Towards oneness: Educating for a paradigm shift

By Clément Moliner-Roy
With support and feedback from Andrea González, Ethel Pang, João Gabriel Almeida and Manish Jain.

To shift or to collapse?
Do I even need to convince you that we need a paradigm shift? That if we continue thinking and living the way we do, we will face the inevitable collapse of human society. That our industrial way of thinking is depleting the fabric upon which we are dependent for living. That our current approach to development anchored in capitalism has reached its limit. Fortunately, more and more authors and organizations are joining hands to generate this much-needed paradigm shift. In this article, I will share insights about how some ecoversities, radical alternatives to universities, are opening the way towards a paradigm shift, adhering to ways of knowing (epistemologies) and being (ontologies) that challenge the status quo, as well as the struggles that they are encountering in doing so. More specifically, I’ll share stories from interviews with Will Scott, one of the co-founders of Weaving Earth, Liz Hosken, one of the co-founders of the Gaia Foundation, as well as Rutendo Ngara and Jay Naidoo, Co-founders of the Earth Rise Collective

Ontological oneness

On an ontological* level, I was struck by how all three ecoversities seemed to aspire towards oneness. They outlined how, in the current paradigm put forth in dominant society, humans are taught to see themselves as separate from nature, often as superior to nature and capable of controlling it. This separation is at the root of many of the environmental disasters that we are witnessing today: monoculture farming which depletes soil quality, destructive exploitation of the rainforest, and pollution of our waters. That’s why they strive to promote a new paradigm (or a return to a very ancient paradigm?) in which humans develop a deep sense of entanglement, a sense that our existence and well-being are mutually entwined with that of all others (humans, non-humans, more-than-humans). As Liz Hosken puts it “You can’t have justice for people if you don’t have justice for nature, because we are nature.” After all, it makes a lot of sense to generate a sense of oneness, as who would create harm to others if it’s seen as creating harm to themselves? Yet the aspiration for this paradigm shift is easier said than done, so that’s what got me to wonder: 

*Pertaining to the ways of being and the way we perceive reality. 

How do you educate for oneness? What does learning feels, tastes, touches, and smells like in order to reach a greater sense of oneness? What would universities look like if they were all about generating a profound feeling of entanglement? 

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Weaving Earth Centre for Relational Studies (California, USA)

Self-described as “nature-based education for action at the confluence of ecological, social and personal systems change” (, Weaving Earth is all about cultivating oneness, or “remembering our interrelationships,” as they would put it.  As cofounder Will Scott explains: “Human separation is a lie […] we are part of nature and should be rooted in a deep sense of belonging with, and responsibility to our surroundings.” He made it clear that cultivating this deep sense of entanglement can be a powerful aid in interrupting and dismantling ongoing systems of inequity, changing extractive and capitalist habits, and may ultimately enable us to avoid societal collapse – or perhaps more accurately – to help society collapse “towards life.”  To cultivate this deep sense of oneness, Weaving Earth offers a wide variety of educational programs ranging from rewilding nature immersions to online gatherings attuned to the cycle of the moon, geared toward adults, teens, and youth. 

According to Will, nature is at the foundation of all learning. This explains one of the pillars of Weaving Earth: Earth intimacy. Polar opposite to human supremacy,  Earth intimacy is about nurturing “an embodied understanding that we are no better and no worse than other life — only different, with unique contributions to make” ( It’s about taking the time to build an intimate relationship with nature, just like we would take the time to develop an intimate romantic relationship. Will shared numerous examples of activities along those lines:

One of these core practices being a sit spot, a simple exercise in which participants are invited to choose a spot in nature and sit there for a minimum of twenty minutes every day. Observing all around, paying close attention to what their senses pick up, to the cycles, to the patterns, to the questions that arise both from within and from the surrounding environment. He explains how continuous practice with this activity often creates a turning point for participants, as they regularly slow down, and return to an organic time, not rushed by modern productive-driven (industrial) thinking. By tuning themselves to the rhythms and cycles of nature, participants often ponder their own role and impact on the environment. Over time, this practice can awaken a sense of continuity between the changing seasons of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ earth. 

Another activity that participants love is tracking, not only tracking animal tracks in the snow or in the mud… Tracking the patterns of the birds in the forest, the different flows of rivers and streams, and the way our own perceptions influence how we experience the world. As Will states: “When we deepen our capacity for awareness with the world around us, it impacts our understanding and of our inner world as well. In doing so, we learn to re-situate our human consciousness back within the ecological system to which it belongs.” Through tracking and expanding awareness, participants get to feel their place in the organic flow of life as they question “Where is my body making contact with the earth? How is my body impacting and/or being impacted in different spaces I move through?” Ultimately, this helps them act in ways that are attuned to the larger web of life. 

