Nature Connection & Regenerative Culture: Researching the Intersection Through Art Practice
Documentation from a 9-day deep dive in artistic residence
🏡 Artist in Residence: Eco Quinta Moinhos do Dão, Mangualde, Portugal 🗓 17–26 September 2021 🎯 Aim: to process, synthesize and share insights into nature connection & regeneration. Why do they require each other?
This is some documentation from my exploration of nature connection and regeneration in Portugal. Post re:build gathering (100 people converged in Alentejo, Portugal to design and implement ways of regenerative co-living).
In January I learned from a nature education organization that the word “sustainability” is no longer meaningful or accurate in describing our ecological goal. The trending word of 2020 and 2021 is regenerative.
Since then, I’ve been seeing it everywhere:
activist groups creating “regenerative culture” tool kits to care for their emotional selves,
farmers transitioning from industrial to ‘regenerative agriculture’ and mimicking nature’s cycles for carbon sequestration,
economists creating regenerative economy models that use gifting and sharing, instead of growth and extraction
entrepreneurs creating co-living villages with food forests on nearly arid land to nourish the soil.
Definition of regenerate: originally theological meaning to 'bring from natural to spiritual state'. Contemporarily: 'to be restored to a better or more worthy state'.
Contemporary cognitive science researchers and clinical psychologists like John Vervaeke and Jordan Peterson are pointing out a crisis of meaning.
For Vervaeke, the essence of the modern sense that there’s no meaning in life is the feeling of disconnectedness.
To me, the switch from sustainable to regenerative comes as a response to our need for connection. Daniel Christian Wahl, a leading contemporary author on regenerative culture writes,
“Regenerative leadership is a process of personal development that aligns one’s own way of being and actions with the wider pattern of life’s evolutionary journey within the communities, ecosystems, biosphere and Universe we participate in. As Janine Benyus [co-founder of Biomimicry Institute] has said so succinctly: “Life creates conditions conducive to life.” Regenerative Cultures aim to emulate this insight in how we relate to the human family and all life.”
Sounds very ‘connected’ and ‘meaningful’ to me.
I’m skeptical, however, of the regenerative movement being yet another made-by-monkey-mind response to a problem that will only create more destructive problems down the road.
So my approach is this:
Start by cultivating a real bodily feeling of connection with the natural world. Once felt, that’s a signal that we are aligning with the language of life — call it wisdom or animate intelligence. When we can tap that animate intelligence that runs through all living things, then I trust we will really regenerate from a place of wise action, as opposed to frantic reaction.
Nature connection => Wise action => Regeneration
My practices during the residence:
Sit Spot daily (rain or shine)
2 days of observation before action
Widening field of vision (Owl Eyes)
Mindful fire building
6 consecutive days of me sitting for 30 minutes+ in the same place at nearly the same time in the morning. Facing east.
Nature connection is a feeling in you. It’s something to draw up and to let trickle out through your tissues and nervous system. It will not likely be omnipresent, but the sense of relationship will grow as it does with a human acquaintance turning friend.
🔗 For more resources of research see my process journal.
Connect — Invitations
Horizon contemplation — in sitting position in a forested area, scan your eyes vertically down your body, across the earth, up a tree or vertical structure and back. Contemplate the boundaries of you.
Sitting inside of yourself — sitting/standing in the forest Imagine: You’re sitting inside of yourself. Feel around. Take in the landscape of your internal world; the behind-the-scenes workings of you. Reach out and touch. Breathe deeply and notice the smells. Look close and far away. Be curious.
Thread Walk Invitation:
Pair yourself with anyone. Decide who will go first. You’ll start at the center and, when I ring this bell, begin walking along the thread.
As you walk, you have 2 aims: 1st, always keep 1 point of contact with either the thread or something touching the thread. 2nd, whoever is not going first asks the other, “Please (NAME), would you tell me a story about the relationship of nature and you?” After asking, the listener should remain absolutely silent until the bell rings again, especially when it feels awkward
After 10 minutes, the bell will ring. When you hear the bell, turn and face the direction of the center (here). The storyteller asks the listener, “Please (NAME), would you tell me a story about the relationship of nature and you?” Now, it’s the listener’s time to tell their story as the two of you begin traveling slowly back to the center. The new listener should be totally silent until the bell rings again.
Notes: Walk slowly // If you get to the end before the bell rings, sit down or stand there and continue telling your story // Remember always to keep one point of contact with the thread or something touching it.
We tell stories to make sense of things. I’m telling you a story right now. I’ll invite us all now to express and hear some of the stories that are guiding us in life today.
Following thread through the woods can prompt a physical experience of connection to the interconnected elements of land that you will encounter along the way. The thread leads the human heart through the land. Thread can weave. We are aiming to weave the human heart-mind with the land. To provide and develop tools for getting close to nature. To make it effortless to belong within our Selves (or 'Souls'), express our Selves, to connect vulnerably with other selves and to the environment as a whole living organism.
Thread Walk Sharing: Which moments or thoughts felt significant?
Looking at the thread through the woods, there’s a playfulness in the color, softness in the material, a metaphor in the pivots connecting trees and other beings together. The thread draws out the forest family systems. It associates with my internal family systems. The many characters of Joshua are strung together, stand their ground and influence each other just as the ash, alder and hazel simultaneously exchange water and nutrients while claiming their individual patches to root and stand on the land. This is the holonic dance of I and us, part and parcel, reduced and expanded, both at once.
Poem: A story of 'I'
I’m a person. I walk the land and eat the fruits. I take what I can so I can thrive. I play with my surroundings. I jump in puddles, swim in rivers and oceans. I feed water-weeds to ducks. I spread mulch of leaves and water trees. I walk and ski in mountains. I wear a ski suit. Or a birthday suit. Or a suit-jacket when I have to perform my story. Nature is my home. Earth is my home. Air is my home. What surrounds me is my home. My body is my home. My heart is my home. My thoughts are not my home. My mind is my home. My home is my place of play, leisure, comfort; pain, illness, death; belonging and living.
Complex and Complicated (with help from words of Jeremy Lent’s Web of Meaning)
Most of the time, the story I tell people when they ask me who I am and where I come from is complicated, similar to a jumbo jet: each of its components and the way they relate to each other have been analyzed and crafted to be accurately predictable. If that weren’t the case, you’d be unlikely to trust boarding that jet. You’d be unlikely to trust your prediction of how Joshua will behave.
Alternatively, every living entity, down to a single cell, including ‘me’, is a complex system, which means that all of its parts engage dynamically with each other in a vast number of nonlinear relationships, with feedback loops that can never be precisely described or predicted.
Perhaps When I realize fully that I am, to myself, the story that I tell myself and I am, to others, the story I tell to them, then that story can shift to include concepts that are more porous and connected to parts outside of “I”.
The human mind conceptualizes the story of an ‘I’ that is contained and sterile from the ‘other’ or ‘not I’ (like parts of the jumbo jet). This reductive story is helpful at times. However, the link we often miss to realize and embody is, “I and all of my parts are interdependent and dynamically engaged in a vast number of nonlinear relationships with feedback loops that can never be precisely described or predicted. I’m encouraging us to embrace this unpredictability through nature connection practice. element in the complex weave of the ecosystem, environment, life.”
“We’re awake now, and the question is how do we stay awake to the living world? How do we make the act of asking nature’s advice a normal part of everyday inventing?” — Janine Benyus
Additional documentation in my artistic process log.