Episode 12: ON GOOD COUNTRIES

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Sound: Podcast opens with recording of Orang Asli in Malaysia playing a nose flute

Voice intro:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

In this episode ON GOOD COUNTRIES, you will hear from Simon Anholt, an internationally renowned policy advisor who has helped over 50 nations use the Good Country Equation for education and development.

Over the course of his long and colourful career, Simon’s ultimate aim was to help increase the type of international cooperation that can solve the challenges of globalisation; from climate change, pandemics, and extremism, to slavery, war, poverty and inequality.

His core message to world leaders is simple; do good and good will come to you; change the way nations behave because our survival depends on it.

Simon’s latest book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation is full of amusing and sometimes surreal anecdotes from his years of travelling the far-flung places of the word.

Opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Valletta, Malta.

Sound: Ambient sound/music intro fades to Skype ringing

Simon Anholt Voice:
Hi, my name is Simon Anholt.
I’m in my study at home and I’m in the middle of the countryside, so out of the windows I can see nothing but trees at the moment, which is really nice….just kind of quite far away from anybody else, which is very nice.


And what am I? Well, I normally call myself a policy adviser because my day job is advising governments on policy.

A policy is one of those words that can mean all kinds of stuff. Basically, what I do is I advise governments on how they should behave and particularly towards other governments and the people of other countries and the international institutions.

So, I’m not really very interested in what governments ‘say.’ I’m not interested in messaging. I think that’s all a bit boring and shallow.

What I’m interested in is what countries do- and what governments do. So, when I call myself a policy adviser, I suppose that’s what I mean. I advise them on how to behave.

Asking the right questions
If I if I had a euro every time a government has come to me with a question that turns out to be the wrong question, I would probably have about 39 euros by now.

The countries are very difficult, very complicated things, and it’s very hard even for the people who are running them to know what the main issues are. And it has happened so often to me during my career that governments have come to me thinking they’ve got one kind of problem and it turns out they’ve got another.

Researching a country as an outsider
The first thing I like to do when.. when… I’m working with a country is to try to get to know it as well as I can. I mean, it’s very obvious that as an outsider, I’m never going to be nearly as much of an expert about the country. I’m advising as its own citizens, not if I live there, even for the rest of my life. But then again, that’s not what I claim to be. I don’t claim to be an expert in their country.

What I do claim to be as an expert on the rest of the world in a very general sense. But even so, I do need to try and become as much of an expert as possible, so, I read mainly, and particularly in these days, when travelling is so difficult, reading is even more important, so, I try to read as many books as I possibly can. I normally spend about four or five weeks at the beginning just reading; novels and history books and portraits of the country and listening to music and reading poetry and literature and watching the movies.

And then when I actually go to the country, I spend weeks and weeks going around just meeting as many different people of different sorts and different parts of the country as I possibly can. And gradually a picture begins to build up and it can only ever be a superficial one, but it’s of some value.

EAIE Helsinki Keynote talk, September 2019.

The book; The Good Country Equation
Well, I wrote the good country equation because I had to. Otherwise I would have burst. I’ve spent the last 20 or probably more than 20 years going around working with governments and often with presidents and prime ministers and kings and queens in 56 or 57 countries around the world.

And I don’t know whether it’s me or whether it’s just something to do with the job. But every country I go to, something extraordinary always happens. I always have some weird conversation or some weird experience, and it’s happy or funny or dangerous or exciting or potentially life threatening. And for years and years I’ve been doing this job and I come back and everybody I know says, you know, you should really write a book about all this stuff. Nobody will believe a word of it, but you still got to do it. And so eventually, after about 20 years, I thought, I will write this book.

But I wanted to make it primarily autobiographical, not because I want to see myself as the hero or anything like that, but just because I wanted it to be readable. See, I’m very interested in the state of the world and what’s gone wrong with the world, as many of us are.

Everybody in the world should be interested in what’s gone wrong with the world and trying to find out whatever they can about it. So, I thought what I’ll do is I’ll make this a tragic and comical autobiographical travelogue and I’ll write it in colour, if you know what I mean. So, it won’t be a black and white textbook. It’ll be a colour book with stories and places and people and anecdotes and funny things and sad things and frightening things and inspiring things. And then I’ll weave into that the story of how I gradually, country after country after country, began to figure out what really has gone wrong with the world. And then I can start weaving in what I think we ought to do in order to fix it.

As a child….
Now, I don’t know what it is about me, but when I was a kid and I was growing up, I just always assumed that people from other countries were going to be more interesting than people from my own country. And I always assumed also that other people’s countries were going to be more exciting and more beautiful and more interesting than my own country. And I thought this was normal. And gradually, as I grew up, I discovered that it wasn’t normal. And in fact, the older I got, the more uncommon I found it to be. And I’ve discovered that actually an awful lot of people think that people from other countries are going to be less interesting than people from their own country and that other people’s countries are going to be less interesting than their own country. And I don’t judge them in any way because of that. But I realize that we are different. So at the very heart of the book, there is this assumption that being a human being is more interesting than being a Swede or a Brit or a Guatemalan or a Kenyan.

And that the most interesting thing about us is certainly not the fact that we have a passport from a particular country, but that we belong to this extraordinary, remarkable, infuriating species called humanity.

My world view is in many ways a really simple one, in fact, simplicity is a good place to start, because one of the things I say very early on in the book is that over the years I’ve come to revere simplicity. And I don’t mean the kind of simplicity that comes from only seeing the surface of things, which is very, very common these days. What I’m always aiming for is the simplicity that comes from seeing through the surface of things because the surface seems so complicated. But the basic truths underneath are really often very simple and so many of the complex issues that we’re facing today as an international community, Present themselves in a way which is terrifyingly complex, but actually underneath we’ve got to hold onto those simple truths and those simple values.

With government officials in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Two ‘simple’ underlying issues
So, what’s wrong with the world? Well, a Good Country Equation. I said it was simple. There are two things wrong with the world. The first one is the way that countries behave, and the second one is the way that people behave. And that may seem absurdly simple, but it is worth stating it. What’s wrong with countries is that they don’t work together enough to resolve the gigantic global challenges that humanity is facing in the 21st century.

You take all of these big challenges, what the United Nations calls the Sustainable Development Goals are attached to these. So, climate change, migration, human rights abuses, conflict, everything from narco trafficking and small arms proliferation right the way up to pandemics. All of these challenges have got one thing in common. They were all caused by human beings. And therefore, they can all be fixed by human beings.

The other thing that they all have in common is that they’re all globalized, they don’t exist in just one country, they are connected through globalization to every country in the world.
And that’s why it’s impossible for any individual country to solve any of them. America can’t fix the economic turmoil. China can’t fix migration. The European Union can’t fix climate change because these issues are too big and too connected. And so it’s not that we don’t know the answers, the solutions to these problems. We do. We know the solutions to all of these problems. We’ve known them for years. But the reason why we don’t implement those solutions is because countries don’t work together to do it. And so we never bring enough resources to bear towards tackling those problems. So when I say that one of the problems in the world is the fact that countries don’t work together, it’s literally just that they don’t work together frequently or thoroughly or sincerely enough to make proper progress against the vast majority of these global challenges. So, we need to change the culture of governance worldwide from one that’s fundamentally competitive to one that’s fundamentally collaborative. And I guess that’s the main theme of the book.

Sound: Mindfulness bell

The role of corporations

I’m really interested in corporations and their role in this debate. It’s certainly true and I do say so in the book, that corporations influence, or perhaps I should say govern the lives of just as many people or nearly as many people as governments do. And we most of us spend most of our working lives in association with corporations.

So the power and the influence they have over human behaviour is in our modern age, almost as much as the power exercised by governments, and the corporations themselves, of course, many of them are bigger than countries, many of them are richer than countries. Many of them are more powerful than countries. So I think that’s probably where the good country argument goes next. What is a good company?

And I know we will talk about the Good Country Index later on, but the idea of a good company index has been up there in my wish list of things I wish I could do if there were only a few more hours in the  day- Religions, of course, influence the lives and the values and the behaviours of just as many people as corporations and governments.

I’ve talked mainly about nations because I think they’re the problem, and I have a bit of an issue with the whole idea of nation and nationalism, as many of us do. And again, what I didn’t really have time to do, either in the book or in my career so far, is to start drilling down to the level of smaller communities which are critically important and for very good reasons, more important to people than their nations. I find it easier to feel loyalty towards the village I live in than towards the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is just a construct like most nations.

Outward versus inward mentality.
One of the most dangerous ideas in the world at the moment is that there are two species of person, the globalists and the localists. And this is a dangerous idea because with it comes the idea that we should hate each other and that we should mistrust each other and spend all of our time screaming abuse at each other. And this is daft because all human beings, as far as I can tell, are to some degree localists and to some degree globalists. It’s just a question of which degree we’re all both most of the time. And of course, we have to work together.
I mean, I’m I happen to be so busy thinking about global stuff that I don’t spend nearly as much time as I ought to worrying about the problems of the little village I live in.
It’s obvious that we should be collaborating in the same way that young people and adults should be collaborating, in the same way that people from different nationalities should be collaborating. It’s so blindingly obvious.

Yes, I mean, there’s no question that a national image is, for most people, a seamless extension of their self-image. And even if you don’t regard yourself as particularly nationalistic or patriotic or proud or whatever, there is a space in your heart for the thing that is your country and that you’re born in and so we humans have spent so much time and effort and worry over the centuries trying to forcibly instil this idea of national belonging and national identity.

I think we’ve forgotten the original purpose of it. The original purpose of it was to fight wars, and it was instilled in people very, very deeply. The idea that the noblest thing that a young man could do was to sacrifice his life for the fatherland, which is such an obviously ridiculous idea. And that’s why it took so long and so much effort to brainwash people into believing it.

And of course, in order to make it work, they had to brainwash all the women, the mothers and the sisters and the daughters. Also to encourage these young men, I mean, to tell a young man to go himself, get a gun and get himself blown to bits is not so very difficult because young men kind of want that to try and persuade all those much more sensible women to persuade them of the same thing was an altogether harder task. But it’s worked. And nowadays that is very, very deeply ingrained.

I think this is ultimately about human development. When a baby is born, it only really feels loyalty to itself and its need to survive and its mother. And then gradually, that sense of loyalty will extend to the father, if he’s lucky, and to the immediate family and then maybe to the village and then on and on and on. It goes to the nation state where it stops and that’s where it gets stuck. And feeling loyalty to anything bigger than the nation state seems to be a problem for the vast majority of us. And I think that human development has got stuck at the nation state.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving your country. I think that’s in many ways quite natural. But loving your country, not loving your nation, to love your nation is to love its army or to love its president. And very often goes with the idea that other people’s nations are inferior or don’t quite deserve to occupy their space on the surface of the planet as much as yours does. And that’s when it starts becoming problematic.


Understanding that we all belong
I think it’s absolutely true that the sense of belonging to a nation is fundamentally a very different thing from a sense of belonging to a smaller place, like a like a village or a town or even a city state, for the simple reason that a nation state isn’t actually a thing that exists in the real world. It’s an intellectual construct.

And so us feeling right, this this feeling that we belong to an intellectual construct is part of the modern mindset that detaches us ever more from the reality of nature. I can still remember, and I describe it in the book, the very first time I went up in a plane and I was a geography nerd, I used to read Atlas in bed. And when I looked out of the plane window for the first time and I couldn’t see those thick black lines on the ground dividing one country from another, I was really surprised and disappointed. But it reminds us that this thing called a nation of this thing called a country, it’s an invention. And if you identify yourself as belonging to an invention, then there’s something not quite right there.

Well, I hope that the first thing that people consider about me, if they consider me, is not my nationality, because, you know, like so many of us, I’m a terrific mongrel anyway. So many different races and religions and creeds and nationalities go inside the soup that makes me who I am. And so I find it very, very difficult to identify or associate with any particular country.

My country, the United Kingdom, where I was born, like most countries, has done an enormous amount of absolutely hellish things. And it’s done an enormous amount of really quite creditable things, as have most countries.

With Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, a Chilean politician who served as President of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018.

What is a good country?

But the point that I really wanted to make was a slightly different one. People often are a little bit puzzled by this phrase. I keep using a good country and they mean, well, who? And they say, who are you to decide whether a country is good or bad? And the thing that I say is I’m trying to use the word ‘good’, not as the opposite of bad, but good, the opposite of selfish. And a good country is not in any sense a virtuous country. It’s a country very simply that succeeds in harmonizing its responsibilities towards its own people and its own territory, with its responsibilities towards other people and other territories.

And that’s the rule for life on earth in the 21st century. Countries and corporations and universities and villages and all groups of people need to harmonize their domestic and their international responsibilities so that everything they do for their own people and their own slice of territory. Does no harm or preferably even does good to people outside that territory and to places outside that territory.

With President Heinz Fischer of Austria, who was was elected Federal President of Austria in April 2004, and re-elected for a second and final term in 2010.

The most common myth
So, one of the biggest challenges I’ve had during my career advising governments is to persuade prove to governments that it is actually possible to be a good country, to harmonize the inside and the outside responsibilities. Because the interesting thing about all of these politicians I’ve worked with is that it doesn’t actually make any difference which party they come from, whether they’re left wing or right wing or turbo jet propulsion unit. I really don’t know that it makes any difference at all where they come from. They all believe the same thing, which is that anything you do that’s good for your own people is going to harm people in other countries. And anything you do that’s good for the planet and the environment is somehow going to curtail your economic growth or harm your own people or harm your own territory. And this seems to be an article of faith that all politicians have absorbed. And it’s absolutely not true.

One of the really lucky things for me about doing the job that I do and working with so many different countries is that I’ve had the opportunity over the years to try out real policies in real countries to see whether it’s possible to harmonize the domestic and international responsibilities. And what I’ve discovered is that not only is it possible, it also makes better policies, it makes more imaginative thinking and imaginative thinking is what we desperately need in the 21st century.

Not only is it possible to do the right thing for your own people and for people in other countries, it actually means that you’ll end up doing better and more interesting things. And somehow we need to get the word out to the politicians that this is possible.

Sound:
Short mindfulness bell

Smart policy-making, beyond altruism
The thing that I’m really not talking about here is altruism or self-sacrifice. The idea that a country should sacrifice itself for other countries is a daft idea. No country could, would or should ever consider doing such a thing.

That’s going back to this ridiculous Victorian idea of charity, where it’s the it’s the obligation of the wealthy to help the poorer. Well, there’s some truth in that. But it’s not really the main point.

The main point is that we all occupy a space on this earth and therefore we all have an equal responsibility, whatever’s happened in the past to try and fix it as equals moving forward.

And so, when I say to a country, you need to be good, what I don’t mean is that you need to give away all your spare money to poor countries. What I mean is simply that it is in your interest to do this. And I suppose the core component, the surprising component of the Good Country Equation is this remarkable discovery that I made back in 2012, that it is actually directly economically in your interest as a country to assist and support the international community.

And the reason for that is because it’s a two-stage argument, first of all. The overall image, the good name of a country is the thing which more than anything else, drives its success economically. So the countries that have got good, powerful, positive reputations like Sweden, or Switzerland or Canada or whatever, they find it much easier to make money out of trade, tourism, foreign investment and everything else.

They have a much better relationship with the rest of the world and with consumers all around the world. They make more money because they’ve got a better image. The countries that have weak or negative images that nobody’s ever heard of or that associated with war or conflict or trouble of one kind or another, they find it much, much harder to grow economically. It’s harder for them to get trade. It’s harder for them to export their products. It’s harder for them to attract talent and investment and so on and so forth.

So, discovery number one, countries need good images in order to progress and prosper. Discovery, number two; the factor which more than any other determines whether a country has a good image or not is how much it helps the international community. It’s not how successful it is.

The reason why people admire Sweden or Norway, for example, is not because Sweden and Norway have successful social models. It’s because they believe that Norway and Sweden contribute to the world in which they themselves live.

If I live in in Paraguay, I don’t care whether people in Norway are happy because it doesn’t affect me. I don’t live there. I don’t care whether they have good welfare or good health care provisions because it doesn’t benefit me.

What I care about is are these countries making the world a better place for me and my children to live in? So, when I go to bed at night, I think positive thoughts about Norway and Sweden, because I think to myself, they at least I’m glad they’re there. They’re not disturbing the international order. There are other countries, on the other hand, that I worry about as I go to bed at night because they are disturbing the international order.

Well, that’s what I believe.

So discovery number two, if a country wants a good reputation, it has to be a good citizen. It has to contribute to the grand challenges in some way. It has to tackle visibly and effectively migration, poverty, inequality, pandemics, climate change and so on and so forth.

So this is a big discovery. This is a little bit like corporate social responsibility all over again. But at the level of the nation state, if you want to make more money as a country, you have to have a better image. And if you want a better image, you have to goddamn well behave yourself. And that is quite a surprising discovery.

Simon Anholt speaking at TEDx Amsterdam.

Why I wrote this book
I think this is probably the main reason why I only felt ready to write this book when I had some mechanisms for encouraging countries and governments and people to behave differently that weren’t an appeal to their values.

I hope people won’t think that I’m a cynic. But I think that expecting governments and corporations to change their behaviour on the basis that something is right or wrong is never going to be as successful as when you appeal to them on the basis of what they really care about.

If it’s a government, it’s on the principle of staying in power and pleasing your people. And so, in a completely non-cynical way, I don’t waste my time telling people not to do things because they’re morally wrong. Nor do I waste my time criticizing people for doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

I don’t care about their motivations. I’m too old for that. I just care about whether they’re doing the right thing. And so that’s why the good country equation seems to be ready for exposure, because it’s based on simple, enlightened self-interest.

I’m not lecturing anybody. I’m not saying you must do this because it’s the right thing to do, because racism is wrong, because colonialism is wrong and so on and so on and so on. Those conversations can and will and must continue, but they don’t generally cause people to change their position.

On the other hand, if you can give somebody a very clear explanation for why changing their position will produce a better result for them, that’s in line with what they’re trying to achieve, then you stand a much greater chance of producing change. I’m not a purist in that respect. And so the good country equation is an appeal, a simple, logical, clear appeal to the self-interest of governments and individuals.

Sound: Mindfulness bell

The ins and outs of evidence-based research
Since almost the very beginning of my career, I’ve liked all of the advice I give to countries to be evidence based.

That discovery that countries need good images and those images can only come from principled international behaviour mainly comes from analysis of a database of a survey called the Nation Brands Index, which are created back in 2005.

And this is just a big global annual poll which interviews 20,000 people around the world every year on their perceptions of 50 different countries. And by 2012, I discovered that it had accumulated over a billion data points. So, I took some time off to analyse that huge database because I wanted to ask one simple single question Why do people admire country more than country B?

I knew it wasn’t because country makes more noise about it. I knew it wasn’t because country does relentless propaganda campaigns telling everybody how wonderful it is, because it was obvious from the data that it was nothing to do with that. But by crunching this huge database, what I did discover was in fact that yes, the primary driver of a positive natural national reputation is good behaviour in the international community. And then I’ve used lots of other surveys of my own and other people’s surveys to corroborate that evidence over the years.

Simon in Helsinki.

That awful word: brand
There is always a risk that if a country has a very good image, then people are not interested in hearing about or learning about or recognizing some of the bad things it does. And in exactly the same way, there’s a risk that if a country has a very bad image or a very weak or negative one, people are not interested in learning about the good things that it does. And the reason for this is because we’re just short of time. Last time I checked, there were 205 countries on Earth. And if we if we worried about the reality of those countries and we spent our time looking into exactly why we think they’re good or why we think they’re bad and how much harm and how much good they’ve done, we’d have no time left to do anything else.

We wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep. And so, what we do is we make do with the kind of prejudice stereotype.

This is why I use the awful term brand. 20 years ago, when I first coined this awful term brand, I was actually being ironic. I was saying that countries in the age of globalization have turned into brands on a supermarket shelf and it’s as if we can only hold in our mind at any one time one simple single fact about a country and one simple single set of prejudices, either positive or negative.

And this is hugely problematic because countries, of course, are not simple. Countries are really complicated. And anything you can say about one country, the opposite is probably equally true in a different domain. So that was the reason, incidentally, why I was very keen to create the Good Country Index, which I launched in 2014. This is an attempt to make it a little bit easier for people to actually answer that question: Is this country generally doing more good or more harm to the planet and to humanity in general? To do a kind of balance sheet for every country that answers that question for you in so far as it’s possible to answer it?

Why a Good Country Index?
I remember the week I started work on the Good Country Index; David Cameron, who is the prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time, told us all on Monday that we should despise China because it was a serial abuser of human rights. And then on Friday, he told us that we should all love and admire and respect China because it was going to rescue the British nuclear industry.

And I found myself quite puzzled and I thought, well, this is supposed to be my trade and I’m puzzled. What must everybody else be thinking? And I realized actually I would like to know whether ‘Net-Net’ China is a contributor to humanity or whether it’s a free rider on the international system and America and the United Kingdom and all these other countries as well. So that’s where The Good Country Index came from.

The way that it works is in principle, very simple. There are just 35 big data sets that mostly come from the United Nations and a few other international organizations that the organizations that are capable of collecting robust and reliable data about, you know, 100 plus countries every year.

And basically, I look at all the data that gives you some measurement about positive or negative impact of that country outside its own borders. So, for example, I’m not interested in Sweden’s health care provision because that only affects its own citizens.

And if you want to find out how Sweden treats its own citizens, there are a dozen indexes out there that will tell you that. But I want to know whether I as a Brit, should feel glad that Sweden exists. Is it making the world a better place for me, not for not just for Swedes?

And so you can look through The Good Country Index and you can see the positive and you can see the negative. So you can see that, for example, yes, Sweden, like most rich countries, gives away quite a lot of spare cash to poor countries every year. And that’s generally a good thing. I don’t think it’s possibly the best thing it could do, but it’s a good thing. And there is it’s high mark on overseas development assistance. On the other hand, I can also see that it’s very near the bottom of the list when it comes to weapons exports.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I happen to think that selling guns is wrong because it results in people being killed. And by the way, you can also see how many people Sweden was responsible for killing outside its own borders; not very many.

And so across these 35 data sets, you can see all the measured and measurable contributions, positive or negative, that one hundred and sixty odd countries make to the world outside their borders. And it adds them up for you and it gives you a total. Whether you agree with that total or not is entirely a matter of personal opinion. But at least it’s trying to break down some of this enormous complexity and give you an answer to that question. Am I right to admire Sweden? And if so, in which areas and in which areas is Sweden not admirable? And is there something that I should do about it?

The framework of The Good Country Equation

There are 35 individual indicators that make up the overall ranking of the Good Country Index, and this sorted into seven categories. So, each country is evaluated according to its global contribution to science and technology, its global contribution to culture, its global contribution to international peace and security, its contribution to world order, its contribution to planet and climate, its contribution to prosperity and equality, and finally to health and well-being. And then within each of those seven categories, there are five data sets making a total of 35. Now, the interesting thing is that I didn’t actually start with the framework. I ended with the framework.

Where I started with was a search for data sets. So my colleague Robert Gervaise and I spent a long time just basically trying to find any good, reliable, annual robust data sets that measured the external impacts of the behaviours of at least 160 or 150 countries. And we managed to find 35. That’s all there are.

So we’ve basically ended up with these 35 data sets, some of them are negative, like how many people have you killed outside your own borders? Some of the positive, like how many scientific journals have you exported contributing to global science and technology and so on and so forth. And and then they make an overall ranking. Well, they make seven rankings, one for each category and an overall ranking for the for the good country index. And that’s basically the way that it works.

The good country index is updated every year. The I’m currently working on the latest edition and hope it’s going to be out in the next week or two.

The thing that people need to understand about the Good Country Index is that these data sets produced by the UN and other big international bodies, they tend to be about three or four years behind the times because they’re only published once they’ve been checked.

And if you’re talking about millions and millions and millions of data points, that takes a long time.

United States of change
So, for example, the picture in the latest edition of the Good Country Index, one point three, we call it, shows that the United States of America is at overall ranking 40.

So relative to the size of its economy, it’s the fortieth country in the world in terms of the good that it does to humanity on the planet outside its own borders.

Incidentally, it’s a very, very close ties with Russia, which comes 41st.

The interesting thing is that not only The Good Country Index, but also the Nation Brands Index, which measures international perceptions of the country, have both been plummeting ever since Trump took office.
The United States is now the seventh most admired country on the planet, according to the Nation Brands Index, which is the same place it was in the second term of George W. Bush.

America is normally the most admired country on the planet. That’s its natural position still. But every time they have an internationally unpopular president, which happens from time to time, it tends to drop down to sixth or seventh.

051207 Dalarna hörsalen Teknikdalen, Foto Henrik Hansson.

Inserted: A tool for reflection and a work in progress
Well, the good country index is very much a work in progress, it cannot and does not claim to present a full account of what countries contribute to the rest of the world. It just needed to be done.

So unless you’ve got data, you can’t really include it. You know, they’re hard to measure, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s shining a small torch in the corner of a very, very large, very dark field. And what I’ve always hoped when I release indicators like this is that people will take that as a cue to contribute, to make it better collectively rather than a cue to just say this isn’t complete. I know it’s not complete.

On environmental data
In terms of the environmental data here, we’re still in the Middle Ages, frankly, when it comes to measuring ecological performance, if that’s the right word for it.

First of all, I use the ecological footprint created by the Global Footprint Network. And that’s quite a sophisticated piece of work and is good because it gives a kind of overall element into the countries score because we’re very interested in the policy side.

This is governments as much as countries that we’re talking about. We also include as a factor the degree of compliance that each government has with the major environmental agreements. And then we include hazardous pesticides exports, not necessarily because that in itself is the most significant thing, but because it tends to correlate quite strongly with a lot of other environmental or non-environmental behaviours.

We look at the countries renewable energy share because that gives us a hint as to the level of investment that they’re putting in to being more planet friendly. And we look at emissions of ozone depleting substances, which is still an issue. And again, it’s an important indicator.

Other uses of The Good Country Index
There are a few countries now where they’re actually using The Good Country Index as a framework for questioning candidates in elections, which is a really, really interesting way of using it. That basically there’s a group in Australia, for example, who use the Good Country Index to quiz candidates who are standing for the next election.

