What is your
founder Siobhán O’Callaghan discusses inner landscapes
and sacred storytelling with deep ecologist Jenny O’Hare.
Today I am in conversation with ecologist, writer and
facilitator Jenny O’Hare, who has trained in Nature Resonance,
Eco-Psychology and Spiritual Ecology. I met Jenny at a
workshop she co-facilitated, a moment that opened up the
topic and exploration of Deep Ecology for me.
Jenny writes that “she believes we belong not only to Earth,
but to each other, and is passionate about reigniting this belonging, and helping us to remember our way home.”
Siobhán: Hi Jenny, so I’d love to delve right in and start our conversation with a question, one that was explored at the beginning of one of your workshops; What is your inner landscape? Could you describe what that looks and feels like to you?
Jenny: Yes thanks Siobhán. To sum it up in one word my inner landscape would be coastal. It’s a mixed landscape if I were to delve in deeper. It is very much of the Atlantic coastline so it speaks to me deeply of crashing waves against cliff faces, rocky seashores, but also the movement of the tides, the rushing of the sea in and out across sandy beaches. So yes it's a very coastal sort of a landscape that I feel living within me, deep deep down. And the sea’s movement, with it's varied and changing nature is quite present. And when I feel deeply into that landscape within me, it's the coast of the wild Atlantic ocean.
Siobhán: I’m definitely sensing the wildness in what you describe; those waves crashing against the cliff, and all the natural forces found within this landscape. I guess a lot of energy can be found at the edge, where the land meets the sea. So I am imagining all the emotions that could be stirred up in such a place too.
Jenny: yes absolutely. I think that's an interesting word to use; the edge. I suppose being an Island nation where I come from, and you too, that sort of edge dwelling is a very particular perspective to have on the rest of the world. There's the space where things meet eachother, and how they meet eachother, and also the huge energy that is drawn from the ocean as well.
Siobhán: Yes, definitely. We both grew up in Ireland, so I really understand your connection to the coastline. I must say though, having first explored this question of inner landscape in your workshop, I was surprised that a very specific place came to me; it's this scenic route in Ireland called The Vee; which is literally a v-shaped valley with a long winding road through the mountains. There is a dramatic hairpin bend leading to an expansive outlook over the horizon, over what’s called the Golden Valley. So it's pretty epic actually. This landscape is very vivid in my memories because I used to pass through it often, taking me from one county to another during the years I went to university, or even younger when I used to trek up those mountains with my family. As I pass through this place, there's always this feeling of wonder and awe, and immensity, a feeling that never gets old really.
There's also many stories hidden in this landscape as well so it has this air of mystery about it. For instance, the lake Bay Lough sits nestled in one of the mountains, still and reflective, almost like a giant eye. Legend has it that the lake is bottomless; no one swims in it for fear of being taken into its depths forever. There's definitely no messing with that lake!
But what interests me Jenny about my connection there is that before I left Ireland I used to park up and look out over this expanse and dream about new possibilities, opportunities, a bit of escapism as well. It gave me a feeling of hope, of greater things to come. I was definitely looking outwards at that time in my life. Which brought me to wondering why this place comes to mind now that I find myself moving inwards. Then I realised that when I returned there last summer, I had found myself deep within the valley of this place, into the forest for the very first time. A local forager took me and my sister down there to find some wild mushrooms. I had to smile because somehow I recognise that journey within this landscape as the journey I’ve taken within myself. And it makes sense to me because I’m feeling deeply connected to the forest in Berlin right now.
Jenny: That’s beautiful Siobhán. There is some really powerful imagery and symbolism going on there in this place that you used to journey through as a younger girl. The different perspectives that were afforded with this V-Shaped valley and the hairpin bend that you describe, with this feeling of outward looking towards life and what was to come. And then returning to that place then and delving deeper now and getting more familiar with the interior space of even that place itself. Or potentially the space within yourself. That must have been very reflective inside on how that place has shaped how you feel about it, or how you feel about the place in your life at any given time, is a really lovely insight.
