March 2020 team edit: We are currently taking a break from our public programs -
taking a break in 2020 while she navigates a chronic illness - she'll be back soon - but we
are here for you in the meantime. Feel free to reach out. Love, team Dr Bel x
In late 2019, we sat down on Wurundjeri Country with our Founder and Environmental Scientist
Dr Belinda Christie, to ask her a few burning Qs from the team and our retreat guests.
Here where her As... [minimally edited for clarity]
So you're a scientist? Like Sheldon?
Yup. Except, I don't think Sheldon would be very impressed! I'm not a lab-coat wearing,
test tube wielding kind of scientist - but who doesn't like a good lab coat?!
I'm a sustainability social science researcher. I research people - and how to create a mindful planet one practice at a time.
So what do you actually do?
I teach, I write, I do academic research. And I spend a lot of time hiking! I am an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. My current research project explores mindfulness-based outdoor education, nature connection, decolonisation practices, and the emerging field of 'spiritual ecology'. Most recently my research investigated the social implications around food waste and composting in the urban environment as a way to mitigate climate change and as a nature connection practice (think, composting and worm farming in apartment buildings, hotels, city offices!). And oh yes, I'm the Founder of a little outdoor education organisation [previously called Wilderness Yoga], outdoor guide, and meditation and yoga teacher. too. But there's a lot changing on that front very shortly...
Umm... so can you tell us whats happening?
Well, lets just say we are completely overhauling our programs to focus on social and environmental justice. Yeah - that'll do for now.
What kinds of people have you worked with?
After nearly 15 years in the environment industry, my research, teaching, and practice has covered a wide range of our global environmental problems; from sustainability science and climate change education, to indigenous flora and land management, and conservation ecology. For 10 years I have lectured at Deakin University and Swinburne University of Technology in environmental sustainability, social environmental justice, sustainable cities and building design, environmental impact assessment, research methods, and climate change adaptation. My PhD investigated Environmental Sustainability, and Education for Sustainability, through using the case study of what was happening in Australian Universities in practice and in their teaching across disciplines. I've worked with industry, universities, non-profits, grassroots community groups, schools, small and big business, retail, hospitality, and age care... all aimed at helping us all better connect with the planet. In my 20s I spent 8 years working at an Indigenous Plant Nursery too - hence the endless stops while leading hikes to talk trees and bush-foods!
What spiritual practices do you draw from?
Foremost I am an initiated student and practitioner of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. You'll see much of this teachings on mindfulness in my own. I also draw on nature interpretation, ecology, nature connection, Traditional Indigenous Knowledge, mindfulness, meditation, embodied movement, and yoga practices, and good ol' science of course. All of these practices together can be thought of as 'spiritual ecology'... practices that recognise that our ecological crisis, at its core, requires a spiritual response; a merge of the 'environmental' and the 'spiritual'.
How did you come to that tradition?
I grew up partly in India, in Mumbai and Chennai, and traveled widely as a kid, so I was exposed to a lot of different traditions and peoples. And that had a huge influence on my understanding of the world, our place in it, and our responsibility to take care of each other and the planet. As a kid I was fascinated by how all the different religions and traditions that I was seeing, really seemed to be at their heart talking about the same thing, just in different cultural wrapping. I also grew up being heavily involved in the Uniting Church in Australia. Think camp leader, kids program organiser, I was in the band, I led worship teams, and even in my late-teens started a 'green team' and environmental education campaign for the whole congregation - and this was in the early 2000s, well before the public or the media ever spoke about climate change, social media didn't yet exist, and no one knew (including me!) what a 'vegan' was! They were very kind to put up with my 16 year-old-self ranting at them from the pulpit. And yeah we had some success, and I gave everyone in the congregation 'eco-homework' each week, but really I don't know effective my teaching methods were back then! It taught me a lot. It was around about this time I started studying Western Philosophy at school and Judeo-Christian Theology at church. And by the time I got to University, I was pretty well hooked on studying religion and spirituality, while also searching for a community that placed care for the planet at the very centre of their spiritual practice. I continued to study Western Philosophers, Judeo-Christian Theology, and Comparative Religions, at University, and eventually many of the Mahayana Buddhist and Yoga Sutras too. I became, and still am, a total sutra nerd. I even snuck in a chapter on 'philosophy of sustainability' in my PhD thesis. But more importantly my spiritual education has come from personal practice as a life-long student - putting the time in on the cushion, doing the work, and infusing the practices into every possible moment of my life and aspect of my work. In my early 20s I feel in love with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings and community. A book literally feel off the shelf at my feet while I was in the University library one day - but thats a whole other story.
I hold a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental Sustainability, a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Environmental Management), and Bachelor of Environmental Science (Honours), from Deakin University, Melbourne. I also have an Advanced Diploma of Yoga Teaching (350 hour certification) from the Australian Yoga Academy, with another 150+ of training for a 500 hour accreditation, including a 60 hour Trauma-Informed & Community Yoga training with Yoga for HumanKind. Oh, and I'm an official Parks Victoria Tour Operator too! I acknowledge however that all this educational privilege has been granted to me as a white cisgender woman, and that all learning comes from lineages and traditions which are not my own, nor mine to clam 'expertise' within. Especially given the historical and continual colonisation, racism, sexism, and abelism, of scientific practice and outdoor education, my learning (and unlearning), and that of my students too, must be paired with a daily practice of actively dismantling these oppressive systems. We simply cannot have climate justice without it. I also know that a piece of paper doesn't make anyone an authority, and that life experiences and in-formal education are is just as (if not, more) important. I'm no more than expert than anyone else.
What books and articles have you written? Where can I get them!?
Most of my writing, including books and articles, up til now have been academic peer-reviewed publications - which can be difficult for anyone outside of a university to access) We're working on giving you access to full or partial copies on our new website in 2021. I'm also working on a very special book for the climate generation; stay tuned! Two the books I've contributed to can be purchased online:
So, do you like long walks on the beach?
Haha. Err, yes - who doesn't?! I prefer a mountain stroll though...
Whats your coffee order?
Umm, I don't know how to say this... (Melburnians block your ears). I don't drink coffee. Tea please! A good loose leaf, if you've got it.
What do you do when you're not up a mountain?
I'm usually in the garden... I'm trying to grow us much of our own food as we can... although the kangaroos usually get half of it! The garlic always looks happy at least.
Thanks for reading dear friend! And while you're here, don't forget to sign up to our mailing list... Something pretty epic is on the way!
Stay safe and well,
Team Dr. Bel