Nov 13, 2023 at 4:34 p.m
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When Princess Irene of Lippe-Biesterfeld advocated living in connection with nature almost thirty years ago, her message was received with skepticism. Now that tide seems to have turned.
This article comes from Trouw. Every day a selection of the best articles from newspapers and magazines appears on NU.nl. You can read more about that here.
The road to her home leads through the Cape Forests in Doorn. Autumn is in full swing, a fly agaric stands in the middle of the path, a raven caws high between the trunks. It is the perfect prelude to a conversation with Princess Irene of Lippe-Biesterfeld, who continues to remind us that we humans are part of nature.
“We are nature,” she says, pouring the tea. “Biologically speaking, it is clear, but we no longer feel it. We act as if what happens to nature has no consequences for us.”
She continues: “We think we are owners of nature, or at best a steward who has to take care of nature. But that ‘caring for’ looks very different when you are part of nature than when you are above or next to it. That separation influences our thinking, our lives and our decisions. And is at the root of major problems such as climate change, extinction and nature destruction.”
How was that connection broken?
“I think it started when we invented agriculture. From that moment on we wanted to make the land more ‘useful’ than we thought it was. We started to bend nature more and more to our will, and that is reflected in centuries of Western philosophy The ancient Greeks invented the ‘ladder of nature’, with humans of course at the top.
“According to Descartes, people had a soul, but animals did not, they moved like machines. The world has been disenchanted, made soulless. We see animals and plants primarily as matter. But the blossoming of a flower, the development of an embryo, the growth of a tree, you can also see that as a miracle. We have lost such wonder, also because we attach so much importance to rationality and thinking over feeling, experience and intuition.”
Is that different if we live in connection with nature?
“Yes, then we make our decisions not only based on what is good for ourselves, but also for other life forms. It is fine to harvest wood from the forest, but in such a way that the balance of other life is not damaged. The challenge is to make our decisions nature-inclusive and to open ourselves up to nature. This requires a major change in our attitude to life.”
How does that work, opening yourself up to nature?
“My job is to guide people in this. For example, I take groups into nature. We do exercises, reflect on stones, fungi, plants and animals. You are, as it were, immersed in nature and that is often overwhelming. I need people to investigate what they feel about it and apply it to their own lives.
“They always go home with radiant eyes. There are so many methods: meditations, silent walks. The core is: go into nature. Use all your senses. Slow down, try not just to look but to really see. Judge as little as possible. And be grateful.”
-Photo: Werry Crone
You state that connection with nature also improves relationships between people.
“If you feel connected to the bigger picture of life, you may be less likely to judge. You detach yourself from all kinds of layers that society has placed on you. If plants and animals are allowed to fall into your circle of friends, you get a broader perspective and you can also see people differently. In addition, connection with nature helps to slow down. Our pace is now unprecedentedly high. If you take more time for yourself, to meditate or walk or whatever, you have that effect on your mood and how you interact with other people.”
In the past your story has been received with some scorn. You were placed in the new age corner as the princess who talks to trees.
“That was in some media, which quite viciously mocked my first book, Dialogue with Nature from 1995. In it I wanted to share a unique nature experience, which I found life-changing. But I was laughed at for it. That did hurt. “
Couldn’t you have seen such reactions coming? Your ideas went directly against the dominant worldview.
“I didn’t expect it to be so bad. But at the same time I also received a lot of beautiful letters. I will never forget one letter: a lonely man who could no longer leave his house, wrote to me that my book helped him get his curtains back. had opened.”
How is your call being received these days?
“Completely different. Especially by young people, who feel strongly about it and want to participate. They tell me that they ‘defended’ my books in conversations with their parents. Young people already live so much more consciously, I find that hopeful.”
How does this change happen?
“The spirit of the times has changed. It is now crystal clear that we are at a dead end. The consequences, such as climate change, can no longer be denied. It is clear that we have to make the switch, and quickly. These times require us to change.”
Your brainchild, NatuurCollege, has now established a chair. Can your approach thrive in an academic setting?
“That scientific approach is very valuable and exciting. For example, there will be research into nature-inclusive, or nature-exclusive, decision-making within companies. Into different perspectives of nature experience. I have no influence on that, it is an independent chair. But I also know that personal experiences and the emotions that nature unleash will be examined. In addition, the chair group wants to broaden our awareness and bring about transformative change in our relationship with nature.”
Is that still scientific, or is it becoming more activist?
“I think that the research will critically examine the world as it is now. Some call it action research: conducting research and bringing about change go hand in hand. I expect that with this chair, students will be given the space to think further about their own role in the whole of life.”
Does it feel like a form of recognition to you that after the skepticism there is now a chair that builds on your ideas?
After some reflection: “I don’t think in that way. I am very grateful for what this chair can mean for our relationship with nature. I used to feel very alone with my vision of nature. I specifically started looking for like-minded people, and found them in, among others, Jane Goodall, Rupert Sheldrake, Arne Naess, Matthijs Schouten, or Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a human rights activist and Maya. When I first met people who saw nature the same way I did, it was very emotional for me.”