Siobhán: yes, I would say that these insights arrived with deeper reflection. Obviously I knew it was a special place to tell my friends about for instance, but I never really thought about why I feel so connected there. Once you start to ask yourself those questions, which I did through journaling and sketching the landscape from memory, I was able to make all these connections and even more feelings started to arise. It was a really warming and grounding practice actually. So I feel that this question that we started with is super powerful, I think there's so much power hidden in that for every person.
Jenny: yeah absolutely. When we begin to reflect on our inner landscape, straight away that language builds a bridge. You know, we think of landscapes often as exterior places; in mountain ranges or deserts, or specific locations in the world. And when we begin to take that language and apply it to ourselves, and particularly to apply it internally, we are immediately bridging the outer world with the inner world.
Oftentimes when we look at our own inner landscapes it does tend to bring us back to places that helped shape our experience of the world, in fact. Often it would be a place that we were held by or inspired by when we were quite young, and then feeling into that in a lot of ways as you described yourself. You're going back to that place, and by sketching it especially which is a beautiful practice, to look at the way that we were shaped by the land itself, the way that our impression of the world is so much influenced by what the Earth looks and feels like around us, by what the Earth is doing. Remembering that landscape, or landscapes, the way that they informed us, the way that makes us feel, and how we take that through our lives with us, and how we allow ourselves to be informed by various other landscapes as we travel through life.
Siobhán: I love that idea of bridging our outer and inner landscapes, through the simplicity of remembering. And I know that a large part of your work with Deep Ecology is about interconnection. Jenny, could you tell me more about the origins of your exploration into the topic of Deep Ecology. Was there a specific calling, or what brought you into the sense of working within this context?
Jenny: Yes so I've always felt quite deeply connected to the source of the natural living world for as long as I can remember and that led me to study the living world. The avenue that I took, which was available to me at the time was one of Earth Science; the study of how the Earth was formed and all of the processes that have been at work over all of these millions of years to result in the world that we live in right now. So that was a beautiful avenue of study and it gave me this feeling of immensity and expansion and awe. It really laid bare the processes that have shaped the place where we exist and really cultivated a habit of stopping to look at these things, to be able to witness them everywhere, and then once you do you'll see them everywhere. And so that changed my perspective on how we can view the world itself and where we are, and how many factors are at play in shaping any world. But at the same time it inspired this awe and mystery and bigger picture thinking within me.
That realm itself is still quite reductive and very fact-based, and logistical, and Science-oriented of course. Still, I followed this avenue in my studies and in my work but it never really seemed to touch on the profound source of the emotional realm that I always felt the natural living world spoke to within me, and other people that I shared experiences with. Through an exploration of writing and poetry and reading prose, things like that, things that spoke to me more than the physical, I began to come across other concepts like Deep Ecology and Sacred Ecology and Spirituality and all those other realms that might seem separate when you look at one or another, but when you sit with them, what they might mean to you as a person is revealed and you begin to see the little links that draw everything together.
Reflecting on my own experience, and being able to identify the various pathways of science, environment, mystery, awe and so on that influenced my feeling within the world, that’s what brought me to a place of deep ecology. It’s very much to do with the emotional realm actually and the ways in which I felt I had been moved by the world, and the way in which I was able to witness other people's experiences of being moved by the natural living world, or by experiences beyond the human if that makes sense. Even animals or landscapes, or a mountain climbing experience. There’s always such emotion contained within those experiences and interactions. The relevance of those things. I would say then that it was emotion really, in a lot of ways, that brought me to a source of deeper interconnected feelings of the world.
Siobhán: That's wonderful, and we all have a personal choice about how we choose to listen or respond to these emotions right? I do feel that Deep Ecology gives us a context to explore the emotions you describe, while leading us to relate ourselves to everything in a way. In your workshop we also explored personal responses, self-regulation and witnessing together, and how we can support each other through that, I found it very touching. But I would like to bring us to the practice of sacred storytelling. We began our conversation by sharing our stories about our inner landscapes. Could you expand a bit more on this practice and what it means to you?
