Tag Archive for culture

Cosmology, Ritual, and Ecology: A Message from the Kogi Indians about Earth

 

Kogi Indians

Kogi Indians. Photo courtesy of Lisa Maroski.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a mysterious tribe of Native Indians who live high in the mountains of Colombia, speaking only their own original language, and having little contact with the outside world. These people, the Kogi Indians, have long referred to themselves as the “Elder Brothers,” as they carry the responsibility of being caretakers of the world, helping to maintain a balance of harmony and creativity in the world.

In recent years, the Kogi have begun speaking out. They are deeply concerned that non-indigenous consumer cultures living in the modern world, whom they call the “Younger Brothers,” are harming the earth, and they want to share the message that we need to change our ways.

The Kogi have a profound relationship with the Mother Earth, whom they call “Aluna.” reports Lisa Maroski, a board member of Monterey Friends of C.G. Jung. Maroski had the remarkable opportunity to travel with a group to visit the Kogi in Columbia, to hear their message, and to see firsthand how they live and what they are asking from us.

Maroski, who shared her experiences from the journey in an interview with me, explains how the “Mamas”— the priests of the tribe—were traditionally trained. Those who were identified as being future holy people were taken into caves at just a few months of age and they remained there for several years without ever experiencing the outside world. After several years, they were finally introduced to the outside world, where everything was so much more vibrant and alive than they could have ever imagined, that they become deeply psychically embedded in a universe that is alive and animated—even objects we westerners traditionally don’t think of as being alive.

Other traditions, such as weaving, are deeply ritualistic, based on the understanding that everything in the world is interconnected. When they weave, it is symbolic, Maroski notes, and weavers maintain ritual practices like spinning around during certain points in the process to remind themselves that they are weaving the world.

Maroski’s time with the Kogi changed her. She came away with a powerful understanding of what C.G. Jung called the unus mundus, the “one world”, and the possibilities of living with a worldview that understands how everything is alive and profoundly interconnected.

We are longing for that personal connection with the Earth, she believes, and there are ways we can each take individual action to help amplify this message in the world. Whether it’s ritual acts such as Maroski describes during our conversation, or literally writing to corporations that are harming the planet to let them know w won’t accept it any longer, we each carry the possibility to honor the Elder Brother and start creating the change we want to see in the world.

Lisa Maroski is an author, editor, and playwright. She is a board member of the Monterey Friends of C.G. Jung. She traveled to Colombia with John Perkins to meet with and learn from the Kogi Indians.

 

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The Value of Multi-Cultural Perspectives in Depth Psychotherapy: Interview with Dr. Matthew Bennett

Counseling is an applied healing art that helps us address suffering, enrich personal lives, activate our potential, to live more fully, and to develop more adaptive capacities to life in the view of Dr. Matthew Bennett, a psychotherapist and lecturer who teaches Counseling program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. More, psychotherapists and counselors that have a depth psychological orientation are prepared for a “broad spectrum slice of the human experience,” which for Bennett, includes the ability to be emotionally present in difficult emotional circumstances or even to simply better hold and tolerate emotionally powerful situations.

Depth psychology is grounded in the humanities, Bennett reminded me when we connected for an interview on the topic, and therefore it can contribute to an individual experiencing a fuller and richer life. Being able to identify with different kinds of people and to accommodate varying perspectives are just some of the advantages that depth training can contribute to a therapeutic practice. In addition, if one is willing to be a student of the human mind, and of the context provided by mythology and literature, it all serves to “broaden us out”—in a depth psychological way.

Jung spoke of his own work in archeological terms, which does imply a depth that is “going toward the center,” Matthew points out. All depth psychological orientations anchor us, and mythology, storytelling, dreams—even reading fiction—each express some dynamic of what it means to be human. Each contains energetics that are useful in reconciling opposing points of view. That’s how depth becomes breadth, Matthew says. It enables us to countenance the deeper or chthonic layers of life and to draw closer to the archetypes, where things become not only more dynamic and more irrational, but also more powerful.

Jung warned against getting too close to the archetypes, Bennett notes, because identifying with an archetype too strongly may potentially lead to one being consumed by it, so there is a need to take action—to come back from that world and operationalize and integrate what was found and experienced there. Bennett relates how certain old Zen stories tell of pilgrims who go out into the wilderness seeking enlightenment, but who always end back “bare of breast in the market, buying vegetables.” For Matthew, this signifies closing the circle, of coming back home again; of bringing what was learned into everyday life.

Matthew, who spent three years in the Peace Corps in Warsaw, Poland—his own version of “venturing into the wilderness” I would dare to say—insists he found a new way of being in the world through the experience. “The kinds of capacities that depth psychology encourages and fosters allows us to be more in the world more fully and more vibrantly,” he insists.

Peace Corps and Pacifica  Announce New Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program

The idea of wholeness is, in fact, a fundamental idea of Jung’s work, and it entails in part developing the ability to embrace the parts of ourselves that are not wholly conscious, welcomed, or appreciated. It’s important to engage those aspects of the world (and therefore ourselves) in order to make meaning. Reflecting on this, I am reminded of something Jung wrote about how critical it is to go out into the world and encounter people in everyday situations in order to relativize and amplify our understanding:

Anyone who wants to know the human mind will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, Socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with real knowledge of the human soul[1]

Bennett likens the idea to something written by Terence, the Roman slave who became a playwright: “I count nothing human as alien to me,” a statement that further illustrates how reality is grounded in human experience. Bennett goes on to point out that T.S. Eliot even insisted that magical formulas are for practical results, such as getting a cow out of a bog. Bennett’s own work has largely been connected to helping people be in this world, he notes, not to transcend out of it. In the end, that was the instinct that led him to the Peace Corps.

Bennett, who served from 1991 to 1994, never intended to join the Peace Corps, but as he describes it, it was just something that “grew out of” him, and which unfolded in a series of small steps that led to it. He likens it to Tolkien’s hobbits, whose walkway approaches a larger road, that in turn leads to the whole world, and you “never know where you’re going to get swept off to”—which is also true of depth psychology, Bennett points out.

Listen to the 28 minute interview with Dr. Matthew Bennett here.

When our conversation turned to the question of whether Americans are too identified with our own culture, Bennett offered a clear perspective. The American culture is a powerful solvent, he suggests, making it easy for us to dissolve into it. It’s a big country with peaceful borders, vast resources, and intellectual vibrancy with fewer of the conflicts many other countries face. It’s easy for Americans to “float” through our culture and be “suspended” in it, Matthew insists: “Culture is a prism through which we view all of reality, and I think reality itself is culturally determined.” In a consensual reality, the more people decide and agree what is real, the more powerful an idea becomes, he notes: It’s good for us to step out of the culture and see what else is out there.

Joining the Peace Corps and other similar kinds kinds of experiences serve to place people in new cultures. Matthew reminds me that there is a tradition of young people of means, particularly in Europe, to take a year off school and travel the world, and joining the military also provides a similar experience to some extent. To be able to turn around and view one’s own culture from afar is valuable and healthy. Often it’s said it’s harder to re-enter one’s own culture after such an eye-opening experience, he notes, and it illustrates how powerful and seductive one’s culture can be. Such insights include the meaning of truth, justice, and even life itself—and such beliefs as the role of men and women, among others. When we’re able to take back and take those cultural differences in stride, the more we’re going to be able to take those differences in stride when trying to help people who are culturally different.

Having had the good fortune to study abroad myself during my undergraduate years, and to travel quite extensively since in a myriad of cultures that are vastly different from my own, I can relate. Being able to see how people live and think in ways that are often radically different from own very way of being in the world has opened my own eyes to new and different ways of seeing—changing me so much even that I occasionally find myself impatient when I feel others are unable to imagine a certain perspective I have gained and adopted through my experience. In depth psychological terms, identifying, opening to, and ultimately embracing the “other” is a required step toward wholeness.

However, culture isn’t something that necessarily can be or should be transcended, Bennett believes. Like personality organization, another core interest for Bennett, each belief is like its own little culture contributing to a sense of self. Sometimes cultural information contains something almost akin to survival data. The combination of information, the lenses we engage, really flow from how we understand ourselves to be. The process of psychotherapy then, becomes the journey of beginning to understand it and empathize with it. For a therapist, it’s figuring out how a client “makes sense.”

