Dr Mark Orams: Creating an optimistic psychology for today’s overwhelming environmental & life challenges

Interviewed by

Tim Lynch

Dr Mark Orams: Creating an optimistic psychology for today’s overwhelming environmental & life challenges

I have just had Professor Mark Orams in the station for a very uplifting exchange on the state of NZ’s inshore waters that connect out and around to embrace our whole planet.

His own interests focused on marine recreation and sport - high performance sport, leadership, coaching and outdoor education.

A professional sailor who as a youngster was a keen ‘yachtie’ winning both NZ and World titles as well as a crewman on Sir Peter Blake’s round the world winning team - plus been involved in two America’s Cups as well.

He calls for collaborative work and for ordinary people at grassroots level to lead from the front. For having a healthy understanding of the vastness of our ocean systems - and having spent a lot of time racing and visiting other countries, recognises that from a planetary perspective - the global marine systems are in increasing trouble and that these challenges must be urgently addressed.

Acknowledging that NZ has still got an opportunity to initiate the much needed corrective measures if we are to arrest the decline of fish stocks, ocean pollution, drifting plastics and runoff from the land - among numerous tipping points.

Indigenous Connection

Mark says it is our engagement with nature that has to be addressed as we pakeha and white races have put distance between us and the natural world - whereas indigenous peoples are affiliated far more closely as they have lived more embedded in the natural process. Pacific Islander and Maori have a natural affinity to the cycles of nature. Especially harvesting food, and survival etc and of their understanding of the seasons and the food planting and gathering. He further reiterates, that for indigenous peoples - that connection goes beyond the basics of knowledge and integrates through into cultural connection as well as spiritual wisdom .

Having been around as the human species for about 200,000 years and a great majority of this time - all of us has been deeply connected with nature - we all have been indigenous peoples.

That for we in the developed world, especially Australia and NZ it has been a relatively short time - that we have actually lived apart from nature - quite possibly only about 3 or 4 human generations - or from the industrial revolution onwards. What this means is that in our DNA - in our ’substance’ for the greater course of our history we have had that deep connection with nature as part of who we are.

Mark then goes on to talk about our immersion into nature and the psychological shift of our perspective as we embed ourselves into the greater awareness of the immensity of its power. Covering also our spiritual well being - and that through recreation, getting away from city and urban life and going bush, to the mountains, on a river or a lake - to sea, that recreation is actually ‘re-creation’ - and the time to restore our energies and well being.

Covering working with nature as against it - reading the signs, wind direction, water currents, moon phase and aware of the weather and being able to astutely adapt to harness the natural forces of nature - by bringing about a greater attunement and wellbeing. Where we can not control wind, waves or rain, but we learn how to adapt.

Some days - all goes well and the elements are warm and soft whereas some days or nights nature throws the full force of its fury and we have to be very focused and alert - thinking ‘gee - am I going to make it through this?’

He says that the contrasting situations are healthy as they are awe inspiring and re-connecting and they give us a different perspective that we cannot control Mother nature or control everything that happens to us or everything that surrounds us. What this does it forces us to slow down to the pace of nature and he says that this is a very healthy thing. Because most of us today are rushing to everything - to work, home from work, events and other commitments and our days are very, very full - and we control largely what we do - where we go, when we choose to do it - or others control it for us.

However, when we are out in the middle of the ocean in a very small boat we cannot determine what happens - and in these situations be it calm or stormy - it can be very primordial - a very basic thing and Mark sees it as a very good thing as it lets us get a true feel of nature - inside.

New Zealand Environmental Challenges compared with Overseas.

Speaking on the waters surround NZ - they are largely pretty clean especially the further out we go, however closer into the shore we have numerous challenges because 3 or 4 generations ago (40-60 years) the conditions were far better, but NZ’s population has increased with much development around the Auckland coastline. As well as globally the population has now jumped up by an extra 5 billion people/consumers since 1950.

This huge spike in population has had a large affect on this country, on the shoreline and coastal waters. However he says we can still engage with the sea today where our health is not put at risk - whereas with so many countries overseas the coastal waters are so polluted that you would never swim - let alone, put your head under the water - worse swallowing a mouthful or having it enter your body by a cut or an abrasion - especially where there are large populations living on the water’s edge, or that their catchment drains into that coastal ecosystem. So there are compromised ecosystems as a result of human activity and our disposal of waste products either deliberately or accidentally that he says is very sobering … so much so that it is always a joy for him to come back to NZ waters and a cleaner marine environment, which he says we cannot take for granted and that we need to be very vigilant about it and that we have to work very hard to maintain.

