By: Stephan Harding
Amongst other things, being here for 25 years has taught me about fate and destiny. I became involved right at the very start of the college, in fact even before it was given the name ‘Schumacher College’. I had spent almost three years teaching ecology at the National University in Costa Rica, and very much wanted to go back there to continue my research into the sustainable use of tropical rain forest patches by the campesinos – the country folk. But this was not to be.
A visit to Sharpham House in 1990 a year after my return from Costa Rica led to conversations with Satish Kumar and John Lane about my joining their new college at Dartington as its Ecologist in Residence. I was to have total freedom to teach ecology in whatever way I wanted, to explore widely in many fields that have been split off from each other in our culture: science, art, poetry, depth psychology, music, philosophy, all in service of healing the profound ecological crisis that this very same culture has perpetrated upon the world.
The college’s first teacher was James Lovelock. We hit it off immediately, and soon I was visiting him in his remote home and laboratory on the Devon/Cornwall border to collaborate scientifically and to explore Gaia more deeply. Thanks to this relationship, I realised that my job at Schumacher College was to teach Gaia in ways that integrate science with meaning. But, for many years, this was not a smooth journey, for I missed the great wild places that I had been privileged to inhabit for extended periods in Africa and Latin America. England was too grey, too tame. I wanted an escape, but this was not to be. I’ve accepted that what I wanted – a return to the tropics – was not what the deeper purpose – the anima mundi, perhaps, had in mind.
I realise now that it has been my destiny to teach at the college – that my life up to the moment when I came here prepared me for that role, and that it has been my fortunate fate to be here for so long. I’ve learnt to appreciate the rain, the sun, and the wind, and to discover the wild beauty in the 40 hectare wood behind the college which I initially dismissed and tame and uninteresting. I met Julia Ponsonby on that first course, and we have been together ever since, now with our son Oscar, almost 15, born here in our little cottage at the Old Postern.
After so many years, I increasingly feel that Schumacher College is a place of treasures. You just have to learn where and how to find your own treasure here, which is the growth of your own soul through the uncovering of meaning, relationship and connection in relation to ecology, earth, nature and culture. For me, the treasure has been the gradual integration of science with the deep processes going on in my own psyche, and within the psyche of the world. The treasure is wholeness. Everyone who comes here has the chance to find this greatest of all treasures in their own way.
Dr Stephan Harding is Coordinator of the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College in Devon, UK. He is the author of Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia, published by Green Books.