“Just that act of treating people as if they made sense, and trying to connect empathically with how it does make sense is really heart and soul of what I think psychotherapy and counseling are,” says Bennett. “Visiting other cultures and seeing the world sets you up up for that and makes it easier to do.”

The Peace Corps, in partnership with Pacifica Graduate Institute, recently announced the launch of a new Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, which will provide graduate school scholarships to returned Peace Corps volunteers who complete a degree-related internship in an underserved American community while they pursue their studies. The Coverdell Fellows Program gives returned volunteers the chance to build on their classroom experience by sharing their unique knowledge and skills with local communities.

Matthew Bennett is presenting a 2-day workshop, Artifice of Eternity: Aging and Long-Term Care, July 16-17, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Learn more or register at http://www.pacifica.edu/current-public/item/artifice-of-eternity-aging-and-long-term-care

[1] C.G. Jung, “New Paths in Psychology.” In Collected Works 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, p. 409

Matthew-Bennett.jpgMatthew Bennett, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, lecturer, and administrator with experience in public sector mental health and substance abuse treatment. He has broad experience in program development. He was formerly founder and first Director of Training for the Ventura County Behavioral Health Pre-Doctoral Internship in Clinical Psychology and Chair-Elect of the Psychology Department at Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura, California. His research interests include personality disorders, comparative personality theory, and internet applications for mental health. Dr. Bennett is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer (“Poland III, 1991-1993”).

NOTE: This blog was originally posted on Pacifica Post June 22, 2016

Confronting Signs of a Society in Decline: An Interview with Journalist Chris Hedges

When I met Chris Hedges online for our recent interview together, I could see why Pacifica Graduate Institute invited him to speak at their milestone 40th anniversary celebration conference, Climates of Change and the Therapy of Ideas, which takes place April 21-24, 2016, in Santa Barbara, CA.

As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hedges carries with him nearly two decades of experience reporting from war-torn countries like Yugoslavia, El Salvador, and also Gaza and South Sudan. In this capacity, he has witnessed the decline and disintegration of multiple societies, a perspective which has surely influenced his capacity regard the decline and potential destruction of our own modern culture that seems severely out of order.

He has been described, more than once, as being “dark,” which, from a depth psychological perspective, I’m quick to assure him, is actually a compliment. Depth psychology insists we look under the surface and in the margins of things in order to better understand them, and then requires that we witness and hold what we find in spite of the darkness from which we might easily prefer to flee. Chris appears to take this in stride: recognizing and carrying the knowledge that contemporary society is facing its own morbidity, in some ways, has fallen squarely on his shoulders.

decay.jpgHedges notes that, as both individuals and civilizations, we encounter cycles of growth, maturation, decadence, and decay, and death. In contemporary society—especially modern society—we can see the signs of morbidity around us, in our boundless use of harmful fossil fuels, in much sought-after expansion beyond the capacity to sustain ourselves, and in the physical decay of the environment and in the places we inhabit.

There are common patterns and common responses to decline and collapse across eras and cultures. While our culture is more technologically advanced in comparison with that of Easter Island, for example, it is arguable that human nature has not really changed. Who was it that cut down the last tree on Easter Island, for example? He wasn’t thinking, Hedges asserts, and neither are we today! Since the Jungian viewpoint is that we are each on our own journey of individuation, increasing consciousness and moving toward wholeness, for me, Chris’s point raises the question as to whether our culture should actually be individuating as well—but is somehow stuck in its process.

How is it that most of us, myself included, are able to go about our daily lives engaging in habits and participating in systems that are destroying the planet, harming each other, and generally contributing to the detriment of society? There is a psychological mechanism by which people seek to blind themselves, Hedges insists. We tend to cling to a belief system that essentially shuts us off, disconnects us from what’s actually happening around us. Those individuals that dare to name the reality often become outcasts in the society. The seers are condemned and vilified.

We carry with us a sort of “sick mania for hope,” says Hedges. If news isn’t positive or hopeful, we dismiss it or deny it. The majority of the population of a civilization in decline simply don’t want to hear the truth about the situation because the future seems too bleak. If you take just the issue of climate change, Chris explains, you can see that we live with two illusions: One, that it doesn’t exist; or two, that we can adapt. While most of us are hiding out in denial, according to Nietzsche, Chris reminds me, it is the role of intellectuals and artists, to see and confront the reality through their work.

“When you don’t confront the perils around you; when you build psychological mechanisms or walls—which we have done with the aid of technology and the aid of culture, then you’re almost guaranteed to commit collective suicide, Hedges tells me, adding, “The consequences …for my children and for future generations is catastrophic because if we don’t radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and to the earth, we are going to have to begin to confront the extinction of the human species.”

Yes, for so many reasons, one can see why some people have described Chris Hedges as “dark.” Having written my own dissertation at Pacifica on a phenomenon I termed “culture collapse disorder,” I spent many long hours contemplating the darkness of some of these same ideas. I remember Buddhist eco-scholar Joanna Macy writing that we, as humans, collectively live in fear of confronting the despair that we all carry—a despair that derives from dread of realizing for the first time that the human species may not pull through.[1]

denial_blog.jpg“There is a kind of subterranean understanding the the ground is shifting in incredibly dramatic ways,” Chris agrees, but we certainly have our ways of coping and shoring up our denial. Our society has built mechanisms of indoctrination around consumerism and entertainment. Technology, he suggests, rather than being a boon for consciousness, has instead served to shut down the most basic understanding of who we are as individuals and as a society.

Hedges introduces the term “atomization,” utilized by twentieth century political philosopher Hannah Arendt to describe how communal organizations (including bowling leagues and stamp clubs) have been obliterated in our culture, and how people have retreated into their own narrow circles and cut themselves off from establishments that made participatory democracy possible. Fewer and fewer people are showing up to churches and historical societies these days, he points out. With atomization comes a dangerous “cult of the self” which seeps into every aspect of our lives—including spirituality.

In the course of our conversation, I am reminded of something James Hillman once penned, writing:

Soul-making must be reimagined. We have to go back before Romanticism, back to medieval alchemy and Renaissance Neoplatonism, back to Plato, back to Egypt, and also especially out of Western history to tribal animistic psychologies that are always mainly concerned, not with individualities, but with the soul of things (“environmental concerns,” “deep ecology,” as it’s now called) and propitiatory acts that keep the world on its course.[2]

It’s a question of a society that honors the sacred—as pre-moderns did, Chris responds when I read Hillman’s words. Nothing has an intrinsic value in a corporate-capitalistic society. Everything has an exclusively monetary value, including human beings and the natural world, which we exploit until exhaustion or collapse. Chris cites Karl Polanyi’s work, The Great Transformation, in which Polanyi states that these societies have built within them their own self-annihilation, and points out that Polanyi, although he is an economist, actually uses the term “sacred” in his writings. In Hedges’ opinion, we have lost both the capacity to understand the sacred and the capacity for reverence for the sacred, resulting in the destruction of the very forces that sustain the earth and the community.

So, I wonder aloud: How do we reconnect with the sacred?

back_to_nature.jpgChris doesn’t hesitate. Severance with natural world is a big part of the problem, he contends, and intrusions like television and Internet have fed the decay, disintegration, desensitivity and numbness of the wider culture. We have to find ways to unplug and find our way back to nature. Nature is what allows us to realize we are not the center of the universe. We’ve also lost connection with the voices of our ancestors, who can free us from the trap of modernity. We need to be able to reflect on what it means to have a life of meaning and to participate within a society. When we’re cut of from those voices, then in many ways we’re cut of from what it means to be human.

I can’t agree more with this diagnosis. It is at the heart of what I understand from my own studies in depth psychology. Our best hope to weather the coming storm and stay centered through the disintegration of society as we know it is to reconnect with those powerful forces that give us context and meaning, and to continually contemplate what Jung himself once wrote: “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life.”[3]

Listen to the full interview with Chris Hedges here (Approx. 33 mins.)

