewhere in nowhere land, wanting to belong.  Identity won’t happen on its own, you have to give birth to it, work at it and create it through an act of will.

This attachment is defined as landscape, i.e. a “place” with its meanings and contributions to societal identity. Places are mapped and landscapes are pictured.  A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features. Places are mapped and landscapes are pictured. A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features.

First and foremost, landscapes are perceived as a physical space, covering topics such as environmental preference and the evolution of the psychological processes through which preferences arise. Second, landscape is perceived as place within concepts such as “sense of place” and “place identity”.  Place identity is a particular element contributing to sense of place. Third, landscapes have a role in psychological wellbeing.  

Numerous studies have shown that participation in leisure activities out of doors not only prevents disease and improves physical health but also benefits mental health by reducing anxiety. Psychological restoration bridges the approaches that treat landscape as space and those which treat it as place.  Actually, the European Landscape Convention (2000) conceptualises ‘Landscape’ as being made up of both space and place. Advocates of place-based education can accommodate public participation and negotiation to identify local knowledge and sense-making practices. This process is particularly important in local planning to support sustainable development.

How do practices on the ground transform; what motivates people to transform (needs); what should be changed or transformed (challenges); how to transform these via innovations and through which practices transformation can be achieved.

If communities are to fully embrace the ethic of landscape sustainability, they must be the primary agents for change in that landscape, not simply the beneficiaries of changes originated or mandated by others. This agency is expressed and actions on the ground accomplished through local organizations that can channel and interpret local needs and demands into effective collective action. However, community organizations such as cooperatives, advocacy groups, church groups, and self-help groups, will pursue sustainable management of their place and its resources only if the benefits of doing so enhance the economic and social wellbeing of the people who belong to these groups. Community groups must own the process of place planning and management if it is to be sustainable. This ownership is built when these groups decide for themselves the social, economic, and ecological objectives of landscape management, the modes of implementation, the indicators of success, and the lessons learned. By reflecting on the decisions they have made in implementing their own initiatives, local groups build their capacities to continuously adapt to ecological, economic, and social challenges and opportunities.

2 Parish SCAN 

Local government planning exists to solve community problems.  People need to bother with environmental appraisal because any inadequacies of community life will only be overcome by the community itself. There is no doubt that any community has the skills to do this, by recognising that things can be changed for the better, and that each individual contribution brings satisfaction to the individual, as well as benefit to the community. 

It was only in 1969 that central government recommended setting up machinery for the public to participate in planning. From this time it became urgent to find methods to involve people actively, from grass roots, in the problems, issues and challenges of managing local change. In the 1980s attempts were made to formalise ‘village appraisals’. The aim was to encourage communities to map their neighbourhood; its character, history and social needs. However, the original flexibility of approaches and methods was quickly lost when the system was hijacked by organisations requiring specific information from communities to direct their top down funding. ‘Form-filling’ turns most people off, particularly when the subject matter does not act as a conduit for their particular local passion. 

Parish SCAN was a reaction to official form-driven environmental appraisal. It was actually invented, in 1995, by Welsh teachers responding to Rescue Mission Planet Earth, a summary made by young people of the Rio action plan known as Agenda 21.  SCAN is a voluntary process, originating in the outcomes of the 1992 Rio Environment Summit aimed at creating local policies and programs that work towards achieving sustainable development. SCAN, as originally envisaged, encompasses awareness raising, capacity building, community participation and the formation of partnerships.  The objective was to bring children into the appraisal system by creating social links with communities served by their school to boost information gathering and databasing. Its advantage to the school is that the neighbourhood where a child actually lives becomes its outdoor classroom. For the community, the school becomes an information technology centre for long-term recording, and citizen networking.  SCAN is therefore a flexible holistic system. It can begin, either in a school (School SCAN), or in one of its communities, (Parish SCAN), with the aim of eventually uniting both bodies to make, and manage, environmental improvements. 

Parish SCAN was the option chosen by the village of Parham in Suffolk as its contribution to the millennium celebration.The Parham Parish SCAN is a detailed record of the village as it was at the beginning of the 21st century, with a browse through its history and a tentative look into its future. It was prepared by village people, for village people and is a comprehensive record of the life in their village. The data was organised in three chapters;  a glance at the past; aspects of the present and an appraisal of the future. The final publication was the result of many hours of dedicated research by parishioners who hoped that it may be a testament to life in Parham as it was seen by its 113 households in 2000, as well as a fitting tribute with which to mark the millennium. It is important to stress that SCAN was a grassroots initiative driven by the Parish Council under their tireless Clerk. In this context, Blything and Nine Parishes was brought to fruition by a resident historian with ancestral roots in Suffolk going back to the 16th century and beyond. In other words, local residents have to ‘step up to the plate’ to make things happen. 

