RNC brings nature connection practice into relationship with our struggles to challenge interlocking systems of oppression, such as racism, patriarchy, colonialism, and ableism and our efforts to build movements forging a life-affirming future.
‘Nature Connection’ has gained popularity in recent years and the dominant cultures which once suppressed such connection have begun to reconsider (and seek to commercialise) it’s value. The importance of connecting with the more-than-human world is increasingly recognised in mainstream approaches to health and well-being, education and conservation. More people are seeking this kind of connection, led by the pain of alienation they feel in their lives. It brings benefits for individuals, communities and society, improving physical and mental health, supporting increased sense of community, and motivating care for and action on behalf of non-human life.
Nature Connection work includes a wide range of practice. Awakening the senses through play in nature and mindful walks through the woods; opportunities to observe and learn about plants and animals using skills like tracking or identifying bird language; acquiring key bushcraft skills such as fire-making, crafting with wild materials and foraging for food and medicine; ; spending longer periods immersed in wild natural places, either in groups or supported solo-time; exploring geological time or learning to reading the life of a landscape and place; and gradually discovering the deep transformative power of an emerging ecological consciousness where we recognise that we too are nature.
Unfortunately, nature connection work sometimes reproduces the conditioning from our dominant individualistic, consumerist, and capitalist culture. When it does, its radically transformative power can be lost. Radical Nature Connection (RNC) work applies the benefits of nature connection – such as greater clarity, resilience, vitality, motivation, well-being, and connection with self and others – to leverage social change. It seeks to harness nature-connection learning to the radical transformation of our relationship to nature, to each other, and society.
We believe that radical transformation takes place simultaneously at several intersecting levels: the individual, the social, and the ecological. It involves both individual and collective action. So, we design and develop our Radical Nature Connection (RNC) work to support deep change at each of these levels in various ways:
Building personal and collective resilience: The more connected we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the more powerful we become. When directed towards the collective good, this power can be a truly liberating force. We apply nature connection practices to sustain and galvanise resistance to oppressive and destructive forces; to inspire action that creates conditions for the flourishing of human society and the ecosystems within which we are embedded; that recognises that the social and ecological are not – and can never be – separate.
Empowering regenerative activism: A ‘regenerative’ approach to activism goes beyond sustainability to explore how we can organise in ways that actually renew or revitalize our own resources and those of our groups – this can help us stay inspired, nourished, & more creative in our tactical approach. This work offers a range of tools, collective and personal, to make activism more effective and regenerative; drawing on ecological and systems thinking, reflective practices and holistic participatory learning.
Skilling up for direct action: Civil disobedience/direct action is an age-old tactic, and an important ingredient in struggles for social change. As an embodied practice of physical resistance rather than rationalised theorising, such tactics align well with a nature-basedapproach. Whether it’s remaining undetected in the woods, blockading a road or even occupying an office building, a range of nature awareness skills (such as sensory awareness, tracking, stealth, stalking, scouting and invisibility, day and night navigation, ‘survival skills’) are transferable to direct action and civil disobedience tactics to make site-based actions more effective.
Supporting movement building and strategy: Nature offers abundant wisdom to inform how we organise our movements – from starling murmurations and mycelium networks to ant colonies and forest ecosystems. Building awareness through nature connection can deepen our potential for creating change, working together, cultivating mental effectiveness and agility we can then apply to social change. From observing nature and applying its principles (‘biomimicry’) we can build resilient, effective and regenerative movements. This work is inspired by adrienne maree brown’s inspirational Emergent Strategy, and similar narratives first articulated within the alter-globalisation movements in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Supporting affected communities: Whether through being displaced from their homes and native landscapes, alienated from nature by racist narratives of not belonging, living in polluted inner-city areas with little or no access to green space, or not being able to afford the time or cost of ‘connecting with nature’ (or a nature connection course), marginalised communities are often worst affected by the dominant western culture of disconnection. RNC seeks to challenge this and create accessible opportunities for such communities to connect with nature, through initiatives such as the Natural Resilience Project, which supports women living with irregular immigration status to build personal resilience by cultivating connections to nature and community.
Working with Nature Connection facilitators: RNC involves a critical and collaborative dialogue with more mainstream approaches to nature connection work. Through this we hope to help encourage a more radical approach within mainstream spaces. Collaborating with facilitators of nature connection amplifies the potential impact of RNC work and the development of RNC as a shared exploration of theory and practice. It also cultivates networks of solidarity and support, within which skill- and knowledge-sharing can take place.