Learn more / Register for Pacifica’s upcoming 40th Anniversary Conference, Climates of Change and the Therapy of Ideas

[1] Joanna Macy, “How to Deal with Despair.” Originally published in New Age magazine, June 1979

[2] James Hillman and Michael Ventura, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—and the World’s Getting Worse, p. 51

[3] C. G. Jung,  Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 356-7

 


hedges_chris.png

Chris Hedges, M.Div., whose column is published weekly on Truthdig.com.com, has written 11 books, including the New York Times best seller Days of Destruction, Days of RevoltDeath of the Liberal ClassEmpire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle; I Don’t Believe in Atheists; and the best selling American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans and was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and The University of Toronto. He currently teaches prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This post was originally published on Pacifica Post, the official blog post for Pacifica Graduate Institute, on March 7, 2016

Nature Has No “Outside:” Navigating the Ecological Self

Nature Has No “Outside:” Navigating the Ecological Self

“Spirit is the inside of things and matter is their visible outer aspect”
(C.G. Jung, in Sabini, 2005, p. 2).

“I can only gaze with wonder and awe at the depths of and heights of our psychic nature. Its non-spatial universe conceals an untold abundance of images which have accumulated over millions of years of living development and become fixed in the organism….Beside this picture I would like to place the spectacle of the starry heavens at night, for the only equivalent of the universe within is the universe without; and just as I reach this world through the medium of the body, so I reach that world through the medium of the psyche” (Jung, in Ryan, 2002, p. 18).

In nature, it is concretely evident how everything is interrelated. We can look at any aspect of the environment and see and name hundreds or even thousands of relationships with other facets of the environment. No man is a silo, yet the individual of Descartes’ vision required a strong, self-directing ego as the optimum situation for success and well-being. Rather than continuing to propagate and strengthen the illusion of the “individual,” it is critical to reconceptualize it, embracing instead an image of an ecology of the psyche, a system that encompasses all, traversing human-conceived boundaries of time, culture, and species. In truth, we each carry various elements of “other” within us: spirits of ancestors long since gone, traditions and ritual from distant peoples we know nothing about, and energetic archetypes from the natural world. In this inquiry, I focus on the nature of the psyche, the landscape that engulfs the Cartesian divide, the reciprocal, indivisible ecological universe that unites the “individual” and the “other” in one vast relational world.

Western culture developed as a union of equal individuals who can successfully out-think other species. Dualism, a separation of spirit from matter, subject from object, and mind from body became the hallmark of western culture, placing humans in top position of a hierarchical order where “he who thinks, wins.” The feminine way of being that circled around mythic imagination, cyclical time, participatory knowing, ritual, or magic was relegated to the realm of suspicion, resulting in devastating loss. We distanced ourselves from other species that could act as guides and allies and increasingly availed ourselves of the earth’s “resources” because we found them devoid of life and spirit. In western culture and consequently, in psychoanalysis, the concept of a “self-contained individual” was an obvious foundation for reducing drives, motivations, and behaviors to “inside” and “outside” (Foster, Moskowitz, & Javier, 1996).

Culture consists of what an individual needs to know or believe in order to operate in an appropriate or acceptable manner to members of that society. It is significant, then, that since psychology was founded by a handful of men who were members of a rather singular and similar European culture that the main roots of psychoanalysis would reflect their specific lenses. Indeed, Freud’s early theory that repressed or cut-off memories were at the root of pathology and needed to be unearthed in order to find a state of relief focused entirely on the inner world of the individual and paid little attention to social surround or context (Foster, et al., 1996).

Language as a Navigator

Over time, as attention to social context increased and relational theories picked up speed it became clear that language was the obvious vehicle that traversed the established structure of the psyche, even in its illusory dualistic structure of “inner and outer”, “self and other” (Elliott, 2002). Language, then, as Lacan put forward, is a strong determinant of relationship, not only to fellow members of our own culture as we know it, but also to other elements that are not immediately evident and which have not traditionally been included or integrated into psychoanalytic environment. These elements, located both within us and without, exist across time, between cultures, and even between species. All of these features combine to make up an ecological system, the “home” in which our ego participates as a small, equal part to a much bigger organism, the ecology of the self. In the psychoanalytic process, when looking at a narrow definition of self that contains only dualistic pairings like “inside and outside,” “self and other,” or “subject and object,” analysts and patients can easily get entangled in trying to identify where a particular issue lies (Stolorow, Atwood, & Orange, 2002). In an ecological sphere that encompasses the whole of nature and every element in it, language can easily traverse perceived borders, moving freely about.

In the developmental process, British linguist Michael Halliday (1975) determined that children are motivated to learn language because it satisfies physical, emotional and social needs. His work went further, however, in helping to pioneer Ecolinguistics, a field that addresses both social context in which language is embedded, as well as the ecological context in which societies are embedded, inviting new consideration, then, of the ecological context and consequences of language. One particular area of interest was how to make linguistics relevant to the increasing and widespread destruction of ecosystems (Fill & Mühlhäusler, 2001).

It is impossible to perceive or define an “inside” and an “outside” of nature. “Ecology” comes from the Greek oikos meaning “house, dwelling place, or habitation” (“ecology,” n.d.) is a place where we locate ourselves, the system in which we existundefinednot as silos but as coherent, complex participants related to all things, containing all while at the same time existing as a part of a much bigger whole. Ecological science studies how the distribution and abundance of living organisms is affected by interactions between those organisms and their environment. An environment comprises both physical properties like climate and geology, as well as other organisms. The first principle of ecology holds that every living organism sustains an ongoing and continual relationship with every other element that makes up its environment. Within any ecosystem, species are connected and dependent upon one another, and exchange energy and matter between themselves and with their environment (New World Encyclopedia, n.d.). The concept of an ecosystem includes units of variable size: perhaps it may also be called a “culture.”

The Ecology of the Psyche

Jordan (2009) asserts that Freud failed to acknowledge the significance of the nonhuman environment in the development of human psychological life. Theodore Roszak, a pioneer of ecopsychology later elaborated on Freud’s theory by asserting at the center of the unconscious is the ecological unconscious, the repression of man’s evolutionary relationship to nature, which ultimately resulted in the industrialized society. For Theodore Roszak, an early ecopsychologist, the therapeutic goal of ecopsychology is to allow the emergence of the environmental reciprocity that is currently repressed in the ecological unconscious, thereby allowing healing of both individuals and earth (Jordan, 2009). Nature, filled with metaphor and image and a cosmos of elements constantly held in relation to each other, offers us as a part of it the same opportunities when relating to the “other,” whether it is other people, other cultures, or other species.

The work of John Bowlby led to specific definitions of attachment theory in what he determined is ongoing psychological connectedness between human beings (Mitchell & Black, 1995). In contemporary culture, neurotic issues in the form of narcissism, existential crises, ambivalence, fear and the like are projected out onto the environment leaving us an infantile sense of control. The attachment relationship helps the infant cope with stress and thus early positive experience of the self in union with another is crucial to the infant’s capacity to mitigate emotions. The three variants of attachment include securely-attached individuals who feel intimacy and trust fairly easily without significant fears of abandonment or invasion, those with avoidant attachmentpatterns who cannot seem to trust others enough to ever allow themselves to become very dependent, and anxious/ambivalent individuals, those who experience fear that they cannot get intimate enough or that others will reject them.

Jordan (2009) insists object relations theory misses the boat by not including relationship to nature. While acknowledging instances of indigenous peoples who formed healthy reciprocal attachment relationships with nature, he cites our fear as a culture of dependency on the planet, which fulfils the role of nurturing provider. In failing to express our need and repressing the anxiety we cannot process, we retreat to a position that gives us the illusion of being invulnerable, a position of ambivalent attachment. Unlike the aborigines who viewed the natural world as a metaphysical landscape which could express deep spiritual yearnings, western culture views land and self as separate entities, unconnected by interdependent relationship. For earth-based cultures, the “more-than-human” world was also part of an ecological self. Concurrently, Jordan cautions against idealizing indigenous relations to natures, reminding us our ongoing conflict and regard of the current ecological crisis must integrate Klein’s “depressive position” to integrate the fact that nature can be destructive as well as rewarding as evidenced in recent natural disasters.

