As we were preparing to launch our latest publication on sacred natural sites at the CBD conference in Nagoya (Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving nature and culture), of which I am a co-editor, I decided to expose myself to some nature and spirituality over the weekend, to resource myself after a few days of arid negotiations on policy. I went to the Ise Jingu shrine in the Mie prefecture, not far from Nagoya, writes Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN Senior Advisor for Social Policy.
The Ise Jingu shrine is a major spiritual place of the Japanese Shinto religion. It's composed of a smaller or Outer shrine (Geku), a larger or Inner shrine (Naiku) and a sacred forest that connects both and harbours about 123 smaller shrines. Many pilgrims were visiting the area, and many of them would stop at the shrines for a short prayer, and would continue their walk through the forest.
The sense of peace and joy that the forest, the shrines and the pilgrims communicated was overwhelming to me, especially after weeks of hectic travel and policy meetings. “How could the world be so different out there”, I was thinking when walking through the forest, “and how could anyone not appreciate the value of places like this one?”
And yet, that is exactly what happens day after day. At the book launch, we learnt about the tough struggle of the Tagbanwa people of the Coron island of the Philippines to protect their wonderful sacred islands and lakes from intrusive developments propagated or sponsored by insensitive government policies. We heard about the ongoing but unsuccessful battle of the Quiche people of Guatemala to have a law passed at the national congress that would protect their sacred lands – perhaps the greatest assets of their cultures.
The book launch itself, however, was a great success: A packed room, wonderful interventions from speakers and participants, book editors and authors happy to see it come to light and encouraging feedback. "It’s a good step we have taken", I thought. "But so small compared to the task..." As one of the participants reminded us, communities and the common people often have deep spiritual links to land and would love to see it alive and vital – yet the forces working against the health of the planet are too big.
I will go back to Ise Jingu before I leave Nagoya. It will close a cycle that has taken me briefly - but profoundly - through the inner connections between people and nature, but also through the complexities of conservation and development. Anyone doubting whether or not caring for the planet should matter to us, the common people, should come take a stroll at Ise Jingu and walk alongside the pilgrims through this venerable forest.