 Like all villages, most of Parham’s parishioners commute to earn a living. With no shop or school Parham has to cope with the common problems of rural placelessness. It is significant that SCAN was adopted after the village had carried out an appraisal and was awarded Suffolk’s Village of the Year. The aim was to sustain the momentum and tap the wider community. Although not a tourist centre, Parham has plenty for its inhabitants to become passionate about. Set in a classic glacial landscape, it has a rich social heritage; a centre of Saxon local government; a power base for Tudor politics; a front-line airfield during the Second World War.  A store of wildlife is embedded in its woodlands, ponds and field boundaries. However, the SCAN published as a 170 page professionally bound book, shows what any community can do to develop social roots, and the organisation required to bring such a project to fruition. The vision of the parishioners was that the Parham story would continue to be developed by its 300 parishioners as their contribution to a local Agenda 21 Citizen’s Environmental Network, incorporating year-on-year checks to measure change, and ensure things change for the better. 

3 Cultivating the ‘background hum’

Because of increasing geographical mobility, economic change and the rise of an individualist culture in the UK there has been a loosening of close ties in communities. Indeed, today’s dynamic, rootless communities need to evolve, to reconnect, so that people cultivate the background hum of sociability that has long been associated with neighbourliness.  The giving and receiving of help within communities is an aspect of social life that is taken for granted, yet it is little researched or understood. It was the subject of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, entitled Landscapes of Helping: Kindliness in neighbourhoods and communities (2015).  

Social connectivity increases the likelihood that people will be known to one another, have their needs recognised and have people to draw on for support. Therefore, in identifying mechanisms which foster kindliness we also describe those which simultaneously build neighbourliness and sociality as the foundations of place. It’s premise was that kindliness cannot be considered apart from wider processes of individualisation which are often perceived as threatening social bonds. The belief is that, given certain conditions, cultures of kindliness can still be developed; based on emotional attachments, shared values and social forms that actively sustain relationships of trust and mutuality. 

This Rowntree study explored ‘kindliness’, or informal helping, in Hebden, a semi-rural location in West Yorkshire, in order to understand how it can be fostered in communities. In particular it identified the following conditions that may help kindliness to flourish in communities.

Making kindliness palatable – it was important that kindliness was facilitated in ways which were sensitive to language and presentation. If people retained a sense of personal independence and dignity they were more likely to ask for and accept help. Non-help-focused conversations and activities could help people express their needs indirectly. 

Nurturing bonders and bridgers – Hebden had many people who worked to strengthen the bonds between individual members within communities or ‘bonders’, as well as people who worked across different sections of the community or ‘bridgers’. These people were important in facilitating one-to-one kindliness and also creating connections between different sections of the community. 

Building common cause – it was important that people had opportunities to come together to articulate experiences. In Hebden, communities expressed these shared values when uniting to defend common values and build ‘common cause’ because this offered a means to break down barriers and mis-perceptions, enabling people to appreciate that they have similar values and experience the landscape or by coming together through shared interests. Hubs of helping to create a sense of community can be more easily developed when there is an identified focal point for people to share information and make contact with others. The erosion of such facilities as shops or Post Offices has been detrimental in many neighbourhoods and this research highlighted how important it is to develop ways of connecting communities. In Hebden this had taken the form of ‘virtual hubs’ such as Google groups or Facebook pages and the creation of a wealth of formal, group based associations. In addition, the idea of community-run shops, pubs and other local facilities offer promising new possibilities. 

Third Spaces – a conscious attempt to create public spaces where people could come into daily informal contact was key in promoting sociability and trust. Public space has long been an essential feature of urban housing design, yet it is not always ‘owned’ by people locally. It was important that the development of space tapped into the emotional connections people had with their neighbourhood. Creating kinder economies – social enterprises whose business aims were about more than the ‘bottomline’ worked to support local networks and facilitate helping. In Hebden this relied on people having the resources and time to develop alternative business models, as well as resist threats such as the encroachment of big corporations.

Creating a shared myth (a story) – it seems important that people feel a strong sense of attachment to the place where they live because if they value a place they are prepared to invest in it and in the people who live there. In Hebden this was built around its positive unifying features and expressed through community-wide events, communicated in local media and through newsletters and joint ventures around common interests. 

Of these mechanisms creating a shared myth (a story) is the most fundamental condition because without it individuals cannot fully define their presence in space as having a continuity with the past and an identity with those who have come before.