Jordan (2009) believes acknowledging our ambivalence can perhaps lead to emotional maturation, allowing us to live with it and not to act out in a narcissistic or controlling manner. He insists that just as Winnicott thought we related with the true self through the vitality of our physical bodies, by celebrating the complexity of human emotions–including those of love and the capacity for empathy and reparation–alongside the diversity of the natural world, we come into right relation. This amounts not to a balance between “inner” and “outer,” but of the complete ecology of being. Paul Shepard (1998) agrees that our relationships with each other and with nature stem from primal fears and fantasies that reside in our unconscious. While concurring that our capacity to differentiate an “other” stems from the maternal relationship, he posits it is formed in conjunction with the environment that encompasses mother and child. In the evolutionary development of the physical world, that environment consisted of natural elements including wind, rain, earth, animals, plants, and insects among others. All these were internalized and integrated as the self.

Therapist Mary-Jayne Rust (2005) concurs we are human in good part because of the way we relate to other organisms and goes further to claim that humans hunger for connection not only to other humans, but also to place and to nature. The field of evolutionary psychology takes into consideration how the individual psyche integrates the ultimate move from our evolutionary homelands in the natural world to the urban environments we dwell in today. As Diamond (1997) points out, within the past 50 years, almost 50% of the world population has come to dwell in cities. It is impossible not to think that the changes in the physical landscape in which we now locate ourselves has a drastic impact on our wellbeing and that of the planet (Milton, 2009). Because the inner and outer all form one ecological system, we carry a piece of what Laurens van der Post called the “Bushman mind” which includes memories of place, nature, traditions, and ways of being that we are no longer connected to in our modern way of life (Barnard, 1989).

Our psyche originated in nature, and it is also there where we can find freedom. Displacement, colonization, and urbanization have led to exploitation of so-called natural “resources” in a new and amplified way. In turn, this emerges as trauma of the individual and collective psyche, as Jerome Bernstein (2005) argues in Living in the Borderland. Borderlanders, those who are especially sensitive to the split with nature and nature’s own attempt to reconnect, don’t feel “about” the planet’s suffering, the actually feel the suffering and pain, manifesting trauma in bodily or psychic symptoms of their own. Ecopsychology argues that we as a species are inseparable from our relationships with the physical world, and that environmental questions are deeply rooted in the psyche, coinciding with our image of self. Denial of a reciprocal bond on the part of humans creates suffering for both humans and the environment, whereas seeking reconnection and working through issues of grief and despair can be healing for both. Increasing interest in bringing ecological issues into the therapy process has resulted in a growing branch of the psychoanalytic domain termed Ecotherapy (Davis, 1998).

Conclusion

In the world of psyche, I cannot be separate from any other element in my environment. The concept of “individual” in the literal Cartesian sense is null. The outer physical landscape of the earth is a reflection of our inner, psychical terrain, a mirror image that echoes both peaks and valleys over the history of our lives. Landmarks dot the topography of my mind so that I recognize certain events and history that have made me who I am today, standing where I do in relation to it all.  I can use language to navigate within that ecological sphere, aided by the images abundant in nature of the dynamic relationships of each element with every other element. A therapist/patient dyad choosing to adopt this view can strongly benefit from acknowledging and locating themselves in relation to the totality of it at any given time. Rust (2005) validates that language helps reconnect self with body and land. Reminding us that the root word “natus” also means to be born, she relates her own endeavors to practice psychotherapy with “ecology in mind,” attempting to articulate explicitly her own interconnections between self and the earth and encouraging those issues to emerge for her clients in sessions as well. Recounting her own experience at a women’s therapy center of developing a language connecting psyche and soma, she muses on the potential of creating a language incorporating self and earth as do many languages in indigenous cultures that weave together body and land, community, and universe.

The concept of an ecosystem of the self offers the possibility of dynamic movement that considers all possibilities in the same moment, and any movement therein affects all the others, not simply juxtaposing our old, outdated dualistic thinking of simply inner and outer, us and them, subject and object, but demolishing them completely. Ecophilosopher Sigmund Kvaloy, for example, articulates how a shift in conventional thinking can allow us to envision a place where we move inside when leaving a building or city, and stay outside by remaining indoors (in Rust, 2005). In the end, as Rust reminds us, “If we are able to re-conceive the self as interconnected with body, soul and land, we might just be giving ourselves and clients the tools to recreate a life where self, nature and culture are reconnected” (p. 7).

 

Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world’s first comprehensive online community for depth psychology, and hosts a podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name. She recently founded www.DepthPsychologyList.com, a free online database to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners. She holds Masters degrees in Psychology and Depth Psychology, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. Follow her on Twitter @bonniebright5 or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BonnieBright.DepthPsych

 

 

Some References

Barnard, A. (1989). The Lost World of Laurens van der Post. Current Anthropology, 30(1), 104-114

Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology:

Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. The Humanistic Psychologist, 26(1-3), 60-100.

“ecology.”  (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved fromhttp://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ecology

“ecology.”  (n.d.). New world encyclopedia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ecology

Elliott, A. (2002). Psychoanalytic theory: An introduction (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Fill, A., & Mühlhäusler, P. (2001). The ecolinguistics reader: Language, ecology and environment. New York: Continuum.

Foster, R. P., Moskowitz, M., & Javier, R. A. (Eds.). (1996). Reaching across boundaries of culture and class: Widening the scope of psychotherapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.

Jordan, M. (2009). Nature and self: An ambivalent attachment? Ecopsychology, 1(1), 26-31.

Milton, M. (2009). Waking up to nature: Exploring a new direction for psychological practice.Ecopsychology, 1(1), 8-13.

Mitchell, S. A., & Black, M. J. (1995). Freud and beyond: a history of modern psychoanalytic thought. New York: Basic Books.

Rust, M.-J. (2005). Ecolimia nervosa? Eating problems and ecopsychology. Therapy Today: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal. Retrieved fromwww.mjrust.net/downloads/Ecolimia%20Nervosa.pdf

Ryan, R. E. (2002). Shamanism and the psychology of C.G. Jung: The great circle. London: Vega.

Sabini, M. (Ed.). (2005). The earth has a soul: The nature writings of C.G. Jung. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Shepard, P. (1998). Nature and madness (2nd ed.). Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Stolorow, R. D., Atwood, G. E., & Orange, D. M. (2002). Worlds of experience: Interweaving philosophical and clinical dimensions in psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.

Memory, Place and Story: How Connection to Land Connects us to Self

Some would argue our contemporary consumer-based, productivity-oriented culture contributes to a collective loss of memory—done of being connected to something larger than our everyday selves. As a society, we have become dislocated in time and disconnected from place, leaving us rootless, transient, and opting for sensationalism instead of spirituality; superficiality instead of soul. So much of this malady is due to our disconnect from nature, our bodies, and earth itself. We are no longer grounded in something real that gives us context to understand how our lives play out in a fabric of being, a pattern in living nature with a self-organizing intelligence of its own. As Jung put it,

“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 Sabini, 2005, p. 79-80).

Blood and memory play a significant role in the ongoing spiritual relationship between the indigenous ancestors and their Native American descendants according to Native American literary scholar Robin Riley Fast, who has written about the work of contemporary Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso. Tapahonso insists, “The land that may appear arid and forlorn to the newcomer is full of stories which hold the spirits of the people, those who live here today and those who lived centuries and other worlds ago” (in Fast, 2007, p. 203). Each cliff formation, each watering hole, every boulder or ancient tree had a story that rooted it in the landscape and in the people’s psyche. Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko asserts that stories were often triggered as people passed by a specific landmark or exact place where a story took place (in Halpern, 1987).

So many memories-turned-stories speak of suffering and separation from place. During what is known as “The Long Walk,” the Navajo were tragically displaced during a forced march of the Navajo people after Kit Carson initiated a path of destruction in 1864, burning their homes and crops, stealing their livestock, and forcing them into a state of starvation and surrender. Many of the more than 8500 Navajo forced to march to Fort Sumner, several hundred miles away, died on the walk. Those that did not die from illness, freeze, starve, or get shot by soldiers, were likely drowned while forced at gunpoint to cross the raging Rio Grande river where they were washed away. The poetry of Luci Tapahonso illustrates the stories of the horrors of the forced march, speaking to the murder of pregnant women and the purposeful drowning of elders and children, or of those who were too tired or too sick to travel (in Fast, 2007).