These activities might seem trivial or small, but when Will talks about them with sparks in his eyes, you truly feel how they can lead towards a paradigm shift.  As he puts it, the harm that has been done has taken place over generations and generations. Thus, the paradigm shift that they are hoping to generate is one that will also take generations to happen. Practices that help people re-embody a sense of interrelationship are one of many good places to start (or continue). His team is convinced that: “We cannot heal ourselves without healing the earth, and we cannot heal the earth without healing ourselves.”

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The Gaia Foundation (Global)

Still in the line of cultivating oneness, the Gaia Foundation is “a growing global movement committed to systemic change through the philosophy and practice of Earth Jurisprudence – recognizing Nature as the primary source of law and ethics.” ( They contribute to a shift of paradigm that moves us away from a human-centered industrial way of thinking which sees nature as resources to be exploited and commodified, towards an Earth-centered understanding of how to live in a mutually enhancing relationship with nature and the matter with which we have co-evolved. Their work is strongly inspired by the cosmologies and cultural practices of indigenous people who strive to sustain the living world for all species. They have been operating for over 35 years: “supporting communities and social movements on the front line of struggles to protect land, water, and life, and to build regenerative alternatives to mining and extractive.” (

Among all their programs, the Earth Jurisprudence* Training program is focussed on enabling learners to deepen their relationship with nature and their indigenous ancestry. In doing so, participants enter into a  journey of personal transformation that establishes a foundation from which they are equipped to accompany communities on a journey of restoring their indigenous knowledge and practices. The founding belief is that the root cause of the crises we face is the loss of relationship with our source of life, the Earth as teacher, source of laws, and all nourishment. As practitioners cultivate their relationship with nature and their own sensitivity and awareness grows, so they change their lifeways: the way they eat, the way they dress, and even the way they raise their children and grow their own food.  Under the motto small is beautiful, each cohort has 8 to 10 learners who will follow each other during a 3-year journey, meeting about three times a year for a week-long intensive retreat. The program unites folx** from various African countries with the calling to reconnect with indigenous practices.

* Earth Jurisprudence is rooted in Thomas Berry’s work.

** Folx: same meaning as folk but with the emphasis on the inclusion of all groups of people.

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Earth Rise Collective (Cape Town, South Africa)

In echo with the Gaia Foundation’s invitation to return to our roots, the Earth Rise Collective, a relatively recently formed ecoversity, is a “group of like-minded spirit warriors who are collectively distilling the indigenous wisdom of many ancient cultures and braiding them back to the cradle of all life including humanity which is Africa.” They build on ancient and evolving wisdom to redefine activism. The collective is driven by the metaphor of “sankofa”* from the Akan Twi and Fante Peoples’ languages which “represents the symbol of a mythical bird flying forward with its head turned backward, carrying a precious egg in its mouth” ( This metaphor is about looking back to remember and revive ancestral knowledge and wisdom that may have been forgotten, to inform today’s actions in ways that will shape a future aligned with the earth’s wholeness. As Jay Naidoo explained:  “We are a collection of memories of everything that has happened in the past. We are one. We are all from one.” Indeed, their collective’s work strives to bring oneness to the past, the present, and the future. 

* Sankofa translates as ‘go back and retrieve it’ (san – to return; ko – to go; fa – to fetch, to seek and take)” (

This collective was developed when a diverse group of activists, former union workers, indigenous elders from different cosmologies, spiritual healers, and wisdom teachers came together and pondered how they could create alternative spaces of learning where we could converse about local and global problems while being informed by ancient wisdom. They were fortunate to find a perfect physical location for their programs, a farm that had burned down near a sacred valley. They now intend to run courses in this physical space for co-learners to tap into the deep springs of ancient wisdom but are also hoping to offer virtual learning spaces to reach more people.

In the past years, they have been gathering every full moon to organize vigils* during which they invite elders from different cosmologies (African, Peruvian, Chinese, etc.) to come and share their wisdom. As Rutendo Ngara explains: “they seek the commonalities in all these different branches of knowledge in order to make the universal truth arise [then they] see how these ancient knowledges that evolved can be applied to face present challenges”. For instance, they might be learning about basket weaving, a practice that connects the material and spiritual worlds. After all, spending hours preparing the material and slowly weaving a basket with your own hands completely changes your relationship to time, labour, and your proximity with nature, then if you simply buy a pre-made bag in a shop without witnessing the extractive processes that went into making the store-bought bag.