And they say this is Australia’s profile at the moment. This is the good we do. This is the harm we do. What are you proposing to do about all of those? And the politicians are absolutely dumbfounded by this, mainly because elections are, generally speaking, a 100 percent domestic affair. Nobody ever talks about international relations during national elections, but that’s a whole other story.

From competition to collaboration
I said before, why it’s economically in the interest of countries to collaborate more with other countries. But it’s also valuable for them to do that for another reason. And that is because it creates better policy. And if you look at the amount of collaboration that governments typically engage in in their daily existence, it’s pathetically small. I mean, the Nordics are better than many. The Nordics are better than many in many respects because they have a long history of cooperation and collaboration, both within their subregion and within the European Union. So they know that it works.

Sound: Mindfulness bell

Entrepreneurial multilateralism
Yes, sure, sure, but I mean, there’s this this idea which I mentioned in the book, which I call ‘entrepreneurial multilateralism’, which is extremely difficult to say; it’s a terrible a terrible name, but the idea is basically that countries shouldn’t wait for the UN to tell them to work on things. They should get together in random, weird, collective, collaborative units and solve their own problems collectively.

So when I was advising President Koroma in Sierra Leone a few years ago, I said to him, you know, we’ve got this this huge challenge of poverty in Sierra Leone. And of course, it would be great to talk to some other countries and see if we can observe some best practice and see if we can do some multicultural brainstorming. But let’s not go to the traditional countries, you know, the donors that always help Sierra Leone or your regional neighbours or whatever it is, let’s do something a bit more random and see if we can generate some much more unpredictable and much more exciting and inspiring interactions. So let’s go as random as we possibly can. So Sierra Leone begins with the letters S.L. Why don’t we just team up with every other place we can think of? That also begins with S.L.

So obviously Sri Lanka, St. Louis, Missouri, South London and so on and so forth. And you end up with the most random group of places you can possibly imagine that have nothing in common.

This is what the great Edward de Bono called lateral thinking. The more you mess up the frameworks of your thinking, the better the solutions become. If you’ve got Sierra Leone having a conversation with Saint Lewis and how do they say that in America, St. Louis with St. Louis and South London, then you’ve never had that conversation before? Guaranteed.

And the mutualisation of experiences and the mingling of the gene pool and the stirring up of those races and religions and histories and experiences and mindsets and approaches is just going to make a much, much richer soup and better ideas.

And then the great thing is that if you come up with an idea for reducing poverty in Sierra Leone, it works for all of those places, then it can be implemented in all of those places. And you fixed five countries for the price of one.

I think that the foreign minister should be renamed global minister and her or his job shouldn’t be to keep foreigners out of the country.

It should be to throw open the windows on every single policy debate in the country, even if it’s absolutely domestic things. If I was a Swedish politician and I had to sort out nurses pay in in your body, then the way that I would try and do that would be I would get a couple of public health specialists from Guatemala City and a couple from South Korea and a couple from South Africa. And we’d all sit down and brainstorm.

I absolutely guarantee that we will come up with more better interesting ideas than if we just had a bunch of Swedes in the same room together. And the same is true for any nation.

Your culture determines the extent to which you are capable of creative thinking, and the more you stir it up, the better the results.

This is not political correctness. But he whole point about difference is that it’s the most productive thing in the human experience; this extraordinary resource for creative and imaginative thinking. If only we stir things up. I think the world’s national anthems should be Stir It Up by Bob Marley.

Tanya Outro

Sound: Tanya’s garden, summer sounds

Outro: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON GOOD COUNTRIES. You can find more information about Simon Anholt on his website, Simon Anholt dot com, and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast.

Simon’s book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation is published in San Francisco by Barrett Curler and distributed internationally by Penguin Random House.

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising for a second series of podcasts on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

The music was created by Diego Losa. You can find Diego on diegolosa.blogspot.com

If you would like to find out more about nature-centred mindfulness, please see the work of Ajay (ah-jay) Rastogi on foundnature.org. You can also follow the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast, so please email us on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

How to contemplate nature; a simple nature-centric mindfulness practice

Nature-centred mindfulness is a great way to start meditation practice for a beginner, and also a beautiful practice for more experienced mindfulness and meditation practitioners. This extract is taken from the upcoming book, Nordic by nature. New voices on deep ecology; Arne Naess in the 21st century. If you would like to receive a free copy of this book please sign up to the Foundation of Contemplation of Nature’s newsletter here and follow the foundation on Facebook and @foundnature on Instagram.

Preparing lemons!

The contemplation of nature for inner and outer resilience
Hi, my name is Ajay Rastogi and I live in the village of Majkhali, in the state of Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalayan region. It’s about 400 kilometres north of Delhi and we overlook the high Himalayas with many 6000-metre high peaks. I have been an ecologist and an environmentalist for a large part of my life. I used to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as the organic programme coordinator for India. The basic drive to move back was to find a tool for the transformation of people from inside, so that they can connect deeply with nature.

The fact that we are unable to make big changes in society that are needed for sustainability means that we need to look again at the approach environmental movements have taken so far. For that reason, I was thinking that meditative practice, which can be done in nature, could be transformative in making us understand that we are an integral part of the natural world. Meditation is considered as a method for inner transformation.

Ajay near the foundation’s headquarters, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Experiential transformative learning
We have a residential programme based out of village homestays. These are typical rural homesteads, structures where there is no running water and the toilet is outside. Participants are supposed to stay for a two-week programme and help their host agrarian families, doing the same work that they do. They learn about everyday work: taking care of the cow, getting fodder from the forest, getting enough drinking water from the springs.

Students on the Mountain Resilience Leadership course learn how a mixture of cattle dung and water produces biogas for cooking stoves.

The programme is based on three pillars. One is called ‘the dignity of physical work’ because, unfortunately, we are losing the connection to working with our hands. The second is ‘interdependence’ because sometimes we feel that if we are economically sound then we don’t need anybody else – ‘I just spend money and get whatever I want’– but that’s not how society is structured, that’s not how sustainability comes about. The third thing participants learn about is ‘interconnectedness’, which is more about the landscape and the elements, where the water is coming from and so on. It is about knowing that this does not happen by itself, there are trees and filtration is taking place, there is some soil which can absorb water. It’s not as if it comes out of thin air. It needs to be nurtured.
We have a structured programme now. It’s a three-credit course, with the collaboration of Western Colorado University, called Mountain Resilience Leadership. We have also worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School for the past nine years.

A short nature-centred practice group session before co-creation workshops and meetings can change the whole dynamic and outcome of the work.

Students from all over the world come and participate in these programmes.
Bring nature to our consciousness
The nature-based mindfulness practice that we call the ‘contemplation of nature’
is done in natural surroundings, if possible. It is a multisensory experience. It helps because we are biological organisms and we have an inherent need to connect with nature. It’s kind of how we are genetically wired, so the contemplation of nature is not as abstract as many people find other meditative practices to be. It is good for beginners to feel the interconnectedness of all beings.
People can start with the contemplation of nature and then go on to learn about other deeper levels of meditation. But the contemplation of nature is definitely an approach that can be done on a daily basis. It quickly brings us to a level of tranquillity that gives us all the benefits of the meditation: the compassion, the kindness, the deeper connection to the natural law as well as to the social community around us.
At about the 23rd minute of meditation, a response known as the relaxation response activates a deeper trigger in our bodies. The relaxation response allows the body and internal chemistry to function in a much more regulated and balanced way. This also brings other benefits, including a gentle detachment from the continuous flow of thoughts and emotions, and deeper awareness and insight into our interconnected being.

Three steps for contemplating nature
So, all we do is sit and observe with a soft gaze. You can contemplate nature indoors with very simple objects from nature, following the three steps of nature contemplation that we have designed. The three simple steps of the contemplation of nature are: observe nature with a soft gaze, accept your thoughts, emotions and sensations with gentle detachment, and send love to the world with sympathetic attention.

By observing nature with a soft gaze, we bring nature into our consciousness, all the time accepting with gentle detachment our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. We are not interested in finding details or drawing conclusions. Of course, our minds will wander here and there, but as soon as we realise this, we gently bring our mind back to simply observing nature with a soft gaze.

One very important element of any meditation practice is to let go of your thoughts. You do not do this by fighting them but just by observing them and acknowledging them without judgement. This is what sympathetic attention means. Be gentle with yourself and just remind yourself of feelings of gratitude and oneness with nature. We sit, we observe softly with a gentle gaze, and continue sitting with gentle detachment. No matter what thoughts come to mind, don’t make any judgment about where you are, or what you are doing or thinking. It is this step that is transcendental in nature, and therefore a fundamental aspect of the practice. Being able to sit quietly allows us to somehow transcend a call of judgment and ‘the thinking mind’, at least for a little while.
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Episode 11: ON NARRATIVES.

The very last podcast in this series.

Transcript to the Nordic By Nature Podcast, ON NARRATIVES

Intro:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature. A podcast on ecology today, inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

In this episode ON NARRATIVES, we hear from four people working to shape more constructive narratives of our relationship to nature in order to increase environmental protection.

First, we hear from Tom Crompton, founder of the Common Cause Foundation in the U.K. whose research into values shows that the dominant narrative of the selfishness of humankind is deeply flawed.

Then, Paul Allen from the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales presents a positive and attainable vision of the future.

We then hear from Yuan Pan, whose work integrating biodiversity into the Natural Capital Framework at Cambridge University aims to help businesses and policy makers make smarter decisions and start understanding the direct benefits from acting as stewards of the environment and nature’s resources.

Finally, we hear from Rewilding expert Paul Jepson, who is also active in science communication, particularly in the area of nature recovery, science-policy interfaces and public participation. In 2018, Paul published two papers, one with Frans Schepers and Wouter Helmer on putting rewilding principles into practice and a second where he proposed that in Rewilding we are seeing the emergence of a new ‘Recoverable Earth’ environmental narrative. . Paul currently works for the UK-based consultancy Ecosulis Ltd.

SOUND BRIDGE

TOM CROMPTON

Tom Crompton Intro

So, my name’s Tom Crompton. I direct a small not for profit called Common Cause Foundation which works on people’s values, what matters to people, and what shapes what matters to people, and our perception of what matters to our fellow citizens.

As soon as you begin to ask that question of what it is that underpins public appetite for ambitious change, you are led the social psychology of a values, of human motivation.

So, there’s a great deal of data on people’s own values. And there’s very little data on people’s perception of their fellow citizens values.

Tom Crompton from the Common Cause Foundation.

Researching the Impact of Values

We’ve used a standard values questionnaire, the ‘Thoughts Values Survey’

So, we have used that to start to ask people about their own values and then we’ve asked them to think about a typical fellow citizen, to respond about the values that they feel that typical fellow citizen holds to be important

 

What we find is that with regard to people’s own values, and in line with a great deal of other existing research, we find that people tend to place particular importance on what we call ‘compassionate values’.

So, these are values of friendship and kindness and social justice and equality and honesty and probably also include values of self-direction, values of curiosity and creativity.

So, people hold those values to be very important. And they attach relatively low importance to a set of values which is psychologically stand psychological opposition to those compassionate values. We call them self-interest values, and these include values of concern for finance financial success, or public image or social status.

Around about three quarters of people attach more importance compassionate values than they do to the self-interest ones.

A Fundamental Misunderstanding

So, then when we move on to ask people about what values they feel a typical fellow citizen holds to be important, we find that there’s a widespread misunderstanding that people typically underestimate the importance that a typical fellow citizen places on those compassionate values, and overestimate the importance that they place on the self-interest values.

That doesn’t incidentally seem to be as a result of reporting bias, you might imagine that a participant is perhaps reluctant to acknowledge the importance that they place on those self-interest values, but we are able to control that and that doesn’t seem to be the case.

What we find is that the more inaccurate a person’s perception of the typical fellow citizens’ values, the less connected that person is likely to feel to their community, the less likely they are to have participated civically, recently the less likely they are to voted, and the less supportive they are for action on a range of social and environmental issues for example, homelessness or climate change or inequality, and the lower their wellbeing.

The simple truth that actually our typical fellow citizens care more about one another in the wider world than we might imagine, and we project that where we’re successful in conveying a more authentic understanding of what a typical fellow citizen or a typical person holds to be important.

Then we would anticipate that that would help to strengthen a sense of community strength and commitment to civic participation, strength and public support for action on social and environmental issues and strengthen people’s well-being.

Why Do We Think Others Are Materialistic?

I think we’ve perhaps been told for so long that we have essentially atomised self-interested individuals out to kind of optimise our own… And our outcomes… For our own selfish purposes. You know, it’s such a dominant understanding of human nature that lends right to a right to the natural sciences right to the social sciences that we’ve come to believe in.

And of course, it’s something that when we see people interacting with one another in large numbers it’s very often in a commercial environment, the kind of environment that we know tends to do more to cue or pry those more self-interested values.

So, what we’ve begun to do is to ask what kind of organisation might be able to work to convey to people a deeper appreciation of the concern of the importance that most people attach the most compassionate values. 

Social Purpose driven Organisations

If an organisation and an organisation sees or identifies a sense of social purpose in deepening the feeling of community and well-being among the audiences that it engages and then I think a wide range of ways in which he can begin to communicate with those audiences in ways which will facilitate that. I think it would be simply part of it could become part of the patina of how an organisation communicates with its stakeholders.

On Greater Manchester

One area in which has been real interest in this work is in the in the city’s resilience teams have a team that is actually working to think about how the people of Greater Manchester respond to disasters. And of course, traditionally that’s work which has tended to focus on the practicalities of disaster or emergency response. But increasingly there’s recognition that the importance of working upstream that actually it’s how, um, it’s how citizens respond in an emergency. It’s the values which come to the fore in the course of those responses which is so important in shaping how, how collectively, a disaster or an emergency is met.

I think there’s also an opportunity to develop. I suppose a sensitivity to seeing where those values are already in action. And then suddenly or gently drawing attention to them. I think you know so often, we don’t recognise those values in action when we encounter them.

I think the important thing to do perhaps is to develop a sensitivity to seeing those values in action, and then creativity and imagination in thinking about how they might be made more salient, and that’s going to be different in every different organisational context.

Misperceptions from media and advertising

If you think if you think about the reverse side of it if you like. The perception, the misperception that most people are driven primarily by self-interested or selfish urges, that something which is implicit in so many of the ways in which we’re communicated at. By such a diverse range of different organisations. It’s not that that’s coordinated in any way. It’s just that it becomes so deeply embedded in our understanding of what it is that motivates one another, that those are the motivations we reach for, and tacitly connect with. In the course of communicating with people.

The question would be, the question that really interests me is and how do you move beyond the situation with people who are finding themselves to a common interest to a common concern, in the ultimate sense by seeing ourselves as human beings, we recognise that there are values of concern for one another in the wider world that are an inherent part of that identity.

SOUND BRIDGE

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PAUL ALLEN

Paul and CAT, The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

My name is Paul Allen. I’m an electrical engineer by training. And in 1988, I left Liverpool and came to work at the Centre for Alternative Technology in XXX in XXX quarry, and I’ve worked here now for 30 years doing A whole range of different jobs.

The Centre for Alternative Technology was set up in the early seventies to help rethink the role of technology for society to make technology work better for citizens, but within the limits of the planet. So, we began experiments with a live lab with a real living inside community, looking at how we provide food, how we deal with waste, how we make the lights come on, in different ways, to try and make them more resilient, done in ways that the people living with them better understand them, and to reduce our ecological impact.

Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

Well back then what was being talked about by the alternative movement was very far from the mainstream thinking. But it was at the cutting edge. And part of it was to have a holistic approach not just to focus on electricity or heat but to think about land use to think about food production to think about composting and waste and how all of those different systems can intersect as well. So that thinking has progressed over 45 nearly 50 years at CAT.

And now increasingly it’s moving into the mainstream, and becoming law, because the mainstream understands the physical limits of the world but also how to build better value better returns for human beings in return for what they’re looking for.

We have to recognise now we are in a climate emergency. We don’t have the option of business as usual for another 15 or 20 years. Now is the time.

So that’s the sort of thing I would suggest that process that needs to go through in all of business and industry almost to light a little candle as the voice of the future generations around the boardroom. Are we really behaving in the way that we need to, to respond to where we actually are in terms of human beings providing for the needs on earth.

Centre for Alternative Technology
Machynlleth, Wales, U.K

What is your company’s mind-print?
I think Corporate Social Responsibility means looking at the – not just the footprint of the business but also the ‘mind-print’ of the business. Looking at me the marketing and the advertising and how that affects social values and the idea of associating to be a successful family or to be an attractive male you have to have a big car, is something that really needs to be challenged, and something in the car industry needs to take responsibility for, because people do need personal mobility, because we want to take the kids to see grandmother. But there’s ways of doing that with buying the service, and having a car when you need it, rather than owning one, that can foster reliable cars, that are designed to last longer, where that sort of resilience and longevity actually helps the business model, rather than designing short life cars that are far bigger and heavier than they need to be. But backing up that huge amounts of merchandising and advertising and product placement.

So we need to challenge those norms.

Transport as an example
The Welsh government is supporting people who use transport, public transport, there is a free bus passes the road and on Saturdays and Sundays, to encourage more people to think about public transport.

We’ve also reached a point in terms of data harvesting where anybody in any town or county can put up a map where everybody puts the journey they want to do so that the local transport providers know who needs to travel where and when and what time so we can develop public transport systems that meet the needs of the citizens.

We’re not talking about delivering a utopia. We’re talking about just changing the infrastructure system, so human beings can continue to evolve within a safe platform, for the next two three four five hundred years.

Technology has to work within a plan that works and is driven by and has social license from citizens. We can’t have citizens lifestyle driven by what works for technology and the profit of corporate interest. And that’s the sort of shift in understanding that I think needs to really get out there.

Good practice

There is an enormous amount of really exciting really good practice happening.

I’d recommend you have a little look at the Ashton award winners’ website. Yeah with some really good videos and fabulous projects that are really happening on the ground now we just need to be like bees and cross fertilise cross pollinate these projects and help other people find them.

Basically, the problem we face is carbon lock-in, how we deliver housing, transport, food, lightbulbs coming on, that has co-evolved with fossil fuels over hundreds of years, well 150 years at least. So, we need to challenge those complex intertwined relationships. One of the most exciting ways that we see that is smart innovative community scale city scale projects.

One example is something like energy local where if you’re running a community hydro you don’t sell your electricity to the grid at 5:00 being in the house next door buys it at 15 even if they’ve got a virtual private wire network set up where people around the community hydro can buy the electricity cheaper and the hydro gets a better price for it and it builds relationships with citizens.

Or another good example might be at municipal level where Nottingham was running a project called Robin Hood energy. And essentially, it’s run by the Council for the people, buy and sell electricity as affordable as possible to bring the price down and citizens of Nottingham That’s an example of doing things for municipal benefits not for profit.

There’s so much good stuff out there and it is beginning to grow. The trick is to cross fertilise it so everybody can find out and access the really good ideas so we’re not all starting from the beginning.

There’s been technological advances in energy storage but there’s also been big advances in restorative agriculture and rethinking how we can revitalise natural systems to increase their carbon capture as well as improving resilience and soil quality.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face in rising to the climate emergency challenge is the people who are thinking about the solutions are quite often in their own individual silos of expertise.

There are so many core benefits in thinking about energy, food, transport, buildings, together in a single scenario. It also means that very, very big systemic changes as well.

We need to think about how we are supporting land use, what we’re using land for, drawing upon our indigenous wisdom of tradition.

Because if we look back at farms in Wales or in Scotland or in England over 30 40 50 100 years we can find fabulous records of how we used to farm with more cereals more crops more oats more turnips more vegetables and we can draw upon the wisdom not to go back in time but to rethink farm use in the 21st century in a way that helps us understand what the land is produced in the past and can produce in the future so that we can begin to produce a more healthy mix of food for better matches what human beings need to eat whilst also restoring soil quantity quality, and thinking about resilience because we live in turbulent times this turbulent climate turns into turbulent political times and having more resilience built into the system and more local connections and stronger skills verses that are more flexible can help give us a better system to pass over to future generations.

A shift in mindset

Well I think it’s very important to look at the history of seeing ourselves as part of nature. We are nature protecting ourselves rather than we are environmentalists protecting something that’s out there called nature that is nothing to do with us.

Nature provides for all of our lives, the oxygen provides food provide everything that we need. We are part of it. We are part of each other. And that shift is seeing interconnection I think is fundamental in helping change the behaviours that we need to see but also making us happier healthier human beings.

And partly I think there’s cultural norms that need to be rethought the idea that peasants work on the land and people who work on the land are poor and people who work in the urban environment are rich successful people, doesn’t really work out. If you look at how people’s happiness is measured people’s happiness is directly related to their connections with nature and the sense of meaning in nature. And then they feel that what they’re actually doing as social and natural worth rather than just churning out money.

———————————————————-

YUAN PAN

Yuan Pan Intro

Hello, everyone. I’m Yuan Pan. And I work with Professor Bhaskar Vira here at the Cambridge Conservation Institute on Natural Capital, particularly incorporating biodiversity into Natural Capital accounts.

Personally, I’m quite a pessimistic person, but when it comes to conservation, thought science, I think we are all quite optimistic. I think most of us are optimistic.

What is Natural Capital?

Natural Capital essentially is an economic term. So Natural Capital is the stock of the world’s natural resources.

The way I see it is a different way of framing the narrative of protecting nature. A story that will hopefully impact with policymakers and businesses. What we’re trying to say is that nature has value towards human society.

And some of that can be economic value, but it can also be other types of body as well. So within this research, we are only focussing on Natural Capital. But of course, I know about human capital and social capital. We’re also concerned with other types of value, like cultural values and kind of the intrinsic value of nature. Nature has value in itself, regardless of whether humans are here or not.

So Natural Capital definitely started out after ecosystem services emerged. So, people tend to use the two terms interchangeably nowadays. So ecosystem services are the benefits that we get from nature. So it’s like a flow of benefits. But Natural Capital is the stock.

And for a lot of businesses, they all doing ecosystem services, valuation or Natural Capital valuation. And I think that’s helping them to highlight that nature is kind of providing a lot of resources for them and they need to keep a resilient, sustainable ecosystem. Otherwise, for all businesses, they have raw materials.

Why take an anthropocentric view?

Stocks will eventually collapse. Basically. I would say essentially the terms are Anthropocentric, so they are human based. Because the definition for both of them is are benefiting human society. But what I have found in my research is that in fact, by using these kind of terms, you’re resonating more with businesses and policy makers, because unfortunately, we do live in a society where most people just concentrate on economic returns. Monetary values and these kinds of terms.

When you talk to businesses, their eyes tend to light up. And the kind of conservation that I did before, a lot businesses, they just tend to shy away from that, I think.

Biodiversity is a very difficult topic within Natural Capital accounting, and my project is trying to incorporate biodiversity in so currently lots of people just ignore biodiversity. And I think part of the reason is even as an ecologist, it’s very hard when I say like, what do you think when I say biodiversity? It can mean a lot of different things, trying to improve the situation with incorporating biodiversity by saying that it does have a lot of value, but the values are hard to measure because it’s the relationships are non-linear and also, they can’t be very easily monetary valued.

Everyone’s hearing this situation about the bees disappearing. And one of the things that people do pick up on when they talk about Natural Capital or ecosystem services is that these are very vital for pollination. But when you look at the research, but we can’t predict what will happen in the future with climate change and with the extreme weather conditions. So, in the future, we might need those other species that currently don’t seem to be performing any functions. But this is the other issue we’ve been talking about that for climate change. There’s, you know, kind of a very specific protection goal like either 1 degree or 2 degrees. And Paul, the reason that I think there’s been more focus on climate change compared to biodiversity protection per say is because climate change is quite easy to conceptualise.

Basically, you have a degree goal that you’re working towards. We can’t we don’t have a very specific protection goal.

Biodiversity objectives?

So, the first question is how much biodiversity do we need to sustain basic functions and processes that we don’t die as a society? But the second question is how much biodiversity do we want? And that’s not necessarily the same. A lot of people would like a very specific protection goal for biodiversity protection, just like climate change is very difficult to actually arrive a threshold value to say how much is it we actually want to protect?

We have a lot research and we have a lot of data, but perhaps there’s no kind of overarching narrative or kind of story that are linking them all together. I mean, currently there are papers regarding that. We need this kind of overarching objective. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it. This thing called half earth or nature needs half.

It’s a very kind of bold objective that says that we should set aside half of earth for nature.

Basically, I can see that is good to have kind of an overarching, very easy to understand objective.

Functional Traits

I acknowledge the benefits of economic valuation and I have done some projects I’m done. But as an ecologist, I know there’s a lot of things that can’t be valued economically. And one of the things people have been looking into is kind of Functional Traits for like soil, like earthworms, etc. soil organisms or macro invertebrates in the river.  I was interested previously in looking at Functional Traits, so people traditionally look at species as an ecologist. So how many species there is an ecosystem. But what people have been finding ecology is that Functional Traits are important to their body size.

Are they decomposing or what kind of specific thing the insect does in decomposition? And the research has been suggesting that we should be more concerned when a whole functional group goes extinct because then the services can’t be provided.

A case study for Nature Protection.
I’ve got a small case study, obviously, in China. So the lake system I worked on in China. It’s the third largest freshwater lake in China. There’s about four or five major cities around the lake. And what happened was there was so much pollution and urbanisation going around the lake that in 2007, people in one city had no access to tap water for about four or five days because there was a blue green algae bloom, basically that the lake constantly has been growing algae bloom. And it was only then I think the government realised that this is a really serious issue because they had to provide bottled water to the community for about four or five days. There was price inflation in the supermarkets and bottled water. And then they had to get people to clean the decomposing algae in the lake as well. So the whole massive event cost them, I think, billions of dollars to actually clean up.

And what some of the scientists later suggested is part of the reason could have been because a lot of the wetlands were reclaimed around the lake and the wetlands were destroyed. And if the wetlands had still remained as a buffer system for taking the pollutants out, then perhaps they wouldn’t have spent so much money trying to mitigate the risk after it happened. So I think with companies as well, they are looking at how do we prevent the risk from happening rather than let it happen. And then it will cost us a lot of money to actually repair the damage that’s been done.

Nature Capitals, Intrinsic Value and Relational Value.

