Painting by Pam Craven

This edition of Gatherings was written and edited by staff and students involved in the Social and Sacred Ecology course at Monash University in Melbourne. The course is run through the University's Graduate School of Environmental Science. Lecturers Peter Cock and Sylvie Shaw designed the course and together with the students and history lecturer Constant Mews, they took a journey through the myriad dimensions of human-nature connecting.

Our intention is to share the stores of participants who have been changed by their encounter with two courses, Ecopsychology and Social and Sacred Ecology at Monash University in Melbourne.

Their stories confirm we need other species to keep us to our senses. We need them to sustain focus on expression and development of all of our human capacities, rather than becoming lost in the extremes of one dimension of being (intellectual, emotional etc.) or even just one of our senses. The technological dominance of our relations now threatens dominance of the virtual over the real; so our seeing and thinking take precendence over other dimensions of our being human.

Their stories enhance our sense of the richness of diversity of our multicultural engagement with the diverse and powerful naturescapes of Australia. They enable the reader to refocus on the personal connection to nature by way of describing the interconnected relationship between planetary suffering and human suffering, between healing the earth and healing ourselves.

Many contributors raise issues not often discussed within the environment movement - the sacred connection with the land, the spirit of place, the role of ritual in nourishing the earth and ourselves, our childhood experiences that lay down the path to adult connection. There is criticism of the urban perspective of nature as romantic and distanced, a view that sees nature as a beautiful option rather than a personal and ecological necessity. A view critical of the moral rightness that assumes someone else will take care of the earth; that judges other’s behaviour but fails to confront their own NIMBY approach to conservation. This is tinged with a critical edge of postmodernism’s inability to see through this celebration of diversity and plurality to the reality of the earth beneath.

The people contribute to the holistic approach to environmentalism, one of partnership with the rest of nature. This partnership draws on our pagan roots that recognise the need to honour and celebrate that we are part of nature. It recognizes that we have the burden and freedom of consciousness. Whether we like it or not, we have to use our consciousness to weave a new synergy of (re)generation. The paradox of being conscious is that the human species has largely decided to use it for the destruction of the earth, rather than its wellbeing. And we are deeply affected by the pain of knowing that.

The synergy uses this consciousness in partnership with the natural world. This partnership transcends the ancient pagan fatalism which was subsumed by the vagaries of nature; a time when the world was god. It transcends the notion of humans as ‘superspecies’, when humans become god empowered by their technological capacities. We are neither the slave of nature nor its master, our only survival choice is a partnership. Within this partnership, we recognize that we are an integral part of nature and subjected to the forces of nature; we can’t step outside of this and pretend we are somewhere else, nor can we deny that we have the technological capacity to either harm or heal. This issue of Gatherings honours all dimensions of being human in nature while celebrating all dimensions of the rest of nature. We join in the dance for and with the earth. We celebrate the plurality of ways of being with and experiencing Australia’s diverse ecologies.

Peter Cock began teaching ecopsychology at Monash in 1993 and has provided a haven in the university for students interested in exploring links between themselves and the natural world. Sylvie Shaw has taken his inspiration to Tasmania where she now lectures in environmental sociology, or ecosociology at the Australian Maritime College.