Arita Baaijens on inspired landscapes

Nov 05, 2016

Adventurer Arita Baaijens told about her seven years of travel through the Altai Mountains in Siberia in search of 'Shambhala', the legendary paradise. In her exciting presentation she reflected on the relation between inspiration and science. This important search is still continuing...

Arita's presentation was the last of three lecture sessions on landscape organized by the Dutch newspaper, Trouw, the Netherlands Worldwide Fund for Nature, and conference centre Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam.

Click hier for a report on all three lectures (in Dutch).....

Go to Arita Baaijens' website... and to her book  'Search for Paradise' (2016, in Dutch)

A short impression of the three sessions and their themes:

1) Landscape and Memory: on the nostalgia and pain for what is being lost; 2) Landscape and Change: on the Earth's destruction and the need to stop it; 3) Landscape and Inspiration: the value of inspiration and imagination in the landscape. The first two sessions were interesting but did not bring impressively new messages. We could observe some degree of 'wear and tear' which not even Johan van de Gronden could get rid of in the discussions. Too many in the audience grab the microphone only to echoe the speakers' statements with their own stories instead of asking deepening questions. On the whole, however, I was not unsatisfied.

The third night, however, was a Wow! Photographer Frans Lanting presented a feast of images, after which Arita Baaijens treated us on a colourful acccount of her travels through the Altai Mountains. Her travel accounts were impressive, but there was more to it. What touched me was how she reflected on her experiences, and in particular her account of the inner conflict between the sceptical biologist on the one hand and the seeker of inspiration in the landscape on the other hand. In this search she took her explorations to the bottom, experimenting all alone in the savage wilderness. She took the 'soul' of the land and its connected myths and rituals extremely seriously, though she did not let herself be immerged by it. She kept observing and asking questions. She wanted to understand things without at the same time having to believe in them. I do rcognise this in myself. For many ages, inspiration and imagination have enabled people to pass on intuitive knowledge to understand the world and survive in it. Mobilizing and chanelling those powers requires effort, suffering and a long traning. In our safe and neat society few of us (including myself) can figure out what this means. Science's expanding floodlights reveal much of the world, but at the same time put the 'holy fire' in the shadow. Those who still profess to search for the holy fire, are soon suspected of romanticizing and 'wishful thinking', and often rightly so. Arita, however, by her authority of seasoned no-nonsense explorer, can emancipate and articulate the concept of 'inspiration'.

Arita points out that one of the first hurdles to be taken is the lack of a common language. I couldn't agree more. Scientific descriptions are only part of the truth; another part is the experience. You can only communicate experience when you let your imagination flow. This problem has been tackled before, e.g., by Ken Wilber in his Marriage of Sense and Soul,  in debates on indigenous knowledge, and in the Compas project fo Endogenous Development by ETC. It is also a topic of discussion in the University of Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture (ISSRNC). However, especially in the latter two academic fora it almost always stays within neatly demarcated scientific boundaries; this creates a certain distance which makes it acceptable. Arita departs from this distance; she tells a story of her own experiences and at the same time transcends het own story. At  the end of the meeting she announced she would go back to the Altai together with scientists to implement 'Mapping Paradise', a regional mapping project including the mapping of 'cultural-spiritual' dimensions in August 2016. She said she hoped that this 'sacred mapping' exercise would generate more robust arguments for nature protection and conservation. I am not sure if the often reluctant local authorities would be convinced, but let's hope with Arita that they do.