RNC related Ulex trainings include:
– Roots of Resilience
– Regenerative Activism
– Radical Nature Connection for Social Change
– RNC Convention for nature connection facilitators
– Nature Connection Skills for Direct Action
Taking a lead in developing this strand of our work are May MacKeith and Kara Moses (bios)
It is not just through the application of nature connection that makes the approach radical. It is also the way we situate it within a radical political framework that informs the way we practice our nature connection work – with an anti-oppressive, decolonial approach, coupled with a call to collective action.
There is a danger that nature connection work can end up replicating the individualistic, narcissistic tendencies of contemporary Western society and the interlocking systems of oppression that underpin it. Without embedding nature connection work within a radical critique of systemic oppression, it runs the paradoxical risk of reinforcing the very systems, structures and perspectives at the root of our disconnection.
Mainstream nature connection is often presented in an apolitical framework, without any critical reference to why it is needed. But it exists in a specific cultural context: The political economy of ecological degradation and disconnection, and centuries of colonisation and domination. ‘Nature’ is often framed as a separate entity from human consciousness and culture to go out into and ‘connect with’. But of course, ‘nature’ isn’t actually a thing that exists prior to the way it is culturally constructed, and, in a sense, we can never be truly disconnected from it. Homo sapiens are part of the whole Earth system as much as dandelions, birdsong, beetles and rainforests. You can’t fall out of the web of life. However, the language of ‘nature’, and our (psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical) connection to it is a useful shorthand to discuss our relationship with the rest of our earthly kin and how deeply we are honouring them, so we choose to continue using the term where it is helpful.
It is a mistake to assume that the division between humans and nature is a universal condition. In fact, this disconnect is a culturally specific phenomenon of urbanised Western society. For many traditional rural and indigenous communities however, being ‘connected to nature’ is just everyday life; ‘nature’ is the world which we are part of – a worldview that the dominant Western worldview has systematically marginalised and destroyed.
Since the Neolithic revolution and the subsequent replacement of more nomadic, foraging ways of life with agriculture, domestication and settlement, these ways of life have spread across most of the globe, often violently. In many ways, our relationship with the world around us has increasingly become one characterised by domination and estrangement from the non-human, and the belief that we are somehow above and superior to nature. From the monotheistic religions that arose from agricultural and pastoral societies, and the newly hierarchical and patriarchal societal structures they reflected, through Greek rationalism and the reductionist thought of ‘enlightenment’ science, to the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution which involved mass urbanisation and the violence of colonialism, the worldview of human-centric and domination-based social structures have come to eclipse diverse and alternative ways of living. All of this is compounded in the current trends of increasingly intensive agriculture and globalised consumerism. Seen through this lens, the last 10,000 years are a story of growing disconnection between the human and non-human.
One way to refer to the cumulative effects of this historical process, underpinning the dominant of socio-political system of today, is as Empire. It is a system of power that exploits and administers life in an attempt to render everything profitable and controllable. Empire encompasses the interlocking systems of settler-colonialism, white supremacy, the state, capitalism, ableism, ageism, and heteropatriarchy. It is not a static thing, but a complex tangle of processes, tendencies and structures which separate people from their capacities, power and creativity, and their ability to connect with each other and their worlds. As powerfully described in Joyful Militancy, Empire is ‘the organized catastrophe in which we live today’.
Empire severs our relationships with our human and non-human communities, making us dependent upon it to meet all of our commodified needs – from food, shelter and basic healthcare to meaningful connections, our identities, and caring for our elders.
Seeing in this way, we recognise that the alienation and the disconnection we feel is deeply political.
It follows that our reconnection with nature and each other is also deeply political. It involves reclaiming these relationships and capacities, to untangle ourselves from the grip of Empire’s entrapment and re-entangle ourselves in the web of interdependent life. It is an essential part of decolonisation, of anti-capitalist resistance, of designing ecologically regenerative economies, of progressive social change away from Empire and towards collective liberation.
If we fail to recognise the inherently political dimensions of disconnection from nature and the political power of reconnecting with it, we also obscure the basis for understanding environmental injustice. The nature of our relationship with the non-human is affected by our race, class, gender and sexual orientation to mention but a few, as the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens is not equal. The global north, especially the former colonial powers, are historically most responsible for producing polluting emissions, but it is black, brown and indigenous people in the global south that will be most impacted by the consequences.
These injustices are sometimes reflected in the world of mainstream nature connection. Disconnection from nature affects our health and happiness but these effects are not felt equally, and opportunities for connection are not available equally. In the UK those with racial (White) and economic privilege tend to enjoy greater access to (also higher quality) green space in the areas they live, which are also less likely to be highly polluted. They can more often afford to travel to other scenic locations or pay for a ‘nature connection’ course. Such courses are often predominantly attended by white, middle-class, heteronormative people, making them uninviting or even unsafe for others from more marginalised communities. These advantages translate into many of the associated benefits gained from connecting with nature.