As a researcher I am suggesting there’s multiple forms of value and not just economic value. And I think in terms of changing people’s perspectives or businesses or policy makers, I don’t think necessarily monetary valuation of either Natural Capital ecosystem services is going to do it. I think there has to be like a change in people’s values and opinions like inherent to the media. We’re trying to, I will say, improved a framework of Natural Capital concepts. So Natural Capital essentially, I think the value that’s coming out from there is instrumental value, basically kind of physical values. We can understand like providing water, providing food, etc. But there is also, like I said, with the intrinsic value.

So biodiversity I think has intrinsic value. You know, despite whether we are here or not that it does have a type of value. And lastly, which is this new type of value which is coming up, is called relational values. So how humans relate with nature and kind of how we make decisions about nature, either from kind of a moral or ethical perspective, regardless of whether nature has economic value.

This kind of moral, ethical imperative to protect nature. I think sometimes it does apply to even businesses. So a lot of businesses, they kind of want to have a good image and part of that good image is kind of doing environmental sustainability work. So that’s why I think Natural Capital, an eco-system services colony, is resonating quite heavily with a lot of the business sectors. As a traditional ecologist, I got into this because I love nature, but obviously working in China, I can see that the traditional approach was not working. A lot of businesses, they might not want to deal with biodiversity because even for scientists, it’s quite a complex concept.

Expanding the definition of sustainable business.

We need to work out a way that they need to be aware that biodiversity is important for their sustainable business. Previously, I did work with our local ecological knowledge in China, and the research kind of proved that we had a lot of experts going out to a remote region trying to find an endangered species and we couldn’t find them.

But I interviewed a lot of the ethnic minorities around there and they said, oh, we saw that species like two weeks ago in that river. And they helped me to map out where they’d seen the species. And it helped us to find the species.

Basically, there was a lot of different subject areas and research that needs to be done. That includes not only natural scientists, bills, shows from scientists, economists, accountants, even philosophers, so….

Connectivity to and in Nature

So obviously, you know, as a young ecologist to many years ago, my lecturers, you know, taught about kind of connectivity within the landscape. There is no point in setting aside, you know, national parks or no go zones if there is no connectivity, no corridors between them. This kind of threshold values that they having set for both of us. The I mean, there has been one which is January kind of 11 percent told percent of terrestrial errors should be protected as national parks, but actually the 10, even a 10 or 11 percent one.

It wasn’t based on scientific evidence. It was based on many years ago it in America. They decided that was this on sounded like a good number to protect national parks. And I think the current scientific evidence is showing that, you know, even like eleven percent, which we’re not hitting anyway in some areas is probably not enough.

Have some way that moved onto the half of kind of hypothesis, the kind of idea.

I think urban ecology is also a very important research area and that you can only consider the ones at national parks, but also the fact with urbanisation that people are losing their connectivity to nature. So even if we end up protecting everything in the national parks. But if everything is so urbanised, then children are not you know, they’re not exposed to nature. They’re losing connectivity to nature. They just like playing computer games. And they don’t see the point in protecting nature. I think in the future, it still won’t work.

END

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SOUND BRIDGE 

PAUL JEPSON

Paul Intro.

Yeah, hi, so my name’s Paul Jepson. I’ve been a conservationist all my life.

I’m currently working for a progressive consultancy called Eco Solis and I moved into the enterprise sector just recently, actually after 12 years directing Masters’ courses in the School of Geography at Oxford University.

Prior to that, I was a practitioner working for birdlife in Indonesia and I started my career in urban conservation in Manchester and Shrewsbury in the UK.

Paul Jepson.

 

Enterprise and conservation.

We now realise that there’s a big role for enterprise in rewilding, landscape restoration. There’s a new area which I’m involved in, which we’re developing, which is working at the intersection of landscape recovery, technology and finance. The configuration of conservation environmentalism does need to change. But if you all work together, you’re more than the sum of the parts.

Really, if we can have change, we need to, you know, increase employment market, if you like. That’s not happening with NGOs, but with technology and actually more distributed organisational types and ways of working. There’s a real opportunity for free enterprise there. We can work for in an entrepreneurial way, for nature, in the environment, in many different sectors.

And for me, the future and the influence comes from informal networks connecting different organisational types in different sectors, working with clients. It’s really looking at code, designing solutions with them, bringing the creative thinking which is encapsulated within rewilding into those conversations.

On Rewilding.

There’s a number of different ways of thinking about rewilding. I mean, my favourite is that it’s just it’s just a label, a label like maybe the labels hippie or punk or whatever, which signify an unsettling sort of reassessment of where we are, maybe a desire to shape up the future. But rewilding is doing that in terms of how we think about nature conservation, our relationship with the environment and so forth.

So, one way of thinking about it is just that new opportunity for people to engage and shape futures, shape futures of nature, the environment, our engagement with it. This is talking a little bit from a Western European perspective, but a lot of our nature conservation has been focussed on protecting conserving benchmark ecosystems or habitats as particular assemblages of plants, specific types of woodlands or grasslands or so forth. Or it’s been about protecting declining species and so forth.

A lot of it has been focussed on elements, units of nature and particular identities of nature. It’s enabled strong law, clear policy targets, management targets and so forth. I think this particularly long term ecology and the advances in that science, which have been enabled by technology, we’ve come to understand past ecosystems much better and come to understand that across much of the world, including Western Europe, grasslands and large herbivore assemblages or mixed wood pastures were the norm and they supported huge diversity and had great resilience and all of these sort of things.

But actually millennia ago, humans wiped out a lot of the big megafauna or we domesticated it. That actually we’ve been living in a world where we’ve internalised ecological impoverishment, both in our culture and in our institutions and in our conservation policy.

There isn’t one nature. There isn’t a pristine nature that there’s multiple past natures. What would happen if, to the extent we can we reassemble in Europe, the large herbivore assemblies?

So things which have been divided like, you know, we only know cattle and horses in the domestic livestock farming. We still have deer in the wild realm. What happens if we just reassembled them all together? There were some very pioneering experiments of this in the Netherlands.

It was quite extraordinary what is happening when this idea of rewilding is put into play. Amazing kickbacks of a nature rebounds at nature habitats on smaller ecosystems like freshwater ecosystems appearing in places which we never knew them. Species which we thought were rare, suddenly returning in abundance and much more dynamic natures. That’s the sort of scientific conservation identity of rewilding.

Us v European versions

And I suppose when we say, well, what does rewilding mean? It means different things to different people. The term originated in North America and there rewilding was much more tied up with concepts of wilderness and maybe Christianity and bring wolves back and top down trophic cascades in Western Europe.

The version of rewilding which I’m involved in is a very pragmatic version which says actually if we’re recovering and restoring nature, we can’t go backwards. We can only go forward so that the rewilding natures that emerge will be different from anything we’ve ever known before. But they’ll be equally as wonderful as nature before. But if we are shaping nature, we can actually shape those natures to solve current problems.

So there’s a very sort of integrated form of rewilding emerging in continental Europe. For instance, on the Dutch Delta, with climate change, there’s increased rain events, pulses of water coming down these huge rivers. But by taking out some dikes, buying a public cultural land a very pragmatic way, using the silt that brick building to re restore these sort of natural river braiding and channelling, bringing in natural grazing. So bringing in herds of of wild eyed horses, cattle, the introducing beavers, again, recreating those large mammal assemblies in these areas, you’re getting incredible nature. But cities and companies have been benefiting from lower flood management and insurance costs. The construction industry benefited from having a source of bricks. People have benefited from just having great areas where you can go and hang out and have a nice time at weekends. And then there’s tertiary tourism economies building of that. So you get these really lovely, neat systems starting to emerge.

Another example of a nature-based solution with rewilding is pragmatic. European version would be based in Portugal.

The kind of climate change adaptation at the centre of the IBM venture is getting drier. There’s rural the population, which is a loss of traditional herding. This is increasing biomass.

That’s leading to intensity of wildfires, which my goodness, what a problem.

But actually doing rewilding and bringing in natural grazing again, you reduce biomass load, so you induce the intensity of wildfires and then you get you can either use them as natural areas for tourism and sort of wilderness type areas or you could do sort of new pastoralist type economies on it. So that’s what distinguishes us as a species on this planet, is the fact that we have this third reality where a lot of what we do and how we act and how we think is shaped by narratives and stories and language and so forth. And many of these narratives, they, you know, they develop over time, they sediments over time, but they really do shape how we think and how we are, how we move ahead and how we relate to each other, of course.

Across the world we are seeing an increasing amount of wildfire outbreaks fuelled on by global warming, biodiversity collapse and climate unpredictability.

Emerging narratives
So I think it’s important we develop a narrative of nature and our relationship with environment, which was a really powerful narrative and it’s achieved much. But it actually is a very cautious and protectionist narrative such that we all sort of wanted to put nature out there and separate and fragile, maybe people who colleagues in other sectors, architecture, urban development, industry or whatever, they haven’t really seen nature as a force which we can engage with to shape futures or shape place based futures. It’s almost saying something is a bit less under threat. We need to put it aside or whatever in rewilding.

We’re seeing a different narrative emerging there that that narrative of empowerment. This is where we’re at. We can’t go back. There’s not a lot point in blaming people. Let’s just stop doing something to make things better. And then there’s narrative elements.

They often talk about pioneer action or people getting together and and through this, starting to reassess how we might do things. Values, world-views and bringing people on board and this sort of momentum.

So, much more of an interactive narrative from which emerges stories of of wellness, I suppose so adaptation, a word which comes to my mind, which you heard, is this notion of offsetting. You know, we offset harm, so companies do that. You know, they’re offsetting their carbon footprint. They’re doing biodiversity offsets. And that’s one way to do it, saying, well, OK. You know, we just feel a bit bad about things. So we’ll we’ll try and offset our impact elsewhere. OK, fine. But again, it’s not saying, well, you know what, I don’t want to feel bad for it. I want to be contribute to a vision and I want to be part of change. Many. Know. I think that’s what many people want.


A narrative of recovery

I woke up one morning. It’s a narrative of recovery. Just was in my head at my breakfast, quickly jumped on my bike, was down into the university and got onto the academic search engines and just started pushing narrative of recovery in two web of science and outputs.

This I mean, a massive amount of literature, but these papers are mental health recovery.

The crucial thing which really grappling me in the link between these narratives and the narratives I was hearing in in rewilding or this new environmentalism is rather than pressuring others to act on our behalf, which is part of the classic campaigning thing of environmentalism.

It was really like, you know, you can’t wait for a national health service or the doctors to sort yourself out. Just sooner or later, you’ve got to start taking responsibility for your own health. And that’s the always the epiphany people have.

And then you start engaging, you start acting, you start beginning just getting together and starting to make projects happen and finding that that new way, that wellness, that recovery in it. So it’s really interesting the term rewilding and how is the original ideas were more associated with classic sort of U.S. wilderness ideas. These ideas in Holland started under the term nature development, which was a sort of technocratic policy, and then the term rewilding has been applied to them all.

Now we talk about semantics, the re prefix. It can either, you know, its Latin origins, it can either mean back or again. And that’s really interesting, that difference. So, what we’re finding is that some people immediately see it as going back, you know, going back to a sort of more wilderness fortress conservation way outside, people telling people what to do.

But actually in this European one, it is really using the rivers again. So, we can re-find engagements with nature, connections with nature.

And it’s really interesting when you look at all of the reworks which the European rewilding seems to align with. So you could say that the way we use urban regeneration, regenerating urban areas is nothing like, you know, you don’t go backwards. It’s always going forward. They look quite different. The recovery, in a sense, you recover a song about injury. You might not ever be the same again, but you recover. How do we think about recovering Earth’s systems, of which we are part of it is the big international agreements and policies, but part of it is just as people getting going on things in their areas, in their competencies, in their places and through that getting this sort of bottom up momentum. We are friendly to the natural asset framework.

Nature Capital or Assets?

For me, capital is quite a linear type of thinking, often capitals. We think about capitals and then they can create flows, you know, so whether it be labour money or natural resources can be an input into a production service.

And sometimes it’s a bit divisive as well. And it sort of gives prominence or pre-eminence to economic logics, whereas assets and assets are actually a lot more meaningful.

I think to people. So, example I use is with culture, with human assets, with infrastructural assets, with institutional assets, and that’s what creates a natural asset. And some of those assets are already here. But we can’t think about restoring recovery and creating new natural assets and new natural assets which are part of that place. Building or place, rejuvenation, regeneration, whatever we whatever we want to call it.

You know, one of these nice things about the rewilding logic, it sort of releases you from baselines. You take inspiration from past nations to shape future natures.

You’re not trying to recreate something so that they create space for different groups to come together and to think about what forms of natural asset they may want and where those natural assets may be. I’ll give the example in the Netherlands that they needed new natural assets along their rivers to adapt to climate change or whatever. It might be in other areas that people are looking for new natural assets to have somewhere to go. Dog walking, which is quite popular in the UK or have somewhere to have a wild experience, somewhere which produces food in a more a healthier and more ethical way.

A dream project
I think the dream client is somebody who had or could create some space where you could do something pioneering contained areas where you’re doing something new, where you’re experimenting, just trying out things new. And people can come and talk about them. They can bring in people who are sort of more progressive, change agent can get involved in them.

They can be used as exemplars for adoption in wider society. I’m talking about innovation hubs, the nature.

A dialogue way, a code design way of changing and bringing about new environmental or new natural futures.

Pioneer demonstration, experimental projects approach. I think it’s a good way of yeah, co design. I think that’s the word co-production of Environmental Futures. With outlined a set of rewilding principles, so sort of guiding principles which aren’t prescriptive but very sort of characterise what rewilding is, so the fundamental of restoring ecological dynamics and processes, taking inspirations from past natures to shoot showed the futures working with restored forces of nature.

A strong sense of place

One of the things we do know from, you know, from theory Anderson’s imagined communities is that nature that nature is very good at place branding and given the sense of nature and this sense of territory and sense of community and belonging.

One of the interesting things is that if their novel, the new natures, which we’re creating, which they are, if we’re reassembling our church for and biotic diamonds. So if they’re not protected by nature conservation legislation because they don’t fit with that. So, you know, the more they become these free spaces and actually you can be much more relaxed about what people do in them. And again, this is happening in the Netherlands, where, if you like the most famous site, gather support. People are allowed just to do whatever they want in it. And of course, the interesting thing is because it’s dynamic and wild and this big stuff walking around. Most people tend to keep to the path. You become human again, you know, so like a bit scared. Nobody is telling you what to do. And if you want to go off. I mean, I did this once. If you want to go in and go off off the footpath and go in and get dirty, look for beavers and have a bit of an adventure, you can do it. But there’s very few people who do that.

We’re in an increasingly regulated society. Whatever the merits of it, there’s much more health and safety, we’re told, to look after ourselves as.

All of this, the opportunity just to get out into natural areas in your town where you can just do what you want. Social norms, rules and regulations. I mean, that that sounds to me to be valuable. It is an interesting thing about nature is that once you start helping it recover, it says thanks so fast.

Nature does have a force.

From anxiety to solutions.

In the 1990s, I worked in Indonesia and I set up the BirdLife International Program there, and for the first part I was working out in eastern Indonesia on parrot conservation, so forth. But then actually after I left that job, I started working as a consultants, mostly with the World Bank and a couple of NGO on on the Sumatran frontier.

And it was a pretty hard time in some mice that, well, two or three things were going on. Really? What one is, you know, you go to a forest area and you go six and play later. And the landscape was totally, totally trashed.

And a in almost turn down these roads, the roads and as swampy areas with just the skeletons of trees stood out.

There a bit harrowing, actually, I realise I mean, at the time I was sort of in this professional, I, you know, doing this sort of way, but it was getting to me partly maybe also got to me because I had such magical times in my backpacker days and tropical rainforests just feeling the aesthetic and the sheer beauty of it and the wonder of it.

You know, just feeling that’s been lost and been lost for it’s the frontier.

But then the other thing which really got me was to other things, really. One was the chaos international NGOs working at ministerial level, World Bank.

And this realisation that we had no control over the chaos of the frontier, just out of control. Big NGO sort of dropping off the real active engagement with the ground.

Well, I listened a bit to Radiohead, but I actually listened to okay, computer and sorted out. You should listen to this. And it just became the soundtrack of my life. And anybody who knows the okay computer algorithm will just know sort of wailing crescendos and then these really rock-hard guitar riffs. And it just became the soundtrack of my life. I think it’s going to be honest. I realise that that period I was I moved into a place where teaching the students then started talking back to us, not just me as selectors and say, look, we don’t want to hear all of this.

You know, all the evidence about the decline of nature and biodiversity loss and blah, blah. You know, we know things were in a bad way. We don’t want to be a future where we’re just defending the inevitable. And, you know, these images are smashing M.E. mind. You know, we want theory, ideas and learning so we can shape the future. And then as part of that, I started looking outwards and I found the work going on in the Netherlands and I started taking field trips out there and then came into this. It doesn’t all have to be like the Sumatran frontier.

Even though we may trash things, there is still opportunities for nature to recover and to work on nature recovery.

END

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SOUND BRIDGE

CREDITS

Tanya: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON NARRATIVES. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

Nordic by Nature is an Imaginary Life production. The music and sound have been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find Diego on diegolosa.blogspot.com.

Many thanks to our guests. You can find Tom Crompton on commoncausefoundation.org.
Paul Allen is at the Centre for Alternative Technology, on cat.org.uk.

Your can contact Dr. Yuan Pan’s through the Geography department at Cambridge university in the U.K. Her research into Natural Capital was with Professor Bhaskar Vira at The Cambridge conservation initiative. Please see cambridgeconservation.org. or contact the Natural Capital hub for more information into Natural Capital as well as organisation and company toolkits

Paul Jepson is currently Nature Recovery Lead at the consultancy Ecosulis. Their website is Ecosulis.co.uk.

You can contact Ajay Rastogi via foundnature.org where you can read about the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can also follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising for a new series of podcasts on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast. Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

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Reetu Sogani: ON KNOWLEDGE

Reetu Sogani appears on the Nordic by Nature episode ON KNOWLEDGE, together with Ajay Rastogi and Nadia Bergmani.

Listen here.

Reetu Sogani is a women’s rights activist, working on protection, strengthening and enhancing of Cultural and Biological diversity, its integration to address Food and Nutrition Security and building Climate Resilience, with gender and social inclusion perspective, in the remote areas of Himalayas as well as other parts of India. She has dedicated over 20 years of her life, working very closely with women and marginalised groups, using participatory and rights -based perspective on community-centric protection and strengthening of cultural and biological diversity, sustainable livelihoods and transformed gender-based outcomes on ownership and management of natural resources.

In 2013, Reetu addressed the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in New York as one of the 100 women global leaders from across the world — because of her work with grass roots communities, building awareness levels and capacities for a stronger foundation of local knowledge systems and practices, across the Middle Himalayan ranges and beyond, whilst supporting local organisations, net-working and lobbying for policy changes on the issue of Food and Nutrition Security, Climate Change and Sustainable Livelihoods, integrating People’s knowledge.

She also works as an advisor expert with various International and National organisations such as IDS (Institute of Development Studies, Sussex),Overseas Development Institute (ODI), CDKN, PAC (Practical Action Consulting) ,International Development Research Centre (IDRC), DFID(Department for International Development, IIED, ACTION AID, Government of India and state governments on these issues.

She has been nominated as a Resource Person with UGC (University Grants Commission- It is a statutory body set up by the Indian Union government responsible for coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education in India)- Human Resource Development Centre, and as a member of the Advisory committee of Women’s studies centre.

In a recent interview with the IIED or International Institute for Environment and Development, Reetu Sogani describes the special bond between women in India and the country’s natural resources – a connection that positions them as key preservers and managers of biodiversity. Despite this, women’s voices often go unheard in policies intended to support biodiversity conservation.

Reetu Sogani

Reetu is also the Honorary Program Director of Chintan International Trust—as well as a development practitioner, researcher and advisor on gender, traditional knowledge, food and nutrition security and climate change in the Middle Himalayan ranges of India.

She has been working in this remote region for the past 15 years, focusing on the issue of people’s rights to their own resources, knowledge systems and protection of cultural and biological diversity. Using a gender-, participatory- and rights-based approach, Sogani works to mainstream knowledge and rights into policies and programs of governance, particularly as they relate to climate change and community food and nutrition security, in close partnership with women and Indigenous communities at the grassroots level

Above: A 20 minute film (forest and seeds) has been made by organisation Fondazione Feltrinelli (2015) on the achievements of women leaders in the regions I have been  working with since 2000 on Gender, Natural resource management and food security. It is being shown on various international forums including EXPO ITALY 2015.

Above: The above film from 2015 was made by CDKN, on “Women and Climate Change” It spotlights some of the women groups with whom Reetu has worked with since 2001 on the issue of forestry and sustainable agriculture, and food security. This work has received national recognition and acknowledgement.

Reetu’s work with women’s groups continues to gain local and international press coverage:

The Hindi Business Online  wrote about women leaders helping women farmers grow local crops using sustainable agri practices.

Transcript of Podcast Interview.

REETU SOGANI

REETU INTRO.

My name is Rita Sogani, and I have been living in the in the hills in the State of Uttarakhand in India, for the last 20 years, and have been working very closely with the grassroots community, especially women and that marginalised community on the issue of traditional knowledge systems and practices.

The work primarily is about how to protect and conserve the traditional knowledge systems and practices which exist in the area of agriculture, forest, water, natural resources. How to strengthen the knowledge system, and how to promote the knowledge system as one of the important base of livelihood of people here.

Reetu Sogani with women in the Himalayan foothills.


ON TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE

When we talk of traditional knowledge, then what we mean is the knowledge that people have been accumulating, have been experiencing, have been observing, for centuries together, actually.

It’s an oral tradition, you know, which has been handed down the generation, from the one generation to another orally. It’s not documented. It’s not coded.

For example, how to grow or agriculture, in very hilly area which is around 1500 meters or 1500 meters to 1700 meters. The kind of soil that we have here how to use that soil in growing different kind of crops, how to manage the forest sustainably, but at the same time also use it in such a way that we have it for the generations later on.

That knowledge that people have, is something that they have a have heard their parents or grandparents speak about.

In other words, it’s just common sense.

REETU ON GENDER ROLES
When I started working the hills in 1998, I had absolutely no idea of what the situation is as far as the local knowledge in the hills is concerned.

I had no idea how it is connected with women and men.

It’s the women actually in the hills who have been very closely connected with the natural resources, be it forest, be it agricultural, be livestock management, be it even health related practices, governed by food items and herbs.

The roles and responsibilities of women are such that they stay in the house, and they carry out all the activities close to the house, you know, which are connected with natural resources. So, agriculture in the hills is not just connected with land, or is not just connected, you know, with growing crops. It’s very closely connected with forest, very closely connected with of course water, very closely connected with livestock.

So, she is the one who is very closely connected with all these sectors, and she is the one who is interacting with them on day to day basis.

She knows what grows where, what leaf should be used if the goat actually has indigestion. Or how the compost is prepared, and how those leaves can be used for the preparation of compost.

So, she is the one who has been interacting with all these ideas, and so she has the knowledge, and she has the skill; first-hand knowledge and first-hand knowledge systems and practices in these sectors.

ROLE OF MEN

Men definitely they are also contributing in agriculture but only in couple of activities. But of course this is a general picture but men mostly prefer to work outside in the villages, or outside, they migrate to the towns or sometimes they migrate to the main towns like Delhi, Bombay and other places, to bring in money.

In fact, the hill economy is also called the money order economy, where the money actually comes in through this money order or through the check, and many people in the hills have also joined the army.

So, it’s the women who has been associated with agriculture and related areas.

One of the research institutions came out with this figure of 98.5 percent, 98.5 percent of the work relating to agriculture is being carried out by women.

Land and forestry management is in the hands of women. Shown here, the women of Majkhali take compost to the fields.

 

REETU ON WOMENS VIEW OF HEALTH

I ask this question from one of the women as to ‘how do you describe health? The word health’

She gave me such a beautiful and different answer.

She said: The animal that you see is still important for health. The kind of crop that we are growing and the methods we are using. That is also connected to the water that we are using. That is also connected with health, what I’m eating and how I’m eating is also connected with my emotional health.

She said, it’s so difficult to describe because all the things around me, are contributing to health, and the air that I’m breathing in, you know, that is also part of health. The forest is responsible. The trees are responsible.

So, she described health in such an integrated and holistic way. That was my first lesson actually.

I mean, if you asked this question from any doctor or any person in the urban area, he or she would say health is the absence of illness. ‘I don’t have any illness.’ How compartmentalised our approach has become, you know in comparison to how people think.

REETU ON CHANGE

And when it comes to women we have to work at various levels. It’s not just at the grassroots level but we have to work at various policymaking levels. Even the grassroots level is very important there, women are not able to make their voices heard even in the local self-governance bodies.

Because of the kind of roles and responsibilities they have they don’t have time, they’re not supposed to be seen in those decision-making forums and processes, because they believe that they’re not supposed to be here. They’re supposed to be doing their household chores.

So that kind of mindset actually has to change, and gender sensitisation has to come about at all levels. Also, at the household level. It’s not something that is very easy, but it’s happening now.

Last year we had a meeting at the state level, in which we had invited the government officials, of not just our state but of the nearby states also, and there were several organisations, Forest department was also there, Agriculture Department was also there- I was so happy to see Parvati who is a wonderful farmer, extremely knowledgeable, spokesperson of our forest Committee, standing there in front of everybody and telling people ‘we want traditional crops we will grow really traditional crops, we will not use any of the chemical fertilisers that you  people from promoting because of these, these and these reasons.

REETU ON WOMEN FARMERS  LAND RIGHTS

One of the other issues which I have not mentioned actually right now, but which is very closely connected to the women farmers; they are doing the majority of the work related to farming, they are actually not known as farmers. They’re not recognised legally, administratively and even socially as farmers, simply because they don’t have land in their name.

It’s really sad. It’s very deeply sad and very ironical I would say.

If you take into consideration Nepal, India, and Thailand, not even 17 percent of the total landholdings actually belong to women. And these are the areas where women contribute maximum to the agricultural economy.

There is still such a tough battle going, on because the land does not get inherited by women. But it has very serious implications on her work, on her capabilities, or no capacity building, on his skills.