Loss of place and of connection with the land results in profound loss to the collective memory of a people or culture, disorienting them and obliterating their identity. Living in a new place meant a loss of story since there was no memory attached to the landscape around. One might argue that the loss of place at the hands of the white men affected the Navajo forever. “What good is memory if this place does not recognize me?” (p. 203) asks Tapahonso.

Glen Albrecht, professor of philosophy and sustainability, points to a kind of “place pathology.” When you separate people from their land he suggests, “they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life” (in Smith, 2010, para. 4). Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein (2005) points out that when the Navajos were displaced by the Europeans, many of the Navajo simply disappeared. They no longer knew who or where they were. The disorientation initiated by loss of ancestors and memory, of being located in a larger web of meaning, is profound and virtually irreversible. Estrangement from land results in uncanniness, the feeling of not being at home. Thus, to be without place translates to not existing at all. In fact, the Navajo called their land “the Great Self” (Casey, 2009), evoking the idea that separation from place literally results in a separation from self.

Perhaps it is the lack of relationship with the new land and lack of mourning for their own loss of home among the newly-arrived Europeans that initiated a wave of destruction and despair amidst the First Peoples of the so-called New World. Yet, through listening with all our senses, through being fully present, through allowing the living story that is unfolding at every moment in the place where we are to engulf us, we can each begin to reconnect. In her poetry, Tapahonso examines the sense of alienation wrought upon the Navajo which evokes a sense of homesickness for the readers of her work, blossoming into a true feeling of emotional and literal exile as one makes their way through her words. Through Tapahonso’s own perception and the visceral reaction it evokes, it is possible to recoup a shadow of the loss the Navajo have suffered.

Yet, in a poem entitled, “Starlore,” Tapahonso introduces hope, reassuring us that healing ceremony can “restore the world for us” (p. 204). Healing ceremony often includes a narrative, and locating ourselves in the story so that the mythical implications can work on us. In An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field, eco-writer TerryTempest Williams echoes this notion, saying “We are healed by our stories (1994, p. 57). Reconnection to land where-ever we are—land that holds stories both ancient and new—can provide us with a sense of homecoming and healing if we slow ourselves, ground our feet on the earth, open our hearts and our senses, and simply listen to its tale. In this way we may re-member wholeness that somehow slipped from memory in our fast-paced and forgotten hours.

(Note: Parts of this post have been excerpted from my essay, “The Power of Story and Place among the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly” published in Depth Insights scholarly eZine, Fall 2011.

Some References

Bernstein, J. (2005). Living in the borderland: The evolution of consciousness and the challenge of healing trauma. New York: Routledge.

Casey, E. S. (2009). Getting back into place: Toward a renewed understanding of the place-world (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Fast, R. R. (2007). The land is full of stories: Navajo stories in the work of Luci Tapahonso. Boston, MA: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.

Halpern, D. (Ed.). (1987). On Nature: Nature, landscape, and natural history. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press.

Sabini, M. (2005). The Earth has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung

Sandner, D. (1991). Navaho symbols of healing:  Jungian exploration of ritual, image, and medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Smith, D. B. (2010, January 27). Is there an ecological unconscious?, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, p. 36.

Tapahonso, L. (1997). Blue horses rush in. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Tempest Williams, T. (1994). An unspoken hunger: Stories from the field. New York: Pantheon Books.

Ecopsychopathy and Sustainability: The End of Life as We Know It

What is Ecopsychopathy and What are the Implications to our Culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent blogpost, I wrote some introductory thoughts about what I’m calling “Culture Collapse Disorder,” an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which human-made stressors stemming from culture and development (and their correlating underlying connected psychological issues) are causing a drastic systemic imbalance, manifest by a critical rise in adverse conditions for earth and its inhabitants.

In short, the way of life most of us are living in modern consumer culture is simply not sustainable and the symptoms and resulting suffering are mounting. These days, while many of us choose to distract ourselves through compulsive consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy, the unconscious knowledge that we are in a time of transition is beginning to bleed through into our everyday understanding.

Culture Collapse Disorder is an idea based on a related aberration that manifested in the natural world beginning in late 2006: Colony Collapse Disorder the mass collapse of honeybee colonies in which the hive—the container—literally breaks down because the worker bees fail to return to the hive, abandoning the queen bee, the unhatched brood, and the stores of honey. Contemporary consumer cultures, which have been the foundation of the western world for decades, are generating lifestyles, behaviors and mindsets that are destroying our home places and our home planet on a mass scale. By consciously or unconsciously refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the damage we are creating and thus failing to take any action to prevent or repair the damage on the level required for us to survive as a culture, we are on the brink of a major transition in which life as we know it will change forever.

The fundamental issues behind our disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity to bury our heads in the sand and our emotions along with them, unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to understand what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In his incisive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, psychotherapist Joseph Dodds (2011) outlines reasons for our seeming indifference or incapacity to take action including denial, feelings of powerlessness, scapegoating, splitting, dissociation and the general incapacity to deal with feelings of anxiety and fear. In this state, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessarily changes that will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with Earth and to find equity again.

Ecopsychopathy speaks to destroying the earth through our conscious or unconscious pathological tendencies—in part due to our consumer lifestyle that we so frequently and overwhelmingly take for granted, and in part due to a deep-rooted sense of entitlement that has evolved along with development and so-called “progress.”

In the arena of mental health, there is no strong consensus between organizations about the symptoms and criteria of psychopathy, and no association has sanctioned a set definition of psychopathy. Frequently, a diagnosis of psychopathy is based on patterns of behavior, while measurements are based on personality traits; thus, definitions range from traits or behaviors of an individual who is cold-blooded and predatory (from “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come”, Robert D. Hare, in Criminal Justice and Behavior) to one who is “color blind” with respect to normal emotional experience. (See the reference here, in ‘Factors’)

By some, psychopathy has been defined as “the darker side of an individual that may seem ‘normal,’ well-adjusted and well-meaning” (From the Handbook of Psychopathy), while Scientific American magazine featured an excerpt from What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed (Dutton, 2012), which insinuates psychopathic characteristics are far more common that we might think: “Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders.” At the same time the author insists, psychopath who falls at the other end of the spectrum may exhibit traits our culture teaches us to admire in those we deem successful: “fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and mental toughness.”

“Eco” comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means “house, dwelling place, habitation” (EtymOnline.com). Thus, “ecopsychopathy” describes a spectrum of disordered behavior toward home, including impulsivity, egocentricity, lack of empathy, callousness, ruthlessness, manipulation, and lack of remorse among others. Regardless of the definition you may choose to adopt, I believe all of us can locate ourselves on the spectrum somewhere when it comes to the way we behave toward nature, even if it stems from simply being part of a culture that is ecopsychopathic at its core.

Lacking a sense of participation in a larger earth community, humans have become anthropocentric, assuming the rest of life is at our command, dominating and taking whatever we feel entitled to. And, it’s critical not to miss how implicated and interconnected we all are. Every human being throws away on average each year seven-and-a-half times his or her body weight. While I may pride myself on recycling as much as possible, large quantities of fossil fuels are still required for the garbage trucks to pick up my recycling, a large amount of which statistically never makes it to being recycled due to the cost of recycling or the lack of appropriate resources to do so. (See a great infographic here about recycling)

And, though I would never condone deforestation of the Amazon, I still purchase products that include palm oil, beef from cattle that graze on large tracts of land, or gold or silver jewelry and other products that are produced by clear cutting the natural flora and fauna of fragile ecosystems in ancient forests. More, I don’t wonder where my next bite of food is going to come from and often totally ignore the fact that in many third world countries they must first find and cut the wood with which they will cook their next meal, before even figuring out where the food will come from.

