Meditatio Seminar on Environment in Sydney: a transformative experience
By Linda Chapman
The Meditatio Seminar on Environment held in Sydney 22-24 April was described as ‘transformative’ by some of the 350 people who attended. The first Meditatio Seminar on Environment for the WCCM, it brought together significant speakers from the various disciplines of theology, philosophy, science and spirituality. It was both a sobering reminder of the ecological crisis we currently face and at the same time an inspiring call to action.
In opening the event on Friday evening Fr Laurence suggested that on our current trajectory the human species could well be engaging in an act of suicide. He maintained that whilst the earth will endure human beings are putting both ourselves and countless other species at risk of extinction. Fr Laurence, together with other speakers, spoke of the ecological tipping point of the planet and the necessity of a global tipping point of consciousness. Bishop George Browning gave a vigorous address and encouraged the need to live out the human vocation to ‘keep the space’ of creation by taking decisive action for the common good. Meditation as a form of action in and of itself as well as an interior work to support environmental advocacy and activism was affirmed.
On Saturday, the morning began with the powerful sound of the didgeridoo played by a Walbunga man from the south coast. This sound resonates deeply in the human body and psyche and suggests that ‘deep calling on deep’ that Miriam Rose Ungunmerr speaks of in her talk of ‘Dadirri’ (contemplation).
Later in the morning, we were reminded by Aboriginal philosopher Vicki Grieves of the ‘gift’ of aboriginal people and culture to the white people of our land. The ‘pattern thinking’ of these people, as seen in much of their art, offers to us a consciousness of the connections of all life and a view of the land as sacred.
Susan Murphy spoke of the need for something to be ‘roused’ in us such that we would act towards the other with compassion. She reflected on the human tendency to quickly move away from that which makes us feel uncomfortable. The practice of meditation is, of course, a practice of staying with and attending to the present moment. A visual ‘lectio’ later in the morning confronted us with images of profound human wounding of the other-than-human environment. We were invited to stay present to those images and notice our own responses. Later we used some words from Laudate Si for further lectio.
A robust dialogue in the Q&A session during the afternoon prompted a deeper reflection on the role of the church in shaping past and present attitudes to the environment. Various speakers proposed a common view of the culpability of Christianity in the social, political and technological worldview of western civilization that contributes to the disregard and ‘de-sacralization’ of nature. David Tacey spoke of the necessity of facing this ‘shadow’ in Christianity. We were reminded however that human beings are a part of nature rather than being apart from it. The contemplative consciousness that meditation fosters sees this non-dual reality. And further conversation recognised that human destructiveness is not located solely within any one sector of society but is universal.
On Sunday the event hosted a rich feast of workshops for participants to attend. In the afternoon a panel facilitated by Donna Mulhearn that included some young activists was engaging and inspiring.
At the heart of the conference lay the practice of meditation. Led by Fr Laurence we embodied the practice of stillness and silence. Ultimately this Meditatio Seminar confirmed and clarified the role of meditation in contributing to the healing of earth-human relations through a new consciousness. Meditation fosters a contemplative consciousness for the common good of the whole earth community. As a practice that bears the fruit of simplicity it may reveal to us both the need of, and our capacity to live within, limits such that we will secure space for other life and future generations. As a practice that heals our vision, that is to say, our dualism, it may restore a world-view of life as a web of relatedness whereby we recognize that when we harm a part we harm the whole. As a practice that returns us to our own centre so, as John Main says, we discover that we are connected with every centre, the centre that is everywhere. In this way, we learn to live in harmony with the whole of creation.
As both a speaker and a participant I left the event with an unequivocal sense of the significance of the practice of meditation in a world that will be increasingly and profoundly challenged by climate change with consequent biological and social disruption. We must grow more fully human; more consciously loving and life-giving, making space for others on this small, magnificent garden planet that is held in being within the vastness of the cosmos. This earth who shelters us, feeds us, inspires us is precious beyond words. We are her inhabitants. May we also keep her and love her.