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On Speaking Terms Again: Transformation of the Human-Earth Relationship Through Spontaneous Painting

Lisa M. Lipsett

(Full article available in Transformative Learning and New Paradigm Scholarship)

“The embodied aspect teaches us about opening up and being receptive to what the Earth has to teach on the material level. It teaches us about the fragility of life, the miracle of birth, and the power of the life force.”

— Lisa M. Lipsett

Grief, or more accurately ecological grief, sustains Lipsett’s chapter as the motivation for her painting. She denounces the “western-schooled human mind” at the root of the global ecological crisis. Painting becomes her way of reconnecting with the Earth, to the point where “I can no longer separate the two”. In this merging of self, painting, and Earth, she believes “new understandings are attained that are ageless and wise”.

It is important to review the social and scientific literature that verifies ecological crisis in its many manifestations: “…deforestation, continued ocean dumping, widespread pollution, rapid climate change, habitat degradation, and continued inadequate access to clean food and water for the vast majority of living beings”—but Lipsett believes more firmly in reconnecting with wilderness and bioregions instead.

A sense of connection to the wild also develops when we connect to our local natural places. We can spend time observing the relationships between beings and reroot ourselves in the places we call home. Rediscovering the natural history of the places currently in our lives reconnects us to wilderness on a larger scale. This relationship to local places is crucial for the animation of our connection to the Earth in general. It is the linking of the psyche to the natural (Berry, 1988; Orr, 1992; Thomashow, 1998).

However, she finds that maintaining and sustaining this reconnection is the work of a lifetime, and something many philosophers, naturalists, and ecologists have considered difficult to achieve in the long-term. Lipsett believes it is possible to “develop the skills necessary for a transformed relationship with our own inherent creative wildness”. It is in this wildness and spontaneity that our “transformed sense of connection can be put in the service of the planet in the form of creative right feeling, thought, and action,” and the more “we are able to nurture our own spontaneity, the more sustainable and ecologically sound are thoughts, actions, and feelings will become”.

Attaining such a wildness and spontaneity as a creative energy is not easy, by her own admission. Lipsett recognizes the “feelings of fear of both the unknown and the uncontrollable that surface for many when they are in the wilderness”. She details her own feelings as she describes her creative process through prose and poetry, and in doing so she distinguishes six “Earth-connecting patterns”: the spontaneous, the childlike, the embodied, the organic, the primitive/tribal and the wild.

The spontaneous aspect teaches us to clear our mind of thoughts and directives. We let go to the flow of impulse in the moment. The spontaneous helps us to connect to our instincts, our life spark, our unforced naturalness.


The childlike aspect teaches us to remain playful, in awe and wonder of the mystery of it all. It helps us to take ourselves less seriously and encourages us to remove our guarded and suspicious adult cloak. We become able to appear foolish, silly and wide-eyed.


The organic aspect teaches us about natural cycles, about growth and decay repeated over and over again. It teaches us about rhythmic seasonal waxing and wanings, nourishment and patience. We learn that there is a time for all things and all things come in their time.


The primal teaches about our tribal roots and our connection to all beings. It teaches about the historical need for humans to creatively express their connection to the Earth on walls, in pots, on the land, and in songs, dances, and rituals.


The wild teaches us to be resilient in the face of challenge and to be respectful of forces beyond our control, and to let go the desire to control wild forces out of fear. It teaches us how to remain grounded in the face of the unpredictable. We learn humility, sacrifice, and ultimately deep reverential respect.

Lipsett sees these patterns as “passageways to Earth connection”, which all lead to the same place, “sacred place where one feels both freedom to explore and the sense of security that comes with belonging”:

…the place where the visible and invisible worlds meld into one. It is the place where the creative capacities of the self are animated and simultaneously melded to Earth creation. Regularly visiting this sacred place animates our connection to the life spark and transforms our sense of self into an ecologically sustainable one. We find ourselves developing the skills necessary for a vibrant life in the “cosmic river.” It is while in this river that we embody all Earth beings and we are once again on speaking terms with the natural world.

Authors and scholars attuned to the ecological crisis act as mediators for these “speaking terms with the natural world,” but Lipsett, as both an artist and scholar, advocates a specific creative process as a passageway to the natural world, leading to a wealth of thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings through the spontaneous, the childlike, the embodied, the organic, the primitive/tribal and the wild.

Works by Lisa M. Lipsett

Lipsett’s books and paintings can be viewed on her personal website.