Our work in environmental education and activism has its roots in the view and guidelines of deep ecology. It has been impossible for us to ignore the vast scale of environmental destruction that has occurred in our lifetime. There is a crucial need for a transformation of the societal values that have led to this abuse of the natural world. Our educational work has sought to engender reverence for life and recognition of the interdependence of all living beings in order to help cultivate this transformation.
Our Work in the United States
Since 1991 we have been guiding Wilderness Quests (also called “vision quests”) in the deserts of the U.S., Spain, and the jungles of Thailand, as well as offering training for Quest guides. Most of these rites-of-passage involve a nine-day journey into the wilderness, where participants come to experience a three- or four-day solo fast seeking to renew, clarify, or determine their life’s purpose and direction.
Institute for Deep Ecology
In 1992, Buddhist teacher and deep ecologist Joanna Macy asked us to establish an environmental institute devoted to furthering the field of deep ecology through education and advocacy. We responded by creating the Institute for Deep Ecology. For six years we organized two and three-week residential summer programs in California, as well as weekend workshops and presentations throughout the year. The IDE brought together deep ecology teachers, writers, and activists from around the U.S. and helped to cross-fertilize this field and establish it as a legitimate area of study in higher education.
Environmental Leadership Department, Naropa University
During the 1990’s we helped establish, and subsequently became faculty of, the graduate program in Environmental Leadership at Naropa University. This pioneering program is helping to educate a generation of environmental leaders, educators and activists. We developed curriculum and taught classes in Deep Ecology, Systems Theory, Ecopsychology, Bioregionalism, Bearing Witness, and Rites of Passage.
Our Work in Southeast Asia
Bioregional Mapping, Thailand and Burma
Over a period of five years we taught methods for mapping community forests to indigenous leaders of the Karen tribe in northwest Thailand and leaders of the ethnic Kachin people in northwest Burma. The bioregional maps that were made became important tools for community organizing in response to deforestation, pollution, and loss of land rights, as well as in negotiating with governmental agencies.
Interfaith Solidarity Walks, Thailand
For eight years we led Interfaith Solidarity Walks in support of the indigenous peoples of Northern Thailand. These two-week journeys first began as deep ecology experiences for Thai urban activists, and soon became bearing witness experiences in support of the tribal peoples who were losing both their culture and land rights. The Solidarity Walks are now established as an independent and ongoing project conducted in a partnership between the Thai Spirit in Education Movement and Karen tribal elders.
Festival of Forest Communities, Thailand
We initiated a major Festival of Forest Communities as a result of our years of leading Solidarity Walks and training indigenous leaders in Thailand. Held in the winter of 2000, the Festival’s theme was “Can people and the forest live together?” Over 1000 villagers from the Karen, Lao, Lisu and Lahu tribes attended the Festival. For the first time they worked together with Thai government officials, urban activists, and Buddhist monks on collaborative ways to safeguard the watershed of the region and preserve indigenous culture.
Training Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Environmental Activism, Thailand and Burma
We trained over 200 Buddhist monks and nuns in Thailand and Burma during the course of four years in approaches to environmental awareness and activism.
Training Kachin Baptist Ministers in Deep Ecology, Burma
We held week-long Deep Ecology and Christianity workshops over three years for Kachin Baptist ministers in northern Burma. These programs were designed to respectfully challenge the Kachin’s conceptions of the human-nature relation derived from the 19th century view instilled by Christian missionaries—a view that emphasized man’s dominion over nature.
Our Work in Desert Cities
International Desert Cities Projects
In association with the University of Arizona, we helped organize and host the first International Conference of Desert City Mayors. Our focus was on sustainable and human-scale urban planning for desert cities. As a result of this work we were invited to consult with the Department of Urban Planning for the government of Saudi Arabia on sustainable design of desert cities. Subsequently, Elias consulted in the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh on the design of solar cool towers, a low-energy approach to cooling inside and outside public spaces.
Soul of the Oasis Project, National Endowment for the Humanities Design Arts Award
In association with the University of Arizona’s Environmental Research Laboratory, we helped in the development of the Solar Oasis Project, an environmental demonstration center and urban renewal project for downtown Phoenix. In conjunction with this project, we received a National Endowment for the Humanities Design Arts Award to produce a large format book, The Soul of the Oasis, on sustainable, energy-efficient, and human-scale design patterns for desert cities. (The book remains unpublished; Phoenix’s budget for the Solar Oasis Project was voted down just before being realized.)
The Path of the Friend is a project of the Boulder Institute for Nature and the Human Spirit,
a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. 1644 Pearl Street, Boulder, Colorado 80302 USA.