Twenty-five years ago Schumacher College was founded as a centre for discussion and learning around the subjects of ecology and spirituality. This year the college decided to go back to its founding roots and created the MA Ecology and Spirituality, affiliated with University of Wales Trinity St David (Lampeter). These subjects have been at the heart of what the college does since it's beginning, and it was such an honour to be a participant on this exciting new course.
The 'face' of Schumacher is Satish Kumar, whom we met several times during our stay. The first night he gave us an introductory talk, during which he threw many pearls of wisdom at us, including what ecology really means: eco= home, logy= knowledge. And so is born the knowledge of home, our own Gaia, Mother Earth. We saw him one more time giving an incredibly inspiring talk about pilgrimage with Rupert Sheldrake. The next morning we participated in a bamboo stick qi gong session with his lovely wife June.
The college is well-known for its relaxed, outdoor environment and the beautiful Old Postern house in which the students stay, play and study. The students of the masters degrees Holistic Science and Economics for Transition lived there. Our group was situated at the top of the hill on Dartington Estate in the section known as the Elmhirst centre, which is where the Elmhirsts, the founders of the Dartington Estate in the 1925, lived. They turned a dilapidated 14th Century building into a magnet for artists, musicians, philosophers and forward-thinkers around the world. We had use of their previously lived-in rooms for our classroom, the cosy authentic library, and the Morning Room for talks. Next door was the Great Hall, in which we had an incredible sound and colour healing session with violinist Dian Booth.
Surrounding the buildings is Dartington Gardens, in which we went to play during many sessions. We gave coca leaf offerings to the stream, made friends with a robin who sat in the middle of our circle, did nature-connection activities and were encouraged to take walks on our own every day. One of the more famous inhabitants of the garden is the solemn 2000 year old Yew tree, certainly a being worthy of respect, to which our lecturer Andy played a song on his lyre.
Dartington estate is huge, and we had plenty of chances to explore it. The first weekend I went for a dip in the freezing cold River Dart, a great start to the month! We walked in the woods, made fires, played with sticks and hiked down the hill to Totnes.
We had so many incredible lecturers and activists visiting us to give talks on many subjects covering Ecology and Spirituality. Our main lecturer was Andy Letcher, 2x PHD in Ecology and in Contemporary Paganism. He gave us many talks including ecology, gender, and resistance movements. Academic Rupert Sheldrake talked to us about sun consciousness, the nature of God and morphic resonance. Stephan Harding enlightened us on Gaia Theory and Deep Ecology. He took us on the Deep Time Walk along the coast to Dartmouth, walking 4.6 miles covering 4600 million years of the Earth's history: each step was half a million years, incredible!
Maria Nita spoke to us about Green Christianity, and climate change activist Christian groups. Jo Hamilton got our emotions going speaking about the environment and grief. Pat McGabe talked to us about Native American Indigenous people, their relation to the land, her views on feminism and much more. Graham Harvey gave lectures on animism and indigenous peoples. Philip Frances showed us how Complexity Theory works.
We met the BBC cameraman Pete McCowen, who worked on Planet Earth and Spring Watch: he had some fascinating stories to tell. Nicola Peal is an activist currently working mainly in the Amazon. Among many, many achievements she led the campaign against Texaco for their oil spills in the rainforest. We spoke with Charles Foster, who wrote the book 'Being a Beast' after literally 'becoming' 5 British animals as closely as he could, including living in a human sized badger set with his son. Martin Shaw, mythologist and story teller enthralled us with a story that, for me, quite literally came alive. With Chris we explored the land, with Will we did some paganism activities in the woods, and Suzie took us on a Shamanic journey.
Quite a full on, varied and fascinating month, I can assure you!
Throughout it all the staff at Schumacher were there on hand, helping us through it all. The wonderful Eve was the facilitator on the course (see her heart-felt TED Talk here). The group doing the MA, and the short-course participants, who only joined for the 3 week 'core module', were a varied and awe-inspiring bunch. We had participants from Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Hong Kong, as well as several Brits. We had yoga instructors, masseurs, Shamanic practitioners, a story-teller and writer, an Art lecturer, people who had set up their own eco-projects, and much else besides. So lovely getting to know them all!
The volunteers and cooks were all magnificent too. Every meal was prepared with love, all vegetarian and organic, varied and delicious. Each lunch was a tasty soup with fresh home-made bread. I ate so much food these last weeks! One of the head chefs was Tara, who has her own website you can see here... an enlightened chef and such a cheerful lady. As part of living at Schumacher we were given work groups to participate in cooking and cleaning. So I got to cook with some of the delightful Schumacher chefs!
Aside from college activities I got involved in others in the nearby Transition Town of Totnes. One evening we went to see the French movie Demain (Tomorrow), a feel good film about people who are doing something to change the world. Totnes features in the movie, so the venue was packed out, and the director was there to take questions at the end. Highly recommend this film. Another time I went to a non-duality session with James Eaton, which was profoundly emotional though I would find it hard to put into words what it was really about!
I visited a shamanic teacher, who taught one of the men on our course in Hong Kong. He and his wife live in Totnes and do shamanic circles every month, I also went to see a movie at Dartington's quirky Barn Cinema, the saddest film I have ever seen: A Monster Calls, about an ancient Yew Tree (like the one in Dartington Gardens!) that comes to life.
I also explored Dartmoor a little, visiting Wistman's Wood, and on Reading Week we went to Scorhill Stone circle. One evening we drove to a little village to watch Morris Dancing, an ancient pagan tradition (and completely unlike what we would normally think of as Morris dancing!) It was by the group Beltane Border. After the dancing was another tradition: Wassailing the apple trees to ask them to wake up and bear fruit this season. We sang to them, drank cider to their health, and adorned the branches with cider-soaked toast! Back at Schumacher, some baby apple trees had just been planted, so we repeated the Wassailing ceremonies on our own land!
Aside from all this activity, I had time to reflect and 'just be',
which was just as wonderful experience as the rest.
The month at Schumacher had a profound effect on my life,
which you can read more about on my blog.
This was just one of many modules I will take during this course,
so I am very excited to be part of that community,
and that I get to return soon!