“We cannot heal the earth until we heal ourselves. We cannot heal ourselves until we heal the earth.”
Kari-Oca Declaration of the 1992 Parliament of Indigenous Peoples
In 1992 I attended the World Parliament of Indigenous Peoples as an environmental journalist. I was one of a handful of non-Native people allowed to witness the proceeding. Across town the United Nations gathered to discuss sustainable development at the so-called Earth Summit. Much of the discussion at the U.N. derailed into the question of how to sustain development. In contrast to this, facing the Atlantic Ocean with the looming metropolis, of Rio Dejaneiro at our backs, the representatives of over 100 different Native Nations discussed the health, welfare and future of all life on Earth. To observe and record this profound expression of interconnection changed my life.
Those of us called to work with nature, -wilderness, plants, animals, gardens, altars, sanctuaries, sacred places and the cosmos as part of our healing work are involved in timeless traditions sometimes lumped together under the term, shamanism. Or this engagement can be called Ecotherapy. This, new/ancient field is based on the idea that individual and collective human health is inter-related with the natural environment in profound and enduring ways.
In doing this work, I believe we must also understand the ways in which our own ancestral lineages, our ethnic/cultural groups, have suffered. Whether in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa or the Americas, a systematic process of disruption has torn most modern people away from ‘deep relationship to place. How do we repair this rupture? I believe there is much we can do to heal this rupture in ourselves, in our families and our communities.
Through the Ecotherapy Certificate Program at Southwestern College, we explore attitudes, beliefs, ideas, songs, prayers, ceremonies, rituals, observances, rites of passage and daily practices that can re-enliven our relationship to the sacred within and around us. Students select from a wide variety of elective courses, including: The Council of All Beings; Ancient Narrative taught by Dr. Scott Thomas; Walking with Ancestors; Sacred Connections: Plants, Animals, People and Place. Students also select from one of two required core courses. They can either complete a Wilderness Fast experience co-led by Dr. Carol Parker and Katherine Ninos or they can design and implement a Community-Based Ecotherapy Project under the mentorship of Dr. Ann Filemyr. Students completing the Certificate are also required to complete a Wilderness First Aid Course.
The growing interest in this field is one expression of our collective need to reconnect with the world around us, with the sacred, and with an abiding sense of the ongoing. We are a living part of all that is even though modern life fragments and quantifies much of our experience. Can we reclaim our heritage and live as though the water, soil, wind, plants and animals are kin? Can we re-vivify our sense of the sacred within and around us? Can we re-integrate the Divine Feminine into our lives? These are some of the questions we explore together.
If you are interested in this program, please contact me at Southwestern College: firstname.lastname@example.org.