Tag Archive for nature

Ecotherapist Linda Buzzell, Panel Presentation for “Earth, Climate, Dreams”—A Summary

In a short presentation as a panelist for “Earth, Climate, Dreams,” an online event hosted by Depth Psychology Alliance™ that took place in April 2016, Linda Buzzell, MA, MFT, shared some insights into the power of “daytime dreams” and working to develop eco-resilience in the face of challenging times. I found Linda’s insights into eco-resilience quite powerful, prompting me to summarize them here in order to share them with you.

Linda begins by mentioning the work of Dr. Steven Aizenstat and psychotherapist, Lauren Schneider, both active in the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), and how they perceive that we can get direct communication from the rest of nature by observing the natural images that arise in our dreams.

Regarding dreams, Linda notes, it is also important to look at “daytime dreams” as well as those we have at night. With this, she suggests that young people in our country have been suffering from lack of an alternative vision of our climate and the ecological crisis. What would it look like if we were doing it right, she asks?

Linda has been working with Craig Chalquist, Ph.D., with whom she co-authored the 2009 Sierra Club anthology, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, to come up with principles of eco-resilience. As our society is going to be going through some difficulties, how can we be resilient as individuals, families, communities and ecosystems, she wonders. The Permaculture design course provides practical approaches to empower yourself, your family and community to allow you to be as eco-resilient as possible.

Linda mentions that she participated in a reading circle for Carolyn Baker’s, Navigating the Coming Chaos, which she found to be a very helpful book to engage around. Referring to “The Waking Up Syndrome,” an essay she co-wrote with therapist Sarah Anne Edwards, Linda describes how they engage Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of death and dying to look at the ecological crisis and see how we go through denial, distraction, or despair.

She references how drastically each of us can be affected by news such as how climate change or ecological decline is happening much faster than predicted. We each experience trauma due to these ongoing “shocks,” Linda believes—what John Howard Kunstler calls the “Long Emergency” or Sarah Edwards calls “residual trauma.”

Engaging in community in order to look at issues, dreams, etc. helps with one’s personal eco-resilience, she suggests. The idea of a waking dream in nature is a way we can experience the larger psyche, by communicating with or spending much more time with nature, whether it’s in “little nature” nearby, or in the larger wilderness. This is one more way we can be guided by earth and the larger psyche of nature as to what we need to be doing individually and collectively as to what’s happening on our planet.

 

View the video of Linda’s panel presentation here (approximately 7 minutes)

View the full “Earth, Climate, Dreams” online panel and community c… (approx. 94 mins)

Linda is offering an Ecotherapy weekend workshop at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, May 13-15, 2016.  DETAILS & REGISTRATION HERE

 

ABOUT LINDA

Linda Buzzell, MA, LMFT, PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate), has been a psychotherapist for more than 30 years and has specialized in ecopsychology and ecotherapy since 2000. She and Craig Chalquist edited the Sierra Club Books anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, a core text in clinical ecopsychology. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Ecopsychology, the peer reviewed journal of the field, and was a keynote speaker at the 2014 Ecotherapy Symposium at the University of Brighton in the UK. She is Adjunct Faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. In 2002 she founded the International Association for Ecotherapy and is co-founder of the Ecopsychology Network of Southern California. She blogs on ecopsychology and ecotherapy at The Huffington Post. She is a member of the Ecopsychology Network for Clinicians, where she taught “The HOW of Ecotherapy.” In 2006 she received her Permaculture Design Certificate and with her husband Larry Saltzman has created a food forest around her home that serves as her ecotherapy office. For further information, www.ecotherapyheals.com and www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-buzzell

Dreaming the Earth: Earthing the Dream—Depth Psychology and Appreciative Nature Practices with Dr. Pat Katsky

Dr. Pat Katsky is a Jungian Analyst and core faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and she has been a therapist for thirty years. When Pat sat down with me in a recent interview, our conversation focused on the idea that some of the most psychologically healing experiences come from the natural world, a theme derived from an upcoming certificate program, “Dreaming the Earth: Earthing the Dream” starting April 15, 2016.

dreaming_the_earth.jpgPat mused on how in the last million or so years of history, humans have always needed nature and did not feel separate from it. But with the industrial revolution and the development of society as we know it, we have lost the connectedness. It has become something we do for vacation, she observes, then we return to jobs and daily life where nature is distant.