Jenny: Sacred storytelling is one of my favourite practices, I'll have to admit! For me it's very much about recounting those times in our lives when our inner landscape was alive or when we were moved to feel wonder or awe, or moved by mystery. Even just a time when our hearts might have felt open or connected, or perhaps our deeply reflective intellectual parts. Really just recalling a time in your life when you felt yourself as part of a greater holding. When you felt moved to experience an emotional response deep within yourself. Even emotion is a sign of interconnection with the world, that we can be moved within by external happenings.
Siobhán: That’s lovely. But I do however feel like this simple practice of remembering and sharing in our natural world stories is being lost in the present, if we compare it to how our ancestors transported nature’s wisdom through their storytelling, through oral tradition. I sometimes feel this loss or sadness because we're not sharing these deeper connected moments with each other, even in our closer circles.
Jenny: yeah absolutely. It speaks to me again about emotion and that as society progresses along, there are things that are considered private and things that are considered collective. I'm recalling now a poem that was actually quite instrumental in my sort of turning, in the way that it changed how I think about things. And I’d love to quote that one if that's ok?
Siobhán: yes please.
Jenny: It's a piece by D.H Lawrence and it goes like this. It says ‘Oh what a catastrophe, what a maming of love, when it was made a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and equinox. This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the Earth and Sun and Stars and love is a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.’
When I read these words in my younger years it was such a revelation to me to be able to witness love as not a romantic interaction between two people, or not as a familial bond that nurtures this nuclear family, but love as this absolutely universal energy and experience. So to relate that into the sacred storytelling, it’s very much just about sharing in what we love. Sharing through story in the various ways that we experience that love, or that passion, or that beauty. Things that are often kept private. When we share in them they are so deeply magnified. That is one element of why I think that sacred storytelling is a very important practice. Also that the things that we speak about really become more important and when we give something voice, and when we give it attention and give it energy, it really does grow. I think it's very important to focus our attention and the power of our words on that which is valuable to us, that which really matters to us. With the sacred storytelling practice we are really feeding the relevance of the natural world for us, and we’re feeding beauty and joy and all of those other things that are so nourishing.
Siobhán: I really love that perspective, as well as your use of the word nourishing. Like nourishing your soul, and in response to that, nourishing others, the Earth as well. Sharing and keeping these stories of interconnection alive. When you speak of growth it always brings me back to the garden and I like the idea of practicing storytelling as a way to cultivate or tend to our nature. How with awareness, time and appreciation, or in an intimate setting of storytelling, it can be a very powerful way to connect us in our humanity you know.
Our ancestors valued and created spaces for sacred storytelling. We can even think to families sharing around the kitchen table or fire, or to spoken word in the village pub. Aren’t we losing these traditional spaces where storytelling took place? So finding new ways or spaces seems important to me. Not just during our childhood where fables and fairytales still have their place, but for our adult life too, right through to elderhood. To free our imaginations, revel in the wonders of life and nature with all the emotions that come around it.
Jenny: yeah absolutely! What is life worth if we cannot celebrate and share in its wonders? I think you've touched on the concept of soul in that as well, and the sort of intimacy that is created when we do practice storytime together. But also how universal that is. How we’re all living by a story of sorts, and when we consciously practice our own storytelling, it gives us more agency, a lot more sovereignty, with regards to where we draw our power from and what we choose to place a value on. Instead of being those to whom the story of life or reality is told to, we instead partake in creating the narrative. It's such a simple practice that is again universally relevant to us all. Sacred storytelling is as you said really drawing from ancient practices that can be given a modern twist. Reviving sacred practices and really simplifying it also. It doesn't have to be terribly complex.
Siobhán: I agree. I would say that we feel more and more against time as a concept in our city-based environments. Personally, I really appreciate simple, slow practices that feel effortless to do but offer me a great sense of well-being and connection. Practices that I’m able to repeat daily, or just freely when I’m feeling relaxed and open or playful. The practices that I chose to integrate into my life ground me.
