Sit in silence to learn the secrets of the natural world
Andy Letcher, Senior Lecturer in MA Engaged Ecology, sends a postcard from Sweden where he spent the week teaching on the International Youth Initiative Project introducing to some concepts of Engaged Ecology. From the depths of Swedish forest he explains how we can all learn to engage with the non-human world.
The deceptively beautiful but deadly poisonous mushroom known as the Destroying Angel
Andy says : “I’ve stepped away from the campus walked out on a trail into the woods. Already it feels very different to what I’m used to. I’m looking at unfamiliar conifers not far away there are carpets of the blueberries for which Sweden is justifiably famous. I’m standing next to a juniper bush and there are all kinds of species that I don’t recognize. I’m in unfamiliar territory. I’m told that just the other side of the motorway there’s a pack of wolves, and that if I’m lucky, I might see a white tailed eagle.
This is not the green woodland of Robin Hood and “Merrie England”. This is an altogether wilder, stranger place to me – strange to me, obviously not to the people who live here. If I’m going to find anything unusual, I think it would be a troll, not Robin Hood. While I was teaching this morning I was asked if there was a daily practice that people could do, to foster their relationship with the non-human.
So now, I’m doing exactly what I’ve asked the students to do. I’m going to look for a sit spot. I’m walking in the woods until I find somewhere that I feel comfortable and safe, somewhere I might want to return to, and somewhere I can go every day and just sit, even for 10 minutes, but preferably longer, and do nothing and just observe; just to quieten my mind.
Of course, it would help if I learn some of the species that live here. But this is an exercise in just listening, returning to a place, quickening the mind, opening the senses and listening – almost making yourself invisible and losing all attachment to the need we all have to see something unusual; to see the eagle, to see the wolves, to see an elk strolling through the woods.
So this is my recommendation I have given to the students here. It’s a recommendation I give to our students back on the Engaged Ecology MA. It’s a practice we use and it’s one I’m about to do now, so I’m going to go off into the woods and find myself a sit spot.
You can find out more about ways of studying Engaged Ecology at Schumacher College here