Knowing Pat is a Jungian analyst, I ask her how she believes our dreams shed light on our connection to the planet. Dreams are the deepest part of us speaking to us, sharing wisdom and perspective, she responded, noting how Jung used the word numinous to describe certain kinds of dreams that make us feel we are in the presence of something larger than ourselves—when we feel awe or a sense of mystery.

As an analyst, she has seen many “big” dreams—that is, life-changing dreams clients from clients that involved the natural world. She recounts some stories (which, she notes, she has permission to share). Some dreams, for example, introduce a particular animal which becomes a totem figure for the dreamer. In one specific dream, an individual found himself standing on the ground, which began to shake. In the dream, the dreamer thought he was experiencing an earthquake, but then became aware it was a giant animal shaking itself awake. Other clients have had images about unusual movements of stars, or of the sun and moon in an unexpected relationship to one another. As you might imagine, Pat insists, some of these kinds of powerful images can have lasting, life-changing effects on people.

I ask Pat how she recommends people work with the images they receive, particularly for those individuals who are longing for that sense of reconnection with earth. One of the beautiful things about nature is that it exists both inside of us and outside of us, Pat notes in response. For some people, their greater sense of connection with the earth requires them to do something in the outer world, whether cultivating a garden or visiting certain natural settings.

Pat mentions that the certificate program she is co-teaching at Pacifica will incorporate some special elements, including community dreaming where people gather at the beginning of the day and share dreams. Often themes emerge throughout the day that echo the images that came out of the group dream work in the morning. Among other experiential activities, participants will also have the opportunity to use art supplies or nature elements to engage with a dream image.

Are there other practices, I wonder to Pat, that can be used to enhance our engagement? She responds with her own enthusiasm about topics that will be included in the upcoming certificate program, including a presentation from Pacifica’s organic gardener whom she likens to the “archetypal green man,” Dr. Steve Aizenstat, who will be presenting on DreamTending™, and Dr. Joseph Cambray, who will speak about complex adaptive systems. We are increasingly discovering that as a system develops, new more complicated order can evolve—a rather radical idea, as Pat notes. Cambray will also go into the biological basis of how our mind works when we go into natural settings. Dr. Joseph Bobrow, a zen roshi, will talk about Buddhism and interdependence in the natural world, and Linda Buzzell will present with Craig Chalquist on eco-resilience—how to find a path forward with heart in the midst of the difficult times we face, and the need to forge a different kind of relationship with the natural world than we currently have as a species.

I ask Pat then if her calling to work as a therapist and provide a container for people to do that kind of work was based in any way on her relationship to nature and what she saw happening on the planet even 20 or 30 years ago. For her personally, she finds something so replenishing about being in nature in that way after immersing herself in the psychic life of so many as a therapist. There’s something that can’t be put into words, Pat insists, about experiencing remote natural settings where one can access very meditative places of deep silence. There we can let nature speak to us, and gift us its gifts to enrich us, giving us the capacity to go back and help others.

Katsky is currently a docent in a nature preserve owned by UCSB, which offers trips into nature for school children and the general public, and she mentions to me how greatly she has enjoyed watching people make that step and to see what it does for them. I am reminded of a talk I heard at a women’s conference a couple of years ago, where the speaker, who was from India, mentioned that in some of the worst slums in India, kids had never seen a tree except in a book. That just broke my heart when I heard that, I tell Pat, and it makes me appreciate the work she is doing to make nature more accessible to kids and everyone.

I think about the wonder of seeing a tree, and query Pat on how she feels about wonder and awe in our culture today? Have we lost the capacity for it, I wonder. What role does it play for us moving forward into the future? Pat has a ready answer. Jung said the main focus of his work was not on pathologies but on the approach to numinous experiences—of awe and of being in the presence of the sacred. He felt that that was the direction in which he wanted people to move, because he believed having these experiences is what healed people. When you have a numinous experience, it’s not something you can ignore she expounds. It’s like a puzzle; sometimes you have to “puzzle over it” for years sometimes to ascertain the range of its meaning.