Without a conscious coupling with cultural context and action (which extends beyond individual lifestyle changes), apolitical nature connection experiences can easily become mere entertainment for the more privileged, who afterwards return to largely unexamined lives. Nature continues to be a thing to be consumed, and the exploitative relationship with it is perpetuated.
There are also problems within mainstream nature connection work related to cultural appropriation. Many nature connection practices and models are rooted in indigenous knowledge and culture, which practitioners often benefit from without acknowledging this (whilst crediting the white Westerners that have popularised them), or showing solidarity with those cultures who are often marginalised, oppressed and – perversely – denied access to their own intact culture.
And so, paradoxically, efforts to ‘reconnect people with nature’ can end up reinforcing the systems of oppression and disconnection at the root of the problem they intend to solve. So, how we do it matters. An approach that isn’t explicitly anti-oppressive is complicit in Empire’s oppression.
RNC explicitly locates itself within a radical analysis of the socio-political context that underlies the disconnection. It expresses a commitment to anti-oppressive, decolonial practice and is uncompromisingly coupled with a fierce call to collective action. It is both a challenge and an invitation to nature connection practitioners, facilitators, educators and advocates, and an attempt to collectively develop an approach that disrupts and dismantles systems of oppression and disconnection. The transformative power of solidarity is at the heart of the RNC approach.
Our relationships with nature, ourselves and each other inescapably influence each other. As long as white people oppress people of colour, settler-colonists oppress indigenous peoples, the cis-hetero oppress the queer, and humans oppress non-humans, oppression and domination will poison all of our relationships. In the end, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘No one is free until we are all free.’
For us, a personal sense of connection with nature on its own is not enough. Real connection finds expression in solidarity. Through solidarity, energy and capacity becomes directed towards the collective good. ‘Nature connection’ that does not result in meaningful acts of inter-species solidarity is still a state of alienation. When we really connect with the web of life, we see through the false constructs of the atomised self and human exceptionalism, to our true identity as a part of nature. We are called to act in solidarity with life. This may take the form of tending plants or tending our communities; critical reflection allows us to take critical action, going beyond individualistic lifestyle choices to building our capacity for collective action for systemic change.
Action that comes from this place feeds back into a regenerative cycle of connection and action. Herein lies an abundance of energy, strength and resilience. At the heart of this work lies the insight that the more connected we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the more powerful we become. When directed towards the collective good, this power can be a truly liberating force.
– To sit within a critical and systemic analysis of disconnection as rooted in Empire: capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy
– To emphasise that a personal sense of reconnection alone isn’t enough; that the systemic, political, economic, cultural and psychological practices that drive the dysfunction and alienation must also be addressed. Real connection comes through action and solidarity
– To acknowledge cultural contexts and embrace decolonial, indigenous and queer perspectives
– To share practices and teachings with care and respect for their origins – working to identify the sources and understand the historical and present-day power dynamics between these cultures and our own, in order to uplift the voices and struggles of these cultures, critically examine the impact on them, and act in solidarity with them.
– To require practitioners, especially facilitators, to reckon with their own social position, maintaining an ongoing practice of self-critique and education around underlying assumptions and privilege
– To recognise that ‘nature’ is ultimately not a separate entity that humans can be disconnected from (or connected to), and that the language of ‘nature’ and ‘nature connection’ has limitations and contradictions – but chooses to reframe rather than reject these concepts
– To acknowledge that based on race, immigration status, economic status and other ways capitalism marginalises certain communities, so not everyone has equal access to nature or nature connection experiences. RNC works towards creating more opportunities for marginalised people to access this work, and strives to make trainings accessible and inclusive to all
– To recognise that these systems of oppression also exclude some people from the privilege of (particularly paid) facilitation of NC work, and works to create opportunities for paid work in this area for people from marginalised communities
– To resist the urge for urgency, recognising that important and deep work requires time; move at a meaningful pace, while continuing to strive for (with thanks to WOTE for this wisdom)
– To acknowledge place-based / colonial histories at the site of practice.
RNC is informed by many existing methodologies and approaches, incorporating and building upon them. They include:
Nature-based practice and learning
8 Shields model of nature connection and regenerative culture
Holistic participatory education
Work that Reconnects
Meditative and reflective practices
Embodied movement practices
Shambala Warrior Mind Training