A pioneer of depth psychology, C.G. Jung carved the following enigmatic quote in a stone at his home in Bollingen.
I am an orphan, alone, nevertheless I am found everywhere, I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for every one, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.
Jung’s words allude to our connectivity to nature and to each other as human beings embedded in a culture which leaves us feeling separate and disconnected on the surface. Globalization, industrialization, ecocide, and environmental issues seem to be dividing us more and more rapidly, leading to increased feelings of isolation, alienation and to a very real echo of these archetypal aspects in the physical world as people in environmentally stressed areas, feeling abandoned, desperately begin to move in search of food, water, shelter, and a better life.
As I write this, my 3-month-old kitten (aptly named Psyche), is restless. He keeps climbing across my lap over and over again, meowing and rubbing his head on my arm. He seems distressed, and for no particular reason I can determine. Perhaps he’s not feeling contained enough. We are outside, and the wind is gusty, noisily rustling the nearby bamboo and randomly sending leaves and other small bits of nature flying. Nature can be quite terrifying when you’re a tiny little kitten. This observation about Nature and Psyche might also apply to us.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about climate change recently in preparation for co-hosting a panel on Transformative Imagination at an upcoming Climate Change Forum in Portland, Oregon. Statistics and probable outcome according to scientists is dire. Regardless of whether you believe climate change is a result of human activity or that it is simply a natural event, evidence clearly suggests we are headed for a crisis.
And lest it’s not clear how climate change will affect you, increased temperatures, fewer glaciers and augmented greenhouse gas emissions from newly uncovered tundra will categorically result in increased water shortages, decreased food production, and more frequent cataclysmic natural disasters. Wildfires and superstorms–including massive breakouts of tornadoes and powerful hurricanes along with resulting side effects like mudslides and flooding is virtually certain to create mass displacement of vast numbers of people. Traumatized by the loss of home, loved ones, community, livelihood, and connection to place, social tensions are sure to mount as these climate refugees desperately search for a new place to call home. (For some compelling statistics and information on the topic, check out the Forced Migration Review created by the University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre below)
And, by the way, even if on the off chance climate change doesn’t affect water supplies (where DOES your water come from currently?) or production of food (farming does rely on irrigation, after all), there is a great chance that social unrest and climate refugees in distress will impact you in some way. If you can, watch the 2010 documentary “Climate Refugees” to get a better sense. See the trailer for the film here on this page.
In the midst of all of this, the physical displacement—the loss of connection to land, to locations that hold the bodies of loved ones who have passed away, to sacred spaces and areas that hold memories linked to powerful emotions like the home one’s children grew up in, the parks where they played, or the streams where a grandfather first taught a boy to fish. Places of worship, places with heritage, places that mark where tradition has been lived out for generations will all be inundated, washed away, or abandoned as desertification invades leaving inhabitants no choice but to seek sustenance and refuge elsewhere.
This duality of Nature is an enigma for many of us. We love Nature when She is at peace–spending time in our gardens, taking walks in the park or nearby woods, enjoying the power of ocean waves on a beautiful sunlit day–but we feel increasingly threatened, anxious, and ill-at-ease at her random expressions of intense destructive energy. The container seems to be broken, leaving us feeling vulnerable, exposed, and helpless in the face of Nature’s power—just like poor Psyche seems to be. The challenge of looking at Nature as “Mother” as we so traditionally have is that we project onto Her in ways that are bound to leave us disappointed and confused, feeling lost, abandoned, exiled, or orphaned.
In his recent book, “Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe,” Jungian analyst Dennis Merritt insists:
Science has magnified our attachment to the archetype of the Good Mother in the form of abundant energy and material wealth, which has created the climate change crisis. It is not a question of giving up our scientific consciousness and the blessing of science and technology and going back to nature: there are far too many people on the planet for a return to the hunter-gatherer type of existence without draconian reductions of the human population…
What is the solution? How can we repair or improve the nature-psyche relationship so that we can feel centered and sustained? How can we as a global community support that growing body of individuals are are being displaced by traumatic events connected to Nature and environment? How can we come into better relationship in time to support our civilization in the face of rapid decline? More, what are the effects of the destruction of home on our individual and collective psyche? On a planet where our relationship to Nature is radically out of balance, we both neglect and abuse Nature as well as feel neglected and abused by Nature. As a culture, we treat Nature as dead matter, perhaps because it seems less threatening that way. C. G. Jung said:
Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals (in The Earth Has a Soul, Sabini, 2005, p. 79-80).
Those individuals who study ecopsychology and the psychology of place know how important our reciprocal relationship to earth is, just as many of us intuitively feel it in our bones. We feel ourselves embedded in something larger where transformation can occur through creative relationship with nature and place. Terrapsychologist Craig Chalquist describes how “patterns, shapes, features and motifs at play in the nonhuman world sculpt our ideas, our habits, our relationships, culture, and sense of self” (quote from Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled (p. 6), the June selection for the Depth Psychology Alliance online book club)
I interviewed Craig this month for Depth Insights radio and he shared his insights on how our interaction with the natural world, the psychology of place, and the power of mythic images are key to understanding and integration. Click here to listen to the interview.
As global conditions worsen in coming years, there is no clear answer as to how we will, as a humanity, attempt to re-establish balance with Nature and Earth, nor how we will establish resources and plans to compassionately aid those who experience the loss and destruction of home and homelands. All of us will surely be affected. Meanwhile, paying attention is a good beginning. Consciousness and willingness to act can offer a fertile landscape for powerful solutions to grow.