4 Place ambassadors 

The designation ‘place ambassador’ was created in the SUSPLACE programme (2015-19), a European Marie Curie funding scheme aimed at training early stage researchers in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study sustainable place-shaping practices. With the motto, ‘Shaping better places to live and visit’ SUSPLACE involved two community engagement projects in two distinct locations: the Portuguese village of Carvalhal de Vermilhas and the Brecon Beacons, a National Park in Wales. In both places documentaries were produced together with residents, which helped them become place ambassadors.  They became confident in promoting their attachment to the cultural heritage expressed as landscapes imbued with valued elements, such as footpaths and ways of life, expressing the slower pace of a preindustrial economy. Their stories were valued by urban dwellers seeking respite from the stresses of consumerism. 

Carvalhal de Vermilhas has around 200 inhabitants. It faces depopulation, an ageing population and lack of employment, but has the potential to develop sustainable practices in tourism. Brecon Beacons is in a somewhat better economic situation, but suffers from similar issues. Being a national park, tourism is already one of its main activities. In both places, the researcher worked together with residents to test a new conceptual framework and to develop a co-produced documentary. The projects are an example of collaborative and inclusive strategies of place branding. By participating in the projects, the residents had a say in how they would like to shape their place with regard to tourism policies and development. The resulting documentaries show the intangible heritage of the places and communities. They are also used as a tool to allow residents to reclaim their right and power as citizens to shape their place according to their needs and place values. Ownership and responsibility as well as shared power over the visual narratives mobilise participants to take action for their place. Co-producing the documentary also motivated residents to be more effective and become collective ambassadors of their place. Moreover, the two documentaries can now be used to promote the places more effectively to visitors, and potentially also to new residents and young people. 

5 Know your place

‘Know Your Place-West of England’ was a top down local authority initiative to support individuals who wished to explore their neighbourhood online through historic maps, collections and linked information. It was established in 2015 and ran until 2017 as a digital heritage resource to help people have online access to a range of local historic data.   But more importantly it provided an online heritage hub where people could add information about their local area, building a rich and diverse community map of local heritage for everyone. It was free to use and anyone could add to the shared map.

Know Your Place achieved the following Approved Purposes:

  • To scan, digitise and geo-reference historical maps from Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset and Devon. 
  • To recruit and train volunteers. The project recruited c.100 individuals and 70 went on to volunteer for the project, giving 4946 hours’ work to the project.
  • To deliver basic conservation of fragile maps. Maps were stabilised for safe digitisation and their access online is reducing physical handling and wear and tear of the original documents.
  • To create a mobile app. Know Your Place has been designed to be compatible for use by smartphones, tablets and other devices while on the move.
  • To create an exhibition to be toured to six venues. The exhibition toured 12 venues, and remains available online.
  • To deliver a range of heritage learning activities including talks and presentations, a blog, heritage walks, school resource packs and oral histories. The events programme ran 98 events reaching 2689 people and has now ended.
  • To upload condition surveys of heritage assets to the website. By July 2017, 1197 public contributions had been added to the Community Layer, at an average rate of 180 per month.

6 “Blything and Nine Parishes”

‘Blything’and Nine Parishes’ was an EC funded project launched in the 1990s.  The aim was to evaluate IT methodologies for individuals and communities to collect data about places and create knowledge about the long-term changes in cultural spaces. SCAN ( Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network) was the practical element of ‘Blything and Nine Parishes’.  It was associated with the creation of a new school subject about world development called natural economy, produced by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate. This initiative was aimed at embedding the United Nations Charter in the education system, particularly with respect to practice, tolerance and living together in peace with one another as good neighbours.

Blything and Nine Parishes models two of the ancient groupings of Suffolk villages into divisions called hundreds.  They were chosen to model neighbourliness because they have survived as social units of local government for over a millennium and today they are examples of extreme rurality.  This blog revisits Blything and Nine Parishes with a new collection of websites presenting notes on landscape elements in the hundreds, culled from maps art and writings, exploring how people can shape more sustainable places together. In this blog, Blything Nine Parishes is compared and contrasted with four other similar community initiatives aimed at strengthening the capacities and autonomy of people in places to take a grip on the uncertain future.

The Blything/Nine Parishes project was designed to test an innovative methodological procedure at the dawn of IT and the Internet, which would involve residents with personal computers networking to reclaim their sense of place in modern processes of rurality.  The objective was to gain an understanding of the long-term development and transformation of rural life, drawing on insights from topography, archaeology, geography and historical ecology. This ‘background hum’ is characterised by people’s awareness of each other, by a respect for each other’s privacy and by a readiness to take action if help is needed. The central question is can kindliness be defined as ‘neighbourliness-enacted’?  Also, can kindliness describe the process of reconnection within communities as the ‘reinvention of sociality’ ?