Because she is not recognised as farmers, it’s only men who are being invited to the workshops by the government, by any other organisation. Women don’t have access to credit. They don’t have access to the government.

The first thing they ask for is to have the land title in your name, and with increasing migration, and reduced access to resources, the condition of the women has actually worsened over the years, I would say.

We have a big network. This is called Mahela dichotomous that is ‘women farmers rights’. And we are doing everything possible to influence the government, to change the land inheritance rules to include women, which will take many, many years because land is a very important source of power.

But at the same time at least I recognise them as cultivators. At least recognise them as cultivators — at least give them the right to be able to access the bank, and access the credit, whenever they want to.… to access the government, the schemes, the government schemes should not be asking only for the land titles but they should be asking the name of the cultivator. I think it’s very much possible.

This is making the life of the woman very difficult and it has made the situation worse actually over the years because with the decision making vested in absent men, it becomes so difficult to make good important decisions at the right time.

Work relating to agriculture continues to be done by women, but without any decision making it becomes difficult for her, you know, to carry it on for her. Pretty frustrating, very frustrating.

EXAMPLE OF ADMINISTRATION FAILURE

One of the women from our area she had gone to the bank and she was just filling up one form. I think she was opening an account and there was this column that said what is your profession?

She wrote farmer, and the bank officials refused to accept it. He said “You are not a farmer, you are a housewife.”

She had the understanding, she had the business, and also some confidence when she was with other women also there. She said: “I’m a farmer, you have to put down my name because I’m the farmer, I’m the one who is tilling the land, I’m the one who is cutting, I’m the one who is weeding, I’m the one who is harvesting, how can you not call me a farmer. I will not delete the word farmer.

I will continue to use the word farmer. He had to accept it. He did accept it! She was only opening a bank account.

The gender sensitisation hasn’t taken place at that level. So that’s why I’m saying administratively she is not recognised as farmers.

She is still considered to be somebody who is carrying out only the household chores. Her unpaid work; be productive, or be reproductive, or be it caring responsibility, is not being recognised, it is not visible is not being acknowledged.

Here, widows get the right to land title, once their husbands pass away, you know. Parvati also mentioned this in that meeting, in the keynote speaker speech. She said “As long as a husband alive, you know, we have no right over land. Only when he dies, when he passes away, only then we are allowed to have the right over land.”

It hit them really hard. Even the rule which is in favour of them in an actual reality they’re not recognised not just legally but also administratively. It’s the structural change you need to bring about. It’s just that it is the system which responsible for this state of affairs. It is connected to globalisation.

REETU ON FILM BY CDKN

The biggest NGO working globally. On climate change. [00:11:23] Climate Development Knowledge Network, made a film on these women who are part of our group, and the title of the film I think is ‘Missing Women in Decision Making’ and these very women video recorded themselves, as to what they’re doing, how they’re doing, how it is connected with climate change, how it is actually helping them mitigate, how it is helping them adapt themselves.

Women with me have gone to Malaysia and in Malaysia they have spoken about these very things, they have shared their experiences their opinion their needs, their priorities, everything.

We have settled myopic way of looking at things, interconnectedness with nature.

This is what interconnectedness is.

I mean it’s not about just interdependence it’s also about cooperation. People are interdependent. But more than interdependence there is this cooperation, amongst these then villages of the micro watershed around these sectors.

View of Mountains from Majkhali Village, The Vrikshalaya Centre.

Traditional knowledge is not just about technique. It’s not just about practices. It’s about a very integrated interconnected interdependent system you know, which runs through people’s cooperation, which again actually is on the decline.

The social cohesion, the value for the simplicity, you know, the value of the equilibrium all these values, they were very, very integral part of our traditional system, or way of life. And all of these values they make people more resilient. Social cohesion was such an important aspect of people’s lives fiscally those were more modern life like for example.

Diversifying Crops

We have a practice in the hills called Palta, P A L T A (spells it out) — which means that people contribute in each’s labour.

People from not just my household, would contribute, but people from the other households in my village, would contribute, as well as from other villages also.

And the same would happen, I would go and contribute, my whole day, the entire day you know. In carrying out that activity. And this would help mostly those people single women. Women whose husbands or who’s the men folks have migrated, but they’re not… they’re not…there. And the elderly couple households.

So social resilience and social cohesion and all these values actually increase people’s resilience. But unfortunately, that kind of agriculture that we are following now makes people very individualistic.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO

I think one of the important things that we have to do is do to have our resources to have belief in our resources, and to strengthen the existing biological diversity, and the cultural diversity, whatever little remains of it.

It’s not that it’s impossible because I worked in certain areas in the hills for the last ten years twelve years and people have changed. I mean they have brought about changes in their food diet, they have brought about changes in their agricultural system. And we are not going to those areas anymore.

The experience that they have already you know, and the awareness that they have is enough actually to last for a very long time. And also, it could get transferred to their children. They’re also growing cash crop, but at the same time they’re also getting finger millet.

They are buying things from the market but at the same time they have their agriculture to fall back on.

ON BIODIVERSE FARMING

Biodiversity based ecological farming, mixed cropping system, done organically– They can also produce much more, not just equivalent to chemical intensive farming. This is one great disbelief that people have, the government have, is that chemical intensive farming can feed the mouths of the increasing population, and organic farming can’t.

This is all wrong actually, and so many studies are there to prove it otherwise. I would not call it organic farming, but biodiversity based, ecological farming. In balance with the nature.

Because organic farming can also promote mono cropping which is happening actually.

Organic farming is just one component of biodiversity based ecological farming. When it comes to chemical intensive farming of course, the adverse impacts are quite well known, and even the government of Uttarakhand and other state governments are not promoting chemical intensive farming anymore, but they are promoting organic farming.

We are talking about biodiversity, also, you know in the farming and the ecological farming

keeping in balance you know with the ecology the surrounding ecology, which is most important.

ON ORGANIC FARMING

Organic farming can also promote mono cropping. Organic farming only talks about cropping system which is minus chemicals, minus synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

That is one important component of the farming system that we are talking about, but we are also talking about mixed cropping system, which would take care of the health of not just the soil but also of course take care of the health of the livestock and also take care of the health of the human beings, because it will ensure availability and access to food and nutrition at all things of the year.

ON 9 CROPS

We have a practice of growing nine different kinds of crops in one single season during the rainy season. And these different crops are about Grains, Spices, Oil seeds, different pulses, all these nine different kinds of crops would grow in one single field, in one single season and it will get harvested of course at different times of the year but it will ensure availability of some food you know in the household at any time of the year.

Now the studies have also proved that both of us based ecological farming on mixed cropping system done organically will take care of not just the production but also of the health aspect.

We have the studies and we have the data that can prove, you know, that their production can be higher than the production of mono cropping. Done just next to that field.

ON NUTRITION

The amount of nutrition which is coming out of that one acre of land and it’ll be much more in comparison to the mono cropping which is growing this next that the one acre of land in one year it is able to absorb two thousand pounds of carbon in a year. Where are doing mixed cropping organically. In comparison to chemical intensive farming which actually releases 300 pounds of carbon per acre, per year.

Considering the global warming which is taking place, it is very, very important to also come up with ways for mitigation; mitigating strategies are much more important and unfortunately nobody talks about it because it is connected with again you know big corporations.

It is connected again with fertiliser companies and nobody is invested in mitigation right now.

Nobody is talking about agriculture which is a very big contributor of carbon emission but can be a very important strategy to sequestrate the carbon, prevent it from emitting, and also absorb the carbon which is in the atmosphere.

Agriculture done this the mixed cropping done organically is considered to be the only way through which we can do carbon sequestration at a very fast rate.

This is in total contrast to the policies of the government which is talking about monoculture, growing only pine trees in the forest area, and also promoting mono cropping.

I think we have to have a very multi-pronged approach you know, the statistics are also important in certain areas, and case studies are equally important.

Transplanting rice in Majkhali

CONVINCING MEN

The village women I had been working with constantly since 2001. They already had been a witness. They had some difficulty to convince the menfolk actually at the household level.

But gradually they interacted with a mentor also and they also started coming to our meetings. We made them interact with few people who have never switched over to chemical intensive farming and make them use their experiences.

We did workshops for them. He showed them video films we showed them many educational documentaries. We took them out on educational trips to some people renowned people who have been working on saving seeds for many, many years. Made them interact with other groups also working on these issues.

We took a walk actually for five days through different parts of Uttarakhand, and they interacted the different communities they exchanged you know their experiences, they heard about their experiences, and gradually they finally got the confidence to do what all of us had been talking about.

They shifted from chemical intensive farming, to gradually organic farming and the mono cropping to mixed cropping. Surrounding villages have also actually turned, after having seen them you know after having heard their experiences, they have also gradually turned organic, and they have also gone back you know to those mixed cropping systems, through their interaction so they have become kind of leaders actually in all the.

The government of Uttarakhand declared itself organic many, many, many, many years ago but it has not created any market where farmers can actually sell it organic produce. That’s a big challenge too. It’s not that they have no idea. It’s not that they have no awareness. They know that that middle person actually the takeaway a major chunk of profit, you know, and the farmers are not able to reach the market.

That struggle is still going on, but at the same time in parallel, there are women’s federations and they are selling them now in the market to different outlets. And do value addition packaging, labelling, everything and then sell in different outlets.

This could be the government outlet as well as some other private outlets.

That is happening and that is adding to their income.

They’re also catering to the urban taste you know by having single malt cake or finger millet biscuits. Over the last two three years their children have started offering this local produce.

The things that they were used to eating from outside.

I think in India we have the civil society is quite strong, and the women’s groups are also very strong.

SELF AUTONOMY

To self-reliance self-confidence and self-esteem; these are all connected.

So we can’t say that everything in the name of knowledge, which we have inherited, which has come down the generations. is good and very effective. Many of the things that are effective but some of the things are not very effective. Maybe because the situation has changed now, so a good amalgamation, a very balanced amalgamation of local knowledge with the new knowledge also needs to be done from time to time, now, to address people’s emerging needs and requirements.

The most important thing in the amalgamation is: Who is controlling the knowledge? The point of control. It has been a gradual dependence of people on the market. Self-reliance Self Sustenance. Has. Been replaced with total dependence. And that actually has an impact on the self-confidence and self-esteem of people. When we talk of local knowledge. And the replacement of local knowledge. People lose out on this self-confidence the self-esteem and self-reliance.

You should be looking like us it could be an institution it could be a country it could be a civilization, could be a region it could be a section of community it could be market, and a particular section in the market, and it could be an advertising agency who wants you to look like people they are advertising.

We lose identity we lose address we lose the language we lose our food we lose our systems we lose our knowledge we lose their practices and we lose ourselves completely. Lose autonomy, lose autonomy, lose our freedom.

END

——————————————

Reetu Sogani would like to thank the women of Chak Dalar and Chama Chopra in the Bheerapani area, in Nainital district. The women in Talla Gehna in Nainital district. And the women in Tola area in Almora district.

 

 

 

Episode 8: ON KNOWLEDGE Transcript

Podcast episode 8: ON KNOWLEDGE

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Introduction:

TANYA:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

This episode, ON KNOWLEDGE, features two guests who have dedicated their life’s work to enabling marginalised communities protect their own resilience, whilst net-working and lobbying for policy changes around the issue of Food and Nutrition Security, Climate Change, Sustainable Livelihoods, and integrating People’s knowledge into bioregional development.

But first you will hear a few words from my colleague Ajay Rastogi, at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. Ajay works closely with the women of Majkhali village in foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttrakahand, India. He set up the Vrikshalaya Centre there to be a meeting place and knowledge hub for the villagers and other communities in the Himalayan lowlands, as well as foreign visitors and homestay guests interested in more meaningful forms of sustainability.

We then hear from Nadia Bergamini who works at Bioversity International. Nadia also lives on and runs an organic, biodynamic farm together with her husband, in the countryside, outside of Rome.

At Bioversity International, Nadia collaborates with the Satoyama Initiative, helping communities all over the world develop strategies to strengthen their social and ecological resilience, and maintain the diversity of the landscapes’ agro-ecosystems, species and varieties.

You will then hear from Reetu Sogani, women’s rights activist who is working on strengthening and evolving Cultural and biological diversity, and its integration to address Food and Nutrition Security and build Climate Resilience, in the remote areas of Himalayas and other parts of India. Reetu has addressed the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in New York as one of the 100 women global leaders from across the world.

I hope you have time to sit back, relax and listen.

AJAY RASTOGI

I’m Ajay and calling in from Uttrakhand State. I have been a colleague of Reetu for last 7 years.

We have worked with the local small farmers here and we are aware of the beautiful work of Nadia at the Biodiversity International.

There is so much in the natural world that we are forgetting on a daily basis. The interconnectedness of the species and the knowledge systems within the landscape is something that’s getting diminished every minute, if we can say.

Close to 80 percent of all crop or food diversity is on the brink of extinction. Having said that, it’s a hope that is provided by the work of Nadia and of people like Rita who look at the policy level as well as at the grassroots level. The food cultures, the fibres for our making, our house for making our everyday life.

Things are also getting lost.

Ajay Rastogi at the Vrikshalaya Centre

The big question is, are we only thinking of biodiversity as food or are we thinking of it as a celebration of life? Each seed is life.

Somehow the work that we used to do with our own hands is considered a bit undignified at the moment. And that’s why the connection of the consumers with where the things are produced is getting longer and longer. And there is a certain level of disconnect.

That disconnect is not just about the value of the food. The nutrition of the food. But it’s also a disconnect about how those small farmers survive. What do they need? What is the kind of systems that we need to put in place in those landscapes so that the diversity could continue to flourish?

With the climate change, there is a lot under challenge.

Although the world is waking up at large to address the issue of climate change. But it is the resilience of the knowledge systems that we have for thousands of years. Developed in particular landscapes, those species, those varieties of crops which have survived these thousands of years of evolution in the particular landscapes, they are the ones which will really be the resilient species. And Reetu’s work, and also Nadia’s work speaks of that volumes about it in their experimentation, as well as in how the knowledge is being generated.

The beauty in their work is about experience learning. It’s something which has evolved and is done on the soil by hands together with the farming community.

Ajay Rastogi welcomes to the Vrikshalaya Himalayan centre, the home of the trees!

Often the argument is made that the lands are so fragmented and so small that the farming which can be supported in those lands will not be either viable for the livelihoods of the small farmers. And at the same time will not meet the scale that the growing human population needs to meet its food demands.

However, it seems very unlikely because what we have seen that when we grow diversity in smallholders’ farmers’ fields, there is much more energy production that takes place and much more diversity of food sources that we get out of it even now.

Although we may be claiming that the food culture has converted to industrial supplies and larger value chains of concentration where the food is processed and provided to the urban consumers through supermarkets, even there, if we see where is the production coming from, we find that more than 70 percent of the production is still dominated by small producers, which is being put together and processed.

And then we feel that the scale has been achieved. One of the farmers once mentioned to me and I have never forgotten that sentence. He said whosoever the person, maybe even the president of India, let us see. But he still has to eat three meals a day and that three meals I provide. So that is the level of respect that the small farmer deserves from all of us.

NADIA BERGAMINI

NADIA INTRO

Hello, my name is Nadia Bergamini. And I work as a research specialist for Bioversity International in Rome.

Bioversity International is a Global Research for Development Organisation, ugh, and that is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. And this group is a partnership of 15 different research centres that work for a food secure future, and these 15 centres collaborate with hundreds of partners across the whole globe.

Biodiversity International’s vision is to have agriculture biodiversity that nourishes people and sustains the planet. So, when we talk about agriculture biodiversity here, we intend the diversity of crops including the wild relatives, including trees, animals, but also microbes, and all the species that contribute to the production in agriculture.

Sound: meditation bell

Nadia Bergamini

NADIA BIODIVERSITY INTRO

So, there’s a lot of diversity within an ecosystem. And we look at diversity from a species, but also from a genetic point of view. So, our mission instead is to deliver the scientific evidence, but also management practices, policy options in order to use and safeguard agriculture and tree biodiversity to attain sustainable global food and also nutrition security.

So basically, we work with the partners in many different countries around the world, mostly low-income countries where agriculture and tree biodiversity can actually contribute to improved nutrition, but also livelihoods, resilience and also productivity, and help in adaptation to climate change.

Usually these low-income countries are also the countries where we find most of the agricultural and tree biodiversity.

NADIA BIODIVERSITY COLLABORATION

Since 2018 December 2018 we have been collaborating with another of these centres which is a Centre for Tropical Agriculture which is based in Cali in Colombia. And we have actually signed a memorandum of understanding to create an alliance. So, the two organisations will actually be working together much more strongly because we have very similar agenda and very similar mandates. So, we actually are going to complement the work of one Institute with the other.

So, this is sort of a future for us as well.

NADIA GLOBAL CHALLENGES– STAPLE FOOD

So why is the work that we do important because we know that the global population is growing, and we have predictions that say that by 2000 10 in 2050 we will be 9 million people in the world or even more. And this means that we need to feed all these people, and the food availability needs to actually expand in this especially in developing countries.

We actually facing a lot of global challenges like the challenge to reduce global malnutrition to adapt to climate change but also to increase as we said productivity and reduce risk, and also to address shrinking food diversity which is happening all over the world, and reduce the negative impacts of agricultural production on natural ecosystems.

And we think that production needs to focus on a diverse range of nutritious foods, which come from production systems that are highly biodiverse. We think that it’s better to increase their production in these type of systems rather than increase the volume of the few staple grains that presently cover 50 percent of the world’s energy intake.

And these grains are rice wheat and maize.

We are actually convinced that using on safeguarding agricultural and also tree biodiversity can help meet all these challenges.

And also, we know that farm households unruly corn wheat communities which are the people we work with have long since used agriculture and tree biodiversity to diversify their diets, to manage pests and disease, and also weather-related stress. The problem is that in the past policymakers and researchers have never considered these types of approaches as economically viable. Research has never gone into this direction or very marginally. But recent scientific evidence that has demonstrated that actually agriculture and tree biodiversity used in combination with novel technology, and also approaches, can offer a lot in addressing all these challenges.

It also brings increasing recognition as a tool to achieve a global sustainable development goals. which we’re all working towards.

NADIA SMALL SCALE PRODUCTION & DIVERSE

We work with agricultural biodiversity, so as I said, we promote small scale production that is highly diverse. So not only diverse in number of species that are that are cultivated, but it could be also diverse in the number of varieties of the same species.

For example, we work a lot with the farmers in Africa who cultivate beans. And what we have seen is that cultivating on the same field, different varieties of beans can actually reduce the impact of pests and diseases on the production systems.

So, we actually promoting genetically diverse systems because they actually much more adapted to climate change because they have a lot of more variety and there’s much more than great opportunity for some of the right varieties to perform well in different environmental conditions.

NADIA ON MILLET

We work a lot also with university and research institutes in these countries. We also work in preparing university curricula on agro-biodiversity. For example, we have a big program on the so called the neglected and under-utilised species which Millet is one of these species.

What we have done in the projects working with the with these species is actually to show what are the advantages for the farmers to cultivate these species, because they are actually proven to be more adapted to marginal environments. So, for example in India we have been working with minor millets and some areas of India are really facing a lot of heat and drought problems. And we have seen that some of these minor millets are really adapted to these environments.

They can thrive under low input and stress stressful growing conditions, that usually limit the productivity of staple crops. And they’re also highly nutritious. So they can actually contribute to healthier diets. And they also have a lot of potential for development as novel consumer products because we also engage with local private sectors and try to find ways to make these produce more attractive to young to young people but also to adults creating new recipes and way of presenting millets, for example in cookies or other plates.

And also, it is important to conserve these neglected and under-utilised species because they are also linked with the local culture and traditions. We know that by strengthening the use of these conservation and the use of these species we are also strengthening local identities. And we also contributing to empower marginalised communities.

NADIA ON LOCAL CULTURE  & WOMEN

Yes, we have a program on, on specifically on gender and trying to see the different roles that men and women play within the agricultural sector in especially in these low-income countries. And we have actually seen that although women often are not included in decision making. They actually play a very important role in managing farms. Women are usually engaged in cultivating the so-called home gardens and there where they usually select different varieties of medicinal plants but also condiments and which actually compliment a lot for the health and also for the diets of the whole household.

And women are also very much involved in selecting seeds. So usually when they have to choose the seeds that they would like to plant for the next season women are involved in this activity because they are also the ones who usually have to prepare food and so they they know which type of characteristics the different crops need to have the they know which beans Cook in less time which have a better taste which are better for some dishes or others or even the importance of some of the varieties for specific traditions or rituals or festivals.

So, the role of women is really is very important in maintaining this diversity within the household and also in ensuring more diversity in the nutrition of the or the household itself.

NADIA ON SYRIA
We have been working also on this because the situation in Syria is so dramatic and it’s so terrible and it’s really an extreme example of what can happen to people in a war situation but actually traditional knowledge and local knowledge is being lost all over the world because of globalisation because of a lot of times because of modern technology and so on and so we work towards trying to conserve this.

NADIA ON PROGRAMS/ REGISTRIES / RECIPES

This local knowledge and making sure that is it is transmitted to the younger generation. So, we have programs working with schoolchildren. But we also encourage communities to conserve. For example, biodiversity registries. So they have at the community level and they will keep a registry where they will note down all the diversity that is in their community all the different traits that different crops have and what they use for how they are managed on farm and this information is very important to keep at the community level and to make sure that is it is then transmitted to the younger generations because we also seen a big pro black problem that is that sort of migration to cities so younger generations also eating the agricultural systems to go on and look for jobs in the cities.

But not only agro-biodiversity registries is important to sort of keep track of this knowledge. We also work with the seasonal calendars where communities themselves will list all the different products that they are available during the different season in a year. And together with the name of the crop and the characteristics there is also different information on how it’s used for example.

And we also try to have community members especially women write their own recipe books. So, we have worked a lot in Central Asia with producing booklets that report all the different recipes. We have done this also in Cuba where we have all traditional recipes which are not known at all in the cities. And so this is also a way to keep this this knowledge alive.

NADIA ON GLOBAL NETWORKS

There are different networks that can be that can be used to share information. I was thinking of one that is the platform for agro-biodiversity research, which is actually hosted year in Bioversity International, and it is a network where anyone who is interested in agro-biodiversity can sort of link to and also put any type of information that they would like to share with other people.

And it’s actually a global network. So, this could be a way to share information. Obviously, language can be a barrier. We tend to stick to English, French and Spanish, but not even always we manage to do translations into French and Spanish. So, language can be a barrier. But I think networks of this type can be a good a good solution. Also, if communities have access to internet because it’s not always it’s not always the case.

NADIA ON URBAN ENVIRONMENTS, e.g. CUBA

We did have a small program looking at um from rural to urban looking at also gardens and the creation of a vegetable gardens in urban environments. A lot of times we are trying to link the rural sector with the urban ones so that there is a sort of mechanism that products can flow directly from the agricultural sector to the cities.

We have seen for example that in Cuba there is a problem with the food supply and that is basically linked to the fact that transport is very bad there, and farmers are connected to the to the government. So the government cooperatives are other ones who go round the different farms to collect the produce that they want but not all the products are requested. So, a lot of the fruit that is produced, for example, in the farms, is then wasted because there is no market with the government cooperatives.

So that for example we have worked together with the Urban and Suburban Program which in Cuba is very strong, to try to create local markets that actually can be supplied directly by the farmers, and it’s working quite well because people in the cities are actually very interested in getting fresh produce, and also varieties that they are not used to have in the cities.

NADIA ON HER FARM

In actual fact I have a farm myself. So my husband is is a farmer and we have an organic farm not very far from where where I work. We have seen changes in climate of a very short period of time. I mean we have been we have been cultivating for maybe 15 years and it’s really very difficult to predict what’s going to happen, and to know when you have to plant you your crops because you might have a cold spell, you might have a lot of rain, or it may be very hot and dry so the only way to overcome these problems is actually to have a bigger array of diversity where you can choose from. And so, if you cultivate different types of tomatoes that have that are resistant to two different biotic and abiotic stresses then you might have a better chance of picking some of the tomatoes at the end of the season.

So I mean this is the only way that we can actually go, and I would say that Italy we’re very fond of our food and so we still have quite a lot of connection with the land, and a lot of young people are sort of going back to farming maybe because it’s difficult to find other jobs, a job that that can with which you can actually survive both because you work you can eat your own food, but also because it’s actually there’s quite a lot of requests for fresh organic foods here in Italy. Yes.

Farms in Europe I would say have to differentiate their income so It’s not only farming but usually it’s also a transformation of some of the products, or even restaurants or having school activities. So taking sort of educational plans with schools so schools come to the farm they actually do some experience. They do some work and they and the kids actually see where their food comes from. Yes, this is quite common.

The market has just a certain amount of space and I don’t think everyone can sort of go towards agro-tourism because the market at least here is quite saturated at the moment. Yes.

DIVERSIFICTION = RESILIENCE

This idea of diversification is what we also call resilience. And we have been working quite a lot on this with also with other partners around the world. And one of them was the Satoyama Initiative which is an international partnership made up of a lot of different institutes from all over the world, who have come together basically to work on the so-called social ecological production landscapes or seascapes, because the idea of conserving nature without human beings is actually an idea that doesn’t work anymore.

We have seen that all this all the ecosystems of the world have been altered in somehow by human beings. And a lot of these systems have core evolved with human beings. So, they have been shaped by their activities. But they also have to withstand the test of time. So, a lot of these systems are actually still producing and still sustaining the livelihoods of the people working on these systems. What we have tried to do is actually to understand what has made these systems resilient over such a long period of time.

And we have seen that resilience is actually depends a lot both from a social and ecological point of view on the diversification. So, the same definition of social ecological production landscape is in fact of a mosque a mosaic of different land uses and habitats. So, for example village’s farmlands, grasslands, forests, pastoral lands, and coasts that have been for old and maintained through the interaction between people and nature in a sustainable way.