When you work with numinous experiences, you get the sense that you’re engaged in a dialogue with “a kind of inner wisdom that will give you dreams, synchronicities and knowledge you need to help you continue the path of your own individuation,” she believes.

For me, this evokes the memory of one of my favorite teaching from Jung, who asked, “Is man related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life.”

rhizome.jpgWhen I quote this, Pat responds with another idea from Jung, that personal human growth is like the growth that comes out of a rhizome. Rhizomes, she clarifies, are an extraordinary class of plants where the roots go out sideways. You don’t know it when it’s happening but suddenly a new plant emerges that looks like a separate plant, but it’s actually living off of this much larger rhizome. It can be transformational to think of ourselves in this way, as not separate beings but rather feeding off of this larger rhizome.

As we close the interview, I am left with this image of the rhizome, which has continued to work me, almost as a dream might do. It is but one of millions of metaphors that come to us from the natural world that we can relate to strongly. Nature is indeed a remarkable teacher, and engaging with it intentionally and appreciatively can only enhance our own personal growth.

Listen to the full interview with Pat Katsky here (Approx. 29 mins.)

Learn more / Register for the Depth Psychology and Appreciative Nature Practices certificate program here


katsky-pat.jpg

Pat Katsky, Ph.D., has been a core faculty member at Pacifica for over 15 years, teaching and mentoring students in many of Pacifica’s programs. She is currently serving as Vice-Provost, and formerly was Chair of the Depth Psychotherapy Program. She was certified as a Jungian analyst 20 years ago, and has been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. Her research interests include the process of becoming a psychotherapist, the world of dreams, and the religious function of the psyche. She has published and lectured on these topics in the United States and abroad. Pat was formerly the president of the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, and serves regularly on the reviewing and certifying boards of the San Francisco and Los Angeles Jung Institutes. She co-founded a non-profit counseling center in Los Angeles, Counseling West, which serves individuals, couples, and families seeking a depth psychotherapeutic approach in charting a path in their lives, and she continues to participate in this organization as a member of the board of directors.


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.

 

*This blogpost was originally posted on Pacifica Post, an official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute, on March 24, 2016

Jung and Synchronicity: The Union of Nature and Psyche

C.G. Jung, one of the founding fathers of depth psychology, was a strong proponent of balancing rational thought with non-cerebral intelligence, insisting that consciousness inherently resides in the body and in the natural world around us. In fact, he was quite taken by Austrian Nobel prize-winning ethologist Karl von Frisch’s notion of how bees communicated navigational information to their sister bees so that they could forage the best pollen around the hive. Frisch’s research suggested the “waggle dance” performed by bees was both intelligent and purposeful, demonstrating an organizational impulse that stemmed from the “bottom up”—that is, situated on an intelligence that existed a priori in nature (Cambray, 2009).

Jung’s corresponding work on the concept ofsynchronicitymade great strides in resolving the split between mind and body, the characteristic human form of the larger, more cosmic rift between psyche and nature. Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to mean “meaningful coincidence” after determining that seemingly causally unrelated events, which appeared to be unconnected, had aprioriconnection to one another, occasionally manifesting in conjunction with one another, bringing meaning(C. G. Jung, 1960/1985). The existence of synchronicity meant that irrational or anomalous phenomena we tend to disregard from a causal perspective actually are part of a larger pattern imbued with meaning(Pauli, Meier, Enz, Fierz, & Jung, 2001).

Jung determined that the psychological and physical features we perceive in the world are dual aspects of one underlying reality(Pauli et al., 2001). He came to view mind and matter as a continuum, with psyche located on one end and the physiological instinct on the other, and the archetype serving as the bridge between them(C. G. Jung, 1947/1985, p. 216), though he ultimately expressed a desire to do away with a theory of psychophysical parallelism altogether in lieu of a unitary reality known as theunus mundus, a union of spirit, soul and body(C. G. Jung, 1958/1978a, p. 452).

Pointing to ways in which inanimate objects seem to “collaborate” with the unconscious by forming symbolic patterns, Jung even cited instances where clocks stop at the moment of their owner’s passing, or where items break within a home where someone is going through a powerful emotional crisis.