In contrast to Know Your Place, Blything and Nine Parishes was a bottom up initiative. Its philosophy was that a community’s past is stamped into the land by the people who first decided to settle there and negotiated  boundaries to ensure its sociopolitical and and resource sustainability. Such was the origin of two places in the UK county of Suffolk named ‘Blything’ and ‘Wangford’. These places are examples of ancient administrative divisions, called ‘Hundreds’.  Geographically, each is part of a larger division.   The term “hundred” is first recorded in the Saxon laws of King Edmund I (939–46).  Here it is presented as a measure of land defining the area served by a Hundred Court.  The origin of the division of lands into hundreds is obscure. It may once have referred to an area of 100 hides. In the early Anglo-Saxon period a hide was the amount of land farmed by and required to support a peasant family.  Alternatively the hundred may have been an area originally settled by one “hundred” men at arms, or the area liable to provide one “hundred” men under arms. 

In the Domesday Book Blything Hundred comprised 56 named places with around 2000 households.  The Hundred was aligned with the watershed of the River Blyth which reached the sea at Dunwich.  In Anglo Saxon times Dunwich was by far the largest of the coastal havens situated between the North and South Hundred Rivers.  These two rivers marked the northern and southern coastal boundaries of Blything Hundred . The name Blything suggests that it was an ancient place occupied by a group of self-governing farmers known as ‘people of the Blyth’.  Land divisions are often older than we think and from this point of view there has been speculation that Blything could be a British tribal area predating the Roman occupation. Without doubt this makes Blything a good place to develop a shared myth amongst its inhabitants.

Regarding Wangford Hundred, this hundred is written in Domesday Book as Wanneforda and Waineforda.  Some historians believe this derives from an alternative name for the River Waveney, Wangford’s northern boundary, and thus it meant “ford for wagons across the Waveney”.  However, British History On Line believes the hundred takes its name from the village of Wangford, which is actually within Blything. The community of Wangford within Blything is named after the ford which was a major road crossing of the River Wang, a tributary of the River Blyth.  There were 24 places in the hundred of Wangford in Domesday Book. Nine of its present parishes were selected for comparison with twenty three selected from Blything, which are on its boundary.

This blog revisits Blything Nine Parishes with new websites presenting notes on landscape elements, from maps art and writings involved exploring how people can shape more sustainable places together. https://sites.google.com/view/suffolkscan/home

Taking a long view of Suffolk places there was certainly human occupation in the area we now know as East Anglia before the great Anglian Glaciation around 450,000 years ago, but most traces of it have been obliterated by scouring ice.  On this human time scale people first arrived in Britain at least 780 000 years ago and have recolonised East Anglia after several major glaciations to leave an archeological pattern of occupation closely related to the shifting climate. Pakefield, at the mouth of the North Hundred River, is the site of one of the earliest known areas of human habitation in the United Kingdom. In 2005 flint tools, and teeth from the water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the eroding cliffs. These are the markers for the earliest hominins in England about 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross between Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. Of all the glacial periods Britain went through in the last million years, the Anglian glaciation was the most extreme. Human survival in Britain became impossible. The absence of humans lasted for many millennia.  After the glaciers finally retreated, somewhere between 10,000 and 8,000 BC, the waters of the Atlantic spilled over into the North Sea as the ice-sheet melted. Gushing melt waters carved out the valleys of Suffolk’s rivers, which today cut through the clay plateau. These valleys are very large in relation to the actual size of the streams that flow in them. With this warmer phase, the tundra, an expanse of frozen subsoil, gave way to birch and the willow scrub, which was eventually followed by forest with pines and oaks. In the open grasslands the bison, mammoth and hippopotamus lived, and as the reindeer herds gradually moved north, the woods were once more inhabited by red deer, pigs and auroch cattle.  

Around 7,000 years ago the coastline of Suffolk lay some 7 km to the east of its present location, and the land was forested with oak, elm, lime and alder. This space became the hunting ground of nomadic Mesolithic hunter gatherers whose flint tools have been found on the southern bank of the River Blyth at Halesworth.  At the small Halesworth encampment, scrapers, burins (a kind of flint chisel) and borers were found. Also excavated were several potboilers, pieces of flint which were heated in a fire, then dropped into a water-filled skin bag in order to cook meat. 

