Friday, May 11, 2007

ECOPSYCHOLOGY: Unity and spirit

What unity ultimately requires is closure. The circle of theory must come round like the alchemical snake to bite its tail. What is must at last be known. Perhaps that is what underlies the eager unfolding of the natural hierarchy from the Big Bang to the human frontier: substance reaching out hungrily toward sentience. That is the simple but mighty insight that the physicist John Wheeler sought to capture in this schematic image of a universe that makes a u-turn in time to study itself through the human eye.

Oddly, this unity of the knower and the known seems to have been better appreciated by pre-scientific humans who worked from myth, image, ritual. If ecopsychology has anything to add to the Socratic-Freudian project of self-knowledge, it is to remind us of what our ancestors took to be common knowledge: there is more to know about the self, or rather more self to know, than our personal history reveals. Making a personality, the task that Jung called "individuation," may be the adventure of a lifetime. But every person's lifetime is anchored within a greater, universal lifetime. Each of us shares the whole of life's time on Earth. Salt remnants of ancient oceans flow through our veins, ashes of expired stars rekindle in our genetic chemistry. The oldest of the atoms, hydrogen whose primacy among the elements should have gained it a more poetically resonant name is a cosmic theme; mysteriously elaborated billions-fold, it has created from Nothing the Everything that includes us. -Theodore Roszak

About Reproducing Cultural Hubris

Out of what is this homo-centric hubris, this schizophrenic disconnect and self absorption of modern techno-industrial production/consumption emerging, each and every day, on the surface of the planet, intermixing with a delicate and thin shell of life we now call our biosphere? What institutes and perpetuates a bio destructive cancer on the planet like neoliberal polyarchic pseudo democratic globalism that itself relentlessly destroys and displaces the indigenous cultural forms that once did, in fact, interact directly with the forces and forms of nature?

I'm suggesting we might benefit from looking at the forms our very lives take and how we work our minds in relation to those, thereby creating our daily process of life, which imbeds the memories and the very sense of who and what we are as a daily, ongoing reality.

Ecopsychologists are suggesting that to understand that process, and ourselves, we need to do something to actually change our daily forms of life. That connecting with the natural world in a different way can begin to imbed different forms within us that become not just conscious, intellectual rationalizations, but that will go deep into our minds to be experienced throughout our bodies, and become subconscious as well, with a deeper sense of ourselves and who we are in relationship with the forms of our environment. They are suggesting that as a "therapy," it can't be done intellectually, rationally, any more than truly understanding what the "extent of anthropocentrism" actually is can be done through a rational, intellectual process. Intellectualism is easily recognized as a backward-looking, analytical process that actually occurs after direct experience and direct mind/body response in a situation. With that awareness of what we do with that process, we can see that we are fragmenting our awareness of now with our memories, with the beliefs those memories intertwine through accumulated processes of memory and thought, and we create illusions of reality that we than place, like a template over the immediate experience, thus potentially distorting what we can see, and in that distorting our response to what is.

If you've ever been in one of those life threatening emergency moments where everything goes into slow motion, perhaps you've directly been able to see your body seeming to do everything while the rational mind calmly observes it doing it, actions the body seems to know to do with with a direct intelligence you are somewhat mildly amused to discover, and without any guidance from this anthropocentric awareness one assumes is in charge until this moment of emergency. If you've grown up around animals and dealt with some energetic creatures of 1000 lbs or more, you recognize how your body is tuned to this, especially in close quarters, or that herding is something you do recognizing the charateristics in the animals and influencing them with your own form, as a dog learns to do when it learns to herd. Those are just some suggestions from my own experience.

This Jungian Analyst, Dennis L. Merritt, talks about his experiences growing up and how they have influenced him throughout his life. His experience on the dairy farm in Wisconsin mirrors my own in nearby Michigan:

Spirit in the Land, Spirit in Animals, Spirit in People

I grew up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin where I spent many hours of my free time wandering the hills and marshes with my dog. A deep connection was forged between the land and my psyche, much deeper than I realized. After spending many years away from the Midwest, working on a doctorate at Berkeley in the late 60’s in Insect Pathology (microbial control of insects), then a Masters Degree in Humanistic Psychology from Sonoma State College, California, and finally training to become a Jungian Analyst in Zurich, Switzerland, I was led by a series of powerful dreams to return to the land I have felt so connected to. I also became involved in sweat-lodge, vision quest and Sundance ceremonies of the Lakota Sioux of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota that added a depth of relationship to the environment I could not have imagined otherwise.