Satoyama Initiative Framework

And we call them Satoyama, we call them social ecological production landscapes. There are other programs that work with these types of systems on a landscape level. Resilience is actually linked to the capacity of these systems to adapt and to change to the changing conditions. But maintaining their sort of main functions and their main structure.

and so as I was saying we have been working with a lot of these type of landscapes and the communities that live in these in these landscapes and we have seen that to increase resilience they need to have a lot of agriculture to maintain a lot of agricultural biodiversity that

Local culture and knowledge is extremely important that also diversification of farming income is increasingly important so that they don’t depend only on one sector and this can be done through ecotourism it can be done through artisanal work or differentiating the sources of income through different types of activities that are ways that still are sustainable for the environment.

And this is why then in the end we developed a series of indicators, social resilience indicators that were actually developed to do this to measure resilience within these systems. But these indicators are a sort of a participatory approach so they are they are mostly I would say qualitative more than quantitative indicators. And it’s the communities themselves that assess the resilience of their own of their own systems, because resilience to them it might be different from what we see as resilient.

They all have their own world views. They have their own aspirations and might see things in a different way. For example, one of the indicators that comes to my mind is that we look at infrastructure within the landscape and often as a Westerner we might think that they lack a lot of primary facilities that for us would be essential like, for example. electric power. But some of these communities are actually interested in different things on electric power for them was not their primary concern.

So it’s interesting to use this this approach because you actually have the communities himself assess what they think and what they see they see as resilient in their system, and then they are able also to work on their landscape and try to improve the resilience through different type of activities.

So, resilience is the capacity to learn and adapt to the changes. So, a system is resilient not when it stays in its own stages for a long period of time it’s not conserving a museum for example but it’s a dynamic there. We’re talking about dynamic systems that change over time. But the capacity to learn and adapt for changes and the base has to be a rich system in biodiversity wild and natural biodiversity. Governance is important within the systems culture needs to be something that we tried to conserve. And those are the sort of the local ways style of life and so on and on and at the same time introducing also technology, I mean we’re not trying to if technology is useful in these situations it’s a good thing.

Equity, participation are absolutely fundamental. Yes.

——————————

REETU SOGANI

REETU INTRO.

My name is Rita Sogani, and I have been living in the in the hills in the State of Uttarakhand in India, for the last 20 years, and have been working very closely with the grassroots community, especially women and that marginalised community on the issue of traditional knowledge systems and practices.

The work primarily is about how to protect and conserve the traditional knowledge systems and practices which exist in the area of agriculture, forest, water, natural resources. How to strengthen the knowledge system, and how to promote the knowledge system as one of the important base of livelihood of people here.

Reetu Sogani with women in the Himalayan foothills.


ON TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE

When we talk of traditional knowledge, then what we mean is the knowledge that people have been accumulating, have been experiencing, have been observing, for centuries together, actually.

It’s an oral tradition, you know, which has been handed down the generation, from the one generation to another orally. It’s not documented. It’s not coded.

For example, how to grow or agriculture, in very hilly area which is around 1500 meters or 1500 meters to 1700 meters. The kind of soil that we have here how to use that soil in growing different kind of crops, how to manage the forest sustainably, but at the same time also use it in such a way that we have it for the generations later on.

That knowledge that people have, is something that they have a have heard their parents or grandparents speak about.

In other words, it’s just common sense.

REETU ON GENDER ROLES
When I started working the hills in 1998, I had absolutely no idea of what the situation is as far as the local knowledge in the hills is concerned.

I had no idea how it is connected with women and men.

It’s the women actually in the hills who have been very closely connected with the natural resources, be it forest, be it agricultural, be livestock management, be it even health related practices, governed by food items and herbs.

The roles and responsibilities of women are such that they stay in the house, and they carry out all the activities close to the house, you know, which are connected with natural resources. So, agriculture in the hills is not just connected with land, or is not just connected, you know, with growing crops. It’s very closely connected with forest, very closely connected with of course water, very closely connected with livestock.

So, she is the one who is very closely connected with all these sectors, and she is the one who is interacting with them on day to day basis.

She knows what grows where, what leaf should be used if the goat actually has indigestion. Or how the compost is prepared, and how those leaves can be used for the preparation of compost.

So, she is the one who has been interacting with all these ideas, and so she has the knowledge, and she has the skill; first-hand knowledge and first-hand knowledge systems and practices in these sectors.

ROLE OF MEN

Men definitely they are also contributing in agriculture but only in couple of activities. But of course this is a general picture but men mostly prefer to work outside in the villages, or outside, they migrate to the towns or sometimes they migrate to the main towns like Delhi, Bombay and other places, to bring in money.

In fact, the hill economy is also called the money order economy, where the money actually comes in through this money order or through the check, and many people in the hills have also joined the army.

So, it’s the women who has been associated with agriculture and related areas.

One of the research institutions came out with this figure of 98.5 percent, 98.5 percent of the work relating to agriculture is being carried out by women.

Land and forestry management is in the hands of women. Shown here, the women of Majkhali take compost to the fields.

 

REETU ON WOMENS VIEW OF HEALTH

I ask this question from one of the women as to ‘how do you describe health? The word health’

She gave me such a beautiful and different answer.

She said: The animal that you see is still important for health. The kind of crop that we are growing and the methods we are using. That is also connected to the water that we are using. That is also connected with health, what I’m eating and how I’m eating is also connected with my emotional health.

She said, it’s so difficult to describe because all the things around me, are contributing to health, and the air that I’m breathing in, you know, that is also part of health. The forest is responsible. The trees are responsible.

So, she described health in such an integrated and holistic way. That was my first lesson actually.

I mean, if you asked this question from any doctor or any person in the urban area, he or she would say health is the absence of illness. ‘I don’t have any illness.’ How compartmentalised our approach has become, you know in comparison to how people think.

REETU ON CHANGE

And when it comes to women we have to work at various levels. It’s not just at the grassroots level but we have to work at various policymaking levels. Even the grassroots level is very important there, women are not able to make their voices heard even in the local self-governance bodies.

Because of the kind of roles and responsibilities they have they don’t have time, they’re not supposed to be seen in those decision-making forums and processes, because they believe that they’re not supposed to be here. They’re supposed to be doing their household chores.

So that kind of mindset actually has to change, and gender sensitisation has to come about at all levels. Also, at the household level. It’s not something that is very easy, but it’s happening now.

Last year we had a meeting at the state level, in which we had invited the government officials, of not just our state but of the nearby states also, and there were several organisations, Forest department was also there, Agriculture Department was also there- I was so happy to see Parvati who is a wonderful farmer, extremely knowledgeable, spokesperson of our forest Committee, standing there in front of everybody and telling people ‘we want traditional crops we will grow really traditional crops, we will not use any of the chemical fertilisers that you  people from promoting because of these, these and these reasons.

REETU ON WOMEN FARMERS  LAND RIGHTS

One of the other issues which I have not mentioned actually right now, but which is very closely connected to the women farmers; they are doing the majority of the work related to farming, they are actually not known as farmers. They’re not recognised legally, administratively and even socially as farmers, simply because they don’t have land in their name.

It’s really sad. It’s very deeply sad and very ironical I would say.

If you take into consideration Nepal, India, and Thailand, not even 17 percent of the total landholdings actually belong to women. And these are the areas where women contribute maximum to the agricultural economy.

There is still such a tough battle going, on because the land does not get inherited by women. But it has very serious implications on her work, on her capabilities, or no capacity building, on his skills.

Because she is not recognised as farmers, it’s only men who are being invited to the workshops by the government, by any other organisation. Women don’t have access to credit. They don’t have access to the government.

The first thing they ask for is to have the land title in your name, and with increasing migration, and reduced access to resources, the condition of the women has actually worsened over the years, I would say.

We have a big network. This is called Mahela dichotomous that is ‘women farmers rights’. And we are doing everything possible to influence the government, to change the land inheritance rules to include women, which will take many, many years because land is a very important source of power.

But at the same time at least I recognise them as cultivators. At least recognise them as cultivators — at least give them the right to be able to access the bank, and access the credit, whenever they want to.… to access the government, the schemes, the government schemes should not be asking only for the land titles but they should be asking the name of the cultivator. I think it’s very much possible.

This is making the life of the woman very difficult and it has made the situation worse actually over the years because with the decision making vested in absent men, it becomes so difficult to make good important decisions at the right time.

Work relating to agriculture continues to be done by women, but without any decision making it becomes difficult for her, you know, to carry it on for her. Pretty frustrating, very frustrating.

EXAMPLE OF ADMINISTRATION FAILURE

One of the women from our area she had gone to the bank and she was just filling up one form. I think she was opening an account and there was this column that said what is your profession?

She wrote farmer, and the bank officials refused to accept it. He said “You are not a farmer, you are a housewife.”

She had the understanding, she had the business, and also some confidence when she was with other women also there. She said: “I’m a farmer, you have to put down my name because I’m the farmer, I’m the one who is tilling the land, I’m the one who is cutting, I’m the one who is weeding, I’m the one who is harvesting, how can you not call me a farmer. I will not delete the word farmer.

I will continue to use the word farmer. He had to accept it. He did accept it! She was only opening a bank account.

The gender sensitisation hasn’t taken place at that level. So that’s why I’m saying administratively she is not recognised as farmers.

She is still considered to be somebody who is carrying out only the household chores. Her unpaid work; be productive, or be reproductive, or be it caring responsibility, is not being recognised, it is not visible is not being acknowledged.

Here, widows get the right to land title, once their husbands pass away, you know. Parvati also mentioned this in that meeting, in the keynote speaker speech. She said “As long as a husband alive, you know, we have no right over land. Only when he dies, when he passes away, only then we are allowed to have the right over land.”

It hit them really hard. Even the rule which is in favour of them in an actual reality they’re not recognised not just legally but also administratively. It’s the structural change you need to bring about. It’s just that it is the system which responsible for this state of affairs. It is connected to globalisation.

REETU ON FILM BY CDKN

The biggest NGO working globally. On climate change. [00:11:23] Climate Development Knowledge Network, made a film on these women who are part of our group, and the title of the film I think is ‘Missing Women in Decision Making’ and these very women video recorded themselves, as to what they’re doing, how they’re doing, how it is connected with climate change, how it is actually helping them mitigate, how it is helping them adapt themselves.

Women with me have gone to Malaysia and in Malaysia they have spoken about these very things, they have shared their experiences their opinion their needs, their priorities, everything.

We have settled myopic way of looking at things, interconnectedness with nature.

This is what interconnectedness is.

I mean it’s not about just interdependence it’s also about cooperation. People are interdependent. But more than interdependence there is this cooperation, amongst these then villages of the micro watershed around these sectors.

View of Mountains from Majkhali Village, The Vrikshalaya Centre.

Traditional knowledge is not just about technique. It’s not just about practices. It’s about a very integrated interconnected interdependent system you know, which runs through people’s cooperation, which again actually is on the decline.

The social cohesion, the value for the simplicity, you know, the value of the equilibrium all these values, they were very, very integral part of our traditional system, or way of life. And all of these values they make people more resilient. Social cohesion was such an important aspect of people’s lives fiscally those were more modern life like for example.

Diversifying Crops

We have a practice in the hills called Palta, P A L T A (spells it out) — which means that people contribute in each’s labour.

People from not just my household, would contribute, but people from the other households in my village, would contribute, as well as from other villages also.

And the same would happen, I would go and contribute, my whole day, the entire day you know. In carrying out that activity. And this would help mostly those people single women. Women whose husbands or who’s the men folks have migrated, but they’re not… they’re not…there. And the elderly couple households.

So social resilience and social cohesion and all these values actually increase people’s resilience. But unfortunately, that kind of agriculture that we are following now makes people very individualistic.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO

I think one of the important things that we have to do is do to have our resources to have belief in our resources, and to strengthen the existing biological diversity, and the cultural diversity, whatever little remains of it.

It’s not that it’s impossible because I worked in certain areas in the hills for the last ten years twelve years and people have changed. I mean they have brought about changes in their food diet, they have brought about changes in their agricultural system. And we are not going to those areas anymore.

The experience that they have already you know, and the awareness that they have is enough actually to last for a very long time. And also, it could get transferred to their children. They’re also growing cash crop, but at the same time they’re also getting finger millet.

They are buying things from the market but at the same time they have their agriculture to fall back on.

ON BIODIVERSE FARMING

Biodiversity based ecological farming, mixed cropping system, done organically– They can also produce much more, not just equivalent to chemical intensive farming. This is one great disbelief that people have, the government have, is that chemical intensive farming can feed the mouths of the increasing population, and organic farming can’t.

This is all wrong actually, and so many studies are there to prove it otherwise. I would not call it organic farming, but biodiversity based, ecological farming. In balance with the nature.

Because organic farming can also promote mono cropping which is happening actually.

Organic farming is just one component of biodiversity based ecological farming. When it comes to chemical intensive farming of course, the adverse impacts are quite well known, and even the government of Uttarakhand and other state governments are not promoting chemical intensive farming anymore, but they are promoting organic farming.

We are talking about biodiversity, also, you know in the farming and the ecological farming

keeping in balance you know with the ecology the surrounding ecology, which is most important.

ON ORGANIC FARMING

Organic farming can also promote mono cropping. Organic farming only talks about cropping system which is minus chemicals, minus synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

That is one important component of the farming system that we are talking about, but we are also talking about mixed cropping system, which would take care of the health of not just the soil but also of course take care of the health of the livestock and also take care of the health of the human beings, because it will ensure availability and access to food and nutrition at all things of the year.

ON 9 CROPS

We have a practice of growing nine different kinds of crops in one single season during the rainy season. And these different crops are about Grains, Spices, Oil seeds, different pulses, all these nine different kinds of crops would grow in one single field, in one single season and it will get harvested of course at different times of the year but it will ensure availability of some food you know in the household at any time of the year.

Now the studies have also proved that both of us based ecological farming on mixed cropping system done organically will take care of not just the production but also of the health aspect.

We have the studies and we have the data that can prove, you know, that their production can be higher than the production of mono cropping. Done just next to that field.

ON NUTRITION

The amount of nutrition which is coming out of that one acre of land and it’ll be much more in comparison to the mono cropping which is growing this next that the one acre of land in one year it is able to absorb two thousand pounds of carbon in a year. Where are doing mixed cropping organically. In comparison to chemical intensive farming which actually releases 300 pounds of carbon per acre, per year.

Considering the global warming which is taking place, it is very, very important to also come up with ways for mitigation; mitigating strategies are much more important and unfortunately nobody talks about it because it is connected with again you know big corporations.

It is connected again with fertiliser companies and nobody is invested in mitigation right now.

Nobody is talking about agriculture which is a very big contributor of carbon emission but can be a very important strategy to sequestrate the carbon, prevent it from emitting, and also absorb the carbon which is in the atmosphere.

Agriculture done this the mixed cropping done organically is considered to be the only way through which we can do carbon sequestration at a very fast rate.

This is in total contrast to the policies of the government which is talking about monoculture, growing only pine trees in the forest area, and also promoting mono cropping.

I think we have to have a very multi-pronged approach you know, the statistics are also important in certain areas, and case studies are equally important.

Transplanting rice in Majkhali

CONVINCING MEN

The village women I had been working with constantly since 2001. They already had been a witness. They had some difficulty to convince the menfolk actually at the household level.

But gradually they interacted with a mentor also and they also started coming to our meetings. We made them interact with few people who have never switched over to chemical intensive farming and make them use their experiences.

We did workshops for them. He showed them video films we showed them many educational documentaries. We took them out on educational trips to some people renowned people who have been working on saving seeds for many, many years. Made them interact with other groups also working on these issues.

We took a walk actually for five days through different parts of Uttarakhand, and they interacted the different communities they exchanged you know their experiences, they heard about their experiences, and gradually they finally got the confidence to do what all of us had been talking about.

They shifted from chemical intensive farming, to gradually organic farming and the mono cropping to mixed cropping. Surrounding villages have also actually turned, after having seen them you know after having heard their experiences, they have also gradually turned organic, and they have also gone back you know to those mixed cropping systems, through their interaction so they have become kind of leaders actually in all the.

The government of Uttarakhand declared itself organic many, many, many, many years ago but it has not created any market where farmers can actually sell it organic produce. That’s a big challenge too. It’s not that they have no idea. It’s not that they have no awareness. They know that that middle person actually the takeaway a major chunk of profit, you know, and the farmers are not able to reach the market.

That struggle is still going on, but at the same time in parallel, there are women’s federations and they are selling them now in the market to different outlets. And do value addition packaging, labelling, everything and then sell in different outlets.

This could be the government outlet as well as some other private outlets.

That is happening and that is adding to their income.

They’re also catering to the urban taste you know by having single malt cake or finger millet biscuits. Over the last two three years their children have started offering this local produce.

The things that they were used to eating from outside.

I think in India we have the civil society is quite strong, and the women’s groups are also very strong.

SELF AUTONOMY

To self-reliance self-confidence and self-esteem; these are all connected.

So we can’t say that everything in the name of knowledge, which we have inherited, which has come down the generations. is good and very effective. Many of the things that are effective but some of the things are not very effective. Maybe because the situation has changed now, so a good amalgamation, a very balanced amalgamation of local knowledge with the new knowledge also needs to be done from time to time, now, to address people’s emerging needs and requirements.

The most important thing in the amalgamation is: Who is controlling the knowledge? The point of control. It has been a gradual dependence of people on the market. Self-reliance Self Sustenance. Has. Been replaced with total dependence. And that actually has an impact on the self-confidence and self-esteem of people. When we talk of local knowledge. And the replacement of local knowledge. People lose out on this self-confidence the self-esteem and self-reliance.

You should be looking like us it could be an institution it could be a country it could be a civilization, could be a region it could be a section of community it could be market, and a particular section in the market, and it could be an advertising agency who wants you to look like people they are advertising.

We lose identity we lose address we lose the language we lose our food we lose our systems we lose our knowledge we lose their practices and we lose ourselves completely. Lose autonomy, lose autonomy, lose our freedom.

END

——————————————

CREDITS

TANYA’S VOICE:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON KNOWLEDGE. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

You can contact Nadia Bergamini via BioversityInternational.org.

Reetu Sogani would like to thank the women of Chak dalar and Chama chopra in the Bheerapani area, in Nainital district. The women in Talla Gehna in Nainital district. And the women in Tola area in Almora district.

She would also like to say thanks to the Chintan international trust-India.

Nordic by Nature is an ImaginaryLife production. For more inform The music and sound has been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find him on diegolosa.blogspot.com

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

If you are interested in nature-centred mindfulness please see foundnature.org to read about Ajay Rastogi and the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast.

Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

 

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Guión Del Episodio 3: Sobre La Resiliencia Interior

Título en inglés: “On Inner Resilience”
Nordic by Nature
Sonido: Música De Diego Losa
Introducción: Voz De Tanya.

Bienvenidos a Nordic by Nature, un podcast producido por “Ecology Today”, inspirado por el filósofo noruego Arne Naess, quien acuñó el término “Ecología profunda”.

Naess utilizó el término “auto realización” para indicar una imagen de perfección, un proceso y un propósito, tanto para una persona como para una comunidad. El podcast “Sobre la Resiliencia Interior”, combina las ideas de Naess sobre “auto realización” y una visión del equilibrio humano. Este contenido sólo debería ser puesto en práctica con un sentido de alegría interior y de benevolencia hacia el mundo.

La “Resiliencia Interior” puede ser definida a partir de ciertas características:

La “Resiliencia Interior” es plena de sentido y deseable, pero en ocasiones puede ser dolorosa. No es un sinónimo de comodidad. Más bien, es un proceso de maduración espiritual, por el cual una persona actúa de una manera más consistente consigo misma como un todo;

La “Resiliencia Interior” es un proceso continuo; puede ser alcanzada a través del conocimiento y el estudio, pero exige una práctica constante que incluye cultivar, comunicar y compartir valores como la compasión;

La “Resiliencia Interior” desarrolla nuevos tipos de habilidades que son necesarias para una transformación personal, incluyendo la empatía, el respeto, la humildad, la construcción de consensos y la co-creación;

Estamos constantemente cambiando y no podemos separarnos de los procesos planetarios de los que somos parte. Nuestra propia salud y bienestar no pueden existir a expensas de otros, ni de la diversidad biológica y cultural que son la naturaleza de la vida.

Ajay Rastogi comenzará introduciéndonos en una práctica de Mindfulness secular y centrada en la naturaleza, que él mismo desarrolló, y enseña actualmente, en la Fundación para la Contemplación de la Naturaleza, en Majkhali, un pueblo de los Himalayas en el Estado de Uttarakhand, en India.

Después escucharemos las palabras de Noor A Noor, un conservacionista egipcio de la Universidad de Cambridge en el Reino Unido, quien describe su propio camino personal hacia la “Conservación” y el Mindfulness, a través de su historia familiar, su experiencia con la música, y los dramáticos acontecimientos de la revolución egipcia de 2011.

Luego escucharemos a Judith Schleicher. Judith nos explicará cómo la meditación diaria le ha ayudado en su trabajo en “Conservación”, después de participar, por primera vez, en un retiro de Vipassana de diez días en Perú, hace siete años.

Finalmente, escucharemos a Christoph Eberhard, antropólogo legal y practicante de las artes tradicionales Chinas e Indias como el Tai Chi Chuan, el Qi Gong y el Yoga. Christoph cree que el diálogo está en el corazón de una transformación plena de sentido: el diálogo con un mismo, el diálogo con otros, el diálogo con la naturaleza y el diálogo con lo trascendente (“the beyond”).

Este podcast está diseñado para que pueda ser escuchado con audífonos. Ojalá puedas hacerte un tiempo y disfrutar escuchándolo.

AJAY RASTOGI

Hola, mi nombre es Ajay Rastogi …. y … nosotros vivimos en el pueblo de Majkhali, en el Estado de Uttarakhand, en la región india de los Himalayas …. y … está a alrededor de 400 kilómetros al norte de Dehli. Desde aquí miramos muchos de los altos picos del Himalaya de más de 6.000 metros.

He sido ecologista y medioambientalista durante gran parte de mi vida.

Ajay Rastogi, Founder of the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature.

Ajay On The Contemplation Of Nature.

El hecho de que no hayamos sido capaces de hacer grandes cambios en la sociedad, que son necesarios para lograr la sustentabilidad, requiere que revisemos el enfoque que hemos adoptado hasta ahora en los movimientos ambientales. Por esta razón, empecé a pensar que nada sería más transformador que una práctica meditativa que pudiera ser hecha en la naturaleza….

La meditación ha sido considerada como una metodología para la transformación interior.

La Contemplación De La Naturaleza

La contemplación de la naturaleza, una práctica meditativa[1], se realiza en un entorno natural. Es una experiencia multisensorial.

Esto ayuda, porque somos un organismo biológico, y por lo tanto tenemos un impulso inherente para conectarnos con la naturaleza. Es algo para lo que estamos genéticamente configurados, por lo que no es una meditación tan abstracta como muchas otras que la gente encuentra, por lo que es una buena manera de empezar.

Las personas pueden comenzar con esta meditación, y después llegar a niveles más profundos siguiendo cualquier otra práctica que deseen. La meditación en la naturaleza, la contemplación de la naturaleza, definitivamente es un práctica que puede llevarse a cabo cotidianamente, que nos lleva a un nivel de tranquilidad y nos aporta beneficios como la compasión y la bondad, así como una más profunda conexión con la naturaleza y con la comunidad a nuestro alrededor.

Aproximadamente después de 23 minutos de meditación, la tranquilidad que se alcanza gatilla procesos más profundos de relajación fisiológica, lo que lleva al cuerpo y su química interna a un estado mucho más regulado y balanceado. Esta es la llamada “respuesta de relajación”, que es lo que estamos intentando lograr en un nivel fisiológico y psíquico, además de los otros beneficios que entrega la meditación.

Entonces, mientras nos sentamos y observamos con una mirada suave….

A veces podemos no tener acceso a un paisaje natural, pero esta meditación puede ser realizada también en algún interior, utilizando objetos muy sencillos. Luego, sigues los tres pasos de la contemplación que hemos diseñado….

Acerca De La Meditación

Entonces, los tres pasos …. tres simples pasos, son: a) observar la naturaleza con una mirada suave; b) aceptar con desapego gentil; y c) enviar amor con atención simpatética.

Observamos la naturaleza con una mirada suave, permaneciendo en la aceptación con un gentil desapego. No nos interesamos en encontrar ningún detalle. Por supuesto, la mente va a deambular de un lado a otro, pero tan pronto como nos demos cuenta de que nos hemos alejado a la deriva, podemos volver a la contemplación de la naturaleza con una mirada suave.

Un elemento adicional, muy importante en la práctica de contemplar la naturaleza, es “dejar ir”, y esto sucede sólo cuando nos sentamos y empezamos a contemplar, generando un sentimiento de amor con atención simpatética, y recordándonos a nosotros mismos la gratitud, un sentimiento de gratitud. Y continuamos sentados, observando suavemente con la mirada y con un desapego gentil.

“Dejar ir” es no hacer ningún juicio acerca de “dónde estamos” y “qué estamos haciendo”. Éste es un paso trascendental en la naturaleza, y por lo tanto es un aspecto fundamental de la práctica, a través de la cual somos capaces, de alguna manera, de trascender el impulso de juzgar y pensar, al menos por un breve momento.

Voz 2: Noor A Noor

NOOR A NOOR

Mi nombre es Noor A Noor. Soy un egipcio de 28 años, realizando un master de “Liderazgo en Conservación”. Antes de venir a Cambridge, dediqué los últimos 7 años a dirigir la ONG Nature Conservation Egypt, una institución que trabaja en la conservación de los hábitats de especies y de comunidades locales.

 

Noor Sobre Egipto En 2011

Cuando era pequeño, yo era un niño de ciudad. Mis padres eran muy activistas por la justicia social, y por los derechos políticos y económicos. Sin embargo, no recuerdo que me hayan llevado a la naturaleza …. no fue parte de mi educación.

En 2011, Egipto vivió uno de los más increíbles aunque dramáticos levantamientos, en los que cientos de miles de egipcios salieron a la calle exigiendo más pan, libertad y justicia social. Y obviamente todo lo que se deriva de estos tres componentes. Como resultado, se produjeron cambios significativos. Algunos de ellos fueron para mejor, pero muchos otros fueron para peor.

Nos enfrentamos a una inmensa violencia por parte de las personas encargadas en ese tiempo, específicamente las fuerzas armadas.

