Embrace of the Earth 2016

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Audio File

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While confronting ecological degradation requires "external" socio-political responses, ecological transformation also demands "internal" revolution. Negative states of mind arising from ecological concern include denial, despair, burnout, and grief. Emerging neuroscience research, however, demonstrates how contemplative practice can shift consciousness and promote resilience, thereby helping scholars, students, and activists re-engage with their ecological work. Contemplative practices are those that consciously direct calm, focused attention. Such practices can build internal resilience, by promoting a greater sense of calm and well-being, decreasing stress, and sharpening focus and concentration. In addition, contemplative practices improve relationships with other people, through increasing compassion and flexibility in thinking. They also strengthen relationships with the nature and the surrounding world by increasing our ability to question, explore, and cope with rapid change and complexity. In the environmental studies classroom, contemplative practices can strengthen engagement and focus. Drawing on classroom experience and a survey of the literature, this talk shows how contemplative practices, including mindfulness exercises, creative expression, and meditation, cultivate the well-being and resilience that are essential for sustainable ecological engagement in the face of daunting global ecological change.


Elizabeth Allison, PhD received her PhD (2009) in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California, Berkeley. She also holds a Master of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

She has taught environmental studies in academic settings at UC Berkeley, Yale, and Williams College, and through experiential modes in youth development programs in Vermont and California.

Elizabeth's current research explores the role of religious and spiritual discourse and practice in environmental action through case studies of natural resource management in the Himalayas, where she has lived and conducted field research for more than two years. Additional research interests include environmental ethics, political ecology, religion and ecology, the politics of knowledge, biodiversity conservation, and climate change.

Her writing has appeared in Mountain Research and Development, The Progressive Christian, and The Spider and the Piglet, an anthology of studies of Bhutan. She was a Fulbright fellow in Nepal in 2003-04, conducting research on natural sacred places in the Khumbu region near Mount Everest.

Previously, she directed a national program called Experience Corps, which mobilizes retired people to share their skills and wisdom with needy schoolchildren, coordinated a California- wide AmeriCorps program focused on environmental education and restoration, and led teams of young people restoring parks and trails in California and Vermont.