Too, while I am horrified at reports that 80% of the water in the Ganges River in India which so many people use for drinking and bathing is untreated sewage (Get the story here) or that thousands of pig carcasses from animals that died from a mysterious outbreak of disease at a factory farm further up the Shanghai river have been discovered floating downstream where villages are dependent on the water there for drinking (Read the news here), mostly I still take it totally for granted that I can turn on my tap and have clean, fresh water for my own needs any time of the day or night and would be traumatized to have to give it up. (Visit here for more details of why we continue to clear-cut the world’s rainforests). Finally, let’s not forget that if you drive a car like I do, or ride a bus, take a taxi or an airplane, you are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which are changing conditions on our planet faster than ever, a clear act of mistreating the earth and all its inhabitants.

The phenomenon of Culture Collapse Disorder is terrifying and untreatable as long as we don’t acknowledge the disorder at its core. Our capacity to destroy the only home we know—earth and all its ecosystems, environment, species, and so on—is a fundamental symptom of just how deep the imbalance lies. At this critical juncture in our culture, we must make a fundamental shift back into balance. It’s not a question of sustaining life as we know it: life as we know it is simply not sustainable. And, while we can—and must—make changes on an individual level in our everyday lives and continue to call for larger global initiatives to be supported by governments going forward, these actions are simply touching in at the surface level, the level of symptoms of the disorder. By making the symptoms go away, we have not addressed the core underlying issue.

Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman believed that symptoms are part of the speech of the soul (The Psychopathology of Every Day Life); thus the symptoms we are collectively experiencing may be considered the voice of the anima mundi, the world soul. Taking a curative approach to simply silence the symptoms is a “killing game” that extinguishes part of the soul. As a culture and humanity, we must look more deeply at the issue and come back into relationship with a living earth that needs us as much as we need it. We can do that by starting to listen and engage, paying attention to dreams or spending time in reverie in Nature, turning our attention to the way life and intelligence surrounds us at all times. Ecopsychologist David Abram suggests we have an inherent capacity to communicate with nature in his book, Becoming Animal, and that through conscious intention and perception with our senses, we can engage intimately with earth (See the abstract for my recent review in Jung Journal).

Ecotheologian Thomas Berry states:

The Earth with its layers of land and water and air provides the space within which all living things are nurtured and the context within which humans attain their identity. If in the excitement of a secular technology reverence for the Earth has diminished in the past, especially in the western world, humans now experience a sudden shock at the devastation they have wrought on their own habitation. The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as in its physical functioning.

There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. (From “Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community”)

The notion of Culture Collapse Disorder, a critical and dangerous pathology which affects us all, may be seen as terrifying and it’s unveiling a negative outlook of doom and gloom, but it is critical that we begin to look at it as finding a diagnosis is often the first step to treatment. As environmental attorney and author James Gustave Speth insists, “We need to be reminded of the nightmare ahead…we will never do things that are needed unless we know the full extent of our predicament” (in A Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, The Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, p. 234.

What happens next is up to all of us. If we individually and collectively persist in our tendencies to eco-apathy and our ecopsychopathy, the transition to a new way of being on the planet may be harsh and sudden, leveling the playing field in a massive upheaval. If we are able, as Carolyn Baker suggests in her timely and inspiring Navigating the Coming Chaos to understand we are “married to everyone and everything,” we will be more equipped to make the transition more reflective, intentional, and creative, and to “increasingly glimpse the momentousness of our connection with every person in our world” (p. 50)—and, I would add, to the world itself, gradually finding our way back around to a way of life in which we walk more softly on the earth, ask permission for what we take and give back something in return, and fully enter the community of all nature.

Culture Collapse Disorder: Can Depth Psychology Help Us Cope?

colony collapse disorder vs culture collapse disorderEarth’s inhabitants are in peril largely of our own making. We are, consciously or unconsciously, systematically destroying the our homeplaces, habitats, ecosystems, and above all, the only home we collectively know: Earth. Reports are emerging daily about the implications of human impact on our environment, presenting dire warnings about pollution, urban development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, natural disasters, and displacement. The tally of global losses grows daily as we perpetrate ecological destruction through our relentless consumption of the earth’s dwindling resources; through rampant use of toxins, chemicals, and pesticides; and through deforestation, erosion, and devastation of natural ecosystems, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.

The unchecked demands of a burgeoning human population on the planet are initiating conditions that are simply not sustainable. Combined with what might be called our cultural “modern mindset,” an ongoing belief (perhaps primarily at an unconscious level) by a large part of the earth’s population that resources are unlimited, that the way we live is the only way, and that everything will work out somehow, we are, as humans, at a precarious tipping point. In fact, more than thirty years ago (in 1979), ecopsychologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy noted that for the first time in recorded history, we are deluged with data that suggest our own culture, species, and planet may not survive. If we turn to nature for insight, it’s hard to miss the growing number of extinctions of so many species; one of the most notably, perhaps, the mass die-off of honeybees that are abandoning their hives to certain death, a phenomenon termed “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Some scientists suggest that honeybees may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the imminent demise of the human race as we plummet toward a colony collapse of our own. In his 2008 book, A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker muses on the mythical as well as biological implications of CCD, referring to it as a potential Civilization Collapse Disorder. I have simultaneously considered it as Culture Collapse Disorder, an appropriate name for a culture demonstrating ominous symptoms that it can no longer sustain itself.

When we consider the history of humankind, it is not difficult to trace an inevitable path to the significant crisis we face today as culture and a species. The word “culture,” related to the word “cultivate,” literally means the “tilling of the land.” Since approximately ten thousand years ago when a human first turned the earth with a sharp stick in order to plant a seed, to cultivate it, we have not ceased developing new techniques to sustain our burgeoning numbers. From the scientific revolution to the industrial revolution to current day when technology and globalization are the new normal, we have increasingly sought to manipulate nature, embracing rational thought and moving further from a worldview that nature is a community of which we, as human animals, are a part.

Merrium Webster defines “culture” as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior.” Certainly humanity as a whole may be considered a culture in and of itself in the way we interact with one another, follow customs and traditions, and utilize our capacity to think and take logical action. Culture may also be divided countless ways to reflect, for example, modern versus ancient, third-world versus first-world, or indigenous versus European or western. However, with the coming of globalization and a dramatic increase in what we often refer to as “consumer culture,” the distinctions and contrasts in some cases are becoming harder to discern.

From a research standpoint, culture, human culture, and the domination and escalation of so-called “western” or “consumer” culture have been topics of much attention. The various demands of the masses including food, water, shelter, energy, and healthcare, as well the challenges presented by science, industry, technology, and globalization, have all had their share of scrutiny.

Regarding sustainability, some well-known research has been published on the concept of “collapse,” most notably, perhaps, from Jared Diamond (in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) who traces a history of the rise and fall of civilizations over millennia. With the growing evidence of environmental distress, scientists, futurists, and other experts are now rapidly producing vast amounts of research on sustainability and the escalating ecological plight of the planet, a result of ecocide and climate change specifically, both of which are a result of the impact of culture on nature and of our modern mindset that allows us to engage in ongoing consumption and destruction of the planet without changing course. 

In addition, a growing number of studies are focusing on displacement and the destruction of homeplaces caused by ecological devastation like pollution, erosion, drought, desertification, and rising sea levels. Finally, much attention and debate is being turned to social issues including civil, sexual, and humanitarian rights; socio-economic challenges; the increase in poverty and the emerging gap between the rich and the poor; access to healthcare and the effects of decades of drug development on humans and the environment; and what appear to be epidemic increases in diagnosed cases of mental and emotional health conditions like depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and autism to name a few. In response to these insidious challenges, an increasing number of social scientists and psychologists are now investigating the psychological effects of these critical culturo-ecological issues and the underlying systemic relationships between humans and humans, humans and society (culture), and society and nature.

Given this, it is impossible not to contemplate whether the number of problematic symptoms manifesting so rampantly in our culture warrant the diagnosis of “disorder.” In general terms, “disorder” alludes to a disturbance of the regular or normal functions of a process or event. In the arena of mental health, we understand this to be a psychological abnormality or a pattern of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple life areas and/or create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms. Indeed, with increasing signs of distress (manifest on both a conscious and unconscious level) among many of earth’s inhabitants—and the intimations of more to come—it is critical we delve into the underlying causes of our dis-ease.