The history of Britain’s population is all about arriving, staying and settling, or leaving, moving and settling elsewhere. Farmers from continental Europe began to settle in different parts of Britain after the last Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago. Ever since, these islands have been continuously occupied as new arrivals mixed with existing residents.  Neolithic farmers settled along the fringes of the glacial clay plateau, where the slopes of the river valleys were easier to drain and cultivate than the central claylands. The latter had developed a thick tree cover, but spaces were becoming places as people began to carve out farmlands from the primary woodlands. For example, at Henham on the Blyth estuary, groups of Beaker flat graves have been excavated together with extensive Iron Age remains of clay-lined pits and part of a large circular building. Elsewhere, in Suffolk extensive prehistoric coaxial field systems have survived. 

By the 1st century human settlement was expanding into the central wooded areas, and at the end of the Roman occupation a network of dispersed Saxon settlements spread across the area.  At the time of the Norman Conquest, the present villages and many isolated farmsteads and hamlets had been established and Suffolk was one of the most densely populated in England.

Names of some villages we have today come from the Anglo-Saxon settlers. Some were named after the chieftain (leader) and end with ‘ham’ or ‘ing’. Today’s parish boundaries originated in the territorial divisions of these families.  Beating the bounds is an ancient custom still observed in some English and Welsh parishes. Under the name of the Gangdays, the custom of going a-ganging was kept before the Notman Conquest.  A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of their community’s space, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands.

Culture and space are now mapped into parish boundaries that can redefine:

  • the notion of place;
  • the production of creative goods and services;
  • the importance of history;
  •  the intrinsic value of what is local and unique.
  • the ethic of landscape sustainability

Therefore a parish can be interpreted as a socially constructed narrative, locking people into their environment.  As a narrative it can be understood in two ways: as a means to make sense of the world (a way of knowing) and as a practice (a way of doing),  Language is used to build ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ into local knowledge via storytelling. Places are reproduced and communicated by telling stories.  Indeed this process of creating environmental knowledge starts with an exploration of people’s sense of place, which governs their attachment to their environment and their desire to protect it. 

Fig 1 Hundreds of Suffolk (a SPACE in SuffolkSpaces)

Fig 2 Map of Benacre Parish, Suffolk (a PLACE in Blything Hundred); boundary in red

Fig 3 Lock’s Lane, Benacre (A LANDSCAPE in Benacre)

7  Postscript

The value of cultural heritage is generally recognized as being an important factor in creating sustainable and resilient human settlements   In particular, the local evaluation of heritage underlines the importance of protecting and enhancing the identity values of places. The objective is to guarantee an inclusive and fair human-centered community development. Heritage interacts actively with people, bringing them together reinforcing and blending the sense of identity and belonging.  Taking all of this into account, the future of sustainable communities lies with IT as a collection of tools for gathering and disseminating information and knowledge about the past, present and future of ‘place’. IT has not killed physical space. Instead, the digital, the physical and the cultural can be recombined in new updated versions of place. Here the internet has entered physical space becoming the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is changing the way we interface with the space around us.  Communities are at the center of place-innovation that is unfolding across all geographic, industrial and technological borders. It is not so much devices that are being linked together but the “connected person.” At the center is a person who is making use of the IT applications and services that are enabled by the devices, i.e. the things, and their unprecedented integration. The things express good human behaviours such as thinking of others, considering the impact of one’s actions and being kind. 

People in every community will always have to face challenges and will need to find new ways to stay connected and check in on one another to maintain physical and mental wellbeing and share accurate information and advice e.g. for conservation and medical wellbeing. This is the lesson of COVID 19.  IoT enables keeping up to date, sharing information and being a positive part of the local community conversations. Different elements and groups will be at increased risk. Social isolation and loneliness are key concerns for all ages. With respect to bringing people together to advocate for community action, neighbourly support can make a huge difference in a world fraught with global challenges. The current threats of global warming and disease pandemics are set to impact all of us in one form or another.  With respect to their role as active citizens stronger local connections of people with their community places are vital to see future environmental crises out. Personal IT tools are going to be essential in order to fully participate in one’s community . Already, many people maintain personal web pages to express their opinions on issues ranging from news and politics to movies, or to serve as a showcase for their creative endeavors related to place-making through writing, poetry or music. A personal web page gives the owner generally more control on his or her presence in search results and how they wish to be viewed online. It also allows more freedom in types and quantity of content than a social network profile can offer. They also provide a link from the local world to the individual, and from the individual to the wider word, putting what really matters into a clearer light.

