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The Raven knows my name: Contemplation and practice on an off-grid island

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Chang, David
Students often confront grief, anxiety, and despair as they learn about ecological decline and their complicity in a deleterious system. Ecological grief afflicts students even as the world requires much of them by way of action and reform. However, the middle and upper-class in modern Western societies, accustomed to comfort and consumption, often find it hard to diminish their ecological impact. This dissertation explores the following question: How do we do what we are not inclined to do even as we suffer from ecological grief? Informed by Zen tradition and practice, the author explores contemplation as a way of dealing with ecological pain. Working through Pierre Bourdieu's theory of habitus, the suite of ruling dispositions shaped by practice, the author examines how inclinations are shaped by everyday activities. The research project involves a ten-and-a-half-month retreat on an off-grid island on the West Coast of British Columbia. Using a combination of contemplative practice, phenomenological inquiry and portraiture, the author documents the disruptions to his urban habitus, the practices related to living in a wild place, and how such practices are relevant to educators aiming to promote dispositions that cohere with a more ecologically sound way of life. Through stories and reflections from each season, the author relates experiences of living in the woods and interprets their significance to environmental education. Significant themes include: embodiment, awareness, water, askesis, time, and contemplation. The author also describes discontinuities and adjustments upon his return to the city and elaborates on their significance in relation to ecological grief and habitus. The last chapter explores the dimensions of ecological grief and suggests approaches to working with anxieties, ambivalences, and aspirations associated with the ecological decline. This study presents an analysis of the various dimensions of practice and suggests profiles of practice to help reshape existing dispositions.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Bai, Heesoon
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