Few are engaging depth psychology to inquire into the oft invisible or unexamined causes of a culture in crisis and to assess the patterns at play. Utilizing a depth psychological lens to study this fundamental eco-psycho-spiritual crisis can allow us to gaze beneath the surface of everyday habits, attitudes, and outcomes, exploring beyond the symptoms to ascertain the roots of issues that have potentially brought us collectively to brink of disaster, or the urgent need for transition to new attitudes and actions at the very least. 

Using aspects of mythology, indigenous understanding, archetypal psychology, psychologies of liberation, and Jungian thought may serve not only to diagnose and devise a “treatment plan” to engage with the potential cataclysm at hand, but might also enable us to find ways to come into relationship with it. Ultimately, this process could provide a blueprint by which we can individually and collectively begin to cope with the consequences and fallout of what has already occurred and what is yet to come: the grief, sadness, anger, and despair, of what we have done to ourselves, our homeplaces, and our ultimate home, the earth.

Ensoulment and Synchronicity: Concepts from “Cosmos and Psyche” by Richard Tarnas

Ensoulment and Synchronicity: Concepts from Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas

In his 2006 book Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, Rick Tarnas suggests that the western mind has catapulted us away from a fundamental cosmos where everything was ensouled, alive, and animated by meaning and archetype. Our modern mindset is, instead, to attempt to control and manipulate our environment, making us the active subject in any interaction, and the things we see around us the passive object. Tarnas suggests “disenchantment” refers to the way the world is objectified, thereby denying subjectivity. “Objectification,” he contends, “denies to the world a subject’s capacity to intend, to signify intelligently, to express it’s meaning, to embody and communicate humanly relevant purposes and values” (p. 21).  By objectifying the world around us, we enable ourselves to believe that we can manipulate and determine our own existence, giving us greater freedom and autonomy.

Seeing oneself as the only source of life and intelligence in a universe that is increasingly dead and soulless leaves us in a vacuum where we are increasingly aware. (I’m also inclined to believe it makes many of us feel more alone, alienated, and disconnected from a sense of belonging and community, contributing to a culture where the sharper and sharper contrast of me versus them causes more people to act out via shooting rampages, suicides, or violence.)

Tarnas suggests that some of this objectification stems from the first moment mankind used a tool, making him the subject and the thing he was acting upon an object. Rather than being on equal terms, then, with everything else in his world, mankind began to ascend, leading to a hierarchy which placed himself at the top of a world where all things were neutral (or dead), and could have meanings or values or uses projected on them at the will of the human. Hence, a world that was previously rich with signs and symbols and intentions all with a life and intelligence of their own was replaced with a world that is devoid of any meaning without that assigned to it by human beings. The sense of balance and equality with nature and the cosmos was lost.

Tarnas proposes that the dichotomy (or antagonism) contributes to an increasing environment of alienation—and I would add, a greater gap between self and “other.” Rather than participating in a world that has a soul of its own (known as the anima mundi in depth psychology terms) which communicates in a rich kaleidoscope of mythical, divine, and numinous being, all sense of continuity between self and the world around them is disrupted leading to a breach in the participation mystique where the direct participation of human, nature, and divine no longer is believable or possible. C.G. Jung stated, “The collective unconscious surrounds us on all sides… is more like an atmosphere in which we live than something that is found in us” (in Tarnas, p. 59). Clearly, then, the boundaries created between self and things, self and other, self and world, and things and things became so multiple and diverse that we find ourselves divided from self and from the unconscious—and therefore losing a sense of meaning.

Tarnas also covers the concept of synchronicity in some detail, referring to it much as Jung did as “coincidences in which two or more independent events having no apparent causal connection nevertheless seem to form a meaningful pattern” (p. 50). Tarnas goes on to state “the dramatic coincidence of meaning between an inner state and a simultaneous external event seemed to bring forth in the individual a healing movement toward psychological wholeness, mediated by the unexpected integration of inner and outer realities.” He relates that events like these frequently lead to a new personal orientation where the world is suddenly seen as being rife with meaning and intentions beyond simple human projection: there seems to be, in short, a significant and intelligent order to what previously seemed like chaos.

Tarnas stresses that Jung held the belief that synchronicities served a similar function to dreams and psychological symptoms that essentially served to counteract the one-sidedness of the psyche and turn the person toward the unconscious and therefore toward greater wholeness—that is, individuation. In other words, we can benefit from a synchronistic event by allowing it to challenge and redirect our own conscious attitude. By observing more of the aliveness and autonomy of the world around us, we begin to allow synchronicities to occur. What would happen if you took a moment now to look around and notice what’s speaking to you in your environment, wherever you are?

On Magic, Shamanism, and Listening: The Collective Unconscious of C.G. Jung

“If we open our eyes, if we open our minds, if we open our hearts, will find that this world is a magical place. It is magical not because it tricks us or changes unexpectedly into something else, but because it can be so vividly and brilliantly.”–Chogyam Trungpa

When I was a child, I longed for magic: actively, forcefully, wistfully. I spent thousands of hours reading books about witches and wizards and fairies and everyday objects endowed with supernatural powers, I read about kids who time-traveled or fell into other dimensions or discovered secret portals to other lives. I always wanted to be one of those characters from the story, happening on magic that would transport me from my problems, my boredom, my malaise (French translation: being poorly-at-ease) with life.

As I grew older, I stopped believing. So wrapped up did I become in my personal challenges, cultural indoctrination, and societal obligations, that I began to forget even the magic from the childhood stories. And as I moved faster and faster through linear time, running from one responsibility to the next, rushing to grow up, get a job, and join the rat race, I became a part of the greatest disappearing acts of all creation; a part of me began to vanish. And, unlike like the lovely magician’s assistant in modern-day magic acts, once I was sawed in two, the pieces never came together again, dropping away instead and getting lost along with the magic in the chaos around me.

Our ancestors had far more contact with magic. They lived life closer to nature, a force larger than life. They saw themselves as an intrinsic part of a pattern that happened around them and to them and in them and through them, an ongoing dialogue with equals. Rather than placing themselves above the objects we see as inanimate, everything they saw and experienced in the physical world was a endowed with the life force of something akin to a brother, sister, father, or grandmother.

Rather than squashing a spider or carelessly picking a blooming flower, they treated each as if they could trade places with it, not assuming they were above the other.  Everything was sacred, and knowing one’s place in the infinite cycles of nature, the wonder of the universe, the miracle of the patterns that constantly shift, unfold, and create gave rise to a sense of contact–of being a part of something rather than a sense of being separate and cut off. The potentialities, then, the opening to a force in a world where anything could happen rather than living with the confines of limiting beliefs so many of us experience today from force of habit, family customs, cultural taboos, or demands of society, gave them magic, and through that magic, power to be in the world in a way that is very different to what many of us experience today.

I first began to associate the practice and archetype of shamanism with magic several years ago. Over a series of synchronistic events–later supported by research and amplification–I have come to realize shamans over millennia have tapped into something special, something that seems hard to define by me as I sit with my own cultural perspective–something I can only now define as magic. This magic seems to permeate everything and appears to be intrinsically linked to animism: belief, faith, and connection to a culture where magic can–and is allowed to–exist; where human beings lived their lives in intimacy of it–and where shamans actively accessed it on a constant basis for the healing and benefit of the community and the individuals in it.

Shamanism has been around for millennia, practically as long as humans have existed. It is the oldest spiritual healing tradition still in general use today. Though the word shaman emerged from Siberia via the Russian language, shamanism is found in virtually every culture in the world. Shamanic beliefs include the idea that everything is animated or contains a spirit that is alive and conscious. It is an earth-based practice that typically makes use of the elements–earth, air, water, and fire– in their practices.

Additionally, through a heightened sense of awareness, and perhaps because of ongoing sense of interconnectedness with the web of power that runs through all creation, shamans seem to be able to communicate with other realms on a level that is not readily accessible to the average individual. Frequently, they do this through accessing altered states of consciousness, tapping into ecstatic realms through drumming, dancing, trance or oral substances that serve to alleviate the restrictive human thinking mind and allow an opening to what might be called magic.

