JH writes: According Albert Einstein, “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. But in practice, how do we transcend our conditioned thought patterns? What tools do we have that make it possible to step into a new paradigm?
This was a key question we were working with on a recent field trip to the Apennine mountains in central Italy.
For five days, we enjoyed the company of ten passionate and diverse young leaders. The group are forming deep friendships across faith traditions whilst exploring the role of environmental justice, of reconciliation with the earth, in building sustainable peace.
During the daylight hours we walked, often silently, in the high mountains through stunning glaciated valleys and mossy beech forests. We watched herds of majestic deer flitting between trees, wordlessly (and unsuccessfully) followed the signs of a brown she-bear through the undergrowth, and caught one magical glimpse of a yearling wolf silhouetted against a dawn sky.
In the evenings, the group worked on evolving new project ideas and progressing their leadership goals. As well as learning about the practical implementation of environmental regeneration and its relevance to peace, we opened to an unusual enquiry – whether the vastness and beauty of this consciously rewilded landscape could lead us beyond our conditioned minds. Could we let the rewilded land rewild our own thought patterns? And could we maintain that connection through the work of planning and creating, to allow the emergence of something new?
Our guide, the inspiring author and conservationist, Eleanor O’Hanlon had warned me, “being in rewilded nature will change you”. I was intrigued by this, but unprepared for how powerful it would be.
In these few short days, a quiet spaciousness slowly found its way into my heart and into our intimate little group. Like mountain air, more emptiness than oxygen, it filtered through our web of conversations, leaving a sense of expansiveness and peace.
This almost imperceptible feeling did indeed somehow survive the test of focusing in on project design. Perhaps even subtly changed the process. Along with the dawn wolf sighting, listening to the stream of innovative ideas from this young group was one of the highlights of my week. Or perhaps my whole year. In comparison with these visionary young adults one can see the clunky limitations of my own generation. Or, to put it another way, the invisible barriers that have prevented really dynamic social change from arriving sooner into our desecrated world. This combination of creative minds coming together in a state of deep connection to something much vaster than our egos, and the unfettered ability and sheer immediate willingness of the younger generation to take practical action – this was profoundly healing to witness.
Hope. Joy. Peace. Those words sound slightly clichéd, stolen from a greetings card. But that’s what followed me home. That, and an ever deeper conviction that lasting global peace cannot be pursued without reconciliation between humans and the natural world.
Read more about environmental peacebuilding Environmental peacebuilding examines and advocates environmental protection and cooperation as a factor in peaceful relations. In several conflict zones around the world (such as the Middle East) common environmental challenges have successfully formed a basis for regional cooperation and peacebuilding.
Meet our young leaders
Video of a walk in the mountains
Eleanor O’Hanlon’s work
Apennine Mountains rewilding project