The evidence for an enduring connection between the outer world and the inner, embedded within a larger reality, seemed to grow clearer for Jung, particularly later in his life. “Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors,” he(1947/1985)went on to say, “it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing” (p. 215).

Each of us has likely had some experience of synchronicity in our lives, where things in what we consider the “outer” world seem to be engaging, responding, or interacting with what’s going on in our inner emotional or psychic life. If you begin to pay attention, you’ll notice these kinds of experiences everywhere you go. Could it be because there really is no separation?….

References

Cambray, J. (2009).Synchronicity: Nature and psyche in an interconnected universe(1st ed.). College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

Pauli, W., Meier, C. A., Enz, C. P., Fierz, M., & Jung, C. G. (2001).Atom and archetype: The Pauli/Jung letters, 1932-1958. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1978a). A psychological view of conscience. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.),The collected works of C. G. Jung(R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 10, pp. 437-455). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1958)

Jung, C. G. (1985). On the nature of the psyche. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.),The collected works of C. G. Jung(R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 8, pp. 159-234). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1947)

Jung, C. G. (1985). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.),The collected works of C. G. Jung(R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 8, pp. 417-519). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1960)

Holding the Opposites, Grounding in Earth to Cope with Difficult Times

When we are not grounded, not connected to our roots, terrible psychic issues occur, which lead to feelings of intense fear and anxiety suggests Jungian analyst Judith Harris, in her book Jung and Yoga: The Psyche Body Connection. She quotes C. G. Jung, who, in his complex work, Mysterium Coniunctionus, establishes that the element of earth holds the exact central point between the tensions of two opposites.


Grounding oneself in the earth results in feeling held by the Great Mother, rendering one nourished, nurtured, and whole. The center is the eternal, Harris states, and all that is contained within it is represented by the archetype of the Self, which contains the totality of the psyche. The center implies stillness, and in the stillness there is space for something new to emerge. When we connect to the sacred center, the earth, “the deep-seated origins that existed thousands of years before us brings healing at a profound mystical level” (Harris, p. 76).

“He who is rooted in the soil endures,” wrote Jung (1927). “Alienation from the unconscious and from its historical conditions spells rootlessness. That is the danger that lies in wait for the conqueror of foreign lands, and for every individual who, through one-sided allegiance to any kind of -ism, loses touch with the dark, maternal, earthy ground of his being. (Jung, 1927, p. 103).

According to Jung, when we go “down” (the direction of earth), we connect with the collective unconscious which includes the past: we go back in time, and in so doing, we touch all the unfulfilled lives that have been lived before us, allowing them to be lived out; redeeming them. This alignment with the center, the earth, the archetype of the Great Mother allows us to discover the miracle of creativity (in Harris, 2001).

Man facing coming night storm

Judith Harris reminds us that when sufficient energy moving in one direction accumulates, it will always ultimately be reversed in order to prevent one-sidedness. When torn between the opposites, chaos results, and we are literally torn in two—unable to stand, to move, to bear the confusion—while still being drawn further into the chaos. The age-old motif of descent, or “dark night of the soul,” carries with it the theme of a quest, an initiation, a purification that will lead to liberation, renewal, and rebirth.

When times seem dark, there is little we can do but to hold the tension, the grief, and the pain. We must be willing to be still and grounded enough in order to witness the fall of night, the darkness that makes its cold nest all around us, cutting us off from home. There can be no regeneration until we can do so. Until we all are willing to reconnect with our roots in Mother Earth, to take on the darkness and embrace it, we will continue to colonize others, to disregard the spirit and inspirited that surrounds us, and to suffer. Sometimes symbolic death can occur in the process, but in dying, new life occurs. When the Gorgon, Medusa, of Greek myth was decapitated by Perseus, it is said that her blood gave birth to the Pegasus, the winged white horse who represents poetry and creativity.

Somewhere within me, as I write these words, I have the sudden felt understanding this underlying eternal tenet: that in holding the tension of the opposites, a miracle occurs. The transcendent solution that arises is tangible; real. If I can just be aware and still myself in that center between the opposites of any seemingly hopeless or stressful situation… If I can just feel my feet on the ground and hold the tension, even in the midst of two end points that don’t appear they can ever be reconciled… If I can ground myself down into the earth, I can actually be present enough to behold the process taking place.

