In the aftermath of the Earth Day, which coincided with an exhibition in Lisbon about the Women of Mahungo, I am writing today about an old concern, revived by the brilliant presentation by Professor Maristela Barenco C. de Mello, which I had the privilege to attend a few weeks ago during the 1st Meeting of Eco-Mythology in Portuguese:
How does one pass from the condition of knowing that one is part of nature, to the condition of feeling part of nature?
And if we do, why do we prefer to perpetuate destructive lifestyles to satisfy desires that have become compulsive needs?
The search for knowledge has disconnected us from feeling. Hyper-rationalisation and addiction to theories, facts, quantification and control, and the usual repulsion and fear of the unknown, unpredictable and complex have disconnected us from crucial wisdom: that of feeling, the visceral, the instinctive, the intuitive, the inner voice that knows, the body that feels. Which, by the way, in the light of modernity, are seen as primitive (in a truly pejorative sense), as several authors remind us, among them Sofia Batalha – the organiser of this event, who encourages in her work and in her recent work “The Little Book of Immanence” an invitation that I consider urgent: to inscend.
In a society addicted to knowing, to ascend, to progress and to conquer, it’s urgent to slow down, to come down to earth, to the body, to feel things as they are: the pleasant and beautiful and the strange and unbearable.
“It is difficult to unlearn, sometimes it is scary to face the unknown and it is much more comfortable to do “as we know”, “as we are used to” and in the light of our references”
Just as it is important to continue to question hegemony, to decolonise consciousness and the imaginary.
Professor Maristela Mello began by presenting us with a quote that for me, who travels between worlds, says a lot:
“To begin the journey it is not enough to leave the continent. It is necessary to lose it as a reference (…) The universal gaze of the navigator recreates elsewhere the house he left behind (…) making the land that departs the same as the one that arrives (…)” Ana Godoy, “The Smallest of Ecologies”.
I see recreated models of thinking, lands, programmes and policies, ways of living and working, so often incongruous with the essence of the Places, and I recognise that it takes a lot of courage and humility to regularly realise – and assume – (d)the roles of coloniser and colonised that we all occupy and return to the Place of Co-Participant and Apprentice-Practitioner.
It is difficult to unlearn, sometimes it is scary to face the unknown and it is much more comfortable to do “as we know”, “as we are used to” and in the light of our references.
As a University Lecturer, Maristela Mello shared that her job at the Academy is to bring questions to students that we don’t have answers for. “It is that of showing how much science has subordinated life. And that of showing life how much we have subordinated ourselves before science.”
We often feel obliged to justify what studies are being done on what we say, but we care little for the ancestral knowledge that we have lost and are sometimes even ashamed of.
For this Professor, it is necessary to bring within science and academia, a vision and communication of life that can once again reintegrate the planet.
“Science is the institution that is an apparatus of the colonial system. It’s no use talking about decolonisation if we don’t make the epistemological critique about the forms of knowledge we produce. You can’t think things without thinking about the instance that thinks things.”
It reminds us of the ambivalence of the Human Being – that, on the one hand, it is arrogant for being the last to arrive but wanting to command and control, and that, on the other hand, we are all crossed by the trauma of countless processes of colonisation and fragmentation, which bring us two major consequences:
- We operate with conceptions that are based on premises – philosophical, paradigmatic, epistemological, which are incompatible with the models we want to propose – the way we educate for example, is far from helping us to “feel part”;
- We continue to perpetuate the colonisation of ways of living. We are terminal consumers of ways of thinking, generated/perpetuated by media, technological, economic, educational systems. (Maristella Mello)
I underline that the Academy was one of the most colonial systems in which I participated, either as a student or as a worker. Today, many of these institutions are “modernised” and, despite the evolution that fortunately has taken place, conservatism and the lack of practical and effective cooperation with other actors in the social, ecological, economic and cultural ecosystem make it difficult for Education to do its main job: to support students in their Apprentice-Peregrine-Practitioner journey, which will be a job for life.
And, as Professor Helena Marújo – Holder of the UNESCO Chair in Education for Sustainable Global Peace – tells us, “we need to renew a dimension of citizenship for the contribution of common good (…) for a look that is not that of competitiveness or personal well-being, (…) to inspire and touch, not only from the point of view of scientific knowledge, which is obviously fundamental in the educational process, but with regard to the construction of the Human Being – which people we need to have in life, for each context, culture, historical moment.”
The International Commission on the Futures of Education (UNESCO 2022) itself says: “the biosphere is an important learning space (…) indigenous knowledge and teachings grounded in land and water, as well as many African and Asian cosmologies, postulate relationships in which non-humans are understood not only as beings with their own rights, but as educators and teachers with whom humans can learn in relation.”
Already for Achille Mbembe, “the fundamental thing is to recover the sense of our original humanity: the capacity to preserve what is common to us, to restore and repair, again and again, the relationships between us and between us and other living beings.”
Returning to Professor Maristela Mello, for her and her study group, the bet is “on a daily micro-political work, of trying to understand the unconscious forms and the forms of desire that reign over our politicised and incoherent discourses.”
Activity with young people from Mahungo village in the sustainable greenhouse of Escolinha Kutsaca
We need to leave, among other things, the navigator’s eye, the continents of references, the monocultures of thought, the geopolitical alienation of wanting to “be European/Western”, of objectifying everything that is alive, of giving primacy to science instead of life! We must have the courage to leave the “truth” we carry in our rucksacks and the (arrogant and imperial) “masterland” that carries the truth of the world.
The Western project is indeed colonial. But let us stop romanticising, we all play the roles of coloniser and colonised, of executioners and victims. And of saviours too. In fact, cooperation, development and philanthropy itself – which often go hand in hand with other roles, not at all naive – face the inevitable crisis of not knowing very well how to leave the paradigm of Doing Good (Hero/Saviour) and come to the paradigm of Regenerative Development (interdependent, bio-intelligent, self-expressive and in permanent evolution).
And then how do we feel part again? Instead of just knowing?
The 22nd of April, for me, dawned with this phrase: “what we most need to do is to hear within us the earth crying” (Thich Nhat Hanh). But it dawned with the phrase of a Mahungo Woman, in response to a question she was asked about what people learn when they have an experience in Mahungo: “above all, I think people feel very loved” (Carolina Cossa).
Both sentences are wise.
It is necessary to listen to the cry of the earth, in the body, here, in the Place where I am. To truly listen to the storms and cyclones, the cholera and other outbreaks, new ones, which will become more and more widespread, the tired and sterile soils. And it is also crucial to feel loved, connected, part of the Place and the Earth, in order to have the will to act. It is from this interconnectedness and belonging that our compassion-action is born: The readiness to help and, above all, to co-create regenerative systems, resilient to the challenges we face.
This fundamental feeling of belonging needs to be recovered, and this cannot be done with the left side of the brain, with Cartesianism, in closed and boring rooms, or alone. It is done with the heart, with intuition, with the whole body, in the biosphere, sensorial and experiential, and in community.