Había un constante conflicto con los manifestantes que exigían una completa transición hacia un gobierno más democrático y respetuoso de los derechos humanos. Como resultado, hubo una tremenda persecución, y hasta el día de hoy muchos egipcios continúan siendo perseguidos por el Estado.

Durante ese año 2011, yo, al igual que cientos de miles de egipcios que tomaban parte en estas demostraciones, tuvimos literalmente que correr por nuestras vidas…. las suficientes veces como para darnos cuenta que la vida no es lo que parece, cuando tienes que correr para ponerte a salvo. Pasé entonces de estar siempre preparado para sacrificarme por la causa, a darme cuenta de que en realidad sería más útil para la sociedad si trataba de sobrevivir, y parte de ese darme cuenta vino del hecho de pasar tiempo en la naturaleza por primera vez.

Noor: Descubriendo La Naturaleza

Por primera vez estaba pasando una significativa cantidad de tiempo en la naturaleza, aprendiendo de la naturaleza y enseñando sobre la naturaleza, así como conservando la naturaleza, todo como parte del nuevo trabajo que asumí desde el 2012.

Mientras más entendía la naturaleza, más terminé entendiéndome a mí mismo.

Poco a poco, terminé por encontrarme con el Mindfulness, que al principio odiaba como término porque encontraba que era muy contraintuitivo. Pero mientras más leía sobre Mindfulness, más empezó a resonarme y a hacerme sentido, tanto en un nivel teórico como político y personal. Pasar más tiempo en la naturaleza, ir comprendiendo cómo funciona y dejándome inspirar y sanar por ella … todo eso fue en sí mismo un proceso de Mindfulness.

Esencialmente, tuve que pasar por muchos traumas físicos y emocionales ese año, ya sea infligidos en mi persona, o peor aún, que afectaron a quienes yo cuidaba, e incluso a quienes no conocía, pero con quienes compartía un terreno político común.

El trauma acumulado en esos años, por mí y por miles de otros, se arrastra hasta estos días.

No hay nada romántico en una revolución. No hay nada romántico en un conflicto ni en los levantamientos sociales, porque hay mucho que se sacrifica….

Pero estoy completamente agradecido…. por la manera en que finalmente terminé por responder a estos traumas, en un nivel físico y emocional, por cómo logré alcanzar un mayor nivel de Mindfulness para reducir mis niveles de ansiedad…

…. incluso políticamente. Creo que esto contribuyó a ver de mejor manera cómo podemos…. ser mejor holísticamente como planeta; cómo sobrellevar las inevitables crisis que estamos enfrentando y que continuaremos enfrentando a una tasa exponencial en el futuro.

Después de los levantamientos de 2011, estaba decidido a trabajar en terreno, y terminé dirigiendo una ONG dedicada a la conservación de la naturaleza y trabajando en una empresa de turismo educativo ambiental, llamada Dima.

Me hizo darme cuenta de ciertas dimensiones que estaban relacionadas con nuestra supervivencia, con la sustentabilidad, y con las batallas que estábamos dando por la justicia.

Me di cuenta de la importancia de la naturaleza y de los recursos naturales de los cuales dependemos.

Lo que mucha gente está comprendiendo ahora es que todas las dinámicas políticas, económicas e incluso sociales, relacionadas con nosotros como especie, están directa o indirectamente relacionadas con la manera en que interactuamos con la naturaleza que nos rodea.

El hecho de que continuemos viéndonos separados de aquello que nos mantiene vivos, empezando por la comida, y muchas otras cosas más, incluso el aire del que extraemos el oxígeno que necesitamos, que proviene de otros seres vivos y otros hábitats de este planeta, está en el centro de algunos de los actuales conflictos sobre los recursos naturales, así como de la trayectoria que seguimos hacia el colapso del sistema que nos sostiene.

El concepto de “Ecología Política” es un excelente término para dar cuenta de esta situación. Lo que nos dice este concepto es que siempre que pensemos en recursos naturales, necesitamos pensar en las estructuras políticas, sociales y económicas que imponemos a la naturaleza, si es que vamos a hablar de conservación. Y al mismo tiempo, si lo que buscamos es el desarrollo social, necesitamos pensar en los procesos ecológicos que soportan estos procesos sociales.

Para ser honestos, estamos todos implicados. El teléfono que estoy usando ahora, para hablar con ustedes acerca de la sustentabilidad, los componentes que han sido usados para construir este teléfono, no son sustentables. El café que estoy saboreando en este momento, supuestamente proviene de un proceso que es éticamente correcto, pero finalmente es probable que provenga de algún lugar muy lejano a eso. Esto en sí mismo, que es parte de nuestra cultura de consumo, hace muy difícil que estemos conscientes de todas aquellas cosas que comemos y bebemos, porque hemos llegado a ser muy dependientes de ellas.

Cuando tenía 15 años, mi padre fue encarcelado por el gobierno de Mubarak, el régimen que estuvo en el poder por más de 30 años. Mi padre fue sentenciado a 4 o 5 años de prisión, como castigo por participar en las movilizaciones políticas que se oponían al presidente…. en ese tiempo recuerdo muy específicamente haberme dicho a mí mismo cosas como: ok, tienes un minuto para sentir lo que tengas que sentir … tan pronto como ese minuto pase, cambia el switch. Cambia el switch …. continúa con lo que tienes que hacer en tu día a día, no te rebeles en tu interior, sólo continúa funcionando. Recuerdo perfectamente tener 15 años y estarme diciendo estas cosas. Y aunque obviamente esto puede no ser siempre la mejor solución, recuerdo haberme forzado a mí mismo a hacer esto para desconectarme de la ansiedad y el miedo que estaba en mi cabeza. Sólo para ser capaz de seguir funcionando.

Diez años más tarde, cuando me encontré a mí mismo … reconociendo mi ansiedad por primera vez, ¡me di cuenta de que había estado respirando incorrectamente toda mi vida! (risa), y fue una realización fascinante porque … técnicamente …. no nos enseñan cómo respirar correctamente cuando somos niños… nadie te dice que respires a través de tu estómago cuando eres un niño.

En mi último año de universidad estaba estudiando ciencia política y derecho, y ese último año me involucré en un proyecto para hacer música a partir de la basura.

Así que … nos dedicábamos a… reciclar y reutilizar deshechos para hacer música, y para despertar una conciencia ambiental y social utilizando la música como un medio. Ese proyecto musical, a través de los conciertos que organicé, me ayudó a conocer a la gente con la que terminé trabajando en los años que siguieron.

Voz 3: JUDITH SCHLEICHER (c. 8 Mins) 

JUDITH SCHLEICHER

Soy Judith Schleicher. Soy postdoc[2] aquí en el Departamento de Geografía de la Universidad de Cambridge, y también trabajo actualmente como Consultora en el Centro de Monitoreo de la Conservación Mundial del Medio Ambiente de Naciones Unidas.

Siempre he estado interesada en los bosques tropicales, su diversidad, la gente que vive ahí, la diversidad cultural, la biodiversidad, todo eso … tratando de protegerlo, y también de entender mejor a la gente y nuestra relación con ella.

Judith Schleicher at David Attenborough House, Cambridge.

Cuando estaba haciendo mi Phd[3] empecé a meditar … mucho … y luego, cuando tuve la oportunidad de trabajar en la relación entre la naturaleza y las personas, después de mi doctorado, me pareció que todas estas cosas finalmente se reunían.

Desde este lugar, lo que podemos ver es un estacionamiento y mucho concreto. Y tú sabes, si ese es el ambiente en el que crecemos, y que con la edad nos volvemos menos conectados aún, pienso que eso no sólo tiene un impacto muy negativo en nuestro desarrollo personal, en nuestro crecimiento personal y como sociedad, sino que también significa que en el futuro podríamos preocuparnos aún menos por lo que nos queda.

Pienso que lo que es realmente importante es que también miremos hacia nuestro interior. Necesitamos pensar en nosotros mismos, en nuestro propio bienestar, y trabajar en hacer los cambios desde adentro, y luego podremos hacer cambios más allá de nosotros.  Y creo que esas son las cosas que realmente necesitan ser parte de nuestro sistema educativo: cómo crecemos, cuáles son las cosas que realmente importan en nuestras vidas.

Los niños pasan tanto tiempo en el colegio, y se les enseñan tantas cosas que involucran sólo nuestro intelecto – sólo pensar en ellas – pero realmente no se piensa en cómo desarrollamos nuestra resiliencia emocional, cómo tenemos que pensar en nuestro bienestar, cómo desarrollamos nuestra propia actitud mental.

Preocuparnos realmente de eso es tan importante. Y si pudiéramos hacer de eso una parte fundamental de la vida de una persona cuando está creciendo, creo que ése sería un cambio positivo inmenso.

Me gustaría mucho ver, por ejemplo, que se impartieran clases de Mindfulness y meditación como parte del curriculum normal de educación, y que entonces la gente pudiera empezar a pensar “qué es lo importante en mi vida” y “cuáles son las cosas que son importantes”.

Si realmente internalizamos todo eso, luego podremos tener una discusión auna escala más amplia … a una escala comunitaria, a una escala social e incluso a una escala nacional, sobre cuál es la dirección en que queremos ir … Pero realmente tenemos que empezar en un nivel personal… Mucha gente no está familiarizada con la meditación, y no sabe realmente lo que significa. Podrían pensar, por ejemplo, que por ser budista entonces tiene connotaciones religiosas, cuando no es necesario que sea así. Puede ser secular y no tener nada que ver con religión.

La espiritualidad no quiere decir que tienes que creer en una religión específica.

Puede ser realmente muy desafiante trabajar en “Conservación” porque siempre tienes que estar peleando una batalla cuesta arriba.

Básicamente siempre te estás confrontando con malas noticias. E incluso la manera en que nosotros mismos hablamos de eso, muchas veces es de una manera muy negativa.

Estaba avanzando en mi campo profesional y muchas cosas iban mal, y entonces una amiga, quien había estado meditando por un tiempo muy largo, desde que era una adolescente, me dijo: “ohh hay un curso de meditación de diez días en silencio, que se hará en Lima, donde tú estás”, y me dijo “por qué no lo haces”? Yo dije “¡seguro!”, pero nunca había pensado en la meditación ni en ninguna de esas cosas. Y luego una noche me dije: “¿por qué haría algo como eso?”

Hice el curso de diez días sin saber nada acerca de él. No sabía lo que era la meditación, no tenía ninguna idea en qué me estaba metiendo. Fue una experiencia fascinante, de esas que te cambian la vida. Quiero decir, en un curso de diez días pasas por tantas cosas y altibajos, pero cada minuto que pones en eso vale la pena. Tuve tantas experiencias positivas, pero la más fuerte fue definitivamente una sensación de paz interior, que nunca antes había sentido de esta manera.

No sólo sabiendo de eso, sino que realmente sintiendo que esa felicidad y contentamiento no tiene nada que ver con algo externo.

Y por supuesto, hay cosas que puedes saber intelectualmente, pero realmente sentirlas es una cosa muy diferente, y experimentarlas…. Ya sabes, por supuesto que siempre hay un desafío de internalizarlo en el día a día, y sin embargo sabes que es un gran regalo que sí puedes experimentar.

He hecho algunos más de estos cursos, y cada vez, al final, es maravilloso cuando no has estado hablando por un tiempo, durante diez días; tu mente está tan focalizada y tan clara, y te das cuenta cómo nos impacta toda esta continua charla, y por toda la información con la que está siendo alimentado tu cerebro todo el tiempo. Realmente te das cuenta de cuál es el impacto…. en cuanto empiezas a hablar, tu mente simplemente ….  puff!…. se vuelve loca….

Un primer paso verdaderamente importante es darse cuenta, tú sabes eso que dicen, que sientes que te vuelves más sensitivo, pero quizás es sólo que te das cuenta de algo que siempre ha estado ahí, desde antes de que te dieras cuenta. Esto significa que no podías cuidar de tu cuerpo …. en la manera en que éste necesitaba, con la atención que necesitaba, por el contrario. Tú sabes, los mismos procesos podrían haber continuado, sin que tuvieras forma de darte cuenta del impacto que tenía en ti. Quiero decir, puedo conectar completamente con lo que tú dices[4] acerca de que la naturaleza provee ese espacio en el que puedes desarrollar todas estas cosas.

Supongo que muchas de las cosas que experimento a través de la meditación, antes, estando en medio de la naturaleza, simplemente surgieron de manera natural. Si me siento en un bosque, que es un ambiente que me gusta mucho, nunca me siento sola. Puedo sentirme sola estando rodeada de mucha gente, en un ambiente no natural, pero sé que no me sentiré sola si estoy en medio de un bosque, simplemente estando ahí. Mientras que en nuestra sociedad siempre nos están diciendo que seamos productivos. Tenemos que estar haciendo … tenemos que estar haciendo cosas. Es mucho más sano estar alejado de eso, al menos con cierta frecuencia, y simplemente “estar”, “estar” con la naturaleza, “estar” con otras personas. Y eso es lo que, finalmente, produce contentamiento y felicidad interior. Y la naturaleza provee el natural espacio para hacer eso.

Tu mente está justo en ese momento.

En el curso de meditación en el que he estado ayudando por todos estos años, estaba en la cocina, preparando comida para un grupo de ciento treinta o ciento cuarenta personas, lo que puede ser muy demandante, porque … tú sabes, cocinar para tanta gente y en espacios de tiempo muy restringidos, es lo que mucha gente podría llamar un ambiente estresante, con personas con las que nunca había trabajado antes, pero eran todos meditadores y todos eran conscientes o al menos más conscientes acerca de estas cosas. Y era, no sólo un muy buen trabajo sino que también era muy entretenido y éramos un gran equipo de trabajo … Así que, si pudiera traducir esto a mi mundo cotidiano … sería maravilloso.

Empecé a meditar hace 7 años. Medito diariamente al menos por una hora, algunas veces más. Y eso hace una inmensa diferencia en cómo vivo el día a día. Y también ha hecho una gran diferencia probablemente en la forma en que pienso acerca de la “Conservación”.

Antes de empezar a meditar, toda aquella retórica pesimista y negativa algunas veces puede ser realmente desalentadora, y hacerte sentir que es realmente muy difícil pensar en hacer un cambio positivo, si no tienes esta práctica.

Eso es muy difícil de entender a veces.

Con la meditación también tengo un sentido, más profundo creo, de tranquilidad, tú sabes, de que estaremos bien eventualmente, y que la naturaleza será capaz de hacer frente … Si los humanos podremos hacerlo, bueno esa es otra pregunta. Supongo que … sí, que me ayuda a estar más en paz internamente, de que puedo hacer lo que está en mis posibilidades hacer para luchar por un mundo más justo y más sustentable ambientalmente. Y que puedo estar bien pase lo que pase.

Voz 4: Christoph Eberhardt (C.12.03)
(31:35)

Christoph Eberhard

Soy Christoph Eberhard, soy austríaco, y ahora estoy radicado en el sur de Francia, en Archachon.

Para ponerlo en pocas palabras, toda mi vida ha sido dedicada a … umh … diría que a la búsqueda de la paz, o de la armonía … una armonía viva.

Esto se manifiesta, por una parte, digamos en las ciencias sociales. Tengo una carrera como Antropólogo Legal, entre el derecho y las ciencias sociales, tratando de ver cómo podemos vivir en comunidad de una manera más dialógica, entendiéndonos unos a otros y armonizando unos con otros un poco mejor.

Qi gong class at the Vrikshalaya centre, held by teacher Christoph Eberhard.

Y luego un segundo aspecto ha sido como un diálogo interior y con la naturaleza, y eso se expresa especialmente en mi interés en el arte tradicional, especialmente el arte chino y el arte indio, como el Yoga.

Para mí, la resiliencia interior está en esta dimensión del diálogo …

El diálogo es escuchar, pero no es sólo escuchar con tus oídos, es escuchar con tu corazón, y más aún, es escuchar con tu alma.

Podemos experimentar eso en nuestra experiencia del día a día. Es sólo cosa de tomar un poco de tiempo antes de empezar a hablar inmediatamente, tomando 5 o 10 minutos para armonizar antes de empezar a hacer cualquier cosa.

Sólo dejando que la mente se aquiete, “enraizándose” de cierta manera.

A veces las personas no quieren hacerlo, dicen que no tienen tiempo para hacerlo, pero justamente sentarse así, en silencio, en calma, de cierta manera cambia completamente la atmósfera.

Y si lo haces, encontrarás que las personas están mucho, mucho, mucho más abiertas a un diálogo real, a escucharse unos a otros, a realmente compartir sus experiencias, de lo que encontrarías sin ese tiempo de silencio al inicio.

Entonces, empiezas a dialogar con otro ser humano. Realmente a dialogar, en el sentido de que realmente quieres escuchar a la otra persona, y te permites ser desafiado por la visión de mundo que el otro te presenta, o la sensibilidad que está expresando.

Mientras que por una parte puede ser enriquecedor, algunas veces puede ser muy impactante. Tú sabes … puede ser que no realmente no queramos escuchar ciertas cosas, o que realmente no las escuchemos aún cuando las hayamos oído más de cien veces, y repentinamente tu sientes “Oh wow”…. había algo más profundo que lo que pensaba.

Entonces cuando esto ocurre es … es como un desafío, también, algo que nos lleva a un segundo tipo de diálogo, que es un diálogo que yo llamo “con uno mismo”; empiezas a estar consciente de cuál es, llamémoslo, el horizonte invisible de las acciones y del vivir.

Y para eso, realmente necesitamos el diálogo con otros, porque de otra manera nunca llegaremos a estar conscientes de nuestra propia ventana personal.

Y luego, cuando empiezas a profundizar en este diálogo con otros y contigo mismo, escuchándote más a ti mismo, también empiezas a darte cuenta de que realmente estás conectado con toda la naturaleza alrededor tuyo. Que, en un cierto sentido, una vez que la sensibilidad a escuchar ha sido abierta, bueno, empezarás a escuchar a los árboles, al sol, a las flores, las nubes …. En cierta manera ellas empezarán a hablarte.

Si quieres escuchar, primero tienes que vaciarte a ti mismo, y entonces todo viene y habla contigo. Este es el aspecto dialógico de la naturaleza que empieza a desarrollarse. Entonces, es un diálogo con uno mismo, con los demás, con la naturaleza. Y luego está esta otra dimensión del diálogo que yo llamo “más allá”, o como tú quieras llamarlo, tú sabes, estas cosas que están más allá de las palabras y que no puedes realmente expresarlas, pero que también están ahí.

Algunas veces, cuando hablamos de lo “interior”, nosotros o separamos o distinguimos de “lo exterior”. Por mí, yo diría más bien que la experiencia de entrar en tu interior, o de entrar en diálogo con otros o entrar en diálogo con la naturaleza o con lo que está más allá, es más un proceso de crear vínculos. Cuando hay menos vínculos, puede que tengas una idea o un sentimiento de separación, tú sabes, te sientes separado de los demás, y te sientes separado de la naturaleza, la naturaleza más bien es un conjunto de “objetos” que están afuera, como si fuera un segundo mundo de “objetos”, no una realidad “viviente”.

Incluso algunas personas … se ven a sí mismas como objetos, como robots que se comportan de una cierta manera, pero no como personas con las que interactuamos.

Y la misma cosa con nosotros mismos, incluso nosotros mismos no podemos realmente …. Hacemos nuestro trabajo, hacemos nuestras cosas, con nuestras rutinas. Pero realmente nos estamos considerando como “sujetos” vivientes? como tales?

Hay cuatro dimensiones, y tú puedes empezar por cualquiera de estas dimensiones.

Si eres alguien que ha crecido en un entorno muy natural, quizás tu primer diálogo empiece con la naturaleza. Algunas personas son pastores y están mucho tiempo solos en las montañas. Entonces probablemente para ellos el primer tipo de diálogo que empezarían sería más bien con la naturaleza.

Para personas como yo, que soy más una persona de ciudad, es un desafío mayor al principio, tú sabes. Pero el punto importante para mí es que todas estas dimensiones están siempre ahí. En el momento en que empezamos a abrir una de estas dimensiones, a dialogar con una de estas dimensiones, poco a poco empezamos a darnos cuenta cómo las cosas están mucho, mucho, mucho más unidas de lo que nunca esperamos.

La vida no es un vacío a ser llenado, es una plenitud a ser descubierta. El “otro” no es el vacío a ser llenado. Es una plenitud a ser descubierta.

No es que …. Siempre es fácil decirle a alguien que vea algo que no tiene, que no tiene esto o no tiene esto otro, y construir una imagen que es una versión inferior de ti mismo. Pero ellos pueden hacer la misma cosa, porque desde su punto de vista, tú no tienes esto o no tienes esto otro ni lo de más allá, y así sucesivamente.

No sería más interesante, en lugar de empezar a llenar al otro con tus propias proyecciones, sólo escuchar, abrirte y luego quizás descubrir la plenitud que es el otro?

Simplemente empecé a darme cuenta de que nuestras vidas, hablando en términos generales, muy frecuentemente las vivimos como un vacío a ser llenado.

Tú sabes, todos sentimos que tenemos que tener un cierto estatus social, y sentimos eso en un nivel psicológico, queremos lograr ciertas cosas y alcanzar un nivel económico, lo que está muy bien, mientras no sea algo que necesitemos para llenar nuestras vidas, y en el momento en que nos atrevamos quizás a dar un pequeño paso hacia atrás, puede que encontremos que la vida es realmente muy abundante y que bien pueden todas estas cosas empezar a pasar sin que necesitemos empujar con tanta fuerza.

La plenitud significa empezar a darnos cuenta de todas las relaciones por las que estamos unidos, a través de nuestro ser.

Así como tienes un cuerpo físico, tal como lo considera la ciencia occidental moderna, somo realmente hijos de las estrellas. Quiero decir que …. todos los elementos de los que estamos hechos han sido hechos en las estrellas, así que tenemos de hecho una relación con ellas.

Así que tenemos esta dimensión fisiológica, pero también tenemos nuestras emociones, nuestros sentimientos, tenemos nuestros pensamientos; y en todas esas diferentes dimensiones estamos todos interconectados.

Por medio de la contemplación de la naturaleza exterior, que percibimos como estando afuera,    establecemos de hecho una relación, una en la que en un nivel externo puede conducirnos a este sentimiento de que no deberíamos preocuparnos por el medioambiente porque sea nuestra  obligación, sino por su belleza. Y así, establecemos esa relación con la naturaleza exterior.

Pero al mismo tiempo, al contemplar la naturaleza exterior de hecho nos conectamos con nuestra naturaleza interior. Puedes usar el término “ecológico”, pero yo simplemente diría que es nuestra naturaleza interior. Aquello de que se trata la vida.

Tú eres parte de la naturaleza.

Cuando digo “naturaleza” … tú sabes que existe la naturaleza, y que la naturaleza es la naturaleza visible que observamos. Y luego está la naturaleza en el sentido de, llamémoslo así, el planeta como un todo. Y el sistema solar y las galaxias, y los multiversos de los que se habla ahora … todo eso es parte de este otro concepto más amplio.

Realmente se va uniendo, al crear vínculos donde no los veíamos, vínculos donde había separación, poco a poco hasta ver que las cosas están mucho más conectadas, lo cual es muy importante en el pensamiento ecologista, empiezas a entrar en estos enfoques más holísticos porque te das cuenta que no puedes simplemente cortar las cosas en pedazos, porque siempre están relacionadas y cada vez que cambias o afectas algo, siempre tendrá un efecto en la totalidad.

Si empiezas a practicar Qi Gong, si empiezas a practicar cualquier movimiento, hazlo con tu cuerpo relajado, tomándole el gusto a lo que estás haciendo, quizás haciéndolo despacio, y haciéndolo conscientemente. Poco a poco lo que vas a empezar a sentir es lo que los chinos frecuentemente denominan Qi[5], que es “energía”.

Nuevamente lo que es experiencial, una sensación que puedes tener al inicio, es un poco de hormigueo en los dedos, o bien puedes sentir algo de calor que empieza a aparecer, y luego si continúas, en algún punto puedes sentirlo más en tu interior, como una sensación magnética. Algunas veces puedes tener una sensación como de electricidad, simplemente permaneciendo sentado y observando tu respiración … De hecho, incluso si sólo haces esto pero lo haces todos los días, y lo haces por un par de horas cada día, y así una y otra vez, al comienzo vas a estar más en un nivel psicológico. Estarás sólo pensando sobre esto y sobre lo otro. Pero más adelante, en algún momento, cuando estas cosas empiecen a decantarse un poco más, tú, como un vaso de vidrio con agua que se mezcla y después empieza a decantarse, empezarás a sentirte más claro y más transparente. Cuando esta etapa empieza a ocurrir, las cosas empiezan a circular por tu cuerpo, eso es básicamente todo lo que es el Qi.

Estas cosas son muy reales.

Y esto me lleva a la reacción a esta experiencia. La cultura en la que vivimos, lo digo bien, la cultura de ciudad, tú sabes, somos una sociedad tecnologizada, embota muchas de nuestras experiencias.

Si tú vives en la naturaleza, y “tienes que” vivir para sobrevivir en la naturaleza, tus sentidos están mucho más refinados que los sentidos que podemos tener quienes vivimos en las ciudades. Así que, en cierta manera, de nuevo hemos colonizado nuestra mente, e incluso ahora me sigo dando cuenta de cuan colonizada está mi mente.

Es un muy, muy gran proceso de aprendizaje también … porque empiezas a darte cuenta de que … tengo una inteligencia innata, mi cuerpo entiende ciertas cosas. Ok. Tienes que estar atento. No es que no tengas que hacer nada. Tienes que estar atento, tienes que tratar de escuchar,  tienes que practicar. No es que simplemente llegas y no haces nada. Y una vez que aprendes poco a poco a saber, a diferenciar entre lo que son tus ilusiones y tú, y qué cosas son reales, en aquello que sientes…

No somos dioses, no somos los dueños de la naturaleza, o los reyes de la naturaleza … no, sólo somos una parte de ella, una muy pequeña y humilde parte de ella.

Humildad … la importancia de la humildad.

Te reconoces a ti mismo como una maravilla del universo. Es fascinante. Y mientras más humilde te sientes, en cierta manera, más hermoso es todo.

Créditos

Voz De Tanya:

Gracias por escuchar!

