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Rousing the Power of One's Mind and Spirit with Affective Nature Education --An Interview with Teacher Qingshui

By Huang Liyi

"Why are modern societies doing environmental education? Actually a lot of problems come from inside us. If we want to live well, we cannot just look at the problems. Instead we have to have a good relationship with Nature. Then those problems will disappear." In 2008, Liu Wenqing (Qingshui) began to facilitateAffective Nature Education (ANE) workshops for PCD. Since then she has been bringing to the mainland ideas and approaches of ANE as they have been practiced in GAIA Association in Hong Kong.

Inspirations on Life Topics

There are many subjects related to nature and there is much power in nature. Therfore when one reaches out to nature one will keep learning things which are not limited to knowledge of nature but also cover relationships and connections, such as our relationship to nature, how we express our love for nature, what sort of help we receive from nature, etc. According to Qingshui, nature does not only provide us with food or air but also inspirations on life topics.

Facilitating ANE with yuan

If "affection" came from inside, how could one be "educated" in it? "I don't think I am the one teaching. The true teacher is nature. I am only someone who shares. Since I have a lot of reflections and experience in this aspect, I play the role of a facilitator. I use ways to help participants to feel what I have felt. Whether it works on you or not is a matter of your yuan[1]. Human beings and nature are basically connected. What we do is to draw out this connection so that we may enhance our relationship with nature and learn in the process," said Qingshui.

When asked whether ANE places too much emphasis on feelings while disregarding our capacity for reasoning, Qingshui said: "I don't think affective education means excluding knowledge. Instead it helps us do better in gaining knowledge. It is because we have ignored feelings for too long that we need to draw out our capacity for affection and awake our feelings again. When I first took children to the countryside as a volunteer, I helped them learn in nature and tried to trigger their interests. For example I would tell them to use different words to describe a rock. Since it was done in the form of a game, they were very happy and they would seek knowledge about rocks on their own initiatives. Through communicating with their classmates, they learnt more words because they had gained genuine feelings about rocks."

Reviving Our Original Five Senses

Qingshui thought that modern societies placed too much emphasis on separating things. For example mainstream education is divided into subjects and disciplines. Even when one studies nature as a subject, one only learns about knowledge and skills such as how natural resources can be excavated. We often ignore the most important thing: Do we have the capacity to feel nature? Do we feel that there is an affective connection between a tree and ourselves? It is not a question of how we may make use of it. It is something that cannot be explained clearly by words and could only be experienced. We have to experience something together by making use of our original five senses. Nowadays schools do not teach students to use their five senses and only teach them to use their brains to think. So this is a way to revive the communication between human beings and nature.

Qingshui found that among our five senses, we used our eyes the most and depended too much on our eyes. "Because of this I often do not allow the participants to look. I would ask them to use other types of eyes to see to touch, to walk and to smell. I hope to trigger the eyes inside us. I hope that everyone uses more of his/her other senses and uses the senses that we do not use normally to explore this world," she said. (For details please read "Sharing on Practice in ANE Programmes Sites")

Physically Close but Mentally Far Away

Qingshui has facilitated workshops for a number of times in the mainland. Inhabitants of towns and townships in the rural area in the mainland yearn for urban life. There are fields, trees and woods around them, so they think they are already closely connected to nature. They wonder why they need ANE. Qingshui said: "I think most people think they are very close to nature and they are familiar with the natural environment, but inside they are moving further and further away from that relationship."

However, after working for a few years with PCD, Qingshui found that more and more youngsters were becoming more earnest in developing their mind and spirit and they hungered for ANE. For nature education facilitators on who have been "exporting" affection, this is of course good news in the development of the endeavour to bridge the mind and spirit of human beings and to rebuild the relationship between human beings and nature!

Deep Feelings and Understanding in the Bamboo Woods where Butterflies Dance

Do you feel the affective connection between a tree and us?"When I was small my home covered half a hill. My father loved to grow fruit trees and bamboos, so our home was fenced by bamboos. When it was spring and the henna flowers in the garden blossomed, innumerable butterflies of all kinds of colours would be flying and dancing as they filled up the sky…..oh, have you ever seen the magnificent sight when butterflies fill up the sky?" As one watched Qingshui raising her head as her gaze and her tone became immersed in the wonderful images of some details of everyday life. "I must thank my parents. It was only because of their passion for nature and their determination that I had such a rich and wonderful environment when I grew up," Qingshui said.

"Suddenly a feeling of happiness emerged. That is it. This is good. Everyone should have this feeling of happiness which feels so good. Since then I have been sharing this experience with numerous people. When I stood up my mind was filled with compassion. My body and my palms were warm. This is the work I want to do from now on!" Qingshui was reminiscing a lazy afternoon in autumn when she was twenty years' old. She was dozing in the sun outside the door of her house. Why is the sky blue? She wondered. As she counted the different hues of blue in the wide sunny sky, she felt that she, the sky and the earth had become one. She discovered that life was very small and that she had been living in ignorance. She had lost her true self in her former life. Then she felt a kind of freedom and certainty. She felt that she was touched instantly by a spiritual movement of nature. It was fate that brought her onto the road of nature education.

When asked who helped her to keep on devoting herself to ANE, she said it was the words of Mother Teresa: "I don't want to be successful, I just want to be faithful."


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Qingshui believes that children were happier if their learning took place in nature.
Qingshui believes that children were happier if their learning took place in nature.




1. Translator's note: Yuan is Chinese. While it is commonly understood to mean fate or predestined, some think that the word comes from Buddhist thought and means a result of former actions and circumstances.