Near the end of my training at the Jung Institute in Zurich, I had one of the most powerful and simple dreams I have ever had. It was a single-image dream of a typical upper Midwestern landscape. There was a meadow with very green grass, flowers and possibly alfalfa. The topography was gently rolling with trees on the horizon. Insects flew above the meadow. It was a beautiful sunny day with puffy white clouds in a blue sky. What was most remarkable about this simple scene was that it shown with an inner light. Every atom in the dream was alive. Despite having seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the world—California, the Grand Canyon, the Canadian Rockies, Switzerland, etc., I have never seen anything as beautiful as this simple meadow scene.

This is an example of what the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called a numinous dream—a dream with an inner light and a sacred sense. I contend that no indigenous person has had a more sacred dream of the land. Every human is capable of experiencing this sense of the sacredness about the land. Long ago Jung recognized this archetypal need of a connection to, and love of, the land. E. O. Wilson calls this “biophilia”.

When one has such a dream, the challenge is to let it lead one’s life and direct one’s conscious orientation. To follow such a dream’s inspiration is to walk a path with heart. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I knew the state affected me deeply, but I had no sense of just how deeply until this dream. I began to look at all elements of the Upper Midwest more closely—its soils, topography, flora and fauna, seasons, etc. To deepen this process and help convey this sense of the land to others, my wife and I set up a week long summer institute in 1991 called Spirit in the Land, Spirit in Animals, Spirit in People. The Institute was so well received we ran a second one in 1992, followed by a reduced version for the University of Wisconsin Extension in 1994. The talks I gave at the Institutes became the genesis of the book I’m finishing, The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe--Jung, Hermes and Ecopsychology. To convey my sense of an interdisciplinary environmental education program, I am reproducing the contents of three brochures announcing the Institutes.

Seeing a Spiritual Connection Through Form

The possibility that we can be directed in this way by dreams and their metaphorical implications for our entire being is something that hardly makes it, it would seem, to the mainstream levels of popular culture. In a very basic way, it may be antithetical to the fundamental paradigm of a rationally derived, techno-industrial based society -- with a rational view that the world is its resource and not a living whole in its own right, of which humans are only a systemic part, not the top predator in a food chain meant to feed their, and only their self derived hubris -- that itself may have gone off track from the organic roots of being with its very liberal foundations of a rational, philosophic approach to its undestanding of a tautological determination of its social guiding principles of life. That is, unless the notion that violence and the many damaging implications that are considered "inappropriate" for young children to be exposed to are also taken seriously enough to be considered a questionable exposure to our adult population's psyche as well -- not that I am suggesting control measures, but just a recognition of what it implies. Is it true that a constant exposure to images of violence only effect young children?

Just to be clear, I'm not asking about social control issues, I'm asking about awakening a sensitivity to a seeing of how we are immersed in forms and how those forms are part of our consciousness, and in the process, invoke a wondering about just how separate we really are as assumed independent individuals from all this. What are the sources of our consciousness? Can we really be conscious and separate from our environment, like the mind is contained in some sort of bottle?

But myth and mythical thought was an important connecting force to the subconscious and our immersion in forms that our ancestors employed, by all accounts. For me, I've always had a strong response to literature and poetry, and the inspiring sense of imaginary power it can infuse. So in talking about this topic, I'd like to point to this dimension as a source of imaginative context and a way of seeing how the dynamics of ecopsychology can work for us, reconnect us to elements of our world, whether we want to save the planet or just want to have rich imagination related to it.

Also, in terms of language, this might in some ways relate to Edward De Bono's Water Logic and "ideas to flow" which speaks to the "voice" of the mind speaking out of these forms in a relational process rather than the static logic that retains a fundamentalist, or positivist nature. Lakoff, of course, as a neuro scientist, talks about cognitive categories and framing. Those are metaphors of form as well. Pointing to dreams and the subconscious metaphors of the mind may offer a view of language as a connection to the inspirational within us to that which connects our minds and our psychic health to the earth and its living forms as they are embedded in the subconscious to then become those connective metaphors. I suggest this to give a sense different where language is used to abstract and analyze, creating in that process a fragmentation and alienation from the actual ongoing process of life. This of course is done through a different process, perhaps, so that's worth keeping in mind. In other words, there is no need to binarily oppose them, for they may both be present at once as a conscious process.

These embedded forms may be the sources for those moments of epiphany, and the quality and form of those epiphanies may depend on the stimulation, whether a natural environment or human built one. Not judging one or the other, just noting how our mind is complex and may respond depending on the stimulus, can perhaps open our mental doors to see how the forms we live with daily confine our spiritual connection with our natural life forces and the planet.


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