Everything is Connected

Everything is connected - what ever we do on the land has an affect on the inshore coastal environment - the same pattern has occurred - for example - car tires and the chemicalised particulates wearing off on to the road - off the tires, as well as the dripping of fluid out of car exhaust pipes onto the road - then it rains and runoff and stormwater enters into the coastal waters - curtailing and degrading the area and forcing away fish and shellfish from rocks and surrounding bays - etc - for example Auckland’s East Coast Bays are virtually devoid of the super abundance of fish life of 80 years ago.

Talk to any person of 60-70 years plus of age and they will say that things are know where as good as they once were. There is a lot of wisdom in the Elders and they can tell us how it’s used to be like - so that we have this information that is telling us about this long term slow, chronic degradation - and this is very difficult situation to solve!

What We Can Do

For answers, there are some worthy innovative NZ’s schemes at present - marine protected areas which are stark contrasts to the degradation that is happening. These are Goat Island at Leigh http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/auckland/places/cape-rodney-okakari-point-marine-reserve-goat-island/

on the East coast - North of Auckland and Tiri Tiri Matangi Island http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/auckland/places/tiritiri-matangi-scientific-reserve-open-sanctuary/ that have been locked away for a sufficient amount of time and are now thriving - especially as Goat Island was left to its own renewal other than to stop fishing and extractive industries and now it is alive with fish and a huge drawcard for people wanting to see how NZ once was. As for Tiri Tiri Matangi - tree planting has occurred plus the introduction of native bird species and now it is a paradise of greenery and bird song - where once it was barren grassland denuded of trees.

So with ‘commitment, will and effort’ - we can bring back nature with some conscious decisions being made to turn things around. NZ has many ‘off shore Arks’ where islands have been set aside to become sanctuaries for endangered native flora and fauna and these are very successful that they are Islands of Hope - John Craig and Neil Mitchell on bringing Tiri Tiri Matangi into being - that bold decision making is needed - like Prof John Moreton and Bill Ballentine did with Goat Island as advocates getting people to think about protecting the marine environment and bringing people with them.

Grassroots Action

These examples Marc says are really important - because when we act together many superb results can come about. These are empowering stories and that our future can be far better as a result. He says grassroots are the answer - he is a massive fan of the people who work in the ‘not for profit sector’ - people whom have made huge sacrifices of time, energy and money and made enormous sacrifices for causes that they believe in.

From large organisations like the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society to the small ones like the Motutapu Restoration Society or the education group ‘Experiencing Marine Reserves’ - a small not for profit charitable trust that takes children into marine reserves to show them deeper qualities of nature and what marine protection can do.

Volunteers by the Thousands

Right across NZ here are hundreds of thousands of NZers who volunteer to make a difference because they believe in it.

He says that these dedicated people are just not acknowledged enough which is a great pity - they are the real NZers - the real kiwis doing great things out there - we need to be proud of what they do - they are unsung heroes - never getting national awards or headlines in the media.

To Mark they are the real heroes of NZ. He encourages us to take leadership and see what we can do around your particular area and take some people with you and do weeding and clean up beaches, streams etc.

Local Communities Working Together

Local communities - in nature, with and for nature - establishing win wins - as meeting good people and achieving a satisfactory result, because he says there is a primeval connection that after a full day or a week of working together - we will go home and have the best nights sleep in a long time because we have met and worked alongside people from vastly different walks of life, all with good intentions and especially being team spirited.

Good People Committing To Co-operate

Mark states that the portrayal of human behaviour and existence that comes through the MSM media is not an accurate portrayal of the great majority of people - the great majority of the humanity whom live in this world and in NZ are good people - they are well intentioned - they care about their families, they care about their neighbours and they care about nature and they care about their country - These people don’t get the headlines!Listen ...

There are people everywhere who have decent values and morals and will help you out - who will be friendly, who will greet you - who are people you can trust - this is the essence of being a decent person - it’s important to remember this. Plus, that we hold these values for ourselves as well and take the high road.