* a night where you stay up when you would usually sleep in order to proceed to rituals or prayers.

This nascent pluriversity* also places a great emphasis on nature as a teacher. As Jay reminds us, in many indigenous cultures, there is no such word for the environment, because “we are part of Nature and not apart from her.” Thus, there’s no need to speak of something that is separate. Along these lines, they say that most of the indigenous elders that come to share their wisdom do see the world as earth-center, never do they see humans as superior to other species or matters. They do feel that there are less and less Elders to share their wisdom, which makes it even more important to protect these ancient truths. This is what sparked them to try and create an ancient wisdom repository, through which they are trying to collect and preserve wisdom. Yet, Rutendo outlined that is quite a challenge, as they want to ensure that the indigenous knowledge doesn’t get degraded or commodified along the way.

* Pluriversity meaning a university that adheres to different cosmologies, ways of knowing and being

Finally, Jay shared a lot of the questions that informed their collective’s work which resonated with me, and which I believe we should ponder more collectively:

  • What are the crises and the opportunities that we face now?
  • Where did we misstep in the past? 
  • What’s the new paradigm that is needed?
  • What are the actions that will lead us to this new paradigm?
  • How can we construct networks of networks traveling in the same direction?

A challenging shift
These are just glimpses from these three different ecoversities, and you might think that it feels too good to be true, too simple to lead to a paradigm shift, or too far-fetched to be implemented in traditional schools. Indeed, implementing these initiatives that adhere to a different ontological paradigm comes with many challenges. 

Will mentioned how hard it was to operate as the mainstream educational system doesn’t really recognize their work. He outlined how participants can often feel resistance and discomfort in the beginning, because it is so far away from what they have known and have been taught in mainstream schooling. (Yet, he is convinced of the importance and the value of this different way of learning!). Rutendo also shared how hard it is to work with people blinkered by mainstream thinking, and how hard it is to create dialogues across different cosmologies. Especially since cultures and languages are so closely interlinked, she wonders how we could have those cross-culture conversations without reverting to the mainstream colonial languages which come hand in hand with oppressive patterns of thinking (i.e: the lie of separation). 

On another note, Rutendo is pondering: “how do we get the funds to do what we’d like to do, in the way that’s most in line with our vision and with nature?” This challenge was also mentionned by Will who outlined that the biggest challenge his teams is facing is to find funding in ways that don’t perpetuate the capitalist system that they hope to uproot, as he says: “It’s hard when you’re not an actual university or there’s not some kind of societal recognition. People are less likely to invest or less likely to get support from their parents to partake in our programs.”

As for Liz, the main challenge she pointed out was how it is extremely hard to do this paradoxical work that needs to happen quickly to avoid societal collapse, but that needs to happen at the rhythm of nature and embody a new way of being. 

Shifting the tides

Will we manage to shift the paradigm in time? As Jay mentioned by quoting Nelson Mandela “it always seems impossible until it’s done” and I do think it’s just a matter of time for the tides to shift. In fact, meeting these educational institutions that are rooted in a different ontology (i.e oneness) and that adhere to other ways of knowing and being (ancient wisdom, nature wisdom, etc.) is what makes me hopeful! To me, these initiatives are what’s needed to dismantle the oppressive system and the harm that is done by the current paradigm. Imagine the day when every school will send students out walking barefoot to find a spot of nature in which they can sit and observe, sense and feel, and relate to the greater cosmos; before gathering back to their collective, to learn how to sow, water, weed, and harvest their own food; and along the way, they will learn ancient wisdom from elders about living in symbiosis with the whole of nature. 

About the process

This article was written through the Ecoversities Researcher Storyteller Fellowship, a program that is about exploring new educational and pedagogical possibilities and unlearning the narratives that mainstream education has imposed on us. Fellows were invited to gather insights, real experiences, stories, learnings, and unlearning wisdom from members of the Ecoversities Alliance around the world. The article was reviewed by peer fellows, the interviewees, and the editors of the Ecoversities magazine.

Clément Moliner-Roy

About the Author

Self-declared as a citizen of the world, Clément envisions a world with no frontiers. He firmly upholds Nelson Mandela’s belief that education is the most powerful force to transform the world. This conviction has driven his involvement in multiple educational initiatives: supporting a nature-based nursery, contributing to a new era of Japanese higher education (HELIO) and launching the pilot project of a new experiential approach to higher education (Changemaker Residency). Through teaching and research, Clement also works with existing universities to amplify their social and environmental impacts. His unwavering commitment is to expand our vision of education to encompass multiple ways of knowing and being, with the overarching objective of advancing social, environmental, and cognitive justice.

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