Touching on perspective, I enjoyed reading your post regarding an expression that we hear often at the moment, especially in the city. I am sure I have said it too; “I feel disconnected to Nature”. You invite us to shift our perspective on this and I really share in that. I also loved that you included a quote from land artist Andy Goldsworthy which sums things up for me too - “We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we have lost connection to ourselves.” I am sure you would agree that we could all benefit by shifting the way in which we look at ourselves in the context of nature. If we can tend to our nature, to ourselves, then I feel it’s a direct route to feeling connected. The oneness shines through.
Jenny: Yes, tending to ourselves and to our nature is vital. Tending to the animal of our bodies, to our imaginal realm, to our psyches, all of which are so influenced by our environments. When we tend to our true nature as physical, energetic beings, we begin to recognise ourselves as a fundamental aspect of the living world. Very many things can shift from there. Storytelling then, is a great way to reveal the interconnection we may experience with other beings or lands, and a lovely way to connect across our inner realms as well, because that is unfortunately nowadays not most easily practiced or encouraged.
Siobhán: Encouragement could be key here. By opening up the inner landscape practice on the Primitivkollektiv platform, together with the creative offerings and community expansions, I do hope others feel encouraged to share their stories. To connect with their inner landscapes as a starting point. As we invite others to explore delving into Deep Ecology, there is an opportunity to remember and reclaim our inner worlds. I’m excited about that! So thank you Jenny for this collaboration. Would you like to add any final reflections on what we discussed together?
Jenny: It’s always lovely to have these conversations, to realise and to recall all of the factors that are at play in our experience of being alive in the world, and all of the aspects that shape us. Such as the landscape that we interact with and the practices that we partake in. The attention that we give to other things, and also the attention that flows to us from other things. There is a great conversation that life is wanting to have with us. By acknowledging how deeply a part of the living world we are, we can recognise ourselves when we recognise all of the things that shape us. We can know ourselves and indeed those things more fully.
Siobhán: Yes, there's a deepness in this recognition. It's beautiful that we all have the capacity in this very moment to delve into ourselves and connect. We all have our stories, and we can choose to remember and feel them and be with them for a moment, to be aware of our unique perspective. We can also ask others about their nature connections, remembering together what it was like as children. It’s definitely a question I will be asking more of my friends and family! Actually, I have opened up about this with my sister. I've found that remembering together is really deepening our relationship, as we share and talk about these nature experiences we had together growing up in rural Ireland.
Jenny: wow that's very beautiful. It's really gorgeous to share with someone you’ve grown up with, someone who might have quite similar experiences to you, looking from the outside in. But here are two different internal interpretations of that same world.
Siobhán: Yea it's fascinating, my sister is not much older than me, but the more that we share deeply together we realise that we had such a different outlook you know. It is interesting to also recognise that you can be so different but also connect so deeply because we were there at the same place in time and space.
Jenny: and it really speaks to me actually about the diversity of life itself, the biodiversity of our experiences. Each one of these experiences is so relevant and if it were missing then the world would be missing something. I encourage people to share their stories, that it's important and that it matters, deeply you know. Look at how simply connective it can be, to each other and back out to the living world. It makes me think of a phrase as well that says of the Living world ‘where we are missing, we are missed’ and that's to say that our presence is important not only for us humans but for the beyond human, in ways that we don't really know.
Siobhán: yes definitely and isn’t it always an exploration with that? The joy of exploring everyday and allowing deeper questioning, to listen and respond. It’s such a beautiful way to be in the moment where not everything feels certain, especially in these strange times.
Jenny: absolutely, yeah absolutely, and allowing that two-way flow. Listening and speaking, or wishing and dreaming, or having desires. But also allowing yourself to be informed by what is going on around you as well, allowing yourself to be moved by life itself.
Siobhán: Jenny, thank you so much for the time to share with me today! It was really nice to open up this topic in conversation and to share that bit deeper together. Getting to know your inner coastal landscape and learning more about your journey into Deep Ecology. Thank you for the wisdom in your words and for connecting with me on this journey.
Jenny: It is my pleasure to be in conversation with you and to share around these things. It really expands my sense of belonging in the world actually, and my sense of the beauty of the world when others resonate with these practices, and share their own. It’s so encouraging, so life affirming.
Artwork by Siobhán O'Callaghan
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