Having a website allows a person to have full control over his or her ‘brand’. They have complete ownership over it.  How it looks and what it says are entirely up to the writer, making it the ultimate platform to reflect exactly who they are, why they do what they do, what makes them different and the value they provide.  Further to this, having a website gives security and certainty when it comes to the owner as an individual. There are no terms and conditions they need to follow, nor do they have to worry about it shutting down. Many sites, such as Google, are easy to make and free.  Having a personal domain also means that the owner can produce content that is exclusive to his or her brand. For example, content in the form of blogs can only be found on that particular website, giving an opportunity to rank in search engines with specific keywords that relate to the impact of the owner on their neighbours and making a difference in the wider world. 

In summary, having your own website means building a presence in a village appraisal on your own terms, the way you want it to be.  How much more could be incorporated in the Parham Parish SCAN if every family in the village could network its own website?

8 Internet references

SCAN for Suffolk Places

Beating the bounds

Sandlands

Tides of change

The dimensions of place meanings

SUSPLACE

COMDEKS

Its not easy to make a landscape

Archaeology of the Suffolk coast

Old maps

Rural Settlement Changes

Hundreds

Wangford Hundred

Good neighbourliness

Know your place

Pevsner in Suffolk

Place ambassadors

Our place in the future

Magnetic Fields

Pace of change

Preparing for a post growth future

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Incompatibility of ‘sustainable’ and ‘growth’

In 1960, Article 1 of the Convention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) included the specific aim of achieving “the highest sustainable economic growth”.  Only in subsequent decades did enlightenment filter through to some corporate and political mind-sets, which acknowledged the mutual incompatibility of “sustainable” and “growth”. Ultimately we all need to believe that bringing together the understanding, intelligence, compassion, and concern for one’s descendants, that nearly every human being is capable of demonstrating, will ultimately lead to a vision of sustainability as the only viable future.

The starting point for this discourse is that humanity is taking from Earth more than it can regenerate and is producing more waste than it can assimilate.  Therefore we have to change our behaviour to bring our demands on the planetary ecosystem in line with its limits.  In this respect we have to decide to go either for a culture of harmony, based on sharing public goods, or for a culture of continuing discord based on unequal distribution of individual wealth. To help us make this choice a new body of knowledge linking culture with ecology is needed.  It is required to promote a process of citizens’ involvement in transition from a technological culture to an ecological one based on renewable energy.  The political dimension of cultural ecology includes some bold ideas such as an equal education budget for every citizen, to be invested as they choose.  But it mostly rests on old ideas of participatory governance, progressive taxation, and income guarantees, underpinned by a culture of sharing ecological resources equality within and between countries.

The Bassey model

Whilst contending that societies need to move from economic growth to cultural growth, Michael Bassey, in his book “Convivial Policies for the Inevitable; (2012)”  acknowledges that such a massive shift in day to day living will be a very tall order, whether amongst world leaders or the burgeoning millions of individuals aspiring to greater material wealth. We get an inkling of  how difficult such a global change would be in the isolationist responses of countries to protect their monetary wealth in response to the corona virus pandemic (COVID-19; 2020).  

In reaching a condition of cultural growth we need to appreciate and value what we have. We need to create things without damaging our planet, and learn how to live convivially. Bassey warns we may be forced to start relating to each other in long-forgotten ways, because there is no alternative. What is meant by “convivial” in this context?  Bassey believes it is a “way of living, through which people gain quality of life and enjoy happiness by striving to be in harmony with themselves, and with their social, cultural and natural environments”. Taking the UK economy as a starting point, he suggests there should be a minimum living wage, maximum take-home pay, and acceptance that as unemployment is inevitable, our society should be re-orientated so that unpaid work at home or in the community is recognised for its intrinsic value through support via a “universal citizen’s income”.  

Those people inextricably bound up in the values and validations of typical growth- orientated, oil-based economies are characterised by Bassey as “wealthists”, whose pursuit of affluence brings about an “acne of over-consumption”. Wealthist politicians rise and fall on their ability to grow the GDP. It doesn’t matter what it takes, whether it’s ripping up environmental protections, gutting labour laws, or fracking for cheap oil: if you achieve growth, you win. Citizens of green, no-growth economies are dubbed “convivialists”.  Prosperity for convivialists consists in their ability to flourish as human beings within the ecological limits of a finite planet. This was the view of the UK Sustainable Development Commission as far back as 2009 when it promoted “Prosperity Without Growth”. The challenge for our society now is to create the conditions under which this is possible”. In response to global environmental degradation and human poverty we need to learn how to create sustainable societies which do not depend for their survival on a wealthist worldview.  Indeed, the convivial discourse takes a quite different perspective. While the poorer countries need to sustain development, ie economic growth, in order to achieve convivial joy for their peoples, the richer countries need to develop stable economies. i.e. zero growth, in order to achieve harmony with the environment. In particular, Bassey argues that convivial education is the foundation for the four pillars of sustainability: namely ‘social justice’, ‘environmental responsibility’, ‘economic viability’ and ‘cultural development’. Further, he suggests that adult education rather than schooling needs to be the present focus and that a powerful stimulus to this would be non-mandatory referenda posing significant, if difficult, questions arising from adopting the four pillars of sustainability. 