I remember hearing a myth from long ago about a man who did a favor for the gods. As a reward, he was offered his choice of options: either a vast quantity of gold, or the ability to speak eighty different languages. On choosing the languages, he quickly discovered he was able to understand the sound of wind in the trees, the flash of feathers of a hummingbird, and the smell of moss on tree trunks among many other things.  When I stop to ponder, I am reminded how each of these is, indeed, a manifestation of language, but in symbolic form–a communication to us from some creative force larger than we can imagine whether it be called the collective unconscious as defined by Carl Jung, spirit, the Divine, or some other name–and that it doesn’t always necessarily speak English.

The capacity to stop and listen–and more, to dare to translate the multitude of voices and input that occur all around us–is nothing short of magic. In a culture where everything seems to move so fast but be so shallow, deep listening and understanding is a gift that sets us each apart. We all can do it–mostly, we just don’t. But there is something bigger than each of our everyday selves that is trying to break through, to send us critical messages that will help us understand why we’re here and what we’re meant to do with our “one wild and precious life” (Poet, Mary Oliver. Depth Psychology, ultimately, is the search for what is being whispered in those rare moments when we listen….

 

 

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

 

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Are We Implicated?–A Depth Psychological and Cultural Take on the Fall of Lance Armstrong

 

child playing at being a heroI was out of town for a conference the weekend the two-part Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah broke and missed it entirely, but the fall-out is hard to miss. Normally I am a bit of a media addict, fascinated and equally reactive to what I consider to be a culture in decline, symptomatic even, of impending collapse. Our priorities seem so out of whack; our values in tatters, our goals absurd. I’m speaking for myself as well as the collective of course. Each of us is quite embedded in our values, beliefs, and behaviors–a result of our upbringing, education, religious ties, political views, social status, and so much more that we tend to take for granted. As a whole, we shore up the culture, buying into the “way things are,” enabling practices that are less than generative.

Regarding the “Lance” story, though–as one of my peers in the Depth Psychology Alliance community recently pointed out–nobody does the kind of thing Lance has done in a vacuum. Our fallen heroes are ours in the making. We collectively have a vested interest in creating heroes and putting them on a pedestal–where the only way out is down.

We need our heroes. Who else are we to worship? America is built on a legacy of heroes: gunslingers, pioneers who conquered the wild west, U.S, marshals, militia, inventors, gold diggers and even the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood in which the Super Friends always came out on top. How are we to dismiss the rugged individuals who actually struck it rich through talent, persistence, guts, and sheer luck? Modern day icons we revere today include sports “heroes,’ celebrities, politicians, and religious leaders among others. We ingrain this quest for success in our children at a very tender age! But do we have a collective tendency to assign larger-than-life (and unrealistic) characteristics to these individuals? They were, after all, never meant to carry such a significant weight and are, in some ways, a scapegoat for a collective culture in which we rely on others to save our bacon, defeat the monsters, and win at all costs when we ourselves often feel powerless and alone when it comes to achieving our dreams.

In my recent Depth Insights radio interview with Dr. Glen Slater, author of the viral article “A Mythology of Bullets” (Spring Journal 2009, “The Psychology of Violence”). Slater mused on our cultural mandate to succeed at all costs with no allowance for failure as the potential catalyst in many tragic shootings. When faced with failure when it comes to achieving the American Dream, many of us resort to seizing power any way we can to avoid being marginalized, ridiculed, or branded as “losers.” How many of our so-called “fallen heroes”–those who have indeed fallen prey to their own human failings, addictions, or mistakes–have only been amplified in the media and in our own minds because we are unable to see and acknowledge our own collaboration in the failure to excel?

As Jungian analyst Michael Conforti points out in his latest blog, “Patterns of the Fall: Lies, Lance and Life Patterns,” Lance Armstrong is possessed by the negative hero archetype. In historical literature and myth, the positive archetypal aspects of the hero (and his journey) involve the hero leaving home to venture into the big bad world where he encounters the guardians of the gate to the underworld and defeats them one by one before returning with his spoils–something of value for the community itself. In the negative aspects of this archetypal pattern, the would-be hero is possessed by the negative aspect of the archetypal energy where he attempts to slay the monsters and grab the prize–but is inhibited by his inflated egoic desire to be like the gods. He wants the power for himself! He acts alone and seeks only glory and recognition.

Is Lance Armstrong truly unique in his actions? I don’t condone at all, of course, what is clearly a history of incessant lies regarding doping; with cheating to “get the edge on his competitors” and claiming immunity because that’s the definition of “cheat’ in the dictionary. Back to my peer in the in-depth discussion on Depth Psychology Alliance, western culture as a whole is fairly drugged and doped–and we take it quite for granted. “Check out the lines at any pharmacy (or the profits from the whole pharmaceutical industry) to see that,” writes ‘Shane’, further pointing out that the lines we encounter at Starbucks every morning so we can all enhance our performance at work is not to be dismissed. “Doping,” for all of us, is an everyday aspect we scarcely call into question.

Finally, our fascination with those who are caught in lies–especially those in the media eye–are not so different that most of us. Case in point: in recent years we have seen the spectacular fall of Tiger Woods, the golf pro caught cheating on his wife with multiple women over the years; the writer James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces) who was exposed for having fabricated much of his so-called auto-biography on addiction; the fallen journalist Jonah Lehrer who is said to have plagiarized himself and made up quotes from famous sources including Bob Dylan to name a few. But who among us has not denied, hidden, or even outrightly lied about something we wished to keep buried about our dark side? A recent article on Lance Armstrong in the L.A. Times boldly calls us all to task with the headline, “Like Lance Armstrong, we are all liars, experts say.” Lance’s lies were simply more public, the southern California publication insists, and the stakes higher than for most of us.

Indeed we are all implicated in this story that seems so seedy at first glance. We are interconnected, guilty of not only feeling inferior, guilty or wrong if we can’t deliver through achievement, goal-orientation, or success but also through the self-satisfaction we derive by seeing someone who failed fall by the wayside (inevitably clearing the path for us to move up.)

While we may not be consciously aware–and some among us actually do manage to transcend this inherent cultural and psychological tendency–what twentieth century pioneer of depth psychology Carl Gustav Jung referred to as the Shadow is alive and well among us. That is, it is easier to recognize the painful, difficult, unwanted and denied parts of ourselves that we really don’t WANT to own in someone OTHER than us. I’m not giving Lance a pass here–be sure of that. His tendency to narcissism and his desire to win at all costs is not to be minimized. A recent article in The Atlantic proclaims “How Aggressive Narcissism Explains Lance Armstrong”–but I don’t believe that’s all there is to the story. I’m just saying that we all contribute to a culture in which the only way to compete is to cheat.

News continues to break this week on other athletes–Lance’s Tour de France teammates and others–who were also in on the doping. But I ask you (and include myself here as well): How many awards shows, competitive events, and sports competitions do YOU endorse by watching or following in a given month? And how long have we, as humans, reified and worshiped the “winners” versus the “losers” in life? This story is as old as time, dating back to the first Olympics, the gladiators of the Coliseum in Rome, and beyond.

America, built on the legacy of our forefathers who succeeded at revolution and established independence at great cost lives on in our minds and even our very cells. We have bought into a culture where there is so little room in our culture for failure, losing, depression, etc. that we strive to “empower” ourselves in any way we can. It’s unfortunate in so many ways that we don’t have a better system to “tend” our children and adolescents into holding and being with failure as a natural part of life and not amplifying and idolizing this negative hero archetype.

In the end, the truth is not so one-sided. In a society addicted to substances or activities–whether it be caffeine, prescription drugs, media, entertainment, or consumerism or something else–we are all implicated in buying into and enabling a culture that guarantees people will do whatever they have to in order to simply survive from a psychological and social standpoint. We continue to consume, make poor decisions for our well being and for that of our children and our planet, both as individuals and as a collective. Perhaps by better understanding the patterns at play in this particular story, we can begin to come to consciousness and engage with soul.

On that note, I’m looking forward to joining my colleague, Dr. Michael Conforti, to listen to his upcoming (January 31 & February 7) free 2-part teleseminar series, “When the Fairytale Ends: Lies, Lance and Life Patterns” with Olympic Coach Hank Lange as they take a depth psychological perspective on the saga of Lance Armstrong and why it’s important to all of us. I do believe there’s something for each of us to learn about ourselves in this story–which will certainly not be the last, I’m sure.