Nordic by Nature podcast es creado gracias al apoyo del Ministerio Nórdico. Por favor ayúdanos compartiendo el link de este episodio con el hashtag #tracesofnorth y síguenos en Instagram en la cuenta @nordicbynaturepodcast. Nos gustaría escuchar tus pensamientos en nuestro podcast. Por favor escríbeme un email, a Tanya, a la dirección nordicbynaturepodcast@gmail.com

También estamos en Patreon, si quieres apoyarnos con una donación para mantener la continuidad de estos podcasts y realizar una segunda serie. Búscanos en www.patreon.com/nordicbynature

Si estás interesado en conocer más acerca de “Mindfulness” y “Pensamiento Resiliente”, por favor lee acerca de los retiros en el Centro de Ajay Rastogi www.foundnature.org, y sigue a la “Fundación para la Contemplación de la Naturaleza” en Facebook y a “Contemplación de la Naturaleza” en Instagram.

Noor a Noor trabaja en Nature Conservation Egypt. Por favor búscalo en www.natureegypt.org. Puedes seguir a Noor en Twitter en @Nxoor.

Puedes seguir a Judith Schleicher en Twitter en @j_schleicher.

Puedes encontrar a Christoph Eberhard en su canal de Youtube “Dialogues For Change”, o en Twitter en @PeaceDialogues.

Sonidos diseñados por Diego Losa. Búscalo en diegolosa.blogspot.com.

[1] Agregado por el traductor.

[2] Postdoc: abreviación de Post Doctorada.

[3] Phd: Doctorado.

[4] Parece referirse a alguien que está presente en la conversación, durante la grabación.

[5] En español se pronuncia “chi”.

 

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Episode 3: ON INNER RESILIENCE

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In this episode ON INNER RESILIENCE, we hear four voices share how they maintain inner equilibrium. Firstly, we learn about nature-centred mindfulness practice from Ajay Rastogi, at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature in the Himalayan village of Majkhali in Uttarakhand, India. Then you will hear Egyptian conservationist Noor A Noor, who describes his own personal path into mindfulness – through his experiences of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising. Then Judith Schleicher explains how daily meditation has helped her with her conservation work, ever since she attended a 10-day Vipassana retreat in Peru in 2011.
Lastly, we meet Christoph Eberhard, legal anthropologist and practitioner of the Chinese and Indian traditional arts Ta Ji Chuan, Qi Gong and Yoga. Christoph believes that dialogue is at the heart of meaningful transformation- dialogue with oneself, with others, with nature, and the beyond.

Hashtags to copy: tracesofnorth, Deep ecology, Arne Naess, arnenaess, deepecology, ajayrastogi, nooranoor, judithschleicher, christopheberhard, ecology, conservation, resilience, UNSDG, The Nordics, decolonisation, transformation, bioregionaldevelopment, peace dialogue, sustainability, climate crisis, biodiversity, global challenges, society and culture, monikakucia, danielwahl, helenanorberg-hodge, satishKumar, extinctionrebellion, climateuprising, sitikasim, ajayrastogi, tanyakimgrassley, Sweden, swedishstyle, tomasbjörkman, karmaura, judithschleicher, universitycambridge, davidattenboroughhouse, cambridgeconservationists, egypt, ajayrastogi, mindfulness, foundnature, christopheberhard, peacedialogues

For translation into Spanish please click here.

Transcript episode 3: ON INNER RESILIENCE

Tanya’s Voice:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today, inspired by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

Naess used the term ‘self-realization’ to indicate a kind of imagined perfection, a process, and a goal for both for the individual and for community. This podcast: On Inner-Resilience combines Naess’ idea of Self realisation with a view of human equilibrium, but it should only be used if it includes a sense of inner joy and benevolence to the world. It can be defined by a number of characteristics:

For example…

Number 1. Inner Resilience is meaningful and desirable, but it can sometimes be painful. It is not synonymous with comfort. It is a process of spiritual maturity, where a person acts more consistently from themselves as a whole.

Number 2. Inner Resilience is a continuous process. It can be achieved through knowledge and learning, but it demands a consistent practice that includes the cultivating, communicating and sharing of compassionate values.

Number 3. Inner Resilience evolves new types of skills that are needed for transformation; including Empathy, Respect, Humility, Consensus-building, and Co-creation.

Number 4. We are constantly changing and cannot be separated from the planetary processes that we are part of. Our own health and wellbeing cannot exist at the expense of others, nor the biological or cultural diversity that is the nature of life.

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Ajay Rastogi will begin by introducing the secular, nature-centred mindfulness practice, that he developed and teaches at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature in the Himalayan village of Majkhali in Uttarakhand, India.

Ajay Rastogi at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature, India.

Then you will hear the words of Noor A Noor, an Egyptian conservationist at the University of Cambridge who describes his own personal path into conservation and mindfulness – through his family, through music, and through the traumatic experiences of The 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

We will then hear Judith Schleicher. Judith explains how daily meditation has helped her with her conservation work, ever since she attended a 10-day Vipassana retreat in Peru 7 years ago.

Lastly, we meet Christoph Eberhard, legal anthropologist and practitioner of the Chinese and Indian traditional arts Ta Ji Chuan, Qi Gong and Yoga. Christoph believes that dialogue is at the heart of meaningful transformation- dialogue with oneself, with others, with nature, and the beyond.

This podcast is designed for you to listen with headphones.
I hope you can make some time to simply enjoy listening.

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Ajay:

Hi my name is Ajay Rastogi.
And we live in the village of Majkhali. It’s in the state of Uttarakhand, in the Indian Himalayan region.

And it’s about 400 kilometres north of Delhi. And we overlook the high Himalayas. Many 6000 meters high peaks from maybe. I have been an ecologist and an environmentalist for a large part of my life.

The fact that we are unable to make big changes in the society which are needed for sustainability required that we also relook at the approach that we have taken so far in the environmental movements.

So, for that reason I was thinking what can be more transformative than a meditative practice, which can be done in nature.

Meditation is being considered as the methodology for inner transformation.

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The contemplation of nature is done in a natural surrounding.
It’s a multi-sensory experience.

It helps because we are a biological organism and, therefore we have an inherent drive to connect with nature. It’s kind of we are genetically wired, so it is not that abstract as many people find many other meditative practices to be. So, it is a good beginning.

People can begin with it and then get to deeper levels of meditation whichever part they want to follow. But meditation in nature contemplation of nature is definitely an approach which can be done on a daily basis and it leads to that level of tranquillity and gives us the benefits of the meditation the compassion the kindness and the deeper connection to the natural law as well as to the social community around us.

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At about 23rd minute a tranquillity factor causes deeper trigger or physiological relaxation. Which brings the body and the internal chemistry, in a much more regulatory and balanced way.

That’s called the relaxation response, and that’s what we are trying to achieve, also at the physiological level besides the psychic and other benefits, that the meditation will bring.

So, as we sit and observe with a soft gaze

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One may not have access to such landscapes so it can be done indoors.
And it can be done with very simple objects of nature, then following the three steps of native contemplation that we have designed.

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So the three steps simple three steps is observe nature with a soft gaze except with gentle detachment and send love with sympathetic attention.

Observe nature with a soft gaze, we accept the gentle detachment remaining. Not interested in finding details. Of course, the mind would wander here and there but as soon as we realized that we have gone further and drifted we can come back to observe nature with a soft gaze.

One additional element which is a very important element of Need contemplation practice is to let go and this happens by just as we sit down and begin our contemplation, we send love with sympathetic attention, we just remind ourselves of the gratitude the feeling of gratitude. And then we sit, observe softly with a gaze, and continue a gentle detachment.

The let go is not to make any judgment about where we are What are we doing. And this is a step which is a transcendental in nature and therefore it is very therefore itself a fundamental aspect of the practice that we are able to somehow transcend this call of judgment and thinking mind at least for a little while.

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Noor A Noor:

My name is Noor Noor. I’m a twenty-eight-year-old Egyptian doing a masters in Conservation Leadership. Before coming to Cambridge, I spent the last 7 years managing Nature Conservation Egypt which is an NGO, working on the conservation of habitat species and local communities.

Growing up I I was a child of the city. My parents Were very active for social justice and for political rights and economic rights. However, they didn’t bring me into nature… it wasn’t part of my upbringing.

In 2011, Egypt saw one of its most incredible yet traumatic uprisings where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians went to the street to call for bread, freedom, and social justice. And obviously everything that stems from those three components.

As a result significant changes came about some of them were for the better but lots of them were for the worse. We were met with huge violence. Met with huge violence from the people that were in charge at the time specifically the armed forces or the army.

There was constant conflict between protesters that are calling for a complete transition to a more democratic,

Human rights-oriented government. And as a result…There was heavy persecution and Egyptians still remain heavily persecuted by the state.

Throughout 2011, myself as well as hundreds of thousands of other Egyptians who were taking part in these demonstrations, had to run for their lives. More than enough times.

To realize that that that life isn’t really as it seems once you’ve actually had to run for your life.

I had went from always being prepared to sacrifice myself for the cause to realizing that I am actually more useful let’s say, if I try to survive, and part of that realisation came the by spending time and nature for the first time.

I was spending a significant amount of time in nature and learning about nature and teaching nature as well as conserving nature as a part of my new jobs that I had assumed in 2012 and by spending more time in nature.

By understanding nature more I ended up understanding myself more. Bit by bit I ended up encountering mindfulness.

Which at the beginning I hated as a term because I felt it was very counter intuitive. The more I read up into mindfulness the more it really resonated. On a theoretical level, on a political level, and on a personal level. By spending time in nature by understanding how it works, by letting oneself be inspired and be healed by nature; That in itself is a mindful process.

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Essentially one had encountered so much physical and emotional trauma in that one year whether inflicted upon myself or even worse seeing it inflicted on those that I cared about or even those that I did not know. But we share the common political ground. Accumulated traumas from that still are carried by myself as well as thousands of others to this day.

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There’s no romanticisation of revolution there’s no romanticisation of Conflict and uprising. But I am absolutely grateful… because of how I ended up having to respond to these traumas.….. even politically How to better see how we can…be better as a holistically as a planet…. Get through the inevitable crises that we are facing and will continue to face at an exponential rate in the future.After the 2011 uprisings I was adamant on working in the field and I ended up getting a job managing an NGO working in nature conservation as well as working with a company that does educational environmental tourism and it’s a company called Dima. It made me aware of certain dimensions relating to our survival to relating to sustainability relating to the battles that we are trying to fight for justice.

I realized the importance of of Nature, and of the natural resources that we depend on.
What many people are realizing now is that all political and economic and even social dynamics relating to us as a species to us humans as a species are directly or indirectly related to our relationship with surrounding nature. The fact that we continue to separate ourselves from the things that keep us alive. Starting from our food all the way to even the air that we breathe in the oxygen that comes from that comes from other living beings and other habitats on this planet.

Our separating ourselves from the nature we depend on, is at the heart of some of the existing conflict over resources, as well as the trajectory that we’re taking towards the collapse of the systems that support us.
Political ecologies is excellent as a term in encompassing this. It says that…Whenever we look at nature and its resources, we need to think about the political, social and economic structures that govern nature. If we’re going to talk about its conservation. 

And at the same time, if we’re looking at development; We need to think about the ecological processes that support. These social processes.
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To be honest, we’re all implicated.

The phone that I’m using now to speak with you. About sustainability the components that were used to make this phone are not sustainable. The coffee that I am sipping on at the moment is is it supposed to be ethically sourced but in the end, it’s probably come from somewhere very far away. That in itself, we’ve become so dependent on these things.

Back when I was 15, my father was imprisoned by the Mubarak regime. Or The regime that was in power in Egypt for 30 years. My father was sentenced to four five years in prison. At that time, I remember specific telling myself things like alright. You have a minute to feel whatever you want to feel

And then as soon as that minute’s done. Switch it off. Switch it off, go back continue about your day don’t revel in your head, just move along and I remember being 15 and telling myself these things. And while obviously that might not always be the best solution. I remember forcing myself to just to be able to disconnect from the anxieties and the fears in my head.

To be able to just continue to function. Ten years later when I found myself…. Acknowledging my anxiety for the first time, I realized that I’ve been breathing wrong my entire life. We’re not taught how to breathe when we’re kids no one tells you to breathe through your stomach when you’re a child.

In my last year of university I was I was studying political science and law and then my last year I got involved in a music project that made music out of garbage.

So recycling and upcycling waste to make music and to raise environmental and social and political awareness using it using music as as a means. That music project introduced me to the people that I ended up working with for the years to come.

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Judith Schleicher

I’m Judith Schleicher. I am a postdoc in the Geography department here in the University of Cambridge and I also work together currently as a consultant with U.N. Environment world conservation monitoring centre. I’ve always been interested in tropical forests the diversity the people who live there the cultural diversity biodiversity everything and trying to protect that and also understanding people and the relationship with them better. When I was doing my PhD I started meditating a lot and then when there was opportunity to work on the relationship between nature and people after my page that just seemed to bring all these things together.

Judith Schleicher at David Attenborough House, Cambridge.

From this location what we can see is concrete and a parking lot. And you know if that’s the environment people grow up and we even get less connected with age I think that not only has a very negative impact on our passive development in our personal growth and our society but it also means that in the future we might care even less about what we have left. I think what is particularly important is that we also look inwards we need to think about ourselves our own well-being and work on making the changes from within. And then we can make changes beyond that. And so I think those are the kind of things that really need to be part of our education system how we grow up. What are the things that really matter in our lives.

Children spend so much time in schools being taught so many things that are just involving our intellect in terms of thinking about it but they don’t really think about how do we build emotional resilience how do we think about our wellbeing how do we think about it own mindset. Really taking care of that is so important. And if we could make that a fundamental part of a person’s life when they grow up from where they grew up I think that would be a huge positive change.

I would love to see for example mindfulness a meditation being part of the normal school curriculum and then people start thinking about what is it that matters in my life. And what are the things that are important.

We really internalize all of those things and then we can also have the discussion at a much broader scale. As a community scale to society scale as a national scale of which the direction we want to go into. But it really has to start at a personal level. So. Many people are not familiar with it and they don’t really know what it means. They might as you said for example Buddhism whether they have religious connotations when it doesn’t have to.

It can be secular. Nothing to do with religion. Spiritual doesn’t mean that you have to but even one specific religion. It can be really challenging to work in conservation because you’re always fighting an uphill battle. Basically you’re always confronted with bad news and also the way often we talk about it is in a very negative way.

I was improving my fieldwork and lots of things were going wrong. And then my friend said who’s been meditating for a very long time. She’d started when she was a teenager and she said oh there’s this meditation course. Ten-day silent course coming up, and in Lima where are, It’s like why didn’t you just do it? I was like sure I’d never thought about what meditation is or anything.

So I was like Sure. And then one night I said I was like Why would I do that.

I just did this 10-day course without knowing anything about it. I didn’t know what meditation was. I had no idea what I would get myself into. I was amazing experience life changing. I mean in a 10 day course you go through so many things and ups and downs but every minute you put into it it’s worth it. I had so many positives but the strongest one was definitely this sense of inner peace that I’ve never felt that way before.

Not only just knowing but really feeling that happiness or contentment has nothing to do with anything external.

And of course, that’s things that we might intellectually know but really feeling it is a very different things and experiencing it. You know of course there is always daily struggles of internalizing it. And that will continue that knowing that is a very big gift to experience. I’ve done a few of these courses and every time at the end it’s just so nice when you haven’t talked for while.

For 10 days as your mind is just so focussed and so clear and you realize how we are impacted by all this chatter and so much information being fed into our brain all the time you really realize what the impact is. As soon as you start talking your mind just goes crazy.

One very important first step is awareness. So you know when you’re saying that you feel you become more sensitive but maybe you’ve just become aware of something that was always there as just that before you weren’t aware of it. So that means you couldn’t look after your body in the way that it needed attention maybe otherwise. You know. The same processes might have gone on is just that you wouldn’t have been aware of the impact it had on you. I mean I can totally connect with what you said about nature providing that space where you can develop all these things. Many of the things that I experienced through meditation of I guess they just came naturally in nature before. If I sit in a forest which is the environment I love, I feel never alone. I can feel alone be surrounded by lots of people are being in a non-natural environment. But I will not feel alone if I’m just in a forest and just being. Whereas in our society we always tool we have to be productive. We have to be doing we have to be doing things. It’s much more healthy to move away from that at least some time and just be be it with nature or be it with other people. And that is what ultimately creates contentment and happiness from within. And Nature provides the natural space for doing that.

Your mind is just in the moment.

The meditation course where I was helping over the years, so I was in the kitchen we were cooking 430 140 people. Which is it can be very demanding because you know cooking for so many people and very strict, strict time slots is probably what many people would call a stressful environment with people I’ve never worked together with but they were all meditators and they’re all aware or at least much more conscious about these things. And it was not only a work very well it was also good fun and we were great teamwork. So, if I could translate that into my day to day world everyone would be amazing.

I started meditation 7 years ago. I meditate daily at least one hour a day sometimes more. I mean it makes a huge difference to my day to day life. And it’s also made a huge difference of how I probably think about conservation.

Before I started meditating all that gloom and doom rhetoric sometimes can be really disempowering and make you feel just really difficult to think that you can really make a positive change in what if you don’t.

So that is very difficult sometimes to grasp. With meditation I also had a sense that you know we’ll be fine eventually, and nature will be able to cope whether humans were kept to cope. That’s a different question. I guess yes it made me more peaceful from within that I can do whatever I can in my possibilities to fight for a more just and more environmentally sustainable world. But I can be fine with whatever happens.

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Christoph Eberhard

I’m Christopher Eberhard… I’m Austrian. Now, I’m based in the South of France, Archachon.

To put it in a nutshell like my whole life has been devoted to, um, I would say a quest for peace, or harmony; a living harmony.

So, it manifested on the one hand, let’s say more social sciences. I had a career as a legal anthropologist, between Law and Social Sciences, trying to see how we could live together in a more dialogical way, understanding each other and harmonizing each other a bit better.

And then the second aspect was like dialogue with inner dialogue and with nature and that especially expressed itself in my interest with the traditional arts especially the Chinese Internal arts and Indian arts like yoga.

For me like this inner resilience would be in this question of dialogue.

Dialogue is listening but it’s not only listening with your ears it’s listening with your heart. And even more than that is listening with your soul.

We can experience that in our very, very day to day experience it’s just like taking some time not starting to speak immediately taking five minutes or 10 minutes just to harmonize, before doing something.

Just letting the mind settle, being rooted in a certain way.

Sometimes people don’t want to do it, they say they don’t have time to do it, but actually just this sitting quietly, calmly, in a certain way completely changes the whole atmosphere.

And if you do it, you would find that people are much, much, more open to real dialogues, to listening to each other, to really sharing their experiences, than if you do it without that quiet time at the beginning.

So, you start to dialogue with another human being. Really dialogue, in the sense that you really wanted to listen to that person, and you, you let yourself be challenged, by maybe the world view that he presents or the sensitivity that he’s expressing.

While it may on the one hand be enriching, but sometimes it may be very shocking. You know. We, we may not really want to hear certain things, or we do not really hear certain things until we have heard them back a hundred times and then suddenly you’re like “Oh wow. There was something deeper than I thought.”

So when this happens it’s, it’s a kind of a challenge, also, some that leads to a second kind of dialogue which is the dialogue with which I call with ‘oneself;’ you start to become aware of what our, let’s call it invisible horizon of action and living things.

And for that actually we need the dialogue with others, because otherwise we can never become aware of our own personal window. And then when you start to deepen this dialogue with others and yourself by listening more to yourself. You also start to realize that actually you are connected to the nature all around you.

That in a certain way, once the sensitivity to listening has been opened up, well, you start to listen to the trees to the sun then the flowers to the to the clouds, in a certain way they talk to you.

If you want to listen, first you have to empty yourself, and then everything come and talks to you. The dialogical aspect of nature which starts to unfold. So, it’s a dialogue with oneself, with the others with the nature. And then there’s this other dimension which I call like beyond, whatever you want to call it, you know, these things which are beyond words and you cannot really express it, but which is also there.

Sometimes, when we talk about inner, we kind of separated or distinguish it from outer. For me, I would rather say that the experience of also entering in yourself, or entering in dialogue with nature or with the beyond, is more a process of creating links, where there was more links you may have had an idea of a feeling of separation, you know, you’re feeling separate from the others, and you’re feeling separate from nature.

Nature is more objects which are outside; the second world of objects. It’s not living reality.

Even some people… who just see them like objects and some robots which there, which behave in a certain way, but they’re not really persons that we interact with.

And the same thing with ourselves, and we may even ourselves not really…. We do our work. We do our things when our routines. But are we really considering ourselves as another living subject, as such.

There’s four dimensions —and you can start from any of these dimensions.

If you’re somebody who has been growing up in a very natural surrounding, maybe your first dialogue starts with nature. Some people they’re shepherds and they spend lots of time alone for months in the mountains. So probably for them the first kind of dialogue which would start is more like a dialogue with nature, and then the dialogues may come.

For people like me and more like a city person. And so, it’s more confronted with people at the beginning, you know. But the important point is to say that for me all these dimensions are always there. At the moment when we start to open one of these dimensions, dialogue of one of these dimensions, little by little we start to realize how everything is much, much, much more linked together than we ever expected.

It’s not just it’s always easy to go someone see what they don’t have is they don’t have that they don’t have that they don’t have that, and just construct them like the inferior version of yourself, but they can do the same thing, because from their point of view, you don’t have this and don’t have that and don’t have that and so on.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting, instead of trying to fill the other with your own projections, and your own ideas, to just listen, open up and then maybe discover all the plenitude the ‘other’ is. I just started to realize that our lives generally speaking sometimes very often a void to be filled.

You know, we, feel that we have to have a certain social status and we feel that we have to on a psychological level we want to achieve certain things and economical level, which is wonderful, as long as it is not something we just do because we need to fill our lives, and at the moment that we dare to maybe step back a little we may just find out that life is actually very rich and well these things may be happening without us trying to push too hard.

Plenitude means you start to realize all the relationships that you, you are knotting together, through your being.

Just like you have a physical body, considering like a modern western science, we are actually really children of the stars. I mean that is …all the elements that we made of are made in the stars, so we have actually a relationship with them.

So, we have this physiological level, but then we have our emotions, we have our feelings, we have our thoughts; in all these different dimensions are all interlinked. By the contemplation of outside nature, which we perceive as being outside, we actually establish a relationship, one which on the outside level may lead us to this feeling that we that we should not care for the environment because it’s our duty, but because of its beauty. And so, we establish that relationship with the outside nature.

But at the same time, contemplating the outside nature also actually refers us back to our inside nature. You can use the term ecological, but I would just say our, inner nature. What life is about. (laugh)

You are part of nature.

When I say nature, you know there’s nature, and nature there’s the visible nature that we see. And then there’s nature in the sense of let’s call what is the whole planet. And the solar system and the galaxies, and now they are talking about multiverses — all this is part of this other broader concept.

It really links, creating links where we didn’t see links, links where there was separation, little by little to see that things are so much linked, which is very important in the ecological thinking, you start to enter into this more holistic approaches to things because you realize you cannot just cut things into pieces, they’re always related and whenever you change something, someone always has an effect on the whole.

If you start practicing any Qi Gong, if you start practicing any movement, which you will do with the relaxed body, tasting what you’re doing, maybe doing it slowly, and doing it with awareness. Little by little what you will start to feel is what the Chinese often call Qi which is energy.

Again which is experiential, the one feeling that you may have at the beginning, is you will feel some tingling in the fingers or you may feel some warmth that will come, and then if you continue at some point you may feel it more inside, kind of a magnetic feeling. Sometimes you get somewhat like electric feel to it, just the quiet sitting and watching your breath…. Actually, even if you just do this but like you do it every day, and you do it for a couple of hours every day, and so on and so on– at the beginning you are very much in the psychological state. You’re just thinking of this and thinking of that.

And then at the moment, when these things start to settle a little –you like a glass, water and mixed and then it settles and becomes more clear and more transparent. When that stage starts to happen, things start to circulate in your body, that’s like basically what is the whole Qi.

These things are very real.

Christoph at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature, India.

So that brings me to the reaction to the experience. The culture we live in, now I’m talking well, city culture, you know like a technological society. It blunts us to a lot of our experiences.

If you live in nature, and you have to live to survive in with nature. Your senses are much much more refined than the kind of senses that we may have like you know living in the cities. So in a certain way we again we colonised our minds and even now I still realise how much my mind is colonised

Very, very, big learning process also…..because you start to realize I do have an innate intelligence, my body does understand certain things, OK. You have to put the awareness. It’s not that you don’t have to do anything. You have to put the awareness. You have to try to listen. You have to practice. It’s not just coming like if you don’t do anything. And once you know little by little to learn, to make the difference between what is your illusions, and your and what things are real, in those what you feel.

We are not gods, we are not the masters of nature, or the kings of nature, no we are just a part of it, a very humble tiny part it.

Humility, the importance of humility.

You recognize yourself as a wonder of the universe. It’s amazing. And the more humble you become, in a certain way, the more beautiful the whole thing becomes.

CREDITS

Tanya’s Voice:

Thank you for listening!

Nordic by Nature Podcast is an ImaginaryLife.net production created with the support of the Nordic Ministries Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast. Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynaturepodcast@gmail.com

We are also on Patreon if you would like to support us with a donation to keep this podcast going into a second series! See www.patreon.com/nordicbynature

If you are interested in Mindfulness and Resilient Thinking, please read about Ajay Rastogi’s village homestay retreats on foundnature.org, and follow the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature on Facebook, and Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

Noor A Noor worked for Nature Conservation Egypt. Please see  www.natureegypt.org. You can follow Noor on Twitter, @Nxoor.

You can follow Judith Schleicher on twitter @j_schleicher (spell it out). You can find Christoph Eberhard’s through his youtube channel, Dialogues for Change or Twitter, @PeaceDialogues.

Sound designed by Diego Losa. See diegolosa.blogspot.com

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Christoph Eberhard, ON INNER RESILIENCE

Christoph Eberhard is a bilingual Austrian living in France; a specialist in the anthropology of law and author of the book Human Rights and Intercultural dialogue. Eberhard is also a TaiChi and QiGong Teacher. He says he is on a journey of peace, and that means dialogue: dialogue with oneself, with others, with our environment and the greater beyond. His motto is “Life is not a void to be filled. It is a world of abundance, or “plenitude,” waiting to be discovered.”

