Monday, July 8, 2019

Charlotte Cameron took part in the first cycle of the Spiritual Ecology Leadership Program (SELP). This is the text of a talk she gave to the IofC Australia National Meeting on 22 June 2019, reporting back on her SELP experience.

‘I heard about the program while I was overseas in January. I’d had a difficult first year of uni, and I was going to be heading into a year off. I felt flat. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing in this gap year. I go to church and, at the time, my faith tradition felt like its relevance and influence was slipping away. My confidence, certainty and optimism about my life and the part I could play in this rapidly-changing world had diminished pretty dramatically.

‘I heard about this spiritual ecology program through Facebook and the term really jumped out at me. I did some googling and found Llewellyn Vaughan Lee and Joanna Macy’s writings and it felt like I’d just opened a window on this thing, but it was going to be special, it was going to move me. So, from a Starbucks in Indonesia, I applied for the course, which included our February weekend retreat in the Otways and four monthly workshops to develop our spirituality and our understanding of spiritual ecology, and to work on an activity to bring it to the community.

Participants in the Spiritual Ecology Leadership Program at the opening retreat in the Otways, Victoria. ‘The retreat was a real game-changer for me. It provided the space and facilitation to experience awe and wonder in a very real, very powerful way. I was excited to start, but also plagued by insecurity and low self-esteem.

‘On the first night, we were invited to spend some time out on our own under this brilliant starry sky, to set our intentions for the weekend. Pondering my spot in this world, a wave of emotion came over me. It was a really powerful experience of being wrapped up, entirely, by the embrace of the universe, Creation, and God, because finally, they all became one. I felt loved. I felt connected. I felt like I could really do something to help this world that struggled to love and struggled to feel connected.

‘The retreat held the space for many similar experiences of wonder, warmth and resolve, in a fantastic community of like-minded people coming from such crazily diverse backgrounds. These experiences were so important for setting the foundations of this program - foundations built on unconditional love, interconnectedness, community, and service.

‘A group of 10 young people went on to be part of the leadership program, which took up a Saturday every month, either at Armagh in Toorak or at CERES in Brunswick. We were assigned mentors, whose wisdom and advice were there to guide us in the process of learning more about how spiritual ecology could be practiced, and discerning the activity we wanted to create and share with our community. At our workshops, we learnt listening exercises and principles, and heard from guest speakers who had lived their lives and made real changes using the values of service, stewardship and compassion. We practiced storytelling techniques, explored the connections between our religious traditions and spiritual ecology, and practiced giving and receiving feedback on our initiative. We also had opportunities to connect with nature, Indigenous history and knowledge. We packed it in.

‘The brilliant finale to our time together was getting to participate in the activities each other had created. There was a communal intercultural and interfaith dinner, a rescued food fermentation and cooking day, carefully curated workshops, a podcast emphasising Indigenous perspectives and a direct-action effort to protect the sacred trees of Djab Wurrung in Victoria from a planned highway development. It spoke to the diversity of people and gifts we had, but also that there was a common thread of energy and generosity weaving through everyone’s intentions. I think we knew what a special opportunity we had through this program, and wanted to honour it with our projects.

‘It’s hard to pinpoint the most significant change because I feel like I think about a lot of things differently now- I really value the absolute centrality of indigenous wisdom in this conversation. I’ve felt the healing, energising and revealing force of Creation. I see my own faith given life through spiritual ecology and mysticism. I’ve known the importance of holding both grief and hope in this time of Great Turning. Broadly speaking, I feel like I’ve found a practice, a framework and a community that values and prioritises action and contemplation. I feel inspired to learn more and to serve more. To go out and to go deep.