Values and Principles

He mentions that some of the above principles may have been more prevalent 30 to 60 years ago - but the principles of honesty and integrity and decency and looking after one another are what he feels are at the heart of what is is to be a human - and certainly what it means to be a New Zealander.

We talked about Sir Peter Blake and team spirit and what this means. Though a cliche, a champion team - will always beat a team of champions - what is needed is a tight synergistic team. He said Peter intuitively understood a number of things.

He could take on a competitive team that could have more resources, perhaps be more talented, be more experienced and beat them because of the power of the team.

Where as a member of his team you always felt that you were important - that you mattered - that your opinion could add value.

So even if you were sweeping the floors or cleaning the toilet or the person with a brain the size of the planet making computations of fluid dynamics and design of the boat - you were important.

That we are all part of a greater whole and that we all depend on this planet that we share.

When we pool and pull together collectively - we make a massive difference.

Conscious Choices

Decision that we take - the products that we buy - the packaging that we use - the cars that we drive - the decisions we make of the companies that we support - or the candidates we vote for. We need to be Aware.

In the end Mark says that we have to do the best we can with what God gave us and that this is the mantra that Mark lives by.

Listen ...

Covering the ‘Overwhelmers’ - Fukushima - radiation in the Pacific ocean - etc - how do we address situations like this? Plus Climate Change.

What can I do as one individual to be able to make a difference?

Mark says - collectively this is where we make major changes.

Saying that we need to take heart with Sweden’s Volvo’s decision to make all electric or hybrid cars in 10 years time. That they don’t make these decisions lightly - that they are ‘reading the tea leaves' - they see that there is a greening of the market place and they are positioning themselves to take advantage as well as lead …

Voting

Voting with your dollars - not buying from certain corporations who are at variance with your philosophy - thus more people supporting this notion will impel the company to change its outlook - its products range - its way it connects with consumers.

But first - before you lead others - lead yourself - walk your talk

Mark talked about mental health and that we in NZ have some major challenges around disempowered people - especially male youth in this country of getting to a point of a dark space - that when we do good things for others or nature and give of ourselves - we also reap the rewards of that good act as well - that by giving we have a better sense of our purpose - we have more satisfaction as to who we are as a person that if we like, we really can achieve a greater level of contentment and happiness.

He says that ironically that one of the answers to mental health is to dedicate at least some of your time to helping those who are less fortunate and are in such a difficult situation than you are.

Being Respectful

Without being disrespectful Mark says that a lot of the mental health challenges - are actually quite inward looking and are quite self serving - it’s about me - it’s about awww - I’m in such a difficult situation and my life is terrible and I can’t find a way out - and he is not disrespecting that - but one of the ways forward is to actually start thinking about how we can help others, because there are always people who are in a more difficult life circumstance than us!

If we are able to do something that can help them or if we can find a way to reconnect with nature and that we can plant a tree or a series of trees or do something that can allow us - that at the end of the day - we realise that our existence has mattered - that it has made a positive difference. That through us being here - the place is better than it was - these things have an enormous personal benefit for us - listen to the interview for more on this serious subject.

Separation from nature - from our society and the community - it leads to material things outside of ourselves that can cause many problems … listen … these are distractions

Giving is Important - from Ourselves to the Collective Greater Good.

This interview covers communities coming together.

Technology as a separator and not necessarily a bringer of people face to face and eyeball to eyeball and closer into hugging distance.

Mark talks about Natural Empathy

That we have wicked problems - climate change - plastic pollution - declining fisheries - coastal sedimentation and near shore pollutants

All these are our collective fault - we are all part of the problem.

How can we come together and to do something different - as opposed to making them worse?

That we start this philosophical conversation and have the ability to make compromises.

“I will give you this - if you will give up that.”

Mark asks us to find ways to end polarising viewpoints.

That as we all share the same planet - let's come together to resolve these issues for the sake of future generations.

Dr Mark Orams - most definitely worth listening and taking in.


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Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch, is a New Zealander, who is fortunate in that he has whakapapa, or a bloodline that connects him to the Aotearoan Maori. He has been involved as an activist for over 40 years - within the ecological, educational, holistic, metaphysical, spiritual & nuclear free movements. He sees the urgency of the full spectrum challenges that are coming to meet us, and is putting his whole life into being an advocate for todays and tomorrows children. 'To Mobilise Consciousness.'

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