You can find Christoph Eberhard’s through his youtube channel, Dialogues for Change or Twitter, @PeaceDialogues.

Qi gong class at the Vrikshalaya centre, held by teacher Christoph Eberhard.

Transcript, Christoph Eberhard, ON INNER RESILIENCE

I’m Christopher Eberhard… I’m Austrian. Now, I’m based in the South of France, Archachon.

To put it in a nutshell like my whole life has been devoted to, um, I would say a quest for peace, or harmony; a living harmony.

So, it manifested on the one hand, let’s say more social sciences. I had a career as a legal anthropologist, between Law and Social Sciences, trying to see how we could live together in a more dialogical way, understanding each other and harmonising each other a bit better.

And then the second aspect was like dialogue with inner dialogue and with nature and that especially expressed itself in my interest with the traditional arts especially the Chinese Internal arts and Indian arts like yoga.

For me like this inner resilience would be in this question of dialogue.

Dialogue is listening but it’s not only listening with your ears it’s listening with your heart. And even more than that is listening with your soul. We can experience that in our very, very day to day experience it’s just like taking some time not starting to speak immediately taking five minutes or 10 minutes just to harmonise, before doing something.

Just letting the mind settle, being rooted in a certain way.

Sometimes people don’t want to do it, they say they don’t have time to do it, but actually just this sitting quietly, calmly, in a certain way completely changes the whole atmosphere.

And if you do it, you would find that people are much, much, more open to real dialogues, to listening to each other, to really sharing their experiences, than if you do it without that quiet time at the beginning. So, you start to dialogue with another human being. Really dialogue, in the sense that you really wanted to listen to that person, and you, you let yourself be challenged, by maybe the world view that he presents or the sensitivity that he’s expressing.

While it may on the one hand be enriching, but sometimes it may be very shocking. You know. We, we may not really want to hear certain things, or we do not really hear certain things until we have heard them back a hundred times and then suddenly you’re like “Oh wow. There was something deeper than I thought.”

So when this happens it’s, it’s a kind of a challenge, also, some that leads to a second kind of dialogue which is the dialogue with which I call with ‘oneself;’ you start to become aware of what our, let’s call it invisible horizon of action and living things.

And for that actually we need the dialogue with others, because otherwise we can never become aware of our own personal window. And then when you start to deepen this dialogue with others and yourself by listening more to yourself. You also start to realise that actually you are connected to the nature all around you.

That in a certain way, once the sensitivity to listening has been opened up, well, you start to listen to the trees to the sun then the flowers to the to the clouds, in a certain way they talk to you.

If you want to listen, first you have to empty yourself, and then everything come and talks to you. The dialogical aspect of nature which starts to unfold. So, it’s a dialogue with oneself, with the others with the nature. And then there’s this other dimension which I call like beyond, whatever you want to call it, you know, these things which are beyond words and you cannot really express it, but which is also there.

Sometimes, when we talk about inner, we kind of separated or distinguish it from outer. For me, I would rather say that the experience of also entering in yourself, or entering in dialogue with nature or with the beyond, is more a process of creating links, where there was more links you may have had an idea of a feeling of separation, you know, you’re feeling separate from the others, and you’re feeling separate from nature.

Nature is more objects which are outside; the second world of objects. It’s not living reality. Even some people… who just see them like objects and some robots which there, which behave in a certain way, but they’re not really persons that we interact with.

And the same thing with ourselves, and we may even ourselves not really…. We do our work. We do our things when our routines. But are we really considering ourselves as another living subject, as such.

There’s four dimensions —and you can start from any of these dimensions.

If you’re somebody who has been growing up in a very natural surrounding, maybe your first dialogue starts with nature. Some people they’re shepherds and they spend lots of time alone for months in the mountains. So probably for them the first kind of dialogue which would start is more like a dialogue with nature, and then the dialogues may come.

For people like me and more like a city person. And so, it’s more confronted with people at the beginning, you know. But the important point is to say that for me all these dimensions are always there. At the moment when we start to open one of these dimensions, dialogue of one of these dimensions, little by little we start to realise how everything is much, much, much more linked together than we ever expected.

Life is not the void to be filled, it is a plenitude to be discovered. The ‘other’ is not the void to be filled. It’s a plenitude to be discovered.

It’s not just it’s always easy to go someone see what they don’t have is they don’t have that they don’t have that they don’t have that, and just construct them like the inferior version of yourself, but they can do the same thing, because from their point of view, you don’t have this and don’t have that and don’t have that and so on.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting, instead of trying to fill the other with your own projections, and your own ideas, to just listen, open up and then maybe discover all the plenitude the ‘other’ is. I just started to realise that our lives generally speaking sometimes very often a void to be filled.

You know, we, feel that we have to have a certain social status and we feel that we have to on a psychological level we want to achieve certain things and economical level, which is wonderful, as long as it is not something we just do because we need to fill our lives, and at the moment that we dare to maybe step back a little we may just find out that life is actually very rich and well these things may be happening without us trying to push too hard.  Plenitude means you start to realise all the relationships that you, you are knotting together, through your being.

Just like you have a physical body, considering like a modern western science, we are actually really children of the stars. I mean that is …all the elements that we made of are made in the stars, so we have actually a relationship with them.

So, we have this physiological level, but then we have our emotions, we have our feelings, we have our thoughts; in all these different dimensions are all interlinked.

By the contemplation of outside nature, which we perceive as being outside, we actually establish a relationship, one which on the outside level may lead us to this feeling that we that we should not care for the environment because it’s our duty, but because of its beauty. And so, we establish that relationship with the outside nature.

But at the same time, contemplating the outside nature also actually refers us back to our inside nature. You can use the term ecological, but I would just say our, inner nature. What life is about. (laugh)

You are part of nature.

When I say nature, you know there’s nature, and nature there’s the visible nature that we see. And then there’s nature in the sense of let’s call what is the whole planet. And the solar system and the galaxies, and now they are talking about multiverses — all this is part of this other broader concept.

It really links, creating links where we didn’t see links, links where there was separation, little by little to see that things are so much linked, which is very important in the ecological thinking, you start to enter into this more holistic approaches to things because you realise you cannot just cut things into pieces, they’re always related and whenever you change something, someone always has an effect on the whole. 

If you start practicing any Qi Gong, if you start practicing any movement, which you will do with the relaxed body, tasting what you’re doing, maybe doing it slowly, and doing it with awareness. Little by little what you will start to feel is what the Chinese often call Qi which is energy.

Again which is experiential, the one feeling that you may have at the beginning, is you will feel some tingling in the fingers or you may feel some warmth that will come, and then if you continue at some point you may feel it more inside, kind of a magnetic feeling. Sometimes you get somewhat like electric feel to it, just the quiet sitting and watching your breath…. Actually, even if you just do this but like you do it every day, and you do it for a couple of hours every day, and so on and so on– at the beginning you are very much in the psychological state. You’re just thinking of this and thinking of that.

And then at the moment, when these things start to settle a little –you like a glass, water and mixed and then it settles and becomes more clear and more transparent. When that stage starts to happen, things start to circulate in your body, that’s like basically what is the whole Qi.

These things are very real.

So that brings me to the reaction to the experience. The culture we live in, now I’m talking well, city culture, you know like a technological society. It blunts us to a lot of our experiences.

If you live in nature, and you have to live to survive in with nature. Your senses are much much more refined than the kind of senses that we may have like you know living in the cities. So in a certain way we again we colonised our minds and even now I still realise how much my mind is colonised

Very, very, big learning process also…..because you start to realise I do have an innate intelligence, my body does understand certain things, OK. You have to put the awareness. It’s not that you don’t have to do anything. You have to put the awareness. You have to try to listen. You have to practice. It’s not just coming like if you don’t do anything. And once you know little by little to learn, to make the difference between what is your illusions, and what things are real, in those what you feel.

We are not gods, we are not the masters of nature, or the kings of nature, no we are just a part of it, a very humble tiny part it.

Humility, the importance of humility.

You recognise yourself as a wonder of the universe. It’s amazing. And the more humble you become, in a certain way, the more beautiful the whole thing becomes.

END

Noor A Noor, ON INNER RESILIENCE

Noor A Noor was born in Egypt as a son of activists. He went on to study political science and #aw, but it was his love of the arts and his #activism as a musician raising awareness about waste through music made with recycled materials that lead him to a job with Nature Conservation Egypt. In 2011 Noor witnessed terrible violence during the Egyptian uprising. Two years later, trauma lead him to find out about the practice of mindfulness and nature immersion as proven modes of healing but also as a way of understanding the world around us.

Transcript, Noor A Noor, ON INNER RESILIENCE.

Growing up I I was a child of the city. My parents Were very active for social justice and for political rights and economic rights. However, they didn’t bring me into nature… it wasn’t part of my upbringing.

In 2011, Egypt saw one of its most incredible yet traumatic uprisings where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians went to the street to call for bread, freedom, and social justice. And obviously everything that stems from those three components.

As a result significant changes came about some of them were for the better but lots of them were for the worse. We were met with huge violence. Met with huge violence from the people that were in charge at the time specifically the armed forces or the army.

There was constant conflict between protesters that are calling for a complete transition to a more democratic, human rights-oriented government. And as a result…There was heavy persecution and Egyptians still remain heavily persecuted by the state.

Throughout 2011, myself as well as hundreds of thousands of other Egyptians who were taking part in these demonstrations, had to run for their lives. More than enough times.

To realise that that that life isn’t really as it seems once you’ve actually had to run for your life.

I had went from always being prepared to sacrifice myself for the cause to realising that I am actually more useful let’s say, if I try to survive, and part of that realisation came the by spending time and nature for the first time.

I was spending a significant amount of time in nature and learning about nature and teaching nature as well as conserving nature as a part of my new jobs that I had assumed in 2012 and by spending more time in nature.

By understanding nature more I ended up understanding myself more.

Bit by bit I ended up encountering mindfulness. Which at the beginning I hated as a term because I felt it was very counter intuitive. The more I read up into mindfulness the more it really resonated. On a theoretical level, on a political level, and on a personal level. By spending time in nature by understanding how it works, by letting oneself be inspired and be healed by nature; That in itself is a mindful process.

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Essentially one had encountered so much physical and emotional trauma in that one year whether inflicted upon myself or even worse seeing it inflicted on those that I cared about or even those that I did not know. But we share the common political ground. Accumulated traumas from that still are carried by myself as well as thousands of others to this day.

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There’s no romanticisation of revolution there’s no romanticisation of Conflict and uprising. But I am absolutely grateful… because of how I ended up having to respond to these traumas.….. even politically How to better see how we can…be better as a holistically as a planet….

Get through the inevitable crises that we are facing and will continue to face at an exponential rate in the future.

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After the 2011 uprisings I was adamant on working in the field and I ended up getting a job managing an NGO working in nature conservation as well as working with a company that does educational environmental tourism and it’s a company called Dima. It made me aware of certain dimensions relating to our survival to relating to sustainability relating to the battles that we are trying to fight for justice.

I realised the importance of of Nature, and of the natural resources that we depend on.
What many people are realising now is that all political and economic and even social dynamics relating to us as a species to us humans as a species are directly or indirectly related to our relationship with surrounding nature.

The fact that we continue to separate ourselves from the things that keep us alive. Starting from our food all the way to even the air that we breathe in the oxygen that comes from that comes from other living beings and other habitats on this planet. Our separating ourselves from the nature we depend on, is at the heart of some of the existing conflict over resources, as well as the trajectory that we’re taking towards the collapse of the systems that support us.

Political ecologies is excellent as a term in encompassing this. It says that…Whenever we look at nature and its resources, we need to think about the political, social and economic structures that govern nature. If we’re going to talk about its conservation. And at the same time, if we’re looking at development; We need to think about the ecological processes that support. These social processes.

To be honest, we’re all implicated. The phone that I’m using now to speak with you. About sustainability the components that were used to make this phone are not sustainable. The coffee that I am sipping on at the moment is is it supposed to be ethically sourced but, in the end, it’s probably come from somewhere very far away. That in itself, we’ve become so dependent on these things.

Back when I was 15, my father was imprisoned by the Mubarak regime. Or The regime that was in power in Egypt for 30 years. My father was sentenced to four five years in prison. At that time I remember specific telling myself things like alright. You have a minute to feel whatever you want to feel

And then as soon as that minute’s done. Switch it off. Switch it off, go back continue about your day don’t revel in your head, just move along and I remember being 15 and telling myself these things. And while obviously that might not always be the best solution. I remember forcing myself to just to be able to disconnect from the anxieties and the fears in my head.
To be able to just continue to function.

Ten years later when I found myself…. Acknowledging my anxiety for the first time, I realised that I’ve been breathing wrong my entire life. We’re not taught how to breathe when we’re kids no one tells you to breathe through your stomach when you’re a child.

In my last year of university, I was I was studying political science and law and then my last year I got involved in a music project that made music out of garbage. So, recycling and upcycling waste to make music and to raise environmental and social and political awareness using it using music as a means. That music project introduced me to the people that I ended up working with for the years to come.

Questions to Tenzin Shenyen; a monk called ‘friend.’

In ten days time, our friend Tenzin Shenyen will embark on a 3-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Germany that “begins a cycle of practices to stabilise, concentrate and open the mind through more meditative practices that… include practices aimed at transcending one’s deeply ingrained delusional tendency to see oneself and the world as ordinary.”

Q: It’s been 3 years since you gave a talk at Service Design Conference in Stockholm. It was wonderful to see the whole conference meditating with you. It palpably changed the energy in the room. I especially appreciated your advice for design professionals to ‘Just Say No!’ more often. I think that advice is more important than ever. Can you expand on that a bit?

A: As I said in one of my posts about the approaching retreat, I think human beings are machines for producing works of art, and that the best works of art are nameless and invisible. Saying “no” to what is visible and which already has a name is one way into that space. I also re-read Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan recently and was touched by how deeply I still resonated with it. There’s a lot of ‘no’ saying in it, from ‘erasing personal history’ to ‘losing self-importance’, to ‘becoming inaccessible’ and ‘disrupting the routines of life’. The genuinely ‘new’ comes out of nowhere – and I mean absolutely nowhere, a brutally total nowhere- but we are too eager to be ‘somewhere’, no matter how shabby and derivative that ‘somewhere’ might be.

I hope at least one designer out there reads this and decides to say ‘no’ to the whole works — until reappearing twelve years later with something with no name and no identity that the whole world needs.

"Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I'll meet you there, I'm sure."

“Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one-litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I’ll meet you there, I’m sure.”

Q: What impact does your Buddhist practice have on your daily life today? How does Buddhism work as a practical guideline for daily decision making? How can this shape a layman’s decision-making to live an ethical life as an ‘ordinary’ person?

A: My daily life is perfumed by Buddhism. It allows me to see everything I do as a kind of prayer. For example, right now I’m watching the world cup. It’s football and I love it, it needs no justification. My unconscious is working tremendously hard preparing for the retreat, so Shenyen is balancing that by just relaxing. I don’t need to justify it. Justifications are for people who are organising pogroms, or asset-stripping entire national infrastructures, etc. not for people who are … content just being nobody, nowhere, just talking with The Invisibles, just owning one pair of shoes … or just watching Argentina’s slalom into the knockout stage while reading Jorge Valdano reflecting on the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, along with his plea to stop treating football as a science; it all turns it all into a kind of dream yoga. And dream yoga is part of the path to Buddhahood. You cannot live an ethical life without nurturing your imagination.

Elaine Scarry’s talk, Beauty as a call to justice, will explain that in detail. I re-posted it on my youtube channel. Ultimately no-one can tell you how to live, they can only seduce you into living in a specific way. Ethics thus emerges from Eros, from loving relationships — with yourself, people around you, your own karmic history, and the culture around you and the times you have been born into.

Q: You spoke once about the importance of combining Buddhist practice with your own ‘culture’ or your natural place in contemporary society as a western monk. Will you still have space for that kind of ‘personal cultural research/ observation’ on your 3-year retreat? Can you watch football when you are there?! Can you read Artforum? Can you write your blog, radioshenyen?

A: Football? Probably not! But in between the meditation blocks, that will usually last about 6-8 weeks per topic, we are encouraged to relax, maybe even listen to a little music. And I will have my Artforum scrapbooks with me. Enough for one exhibition a week I think! But I don’t see too much separation between the centuries-old tantric stuff and my personal interests. Doing the retreat in all its traditional structure is also a part of my ‘personal cultural research’.

"Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment."

“Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment.”

Q: How much meditation do you recommend to a layperson or beginner? Is frequency important for practice? Are there other types of activities such as physical work (making things, cleaning, gardening, etc.) that are also seen as part of Buddhist practice? In Asia, meditation isn’t seen as something that ‘ordinary people’ do. Lay people often ask the monks to meditate and pray on their behalf.

A: Meditation is extremely over-emphasised in contemporary Western presentations of Buddhism. Ethics, study, art, service, offering, confession, purification, prayer, chanting, and vows, among other things, are all sidelined, or dismissed as ‘obvious’, ‘old-fashioned’, ‘embarrassing’ or ‘peripheral’. But Buddhism only really comes alive when you take on board it’s entire culture, it’s ‘world’ while being willing to do the work of engaging that world with your own. Thus, my love of contemporary art is inseparable from my study of Madhyamaka and tantric meditations. My best moments of mindfulness occur when on alms round. You can’t just meditate in a vacuum, in a fog of mundane activity and thinking.

But nevertheless, it is part of the path.

I would recommend a very short commitment — 10 minutes a day is fine — to being quiet, still, disciplined and visionary on one’s cushion. But instead of wanting to meditate I would suggest that people simply pray to be able to meditate, and then relax. Thinking about what other people need — the immediate needs of the people around you right now, at home or on the train platform — is so much more powerful than some half-hearted meditation practice.

Genuine meditation comes out of uncontrived faith. Faith arises out of joy and ethics. Ethics from art and empathetic disciplined imagination.

Q: We need to manage negative attachments to the idea of future, such as fear or sadness or anxiety, as these feelings arise, to avoid shutting down altogether. Is hope also an attachment?

A: Attachment is one of those words that are easy to misconstrue. In Buddhism, liking something isn’t an expression of attachment; wanting something good to continue, or to happen if it hasn’t yet happened, isn’t attachment. Attachment is defined as a state where ‘you are willing to do something bad in order for something to continue (or begin)’. So ‘hope’ in itself isn’t attachment. Love isn’t attachment, not even fierce love. Whereas cowardice would be.

Q: What is your favourite festival or holiday? What practices in your life have changed significantly since becoming ordained?

A: I like New Year’s celebrations. Awareness of time cycles is a lovely thing and transcends specific religions and worldviews. And the atom bomb memorial day in Hiroshima is also high on my list of ‘things which make the heart beat faster’ – if that’s what you mean by ‘festival’.
Ordination, by providing an absolutely fundamental challenge to my sense of identity, in both challenging (demanding, humbling) and transformative (blessed) ways, has helped me to explore more deeply the teachings on non-self as a meditative state.

Q: How important is it to be altruistic?

A: It is impossible to become a Buddha without practising altruism. And never mind Buddhahood, it is impossible to keep enjoying positive samsaric rebirths without practising altruism. All art comes from altruism.

Links:
– For those interested in reading more about the 3-year retreat there are 5 posts on Shenyen’s blog, radioshenyen that talk about it in more detail. https://radioshenyen.blogspot.com/
– Shenyen on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKf_RRjzHsJ5a_LtWltGubA
 Images from Shenyen’s Instagram: @radioshenyen 

Finding Zero

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to find yourself – but it might help!

Immersing yourself in natural surroundings brings a huge amount of physical and psychological benefits. But naturalness is much more than a superficial sense of wellbeing. It can bring us to another level of autonomy, where we are freed from all the usual external influences that shape our beliefs and behaviour. It’s about gaining insight into The Human Condition.

View from Majkhali Village. Photo by by Dhirendra Bisht.

View from Majkhali Village. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

That kind personal transformation is much easier to attain with hands-on experience, says Ajay Rastogi, Philosopher and Applied Ethics practitioner, and founder of The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature.

I had the good fortune to meet Ajay at the recent Tasting India Symposium in New Delhi, an event that brought together some of India’s brightest minds within food and sustainability. Like many of his contemporaries there, Ajay had left a successful career to go back to his home region and drive change from within. For Ajay that meant working together with the rural villagers of his homeland at the foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttarakhand.

Ajay welcomes everyone, regardless of race, caste, age, religion, gender, orientation, or education.

Ajay welcomes everyone, regardless of race, caste, age, religion, gender, orientation, or education.

 

The foundation aims to research and develop new models for Resilience through cultural exchange, by connecting villagers with people from the cities and other countries in residential homestays and programs such as yoga and meditation retreats. The Contemplation of Nature is threefold; immersion in nature, mindful meditation, and a hands-on experience of the rural ‘resilient’ life.

Resilience moves far beyond current definitions of sustainability. On a 2-week homestay, you get to take part in everything that rural village life offers. Don’t worry – there is no enforced programme here. You are free to just rest and explore if that’s what you need, but guests usually end up getting quite involved with village life; learning about everything from organic seed banking, to preparing grain harvests, to tending to the village cows, cooking the local Kumaoni cuisine, or celebrating one of the many festivals that happen throughout India.

The Yoga Hall was listed as one of the top ten yoga venues of the world by The Guardian newspaper.

The Yoga Hall was listed as one of the top ten yoga venues of the world by The Guardian newspaper.

The Vrikshalaya centre is the headquarters and heart of the Foundation. It also offers longer-term residencies for artists and designers who are interested in exploring the principles of resilience as part of their work. Vrikshalaya means ‘Home of the Trees’ in Sanskrit – so outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, water rafting, camping and hiking are all part of nature immersion. The area is stunning, and the centre has been listed as one of ten top yoga venues in the world by the Guardian newspaper.

The aim of the foundation is to get people to experience three basic principles of Resilience that sustain all life; Dignity of Physical Work, Interdependence and Interconnectivity.

Women transplanting of rice accompanied by a Hudikia Ball musician. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

Women transplanting of rice accompanied by a Hudikia Ball musician. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

The Dignity of Physical Work
There is a long tradition in India of travelling to the Himalayas and rural areas to practice yoga and meditation as a spiritual practice, but not physical work.

Ajay explains: “In India, we have such an inequitable society. The caste system is still deeply ingrained in society and especially in rural life.”

Specific tasks, such as tailoring, traditional music, cleaning and different crafts, are often associated with specific castes. It’s considered servant’s work. And work is very gendered. Traditionally, women prepare the food, work in the fields and take care of the house. A recent survey revealed that women spend more time in the fields farming than men and bullocks combined!

Homestay Mums preparing food.

Homestay Mums preparing food.

“We never even imagined the value of cultural exchange with western visitors. Younger westerners, in particular, would challenge outdated ways of thinking about caste and gender,” explained Ajay. “They wanted to know why the village girls were fetching water and taking care of the cows after school, instead of playing cricket with boys.”

Also, the homestay families are from different castes. This was purposefully provocative on Ajay’s part. The foundation hosts communal events for the visitors and their host families, challenging these deeply ingrained practices. Traditionally, lower castes do not eat together with higher castes. They do not attend the same meetings. Lower castes are even given separate plates and cutlery if they go to the house of a higher caste.

For the visitors, the learning curve is clear. Artisanal types of work and growing our own food re-connects our minds and hands.  Doing something mindful with our hands together with others is natural and enjoyable.

This especially affected some of the younger visitors from the States, Ajay explained. “Their tears welled up as they realised they hardly ever spent time with their family. Here in the villages, shared activities, whether its farming or preparing millet, or making textiles, is a way to spend quality time with our friends, family and neighbours. It’s fun to create something of value together.”

Traditional farming is organic.

Traditional farming is organic.

The repetitive actions of simple tasks also have a positive effect on the mind and body. When your mind can reach a level of sustained calmness, your body starts to do miraculous things. It’s called the ‘deep relaxation response’ in psychology. The stress hormone cortisol isn’t frantically released as our bodies aren’t in a fight or flee mode, aggravated by extremes in emotion.  Combine this innate calmness with physical movement and you have a recipe for better mental and physical health.

Interdependence
Interdependence is about people, reciprocity and solidarity. We are all used to financial transactions; I buy something and I pay for it, I own it. But it’s far smarter and more beneficial for the individual to systemically build a society around shared spaces and shared resources. In the village, not everyone has to take care of their cows every-day. They can share the duties, and reduce the daily work from once a day to once every 30 days.

Celebrating Diwali. Photo by Pete Zhivkov.

Celebrating Diwali. Photo by Pete Zhivkov.

Traditionally, when someone dies in India they are cremated on an open funeral pyre. So when someone dies everyone visits the house in mourning to pay their respects and donate some wood. The job of collecting wood for the funeral pyre is taken care of by the community. Community takes care of necessities. It used to be the same with cooking for a wedding. Surplus food and goods are also distributed throughout the community to those in need. Interdependence exists as a fact, so working with it is just common sense.

A host family house in the village.

A host family house in the village.

Interconnectivity
The third and final principle of the foundation is Interconnectivity. This is about striving for a harmonious coexistence with nature, as we rely on our environment for all the resources that keep us alive. Ajay’s hope is that people will take the realisation of interconnectivity back with them and apply it to their own lives.

Celebrating Spring. Photo by Jogendra Bisht.

Celebrating Spring. Photo by Jogendra Bisht.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a modern, connected culture, we need to cultivate an attitude of care and understand where the things that sustain us come from and go to. Our resources are not limitless. Food, water and energy doesn’t just appear, just as clothes and products do not just appear.

Our culture of waste has inherent challenges. All our actions have an impact and an intrinsic cost that someone somewhere must pay. If we keep that connection in mind the impact on our everyday choices can be profound.

The proof of concept is in the eyes of all the people involved; the host families and the visitors. When the guests leave, says Ajay: “Every farewell is always tearful, always connected.”

11. Ajay gardening
Words by Tanya Kim Grassley. Published in The Forumist, March 2018.

Links:
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature 
Tasting India
India Tourist Board
The Guardian top ten yoga holidays