It seems like few of us in our fast-paced (often overwhelming and sometimes frightening) contemporary culture are willing to embrace the dark earth; the deep, devouring feminine that insists we surrender and be purified. Collectively, we tend to mill about our daily lives with their myriad of responsibilities, activities, and worries, disconnected, lost, homeless, fearful, and alone. Where do we begin?

It begins with the individual taking root and making a stand even in the midst of fear, anxiety, and despair. Rather than fleeing into panic, distress, or anger, or trying to distract ourselves, we must each learn take on that dark night, to stop the frantic buzzing of useless wings and allow the night to wash over us, silent and still as we embrace it; as it engulfs us and devours us. We must hold the tension; trusting that something bigger exists, releasing the attachment to the notion that we will ever see the hive again, but knowing that the earth is so much bigger.

References

Harris, J. (2001). Jung and yoga: The psyche-body connection. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

Jung, C. G. (1927). “Mind and Earth” (1927). In Collected Works Vol. 10: Civilization in Transition.


Making a Masterpiece of Your Life: Summary of a Teleseminar by Thomas Moore

“To the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.”

—Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth
and Sacredness in Everyday Life

 

Recently I had the chance to tune into a free teleseminar with author, religious scholar, professor and lecturer Thomas Moore of the book, Care of the Soul, fame. The teleseminar focused on how to make a masterpiece of your life. According to Moore, the word “masterpiece” harkens back to Renaissance, which he’s been studying for thirty years or so. It offers up beauty like painting, architecture, and is such a rich source of pleasure and psychological and spiritual insight. Moore points out that the word “masterpiece” can be sometimes be overused to mean perfect or refer to something too sentimental. For him, the first thing that occurs is “making an art of your life.”

Beauty is even more important for the soul and spirit than physical health, Moore insisted. When it comes to soul and spirit, we might not think of health, but rather what it takes to make a beautiful life. How might people look at life and find pleasure in it, rather than being so concerned about being right, correct, or even healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the third century, it was Plotinus who said we should “sculpt” our soul and chip away anything that doesn’t quite fit in order to reveal a beautiful life, a beautiful personality. As a therapist, coach, or mentor, Moore suggested, it might be helpful to ask those you’re helping: “What would it take to make your life beautiful?” rather than focusing on any other value.

Moore alluded to the Japanese idea ofwabi-sabi, an art form where imperfection and transiency plays an important role. Truly, we can find beauty in anything, even cracks in the walls. Aphrodite (in Greek mythology) or Venus (in Roman myth) is a goddess of beauty or of the soul. She is a metaphor for living a beautiful life. She restores a sense of value for things that today are not considered so important – like taking a luxurious bath or taking care of our hair. One aspect of our contemporary lives is that we have lost soul, and beauty is an important part of our lives.

A masterpiece originally could have meant a major piece an artist has done, Moore reminded us, but it can also represent work an apprentice has done in order to show the master; it is master work. It is important to align yourself with someone you consider to be a master in order to do your own work. For Moore, archetypal psychologist James Hillman was a great teacher and master as well as a friend for 38 years. A masterpiece is not something you create at working hard at it for a long time. It requires good luck and good timing. It’s not always the quality of work or effort one puts in so much a magic of timing and having good luck come your way. One thing, Moore does is try to bring luck in and make it happen and not just wait for it.

Talking about mastery is talking about “craft.” Moore said as he gets older, more people are asking how they can be a good therapist or a good writer. His suggestion: Learn the basics. Grammar, language, punctuation are critical to good writing. For therapy: it would be helpful to study alchemy, to read the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. For everything, it’s a matter of trying and failing,

We are bombarded right now with information about science and health: but it might be a good idea to tone down expectations in that arena. Health is important, Thomas agreed, but maintained that he allows myself some unhealthy foods and gives time to things he needs in his own life for beauty. Before getting on the call, for example, Moore went to his piano and played some Chopin. He says he’s not a great performer but he still likes to play for the beauty of it. His wife is an artist, so he surrounds himself with her art and others. Someone just sent him an image of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by animals and nature. It’s wonderful to focus on simple things, and look for aspects of the beautiful. Moore tries to have erotic art around him to invoke the spirit of Eros, the spirit of the beautiful, he said. We have to have it in his environment before we can get it into our hearts, he said.

