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Last week I led a rewilding retreat in the Scottish Highlands, a new collaboration between the London Buddhist Centre and the charity Trees for Life.
The degrading of nature and our loss of meaningful participation in its cycles is closely connected to the stunting of our feeling and imagination for what life is and could be. So on this retreat I wanted to make a connection between rewilding nature and rewilding our minds. Just as we need to develop our vision for where the Buddha’s teaching could lead us, so too we need a vision of what our forests could be if they are to return.
Each day nine of us from the LBC set out with shovels to plant out downy birch and alder up the side of a barren and remote ‘wee burn’ or ‘pricked out’ Scots Pine and rowan seedlings back at the Trees for Life nursery. It was very pleasurable and a kind of relief to get my hands deep in the peaty soils and moss.
Periods of silence, meditation, dharma reflections and communal living were an important part of the week. They are the conditions in which we can re-wild ourselves and allow the qualities of awareness to take root in our minds. The Buddha was a wild man, in the sense of being fully alive and responsive, attuned to nature in its deepest meaning. To reach towards this we humans need careful tending as much as a tree does, probably more.
So what exactly is rewilding? The old Caledonian forests are a rich and diverse habitat, but due to deer grazing and other pressures, there is not much of it left. Many of us were shocked to see how degraded so much land has become. Today the old forests have just 1% of their original reach. Re-imagining the more abundant nature that has existed in our land not so long ago is the work of rewilding. It’s not about going back to a pristine past, it’s about going forward to a future where humans co-exist with the non-human world in a new more beneficial way.
In Scotland rewilding means encouraging re-growth of broadleaf and native pine forest. With that come the pine marten, capercaillie, wood ants and a host of wonderful flora and fauna. We do not make the aspen groves grow or the mushrooms do their delicate woodland work, but we can gently encourage the conditions in which they might flourish.
Thanks to everyone on the retreat and the knowledgable ‘focalisers’ from Trees for Life for helping make this a rewarding, informative and inspiring week. Trees For Life is a special organisation, which works with care, respect and dedication, knowing that the intention and spirit of the work is an important part of the task.
Do read George Monbiot’s “Feral” for an account of rewilding or check out Rewilding Britain.