In the convivial discourse, education is the route into conviviality and it happens within the family, community and workplace as well as in schools, colleges and universities. The educational goal is learning to live a convivial life in terms of coming to understand oneself, other people, one’s natural environment and one’s cultural world and growing in harmony with these. Through this way of living one learns a measure of self-sufficiency. It is a life-long and holistic process embracing both formal and informal learning.

From the convivial perspective of creating cultural harmony, ultimately it must be the case that the economy of every country and the joyfulness of its people will depend primarily on what they make of their own territory. It will depend on soil, on climate, on the technology they use in relation to soil and climate, on how they conserve the land, and on how they organise their affairs to provide social justice and cultural development for all.  Bassey believes that in the past all communities were like this and often they suffered extreme privitation: but a modern sustainable society would not be primitive. Creating it puts the clock forward, not back. Drawing on scientific and technological developments within a steady state economy there would be convivial work opportunities for all to achieve a high quality of life and non monetary prosperity. To develop a democratic culture of harmony requires creative interaction between education and society. Ideas of progress need to be unshackled from the creation of wealth. Political courage is needed to stand firm against the critics who lack the imagination to see it as ultimately being the only way for succeeding generations throughout the world to enjoy satisfying and high quality lives.

The Piketty model

Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital and Ideology (2020)’ retells a global history with a scathing critique of contemporary politics and a bold proposal for a new and fairer economic system. Piketty challenges us to revolutionize how we think about politics, ideology, and history and galvanize a global debate about inequality. He exposes the ideas that have sustained inequality for the past millennium, reveals why the shallow politics of right and left are failing us today, and outlines the structure of a fairer economic system.  

Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, the production of public goods, and education for the democratic sharing of knowledge and power.  Our economy, he observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on past choices. Piketty explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hypercapitalism, shaping the lives of billions. He concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of social stability. He says the new era of extreme inequality that has derailed that progress since the 1980s, is partly a reaction against communism, but it is also the fruit of ignorance, intellectual specialization, and our drift toward the dead-end politics of national identity.

Once we understand this, we can begin to envision a more balanced approach to economics politics and environment. Here, Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, social property, education, and the sharing of knowledge and power. His standpoint is simply a moral one: inequality is illegitimate, and therefore requires ideologies in order to be justified and moderated.  

“All history shows that the search for a distribution of wealth acceptable to the majority of people is a recurrent theme in all periods and all cultures”.  

Piketty’s core political and methodological belief is in the emancipatory power of public data: that when people are given sufficient evidence about the structures of society, they will insist on greater equality until they are granted it.  However, Western democracies are currently dominated by two rival elites, reflected in many two-party electoral systems: a financial elite (or “merchant right”) that favours open markets, and an educational elite (or “Brahmin left”) that stands for cultural diversity, but has lost faith in progressive taxation as a basis for social justice. With these as the principal democratic options, nativist parties prosper, opposing educational and economic inequality, but only on the basis of tighter national borders. Pikettty’s message is that there is a vacancy for parties willing to defend internationalism and redistribution simultaneously.  His vision is of future generations sharing the public good of a bountiful Earth equitably with maximum opportunities for joyful lives

QUESTIONING OUR  PLANETARY FUTURE

Michael Bassey has suggested that a stimulus to wide-spread learning about how to develop a post growth culture would be if the government held a referendum on the issues involved. Instead of an opinion poll based on a sample of perhaps a thousand people, suppose that all adults are expected to cast votes expressing their views in a national ballot along the same lines as a general election.  The kind of questions that might be asked are displayed below. 

Suppose that the ballot paper included the area (not the local) postal code. This would mean that local authorities and the people themselves became aware of what each area thought. Suppose that such a referendum was seen as not binding a government (ie non-mandatory) but as indicating a direction that the community expects its policies to take. And suppose that such a referendum was repeated every three years – so that people would have the chance to rethink their position and continue the debate.

Asking good questions is central to learning and sometimes can be more important than getting the answers, particularly when the questions encourage people to think critically.  

The following questionnaire is an example to guide the production of a democratic educational scaffold for lifelong learning about the links between ecology and culture. In particular it probes respondents’ opinions about the  limits to Earth’s carrying capacity; the limits to economic growth; the limits to waste emissions; the need for a new relationship between culture and ecosystems and an education system for living sustainably. 

