A Flowering Welcome to MAEEC 2020!

July 16, 2020
Hilary Leighton

A warm welcome to the new cohort of students entering the Master of Arts in Environmental Education and Communication at an extraordinary time in human history. While we all know the value of in-person learning, (especially on this stunningly beautiful campus), in response and responsibility to our collective health and well-being, our dedicated and talented faculty have made an innovative pivot to web-residency. This is an invitation for learning that is energetic, creative and engaging with online experiences and activities intended to capture the essence of the on-campus residency and what it means to gather and deeply learn together as a cohort in keeping with true RRU style.  

The poet William Stafford (1977) wisely wrote, “…we study how to deserve what has already been given us” (p. 101). You have selected a Master’s degree program that concerns itself with helping you cultivate your own sense of mastery (of self) through a transformative journey over time and space with many teachers (both salaried and unexpected) and allies to help you along the way. And while there will be plenty of new things for you to look into and research, the pedagogical design we ascribe to takes to heart the ethos of philosopher and educational theorist, John Dewey (1929/2009) who believed that the passions, proclivities and powers of each student should guide the learning through portals of experience like experiential learning (learning by doing as well as thinking), and connection with the natural world.

In The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling (1996), Jungian depth psychologist James Hillman reexamines childhood experiences, thoughts, accidents, impulses, dreams and expressions as the most significant shaper of biography, the essential blueprint to our lives (along with contributing aspects of environment and genetics). His epistemological understanding (shared with Plato, Aristotle, Goethe and others) was that we are born “called” into this world with a kind of “soul’s code” (1996). Hillman’s illustrious acorn theory posits that the soul, like the acorn that holds within it a unique and already formed image of the mighty oak tree it will become, holds the seed-pattern of the essential character of our true nature, of what we are destined to grow into and fulfill. The trick is that it awaits the exact and necessary conditions required for breaking open its husk, and calling forth—making conscious—who we are and what we are meant to do through a process that may indeed take a lifetime to occur (if it does at all) with many twists and detours along the way. This would suggest new ways of looking at life’s purpose and our intrinsic selves beyond cultural notions of identity, work and society and holds implications for what we teach and learn, and how we seek vocation.

Theologian, mystic and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton wrote, “Every [hu]man has a vocation to be someone; but [s[he must understand clearly that in order to fulfill this vocation, [s[he can only be one person: [her or] himself.” (1978, p. 133) This program is concerned with the intersection of your authentic nature and particular passions in an effort to draw forth (educe) your unique contributions (your giveaways) for a world that has never been in greater need of people to be self-aware and self-actualized. The program is also concerned with your sanity and health, your humanity and wholeness, your ability to feel as well as think, and your capacity to thrive amidst the changes that are occurring at a rapid rate to the planet.

And not least of all, we are concerned for your children and your ancestors too. None of us has to look very far to see how this pandemic has cracked open the world to show us all where our fault lines lie and also –as Leonard Cohen would sing – the places where the light gets in. This time of paradox asks us all to stretch ourselves to open to and meet the unutterable difficulties we seriously face as a species and to simultaneously receive the breath-taking (and complicated) gifts that abound of resilience, beauty and kindness everywhere.

In our next few weeks of being together, we will convene spaces that will interrupt and disrupt the familiar old narratives and storylines, make room for reflective and earth-based practices, consider regenerative (im)possibilities and wildly creative responses to new ways forward through mitigation and deep adaptation, thoughts and feelings, radical collaboration, active hope and positive emergence.

And not least of all, we will always take time to take our learning outside – the best classroom of all, no matter where we are sheltering these days – our earthy home. In this way, we are connected by virtue of simply standing, walking or sitting on earth, connected in invisible yet powerfully webby ways with each other (technology, aside). I want to encourage you all to literally stop and smell the flowers in their fleeting beauty, try to catch a whiff of the fragrance of what it means to be alive in this moment… remind yourselves that with every step you take, it is in your nature to flourish and blossom too as educators, writers, communicators, leaders, artists, dreamers of the possible.

Welcome, welcome…we are so glad you made it!

(And if you are reading this – warm welcome back to second and third-year MAEEC students. I trust you will shine on, help illuminate the way for your new colleagues).

…my best,

Dr. Hilary Leighton, Associate Professor, MAEEC Program Head
Ecopsychotherapist & Registered Clinical Counsellor, True Nature Counselling & Psychotherapy


Dewey, J. (1929/2009). My pedagogic creed. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (3rd ed.). (pp. 34-41). NY: RoutledgeFalmer.
Hillman, J. (1996). The soul’s code. In search of character and calling. NY: Random House.
Merton, T. (1978). No man is an island. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Stafford, W. (1977). “Love in the Country.” In Stories that could be true. New and selected poems of William Stafford. (p. 101). NY: Harper & Row.