The seeds of this work were planted many years ago when I had the honor of meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He spoke directly to the moral and spiritual aspects of our relationship to the environment. Over the years, I have met many people who have committed their lives to various forms of environmental work, including those who did so from a spiritual perspective. Among them was Dr. Rebecca Gould, an associate professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont.
The idea for this film emerged during a retreat that Becky and I attended, led by Kurt Hoelting and Rabbi Larry Troster. A premise offered during the retreat was that contemplative practice is deeply engrained within the human experience and, through that lens, nature can be a primary teacher in significant ways. In addition, the insights available to us through the “practice of the wild”, as the poet Gary Snyder calls it, are key to our very survival as a species on Earth.
Kurt, Becky, and I mused on the possibility of documenting contemplative practice and other forms of immersion during a wilderness retreat. How does one capture the interiority of spiritual experience or the varying emotions each of us feel toward the natural world? Is it possible to document meditation and other types of contemplative practice in an authentic way? And how does that become a film? It was a crazy idea but experience had shown us that many people feel deep connections to nature that go beyond an enjoyment of beauty or a bit of peace and quiet. There are essential, primal relationships that resonate deep within each person. And they speak to us in meaningful ways that can inform and perhaps transform our lives.
Over the course of several months, we organized a five-day retreat in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, inviting small group of people with different backgrounds to participate in our experiment. A few had direct religious connections. Some came purely from an environmental perspective. And others had links to both worlds – the scientific and the sacred.
Our days were mostly spent in some form of contemplative practice – from traditional sitting meditation to hiking in silence to drifting alone in kayaks on the water. Out of respect for our participants, we did not follow them everywhere with cameras in tow. The opportunity for people to deeply immerse themselves in the contemplative experience was key. Throughout the retreat we asked people to share experiences, insights, and practices that might help to deepen our appreciation of nature or clarify the challenges we all encounter in our daily lives. At the end of the retreat we interviewed the participants on a variety of issues. What emerged from that work is The Fire Inside.
Dr. Gould is Associate Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. She holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Study of Religion where she trained in comparative religion, specialized in religion and American culture (with a focus on religion and nature). Gould’s first book, At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America, (Univ. of California Press, 2005) is an ethnographic and historical study of back-to-the-land experiments focusing on the works and lives of Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, Wendell Berry, Helen and Scott Nearing and contemporary homesteaders.
Rebecca Gould’s current book project, The Spirit of Time addresses the effects of “time famine” and haste on the life of the spirit and offers alternative visions for nurturing spaciousness in life, many of which are grounded in our deepest spiritual traditions.
Rebecca Gould’s page at Middlebury
Kurt Hoelting is a wilderness guide, meditation teacher and writer, leading contemplative kayaking trips in Alaska during the summer, and teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) during the winter in the Puget Sound area. He is the author of The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life. In 2008, after realizing the gaping hole between his convictions about climate change and his own carbon footprint, Kurt embarked on a yearlong experiment to rediscover the heart of his own home by the shores of Puget Sound. He traded in his car and jet travel for a kayak, a bicycle, and his own two feet, traveling a radius of 100 kilometers (62 miles) from his home.
Hoelting lives with his wife Sally Goodwin on Whidbey Island. He is the father of two children, Kristin and Alexander.
Kurt Hoelting’s blog – Inside Passages
Phil Walker is the owner and creative director of Jump\Cut Productions. His work has focused largely on education, community, history, and the environment. From 1992-1995, Phil produced global media campaigns in support of three United Nations Conferences – the Earth Summit in ’92, the Population and Development Conference in ’94, and the Women’s Conference in ’95. The campaigns featured dignitaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Al Gore, and Jacques Cousteau.
In 2004, Phil produced the WWII documentary, D-Day: Down to Earth—Return of the 507th. The film debuted nationally on PBS for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
From 2006-2010, Phil co-produced and edited the documentary/art film General Orders No. 9 for New Rose Window. The film screened at numerous festivals in the U.S, Canada and Europe and was honored with the Kodak Vision Award at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2010.
Filmmaker Phil Walker’s website