If the “outside,” as we in modern western cultures generally consider the physical world, is manifesting rather worrisome phenomena in the form of conflict, destruction of nature and home places, and racial and income inequality, we can draw a connection from what is occurring in the physical world to what must be occurring on an inner level, and therefore witness symptoms in the psychological realm as well.
The physical symptoms that are manifesting lie within a larger set of underlying issues, which, in turn, are psychological symptoms of an even larger and more fundamental issue: the sense of separation and loss due to our dearth of what C. G. Jung considered the “feeling function” in the world. This feeling function is often overlooked in lieu of our general propensity to adopt the “thinking function” and to disregard the value (and intelligence) of things in the nature.
Psyche and nature are intrinsic to one another, occupying adjacent positions on the same spectrum of being. In light of this, ecocide—the destruction of home and home places in the physical world—may be seen as a pollution, contamination, or killing of psyche in what we have traditionally considered the inner world. Our brazen destruction of nature is so symbolic of the destruction of the connection with the collective unconscious or what Jung called the Self.
Our wholeness is no longer intact; our psyches are under attack and are, in turn, unable to “house us” properly because of the damage. Deforestation, wildfires, floods, and the like may be witnessed not only in the outer world, but may also be applied to the inner world of psyche. The Cartesian split between nature and psyche can result in a rampant deforestation of the psyche, leaving the ecosystem of the self out of balance, or leave us vulnerable to inundation by the unconscious that can swamp our psychic boundaries, leading to neurosis or even psychosis.
The climate of current culture is changing, and so is our inherent capacity for healing, learning, and individuation, a psychological and spiritual journey of self-realization. At the end of the road, if something does not shift, we will see death of a certain sort—very likely extinction of life as we know it, a transformation to a new way of being in the world: a new culture that arises that is not longer consumer-based, but one based rather on community, reflection, and connection.
Ashok Gangadean (2006), director and founder of the Global Dialogue Institute and professor of philosophy at Haverford College, also stresses that our ego-based cultures are no longer sustainable and are now at a tipping point vis-à-vis a planetary crisis. However, the real crisis, he maintains, is a crisis of consciousness—and we are undergoing a painful transition to increased wisdom and awareness.
The psychological fallout of such dire news is apt to be significant, and some psychologists worry that we, as a culture, are not equipped to deal with it. A report from the National Wildlife Federation (Coyle & Susteren, 2012) suggests that destruction to our planet in the form of the ever-increasing threats posed by climate change “will foster public trauma, depression, violence, alienation, substance abuse, suicide, psychotic episodes, post-traumatic stress disorders and many other mental health-related conditions,” (p. i) and indicates mental and social disorders including depressive and anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse, and suicides will increase dramatically, as will incidences of violence.
Jung (1928/1977) corroborated the connection between the crisis emerging in the so-called “outer” world and the critical correlation with the psyche:
Just as outwardly we live in a world where a whole continent may be submerged at any moment . . . so inwardly we live in a world where at any moment something similar may occur, albeit in the form of an idea, but no less dangerous and untrustworthy for that. Failure to adapt to this inner world is a negligence entailing just as serious consequences as ignorance and ineptitude in the outer world. (p. 204)
Clearly it is vital to reflect on the psychological and spiritual issues underlying our individual and collective pathology when it comes to ecological destruction and environmental distress. Not only is our perception of profound division from the earth and nature a significant issue, but a lack of a generative myth for our time, of connection and communication with ancestors and spirits of place, and the opposing pervasiveness of the “hero archetype”—particularly in the United States, driving us to seek success as individuals at all costs—all contribute to a modern mindset that is often working invisibly beneath the surface of our conscious minds.
It is the work of depth psychology to seek to perceive the underlying issues, endeavoring to discover what is beneath the surface or on the outer margins of a given topic, inquiring more deeply, reading between the lines to begin to understand what is occurring at the root of things. The planetary crisis of potential collapse we now face as human beings can be perceived by first observing and taking time to reflect on the pattern of external physical symptoms, which are inevitably derived from underlying psychological and spiritual issues we generally maintain both as individuals and as a culture.
Then, it is imperative to shift our gaze to another, deeper layer, one that exists beneath the surface level of the manifest physical symptoms of a world in crisis and begin to derive the psychological issues that are at work. How can we shift a gaze we are not quite aware of in daily life? If you feel the call to make a change in your own life—or make a difference—seek out the aid of the practitioners listed here on DepthPsychologyList.com. They can help you understand what the greater Self is trying to communicate to reprogram ways of being.
Coyle, K. J., & Susteren, L. V. (2012). The psychological effects of global warming on the United States. http://www.nwf.org/pdf/Reports/Psych_Effects_Climate_Change_Full_3_23.pdf
Gangadean, A. (2006). A planetary crisis of consciousness: The end of ego-based cultures and our dimensional shift toward a sustainable global civilization. World Futures: The Journal Of General Evolution, 62(6), 441-454. doi: 10.1080/02604020600798627
Jung, C. G. (1977). The relations between the ego and the unconscious. 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. 7, pp. 121-241). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1928)