An interactive version of the questionnaire produced by International Classrooms On LIne (ICOL) is available HERE.  

As followers of this blog ICOL invites you to fill in the interactive questionnaire that will help ICOL to plan an education pathway for sustainability.

The results will be presented at www.blog.culturalecology.info.


You are asked to select one of the answers to each question to indicate the response that is nearest to your present opinion. If none reflects your opinion, or if you feel you know too little about it, use the response ‘Cannot answer this question’. Many people will say, ‘I can’t answer these questions’. Not knowing is the beginning of the path to wisdom. You may simply start to realise that in a strong democracy each and every one of us has a part to play in determining what the future will look like. This is more than enough.

The questionnaire will take 10-15 minutes to fill in and may stimulate you to think differently   about the topic.


1 Limits to Earth’s carrying capacity

Are we facing limits to Earth’s carrying capacity for human life? 

(a) No because we can engineer our environments more productively to serve human needs as we have done in the past

(b) No because affluence and modernisation is bringing falling fertility rates so reducing human demands on the environment

(c) Yes because we have already exceeded key planetary boundaries, with visible consequences of deforestation, biodiversity collapse, resource wars and climate change.

(d) Cannot answer this question.

Is it time for a post-growth economy?

(a) No because economists and politicians tell us that we need growth in order to boost people out of poverty.

(b) No because if the economy doesn’t keep expanding by at least 2% or 3 % a year in developed countries, it collapses into crisis.

(c) Yes because we can choose to replace GDP with more holistic measures, like the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)

(d) Cannot answer this question.

 2 Limits to economic growth

 Are there limits to economic growth?

(a) No, because it is unlikely that the limits to economic growth will ever be reached.

(b) Yes because economic growth will eventually cease but there is no need to take action now.

(c) Yes because economic growth cannot be maintained within Earth’s limits..

(d) Cannot answer this question.

How can malnutrition and starvation be eliminated across the world?

(a) By free trade which ensures economic growth for all countries, rich and so lifts the poor out of poverty.

(b) By rich countries providing aid and intermediate technology which ensures that people can maintain themselves from the resources of their own territory.

(c)  By global food aid, whereby food is grown in donor countries for distribution or sale abroad.

(d) Cannot answer this question.

How serious (life threatening) are the changes in the global environment that are being made by humankind?

(a) Very serious for us and needing urgent action now.

(b) Quite serious for us and needing action in the foreseeable future.

(c) Not serious for us in the foreseeable future and not requiring action

(d) Cannot answer this question

3 Limits to waste emissions

What is the most important action to bring consumption in line with Earth’s ecological productivity?

(a) Consume less goods and services

(b) Plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

(c) Increase the efficiency of  production of goods and services

(d) Cannot answer this question

Which of the following themes is most important when you buy things?

(a) It has to be up to date

(b) It has to have a long lifespan

(c) It has to be part of a circular economy where all wastes and discards are recycled.

(d) Cannot answer this question

4 Need for a new relationship between culture and ecology

What is the best interpretation of sustainable development? 

(a) Sustaining economic growth year by year, while trying to alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

(b) Aiming for no economic growth in order to create sustainable societies that alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

(c) Aiming for a steady state economy with international policies of trade and aid that promote the sharing of Earth’s resources equitably

(d) Cannot answer this question.

 What would be an appropriate definition of prosperity in a steady state economy?

(a) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the hope that world leaders would address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

(b) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the commitment of people to voluntary altruistic actions

(c) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the year on year accumulation of monetary capital 

(d) Cannot answer this question

Where survival is reasonably assured and basic needs are met, what kind of culture will give the better quality and meaning to individuals’ lives?

(a) A culture of wealth creation will give the better quality of life

(b) A culture of harmony through sharing will give the better quality of life.

(c) A culture of creativity as an enabler of economic development will give the better quality of life

(d) Cannot answer this question

5 Need for a new education system

Should we educate young and adult people in order that they learn of the socio-ecological predicaments of the Earth?

(a) Yes.Involve young people in designing and co-producing educational materials

(b) No. Adult education should focus on learning the skills needed to train for the new jobs that economic growth demands.

(c) Yes. Train educators as facilitators to help learners assemble a personal body of knowledge to live sustainably 

(d) Cannot answer this question.

What kind of pedagogy is needed to cope with the socio-ecological predicaments of Earth?

(a) One that produces specialists because the predicaments of Earth require technical fixes.

(b) One that produces generalists because the predicaments of Earth require cross disciplinary fixes. 

(c) One that produces humanists because the predicaments of Earth require a different kind of thinking from that which we used to create them

(d) Cannot answer this question