When asked how we can talk about things that matter and free people from frustration that occurs when things don’t go as planned, Moore responded that when it comes to creating a masterpiece, you can end up focusing on the rosy part of life, but you have to be able to confront the dark as well. Times when we are beating ourselves up are the times to be stronger rather than to keep doing that same kind of thing. We need to shift out of the masochistic role and be stronger and tougher in the world, he insists. In Renaissance times they said your anger could work for you if you can transmute it into firmness and strength, into having the spirit of the warrior. Moore said when finds himself getting down on himself, he reminds himself to be stronger and firmer and to look and see where he’s being too vulnerable, too soft or easy; where he needs to be tougher, maybe event going so far as to say things people are going to dislike. It’s part of beautiful life, he insists. The beauty is there only because the artist is there and allows it to happen. The artist doesn’t let people mess with them. If you do this regularly, it doesn’t build to explosion. We need both: it’s two sides to the coin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to the idea of wabi-sabi, Moore stated that it’s related to Hillman’s idea of polytheism. You don’t have to settle on one or the other. You can dye your air to cover the grey all the while appreciating the moss growing on the wall. It’s about allowing the natural aspect of things. As you get older and feel older, you can reveal your age. You begin to realize the things you can’t do outnumber the things you can do. In nature, for example, you try to create a house and before long you’ve got moss growing where you don’t want it. After awhile, you get cracks but those cracks can look beautiful. Allow your self with all the light and dark and good and bad and see the beauty in the whole picture. If you repress or hide elements that are imperfect then the perfection you personally try to show won’t be complete; it will look suspicious to yourself and others. Part of wabi-sabi is allowing yourself to be seen.

In the conversation, the moderator, Katherine mentioned an article she had seen recently about Stradivarius trees. There is a culture of people who look for the perfect trees to make the violins. These trees grow so slow sometimes they stop growing altogether in order to gather their strength. Our culture is so much about “new” and “do,” she said. But the trees that stop growing produce the most beautiful sound.

James Hillman wrote an essay against the idea of growth, saying human beings shouldn’t try to grow, Moore responded. In Moore’s books, he doesn’t promote growth as he believes there are times when there is no growing taking place at all in the soul. It’s a sentimental idea that we should be growing all the time. There are times of setback and when we seem to be going backward. Those times are important too. When we stop growing, people go to a therapist or coach. That’s often why these periods are good for a psyche or soul, because it forces you to stop and wonder why. A deepening happens. It’s not about being better, but deepening more into who you are; it creates more substance to you. If you’re growing all the time you don’t have the substance necessarily.

Moore took questions from listeners at the end of the teleseminar. I took the opportunity to ask him what he thought about something that is frequently on my mind these days: how to cope with the extreme devastation of the planet we see all around us on a daily basis in media and in nature. Moore’s response was to reinforce the idea that can do or hold many things at once. You can be concerned about the devastation AND you can appreciate the beauty. Every year for twelve years, Moore went to Schumacher College in England with his family, he related. Even though he’s not a scientist, he would talk to the people he met there about philosophy and spirituality and the arts. One reason we are treating nature badly is that we personalize it by thinking hierarchically, that humans are the top of the pile. It takes more of an artistic sense for people to appreciate nature. Maybe it would be helpful for us when we are deeply disturbed to paint or photograph nature. Turning something into art gets it into yourself, gets it into us, he said. Turning more to nature as art might help develop that relationship. We need more art and spirituality. Moore mentioned that his new book has a chapter on natural mysticism. To be mystical you don’t have to go off and be in the ethers, he said. Just stopping to contemplate allows you to meditate and it prepares you for what you need to do. Moore said he learned this from Thoreau, for whom these types of activities were a sacrament. Read Walden closely, Moore suggested. Follow it and learn from it.

Walking in nature or watching bees may more important than you think, he insisted. It’s a form of meditation. The things that seem the least significant may be the most important. To go out in nature, feel like you’re wasting time; the sight of nature is a darshan –it transforms. It gives you the courage to go on and do your work.

Find out more about Thomas Moore and his work at www.careofthesoul.net

 

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?